Damon hopes bullpen remains strong

Damon hopes bullpen remains strong

NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon is among the first to acknowledge that moving Joba Chamberlain to the starting rotation will benefit the Yankees in the long run. But he also knows that the club could have used him in relief on its disappointing road trip.

Instead, Chamberlain made his Major League starting debut on Tuesday for the Yankees, spending 62 pitches to get seven outs against a patient Blue Jays lineup. One day later, Damon was among the first players to voice concern that the Chamberlain move may hurt the Yankees in the short term.

"That's what we're going to go with, and it's going to help our team in the long run," Damon said. "In the short run, we have to try to find a way to get the ball to Mariano [Rivera]. Simple as that.

"Yeah, we could've used that on the last road trip, no doubt about it. Could we have won those games? Maybe."

The Yankees went 3-4 on their trip to Baltimore and Minnesota, and speaking before Thursday's 9-8 Yankees win over the Blue Jays, Damon reiterated some of the comments he made to the New York Daily News.

In print, he said that the Yankees' bullpen had been one of the team's biggest strengths coming out of Spring Training. Now that Chamberlain has been removed from the mix, the depth has been depleted.

Most recently, right-hander Kyle Farnsworth was charged with a loss when he allowed a go-ahead hit pitching the eighth inning in a June 2 game at Minnesota. LaTroy Hawkins was also charged with a loss on May 27 at Baltimore, an extra-innings loss that some believe may have turned out differently if Chamberlain were available.

"I want to know the games that we sacrificed by doing what we did," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Everyone's assuming that we would have won that game in Baltimore had we had Joba in the bullpen that night. You'd be pretty smart if you know that.

"You're still getting innings out of Joba. You may have got one inning out of him in the eighth, but then you're talking about a different starting pitcher. We still got 2 1/3 innings out of him, which is more than we usually get out of him, so I don't feel that you're making a sacrifice."

Asked if the move somewhat sacrifices the Yankees' 2008 season in favor of the future, Damon said, "I sure as heck hope not. I think we have enough talent here to get back to the playoffs. We do have a better division this year, and we need to hang around, stay as close as possible until we figure out who's going to bridge the gap to Mariano."

Girardi said that he had not heard or read Damon's comments, but he bristled at the idea that Chamberlain's absence from the bullpen is weakening the team.

"So much has been made during this transition of us losing games because of our bullpen, and I don't necessarily agree with that," Girardi said. "I think we've lost games because we've had opportunities and we haven't taken advantage of opportunities.

"By moving Joba to the rotation, we feel that we're really strengthening our rotation. To me, to have a chance to win a game usually, you have to get a good start. It's the organization's belief and it's my belief that this is the best move for the club."

Chamberlain's big league debut was cut short in large part by the 41-pitch first inning Toronto worked, even though Chamberlain pinned the bases loaded and allowed just one run. In his next start, on Sunday against Kansas City, Chamberlain is expected to get a bump of about 15 pitches added to his count, but he still may be forced to work aggressively because of the need to get deeper into the game.

"I think teams realize he's on a pitch count," Damon said. "Joba's a guy who strikes guys out, so his pitch count [is] going to get up a bit higher than, say a [Chien-Ming] Wang or [Andy] Pettitte, or the guy who uses his pitches most effectively in this league, Roy Halladay.

"Teams know about the pitch count, but Joba's going to learn how to pitch to contact and realize that hopefully he doesn't get hurt with it."

In the third year of a four-year deal with the Yankees, Damon has made little secret of his desire to win a World Series in New York, but it is a fair question to wonder if the Yankees' chances of accomplishing that goal in '08 would be better with Chamberlain in the bullpen.

That, the Yankees have said, is not an option. Damon said that players as a whole would need to "strap it on" and get it done with the landscape that remains.

"We knew how good Joba was in the eighth inning, probably the best in the game," Damon said. "So now we have to mix things up a bit, use a couple of guys there. We should be a good enough team that it shouldn't matter."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.