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Tweaked 'Joba Rules' benefit Yanks

Tweaked 'Joba Rules' benefit Yanks

NEW YORK -- First, the Yankees bent the Joba Rules. Now, they've broken them.

Joba Chamberlain earned his first career save in Sunday afternoon's 7-5 win over the Blue Jays, pitching 1 1/3 innings despite having only one day of rest after a two-inning appearance on Friday. It was aggressive, and it worked. And it was the perfect present for Chamberlain, who chalked up his first save on his 22nd birthday.

"I never assume anything," Chamberlain said. "I make sure I prepare myself in every way I can and be ready for every situation."

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The rules, as originally stated, said that Chamberlain could not pitch on back-to-back days. If he pitched two innings, he would need two days of rest before the extended outing and two days of rest after it. In addition, Chamberlain was not to enter a game in the middle of an inning, and once he began warming in the bullpen, manager Joe Torre would be forced to use him.

Apparently, rules are made to be broken. Chamberlain entered Sunday's game in the eighth inning with two on and two outs, despite pitching two innings on Friday. It was the second time in five days that he had entered a game mid-inning.

The effects certainly didn't show, as Chamberlain struck out Adam Lind on five pitches to end the threat, then gave closer Mariano Rivera a day off by pitching a perfect ninth, recording two more strikeouts. And all of that from a pitcher who wasn't even supposed to be in the game.

"I don't profess to know what's best for a pitcher," Torre said. "I'd rather leave it to the pitching coordinator, who I have a great deal of respect for."

That's Nardi Contreras, with whom both Torre and general manager Brian Cashman spoke on a conference call late last week. Contreras was the main architect of the original rules, and he has agreed to up the ante as Chamberlain progresses.

"Slowly but surely, things are changing," Contreras said in a phone interview shortly after Sunday's game. "In the playoffs, he's going to need to help out [Rivera]. But to say that we have something set is wrong."

Instead, Contreras said, the season's final week will go a long way toward determining precisely how often Chamberlain is capable of pitching in October. They don't want to push the envelope any more than they have to -- and on Sunday, they had to, with the game on the line -- though they've recently been more open to acknowledging that they will indeed test the limits.

Much of the problem stems from the fact that, as a starter for his entire professional and collegiate career, Chamberlain is used to pitching once every five days. To ask him to pitch on back-to-back days, or perhaps even three times in four days, as a playoff series might dictate, presents a radical change.

Yet this isn't complete Joba anarchy just yet. Instead, the Joba Rules have simply been altered to factor in pitch count. On Friday, Chamberlain threw two innings but needed a pedestrian 30 pitches to do it. That prompted Torre to speak with both Contreras and Cashman before Sunday's game and secure the OK to use Chamberlain, if needed.

Chamberlain was available for only one inning, but according to Torre, that meant an allotted 25 pitches. So when he needed only five to finish the eighth, the Yankees didn't hesitate to give a worn-down -- but otherwise healthy -- Rivera a rest.

"We're on the move with this thing," Torre said. "A lot of it's going to be judged on pitch count, and the days off will vary. Certain situations have to be right for us to use him, and unfortunately, it called for that in the eighth inning."

So perhaps the Joba Rules would be better named the Joba Guidelines. The team has definite plans to pitch Chamberlain on back-to-back days before the end of the season to make sure that he can handle such a load in October.

And the temptation is always present. Sunday was a perfect example, as Chamberlain effortlessly escaped a jam at the back end of a weekend when seemingly no Yankees reliever could record an out. Combined, he and Rivera hold a 0.94 ERA over the Yankees' last 29 games. The rest of the bullpen's ERA stands at 8.81 over that stretch.

"We made a little run there late, but they had Chamberlain," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Sunday's game. "He's pretty dominating. We were kind of hoping, because he threw two innings the other night, that he'd have today off as well. I guess that's changed."

Good guess.

And scarier still for opposing offenses, Chamberlain said that he "felt great" after Sunday's 16-pitch outing, which brought his total to 46 pitches in three days. He has aced every test the Yankees have concocted, so now they're willing to loosen the reins just as the greatest test of all approaches.

"I definitely took it with a lot of patience and learned to become a little bit more patient with the way things have gone," Chamberlain said. "It was great to get that opportunity and to show that I can come back and they can keep running me out there. It's going to be good for situations where we maybe need to give Mariano a break or something like that, or just any situation in general."

The playoffs count as a situation -- a pretty big one, at that. So, as long as Torre and Contreras are willing and Chamberlain is able, there's no telling how lax the Joba Rules might soon become.

And that knowledge may just be the biggest birthday present of all.

Chamberlain has the ball from his first save, which he plans on giving to his father, Harlan. And he's got the green light to break some more rules in the near future. So on his 22nd birthday, he really had only one other wish.

"A steak," Chamberlain said. "I don't care where it's at -- as long as it's dead and not winking at me."

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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