Yanks to pull Joba early to limit innings

Updated: August 29, 2009, 1:11 PM ET
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

After a series of erratic outings by Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees have adjusted their plans for the right-hander -- but they haven't adjusted the "Joba Rules."

Chamberlain came into this season with a prescribed ceiling on the number of innings he will throw during the regular season, which is believed to be in the range of 160, in order to protect the 23-year-old pitcher as he develops. Chamberlain has 130.1 innings so far, and as he has drawn closer to that ceiling, the Yankees have staggered his starts.

Chamberlain
Chamberlain

He had eight days between starts before facing the Red Sox on Aug. 6, and after pitching against Seattle on Aug. 16, he didn't throw again until Aug. 25. In his last outing, Chamberlain struggled badly with his command, and allowed seven runs, nine hits and four walks in four innings.

So rather than give Chamberlain extensive rest between outings, the Yankees will now pitch him once every fifth day -- but in order to keep his innings down, some of his starts might last only a few innings.

It's likely that Chamberlain will make shorter starts the next couple of times he takes the mound, and then make longer starts as the Yankees begin to prepare for the playoffs.

"It's the results. The bottom line is for us to win games and get the best out of players," manager Joe Girardi said before the Yankees beat the Chicago White Sox 5-2 in 10 innings on Friday night. "So in evaluating what happened, it looked like it was working great. He came out of the break, was lights out, but we think that a change needed to be made."

Girardi talked to pitching coach Dave Eiland and general manager Brian Cashman about the situation after Chamberlain was hit hard in Tuesday night's 10-9 loss to the Texas Rangers, allowing seven runs and nine hits over four innings to drop to 1-2 with an 8.55 ERA in his last four starts.

"He looked like he couldn't command anything he was throwing," said one talent evaluator who saw the outing.

After sleeping on it for a couple of days and more talks, Girardi called Chamberlain into his office before the series opener against the White Sox and told him about the new plan.

"He said he's running out of erasers but that's all right," Chamberlain said. "At least I'm always on his mind."

Chamberlain pitched only 88 1/3 innings in the minors before he joined the Yankees in August 2007, arriving with a set of guidelines -- the Joba Rules -- designed to protect the prized right-hander.

"The Joba Rules are still going strong," Chamberlain said with a grin. "I still see the T-shirts every once in a while."

Chamberlain went eight days between starts over the All-Star break and responded with 6 2/3 sparkling innings in a win against Detroit on July 19. He worked on regular rest in each of his next two outings, allowing just one run over 15 innings in victories over Oakland and Tampa Bay.

Then came a shaky outing against Boston on seven days' rest, starting his rough stretch. He had eight days off before facing the Rangers.

"We thought it was working and then we decided, you know what, we're going to keep him on a routine," Girardi said. "Routine is important and we had discussions with Joba and we changed it."

It also will affect how Girardi uses his bullpen, but the Yankees could add some relievers when rosters expand on Tuesday to lessen the strain.

"The important thing is to make sure by the end of the month that he is extremely ready to go, the end of September," Girardi said.

Chamberlain, 8-4 with a 4.34 ERA in 24 starts this season, acknowledged Friday he had been frustrated with the staggered rest even though he understood the reasoning. He also praised Girardi and Eiland, saying they did a great job of communicating with him about the schedule and how it was working out.

"It's going to be something that's going to be good for all of us," Chamberlain said. "The wins are going to come. I'm not worried about that. But at the end we need to win a World Series."

ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine