Joba Chamberlain Takes His First Step Back

Chamberlain started his minor league rehab assignment on Tuesday

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    No rules this time, just Joba.

    The Yankees have a hard-throwing right-hander in the minor leagues right now who could wind up making a major impact on the team's bullpen over the second half of the season.

    This scenario will sound familiar to those of you who remember the way the 2007 season played out. Back then, the pitcher's name was Joba Chamberlain and his work in the late innings helped get the Yankees into the playoffs for the 13th straight season.

    In 2012, the name of that pitcher is also Joba Chamberlain. He's not a young phenom anymore, of course, and plenty of people have already written him off as a pitcher who can help a major league team, but Chamberlain is back on the mound with his sights set on the Bronx.

    Chamberlain kicked off his minor league rehab assignment on Tuesday, throwing 23 pitchers and striking out two in his first appearance since Tommy John surgery last year and the ankle dislocation he suffered during spring training while playing with his son on a trampoline. Chamberlain allowed an unearned run thanks to two errors and a passed ball -- we're trying to verify that the Yankees' Rookie League team isn't actually made up of Little Leaguers -- but he hit 97 on the gun and looked strong under the circumstances.

    The start of the rehab stint means that the Yankees have 30 days to activate Chamberlain unless there's a medical setback, so he'll be back in the Bronx in early August if all goes well. The timing could work out well for the Yankees.

    Mariano Rivera's injury would have crushed many teams, especially when David Robertson went on the disabled list right after Mo's knee buckled, but the Yankees have survived. It obviously helps to have enough money to pay Rafael Soriano to sit behind glass that breaks in case of an emergency, but it has been just as important that Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and Cory Wade were able to carry a heavier share of the load than anyone anticipated.

    Wade has fallen apart entirely in the last few weeks, however, and it's clear that he can't be allowed anywhere near the mound in a meaningful game. Eppley and Logan, like most middle relievers, are never far away from the chance of regression to the below average ranks they resided in before this season.

    In other words, the Yankees might feel the need to make a move for some bullpen help before the trading deadline. Chamberlain's presence could stop them from making such a trade, though, and he could wind up being exactly what the team needs to lessen some of the pressure on the group that's currently working through any messes that occur before the time for Robertson comes around.

    Given his dual injuries, just making it back this far is a remarkable accomplishment for Chamberlain. If he winds up helping the Yankees make the playoffs, it will be yet another chapter in the endlessly interesting story that Joba's been writing since that first appearance back in 2007.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.