Just when New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain finally thought his role on the team was secured firmer than George Steinbrenner's Monument Park plaque, he must be starting to wonder--will he start again or is he in the bullpen to stay?
The much maligned, and often realigned, Chamberlain made his first appearance at the Yankees' minor-league complex on Wed., after a winter of expecting to be a middle-inning reliever but, with the team's failure to sign Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte's retirement, there are now two openings in the starting rotation. Here we go again.
Chamberlain appeared to be 10-15 pounds bigger than the end of last season but doesn't want to be the heavy in the starter/reliever drama.
"I don't know if that debate is ever going to stop," said Chamberlain. "I knew it was coming, especially with us not signing [Lee and Pettitte]. I guess you take it with a grain of salt. That's all you can do."
The noticeably bigger version of Joba may be of concern to the Yankees but the pitcher says its due to his new conditioning program.
"I put a gym in my house," he said. "I think it was the best thing I ever did. I feel good. It's easy to go downstairs and get it in and continue to work."
"I actually feel better. My delivery feels better. My weight feels better, stronger. Man strength, I guess is what they call it. I feel great."
Besides the physical difference, Chamberlain said his son, Karter, kept his mind free from all the Yankees winter controversies. A bigger man with smaller worries.
"I didn't think about baseball," the right-hander said about his off-season. "When your son is four, he keeps you busy with other stuff. I didn't watch 'SportsCenter.' I pretty much watched (with his boy) 'Ben 10,' 'Clone Wars,' and 'Spongebob.' If it wasn't on that channel and they weren't talking about it there, I probably didn't hear much about it."
Chamberlain will be joining one of the best bullpen crews in the majors. Besides Soriano, the set-up group includes Boone Logan, Pedro Feliciano and Dave Robertson.
With a well-stocked bullpen and 5 or 6 guys battling it out for the the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the starting rotation, could Chamberlain be wondering what his role on the Yankees is once again?
"I've got to take my role and embrace it and try to be the best I can to help us win another championship," he said.
Hopefully Chamberlain, the man who has been passed from bullpen to starter to bullpen, dangled as trade bait and brought us the 'Joba Rules,' will find a permanent place on the Yankees team.
After throwing a bullpen session under the scrutiny of new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Chamberlain was asked if he hopes to start again.
"I worry about whatever today is and getting through today," Chamberlain said. If that comes up in the future, then we'll answer that question. But right now you can't think about it."
As long as there are two openings in the rotation, it's hard to believe Joba Chamberlain won't somehow be thrown into the equation.