Joba Chamberlain turned back the clock Tuesday night at the Stadium, looking like the phenom he was when he first came up with the Yankees in 2007.
Chamberlain needed just nine pitches to retire the Kansas City Royals' 2-3-4 hitters in order in the eighth inning of the Yankees' 3-1 victory.
"He was really good tonight, he was really good in Texas [over the weekend]," manager Joe Girardi said. "You're just starting to see him, his stuff, really coming back to what it was."
"It never left," Chamberlain said. "The consistency just wasn't there."
Girardi used Chamberlain in the eighth inning on Tuesday night, rather than his usual setup man, Rafael Soriano, because Soriano felt some nagging pain in his pitching elbow. (Soriano will have a precautionary MRI on Wednesday.) And Chamberlain did not disappoint, with the Yankees trying to preserve a two-run lead.
Chamberlain first struck out former Yankee Melky Cabrera, who had homered earlier in the game for the Royals' only run, getting a called strike three on a 96 mph fastball. Then Chamberlain pumped three straight fastballs past Alex Gordon, who never took the bat off his shoulder -- those three pitches registered at 96, 97 and 98 miles per hour. And on his final pitch of the evening, another 96 mph heater, Billy Butler grounded out to shortstop.
In 17 appearances and 17 innings pitched this season, Chamberlain is now 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA. And in his last six appearances, Chamberlain has not given up a run, allowing just three hits, with no walks and four strikeouts.
Those kinds of stats, and radar-gun readings, make one recall the late summer of '07, when the 21-year-old Chamberlain was called up in early August. Chamberlain surrendered just two runs on 12 hits in 24 innings of work that August and September, regularly reaching the high 90s on his fastball.
But then the Yankees began tinkering with his role in 2008 and 2009, in a failed bid to turn Chamberlain back into a starter, which was his original role in the minor leagues. In 2010, his first full major league season as a reliever, Chamberlain had a disappointing 4.40 ERA in 73 appearances.
"This is a kid that went between the rotation and the bullpen," Girardi said of the now 25-year-old Chamberlain. "The gun said 98 [miles per hour] -- we haven't seen that for a while. His stuff is really good.
"The adjustment that they made over the winter, him and [pitching coach] Larry [Rothschild], has seemed to really help bring out the best in him."
Rothschild, who was hired by the Yankees in the offseason to replace Dave Eiland, has worked with Chamberlain on altering his hands during his delivery, keeping his hands closer to the center of his body -- which he did when he first came up to the big leagues.
With that adjustment made, perhaps we'll see more of the "old" Joba Chamberlain in the weeks and months to come.