With Joba Chamberlain picking up his first save of the season Saturday, Yankee fans may have gotten a glimpse of their future closer. Speculation always mounts when Mariano Rivera gets a day off, but it is usually David Robertson who gets the ninth inning nod from manager Joe Girardi.
In his post-game comments after the 5-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, Girardi pointed to Robertson’s recent workload as the reason for calling on Chamberlain. He has always sought to provide adequate rest to all players, especially pitchers.
Some fans might dismiss the idea of Chamberlain as a reliable, long term closer. After all, at the conclusion of the game Saturday, he had walked six in 9.1 innings with one wild pitch this season. These numbers can create apprehension if he is summoned to enter games with base runners on second and third.
But, this is precisely the type of pitcher who can instill fear in opposing batters. Dropping down a bunt to move runners into scoring position is more difficult when the ball might come whistling by your ear. With Chamberlain’s fastball consistently registering over 95 miles per hour this year, the task becomes even more difficult.
Besides, his career average for walks per nine innings is only 3.5. The key is that he usually makes it difficult for batters to put the ball in play. With a career average of 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, trading an out to move a runner up is not a given.
Chamberlain has the intangible qualities to succeed as the next closer for the Yankees. He has exuded mental toughness and determination since his 2007 rookie season, when he broke in with an earned run average of 0.38. Few believed him when he said he would return last year after his devastating ankle injury, but he made it back and was a solid contributor down the stretch.
So don’t look for his first save this season to be his last. Rivera and Robertson will undoubtedly need rest as the pennant race moves into September. And don’t be surprised if he is the one who gets the ball in the ninth inning when Mo is gone.