Joba Chamberlain wants to start

Updated: February 26, 2013, 6:28 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain hasn't given up his dream of someday being a major league starter, even if it is unlikely ever to happen in the Bronx.

Asked what his ultimate aspiration as a pitcher was after a one-inning appearance in the Yankees' 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, Chamberlain said, "This is probably going to spark a bunch of stuff and (Yankees PR director Jason) Zillo is going to be mad at me, but it's one of those things where it's like, 'Do you think you have the capability to start? Yes. Do I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike? Yes. Do I have two plus pitches in the bullpen that I can throw at any time? Yes.' I guess I'm trying to have my cake and eat it, too."

When Chamberlain's remarks were repeated to manager Joe Girardi, he smiled slightly and said, "Yeah. And I'd like to catch, you know, one more game, too."

General manager Brian Cashman had a similar reaction.

"Well, we're down an outfield bat right now, too," he said. "See if he can play (center field)."

The Yankees have Chamberlain -- a sensation when he joined the team as a 21-year-old rookie late in the 2007 season -- penciled in for a middle-relief spot, preferably as the seventh-inning man, leading to setup man David Robertson and closer Mariano Rivera.

Chamberlain posted a 2-0 record with an eye-popping 0.38 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 24 innings in 2007, and the Yankees' ultra-protective policy toward his workload introduced "The Joba Rules" into the national lexicon.

The Yankees moved Chamberlain into the rotation a month into the 2008 season, but after making 12 starts, he suffered rotator cuff tendinitis in August and finished the season 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA.

He made 31 starts in 2009, going 9-6 but his ERA ballooned to 4.75 and his strikeouts per nine innings dropped to 7.6 from a high of 12.8 in 2007. The following spring, he lost a competition for the fifth starter's job to Phil Hughes, and the Yankees have considered him strictly a reliever ever since.

"We just liked him out of the 'pen," Girardi said. "We liked his stuff out of there. It just seemed to fit who he was."

Asked what his objection would be to trying Chamberlain as a starter again, Girardi said, "I don't know. There's a lot of stamina that needs to be built up there. We'd be back to innings limits."

Cashman said the shoulder injury in 2008 convinced the Yankees that Chamberlain was more suited for relief work than starting, and his instincts seemed to be justified when Chamberlain tore an elbow tendon in 2011, requiring Tommy John surgery.

Chamberlain also underwent surgery for a ruptured appendix and suffered a dislocated ankle in a trampoline accident during his year-long recovery period. He returned to make 22 appearances in middle relief for the Yankees over the last two months of the 2012 season.

Earlier in the day, Girardi indicated the Yankees still believe Chamberlain had to ability to be a closer someday, although the manager anointed Robertson the most likely successor to the 43-year-old Rivera, who is returning for his 19th season after suffering a season-ending knee injury last May.

"I feel like I'm good enough to do both, start or close," Chamberlain said. "I've proven that I can do both. I want to be one or the other."

Chamberlain is eligible for free agency after this season, and Girardi said this is a pivotal season for him in terms of determining his future.

"For a guy who probably has aspirations to close, this is an important year for him," Girardi said.

But Girardi and Cashman were both unaware that Chamberlain's aspirations went beyond merely getting the last three outs of a ballgame.

"I've been in the bullpen for a while, but am I confident that if I got the chance to start again somewhere -- wherever that's at -- I could do it?" he said. "Without a doubt. I just have to focus on this year and what I can do to improve to help this team win, continue to try to win ballgames for them."

Asked if he would try to sell himself as a starter on the free-agent market next winter, Chamberlain said, "I don't sell myself as anything. You're always thinking in different situations of what it could be. Who knows? I don't know what the future holds for me. I'm open for anything."

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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