NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Joba Chamberlain learned this offseason that his fate was in his hands.
No, the fist-pumping, primal-screaming Yankees reliever didn’t take a self-help course. He just realized he needed to start his delivery from the stretch with his hands at his waist instead of his chest.
After becoming an afterthought in the bullpen late last season, he spent a lot of time studying video of himself. He looked at his breakout 2007 season, when the “Joba Rules” were a New York obsession and the only thing able to stop him was a swarm of midges in Cleveland.
And what did Chamberlain discover? That he needed to change his delivery to help his fastball release point.
It’s made all the difference.
“My delivery’s better, there’s less going on and less is more for me,” he said Thursday. “The less I have to think about — in order to repeat my delivery to be successful that’s a big key, and I think I do a better job of it now minimizing my hand movement.”
After losing the competition for the No. 5 starter spot to Phil Hughes last spring, Chamberlain — finally free of the Rules meant to protect his development — struggled in his first full season as a reliever, going 3-4 with a 4.40 ERA in 73 games. Manager Joe Girardi lost confidence in Chamberlain, to the point where he was hardly used in the playoffs.
“The fact is I didn’t minimize damage. I didn’t do a good job of slowing the game down — you know, minimize the runs to one or two instead of three or four or five,” Chamberlain said. “It comes with growing; it comes with learning. It was my first full year in the bullpen so I had to take my bumps and learn from them and try not to let it happen this year.”
His first impression this year wasn’t a good one. He arrived at spring camp overweight.
Chamberlain shrugged off the complaints. He knew he worked harder this offseason than he had since just before he signed his first big league contract in 2006. He started playing catch earlier and more often and threw extra bullpen sessions with his new delivery to work up his arm strength.
The results have paid off.
Chamberlain has thrown harder this early in spring training than he ever has: He’s consistently reaching 93-94 mph and topping out at 95.
And Girardi has noticed the difference on and off the field.
“He’s able to recognize when he needs to make adjustments when things aren’t quite the same as they used to be and why,” Girardi said. “To me that’s a sign of maturity, taking ownership of your own career.”
Even though the Yankees signed AL saves leader Rafael Soriano to be Mariano Rivera’s setup man, Girardi has said he wants Chamberlain to be a back-end-of-the-bullpen pitcher.
It’s often overlooked that Chamberlain is just 25 years old. He burst onto the baseball scene in 2007 with a 15 1-3 inning scoreless streak to start his career, and expectations have been high ever since.
But he never looked comfortable as a starter. His velocity dropped off after a shoulder injury in 2008. And he’s had off-field issues to deal with, including his mom’s arrest for selling methamphetamine to an undercover officer.
He feels the past few years have made him more prepared to handle life in one of the most scrutinized markets.
“As you get older you get more mature and you realize what’s important,” Chamberlain said.
Can Joba regain his vintage form? Sound off in the comments below…
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