Yankees Figure Out How to Spell Relief

Four innings of shutout work from the bullpen

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Apr 7, 2010  |  Updated 11:12 AM EDT
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Yankees Figure Out How to Spell Relief

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John Smoltz was hanging around the Yankee clubhouse before Tuesday night's game and the presence of the former Braves starter and closer reduced Joba Chamberlain to a teenage girl within shrieking distance of Justin Bieber.

Unlike those screaming girls, he actually got to speak to Smoltz and, unlike Bieber, Smoltz actually has some useful insight into Chamberlain's life. He also switched from starting to relieving at one point and, based on Tuesday night, told Joba something that paid off.

Chamberlain dialed up the speed on his fastball and slider in the eighth inning and made Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew look silly flailing at twisting sliders to clean up a mini-mess made by David Robertson and Damaso Marte. Mariano took over from there and the Yankees equaled their record at 1-1 with a 6-4 win.

It was a vintage Joba performance, right down to the fist pump following the Drew strikeout, and it's one that will warm the hearts of every person who clung to the belief that Chamberlain belonged in the pen. He threw harder, only needed his two best pitches to get the job done and there was an electricity to his performance that isn't there when he's a starter. Just the way Joe Girardi drew it up in his convoluted game plan.  

The only problem with the bullpen on a night when five relievers combined to throw four shutout innings -- only problem aside from the fact that the bullpen had to throw four innings, anyway -- was the way Girardi micromanaged the eighth before Chamberlain's appearance. Girardi managed the team out of a game or two in the playoffs with his constant mixing and matching in the bullpen. Beyond being annoying to sit through, throwing too many cooks into the kitchen raises the possibility that one of them will ruin the stew. It's early, so we'll assume he hasn't quite figured out who he trusts and remain hopeful that he won't be doing this all year. 

He needn't worry that Yankee games will be too short without his machinations. The two Nicks will see to that. Johnson pushed the winning run across the plate by looking at five pitches from Hideki Okajima with the bases loaded and Swisher saw 30 pitches during his at-bats. Johnson now has an on-base percentage of .500 without getting a hit and Swisher doubled twice after fighting his way to a hittable pitch.   

Girardi should take some bullpen management cues from those two. Just because you're sitting back and watching a pitch go by doesn't mean you aren't doing anything to help the team win the game.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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