Joba activated from DL, as reliever
Unmet innings limit may force righty to start '09 season in 'pen
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joba Chamberlain was spitting sunflower seeds in his old familiar spot as the Yankees opened their three-game series with the Rays on Tuesday.
What's more, it appears likely that he may be in the bullpen come Opening Day '09 as well.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that because of Chamberlain's transition to the rotation and a bout with right rotator cuff tendinitis that cost him most of August, the right-hander will not approach the club's projected innings cap for 2008.
Because of that, the Yankees are not inclined to approve the type of 2009 workload that would allow Chamberlain to open the season in New York's rotation, which would likely approach at least 180 innings.
"We haven't talked about it," Cashman said. "It's kind of premature for me to talk about now. I just know that he had an innings limit this year that he didn't meet. Could he exceed that innings limit next year? You wouldn't want to do that."
Chamberlain was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday having thrown 89 innings this season, and Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the right-hander's final total would probably be close to 100 innings, allowing service through September as the club's primary eighth-inning reliever.
"I think it's like riding a bike," Chamberlain said. "You've got to get back on the horse. It's really no different than pitching in general. It's just the situation that goes along with it. You've still got to go get outs, no matter what inning it is."
Unless something changes drastically, Chamberlain will report to Spring Training eyeing much the same situation that he saw this year, when he prepared as a starter during the Grapefruit League before being assigned to relief work to open the season.
Beginning in June, Chamberlain was gradually transitioned into a role as a starting pitcher by building up his pitch count, going 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA in 12 Major League starts. He has said in the past that he prefers starting, but Chamberlain had a more even outlook speaking on Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
"It's important for me to pitch," Chamberlain said. "I had success in that role, and obviously, I had success in the eighth-inning role. You look at it either way, and it's just the opportunity to pitch and help the team win."
Chamberlain is 4-3 with a 2.63 ERA in 32 games overall this season, and Girardi said that his return will help to strengthen a bullpen that has overworked in the past two weeks while the Yankees cling to their hopes of another postseason appearance.
"It just makes sense," Girardi said. "We really don't have time to build him up, and we feel like we can possibly get the most out of him as a reliever. By the time we [would] get him up to 90 or 100 pitches, the month would be over."
Chamberlain left an Aug. 4 start at Texas complaining of tightness in his right shoulder, and the organization was appreciative of his mature approach to the injury, as the right-hander didn't attempt to pitch through the pain.
Chamberlain said that he never doubted he would be able to return during the '08 season, and he even quoted early September as an ideal target date during the Yankees' August trip to Toronto, where he was limited to simply playing catch on flat ground.
"There never was [doubt], and the only reason was because I was still throwing 98, 99 [mph]," Chamberlain said. "If something's wrong structurally, you're not going to be able to throw that hard.
"From the get-go, I knew it wasn't too serious, but for your peace of mind, you always want to make sure that there's nothing wrong."
The Yankees also activated right-hander Dan Giese, who had been on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis. Giese was 1-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 15 games (three starts) for New York.
"It's huge, because I didn't want to leave this year on a sour note, being on the DL," Giese said. "I'm looking to finish strong."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.