SEATTLE -- Of all the eye-popping stats rookie reliever Preston Claiborne has compiled in his 13 appearances so far this season for the Yankees -- just one run and 13 hits allowed in 18-2/3 innings, 14 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.49 -- the one that has caught the most attention from his manager and teammates is this: Claiborne has yet to walk a batter.
That is why, when he went to 3-2 on Kelly Shoppach in the eighth inning of Friday night's 4-1 loss to the Mariners and the next pitch hit Shoppach on the leg, the joke around the clubhouse was that the 25-year-old righty would do anything to avoid besmirching his record with that first BB.
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"A few people have asked me that," Claiborne said, laughing, in the Yankees clubhouse this morning. No, I was just trying to get a ground ball. I just threw a two-seamer and it sailed on me. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."
Joe Girardi had another story, one he remembered about a reliever who had an incentive clause in his contract that involved walks, so that whenever the count reached three balls, the reliever's next pitch would almost invariably hit the batter.
"I can't remember the guy's name," Girardi said. "But I know that clause isn't in [Claiborne's] contract."
Turns out the pitcher in question was Stan (Big Daddy) Williams, who had a 14-year career with the Dodgers, Yankees and Twins from the late 50s through the early 70s. So far, Claiborne's major-league career has spanned barely a month, having been recalled from AAA to replace Joba Chamberlain when he went down with an oblique strain.
But already, Claiborne has accomplished something no Yankees pitcher has done since 1916 -- that was the last time a Yankees pitcher succeeded in not walking a hitter through his first 13 appearances -- and considering the way Girardi has been using him, he may start assuming some of Joba's innings, too.
In the seventh inning Friday night, with the Yankees trailing but three and the Mariners with a runner on second, Girardi replaced starter Hiroki Kuroda with Claiborne needing to keep the score at 4-1. Claiborne retired the next two hitters on harmless fly balls, and worked around a single and that interesting hit batsman to put up a zero in the eighth as well.
"You try to get their feet wet slowly, and then you try to give them more and more," Girardi said. "As long as they keep passing tests, you give them more."
And by the manager's admission, Claiborne has aced all his tests so far. "He really hasn't done anything wrong," Girardi said. "He's been really, really good."
Girardi said he has been especially impressed by Claiborne's faith in his own stuff, regardless of the count. "He's throwing 3-2 changeups, 3-2 sliders as a young kid," he said. "You don't see that too often."
"I'm glad that skip has the confidence in me to go in there," Claiborne said. "I obviously have it in myself to keep the game close in all spots. That's what I just try and do, keep the score the way it is. And obviously, if you walk guys, you won't have success."