The time to send Joba down is nigh

CHICAGO -- As votes of confidences go, this was a particularly weak one.

"I don't anticipate us making any changes tonight," said manager Joe Girardi, under questioning that, when boiled down to its essence, amounted pretty much to this: What are you going to do with Joba Chamberlain?

OK, so maybe not Monday night, not in the immediate aftershock of the New York Yankees' 9-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox in the first game of a three-game series.

But maybe it will be Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or by the end of the week, when, barring a setback, it is expected that CC Sabathia will be reactivated from the disabled list in time to pitch on Friday in Cleveland.

But some day soon, the announcement will come that the return of Joba Chamberlain has been put on hold, and that the 26-year-old right-hander who already is beginning to look and sound as shopworn as Derek Lowe, will be heading back down to the minors in an effort to regain his touch.

In fact, the only thing that seems to be keeping him on the Yankees' roster right now is necessity -- that and a spare roster spot with Sabathia on the DL at least until Thursday.

"He's got to help us," Girardi said. "He's got to help us."

In the hush of the concrete hallway outside the losers' clubhouse, it sounded less like an exhortation than a plea.

Lately, the Yankees' bullpen, for so long one of the strongest units on this team, has looked like a weakness.

On this night, Girardi went to five relief pitchers after Freddy Garcia inexplicably lost home plate after four stellar innings, and every one of them failed, in varying degrees.

Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada pitched to one batter each, and both allowed inherited runners to score. Boone Logan came into a tie game and surrendered a mammoth two-run home run that proved to be the winning blow. Lowe gave up another home run, this one to Adam Dunn, to give the ChiSox their last bit of breathing room.

But once again, the most troubling performance of all was turned in by Chamberlain.

"There's been some inconsistency," Girardi said. "We're trying to get him back to where he was before he was hurt. He was helping us last year before he got hurt. Right now he's scuffling a little bit."

In fact, Chamberlain hasn't been inconsistent at all. Since he returned on Aug. 1, he has been consistently hittable and increasingly disappointing. He has made seven appearances and allowed runs in five of them and allowed an inherited runner to score in a sixth. He has surrendered 15 hits in 6 2/3 innings and allowed seven earned runs. His ERA is 9.45.

"Obviously, this isn't the way I wanted things to go," he said.

And in truth, this is not the way the Yankees expected things to go. Sure, they were prepared for some struggles in his early outings, and maybe they were expecting too much from him after the double whammy of Tommy John surgery and a dislocated ankle.

But the New York Yankees don't promote players to learn on the job; when the determination was made to bring Joba up from the minors after seven rehab appearances in which he allowed just one earned run in 9 1/3 innings, they felt he was ready to pitch at the level they required of him for a stretch run in the AL East race.

Now, it seems almost certain that their hand was forced and that their decision was based more on need than on merit.

"He was throwing the ball pretty well up until that point," Girardi said. "You never know how a guy is going to do when he gets here. You never know."

Asked, as he was after Joba's last poor outing on Aug. 16, if the right-hander might be better off working out his problems in the minors, Girardi said, "We'll see."

Clearly, he's not helping the Yankees right now.

Called upon with two out in the fifth and runners on first and third, Joba 's second pitch, a 94-mph fastball, was lined into center by Dayan Viciedo to give Chicago a 5-3 lead. Chamberlain escaped further damage by getting Alexei Ramirez to fly out to center.

But in the sixth, after the Yankees had roared back to take a 6-5 lead, Gordon Beckham smacked Joba's 1-2 fastball, also clocked at 94, into the right-field seats to tie the game once again. Chamberlain struck out Dewayne Wise, then plunked his old nemesis Kevin Youkilis on the shoulder, and his night was done.

"Obviously, it is frustrating," Joba said. "But you can't give up. You can't shut it down and not work and be like, 'Oh well, this is it, it's 14 months.' That's not an excuse. It's obviously a factor but when you're off 14 months of anything at the big league level it's gonna take time. Do I want to be perfect? Yeah, and it's frustrating when it's not."

Obviously, the Yankees didn't allow him to take enough time to get back. They saw his velocity and they saw that he was pain-free and decided he was major league ready. The results so far tell you another story. Their recklessness in this regard is especially shocking when you recall the Joba Rules, in which they treated their 21-year-old phenom as if he were made of porcelain.

Now, he is 26, his best days may well be behind him, and the Yankees need another right-hander in their bullpen.

"I'm not concerned about him long-term," Girardi said. "But short-term, yeah, I am. We've got to try to get him right."

If Joba Chamberlain is ever going to get himself right, it's not going to be on a major league mound getting smacked around by a first-place team.

Girardi must know this, and by his lukewarm vote of confidence Monday night, he seemed to be letting all of us know it, too.