CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The long-dormant debate that once filled hours of New York sports radio airtime is about to have one last gasp. Joba Chamberlain said on Tuesday that he is interested in becoming a starting pitcher again.
Chamberlain, whose most recent big league start came in 2009, is likely to begin the season as the Yankees' seventh-inning reliever. Chamberlain said that he will accept whatever role is given to him, but when asked about his future aspirations, he believes that he is capable of offering more.
"This is probably going to spark a bunch of stuff and [Yankees media relations director Jason] Zillo is going to be mad at me, but it's one of those things where it's like, 'Do you think you have the capability to start? Yes,'" Chamberlain said.
"Do I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike? Yes. Do I have two plus pitches in the bullpen that I can throw at any time? Yes. I guess I'm trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I feel like I'm good enough to do both. I've proven that I can do both."
The discussion caught the Yankees by surprise after their 4-3 loss to the Phillies at Bright House Field. Both manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman swiftly and lightheartedly shot down the suggestion of having Chamberlain rejoin the rotation.
"I'd like to catch one more game, too," Girardi said.
"We're down an outfield bat right now, too," Cashman added, referring to the injured Curtis Granderson. "See if [Chamberlain] can play center or not."
Cashman has said that the Yankees believed the right-hander never regained his velocity as a starter after injuring his shoulder in August 2008 against the Rangers. Chamberlain posted mixed results as a starter in '09 before moving to the bullpen for the postseason, and he has not been given a chance to start since. Cashman said that he has never complained about the assignment.
"He's always been [saying], 'Either way, whatever you guys want,'" Cashman said.
"We liked him out of the 'pen," Girardi said. "We liked his stuff out of there. We thought it played well there, and we think it will this year, too. It just seemed to fit who he was."
Chamberlain, 27, points to the fact that he has struck out more than a batter per inning and compiled a 3.73 ERA over six years pitching in the American League East as evidence that he has more to offer than just serving as part of the Yanks' bridge to closer Mariano Rivera -- either as a starter or a closer.
"I've been in the role of in the bullpen for a while, but am I confident that if I got the chance to start again somewhere -- wherever that's at -- I could do it?" Chamberlain said. "Without a doubt. I just have to focus on this year and what I can do to improve to help this team win, continue to try to win ballgames for them."
Chamberlain can be a free agent after this season, in which he is due to earn $1.875 million, and certainly he has noticed the appealing market for big league starters.
Yankees teammate Phil Hughes, for example, is earning $7.15 million this year and could be primed for a contract like those inked by the Cubs' Edwin Jackson (four years, $52 million) or the Tigers' Anibal Sanchez (five years, $80 million) this winter.
It's not out of the realm of possibility that another team could invite Chamberlain to camp next spring for a shot at a rotation slot, but Chamberlain refuted the suggestion that he is trying to sell himself as a free-agent starter.
"I don't sell myself as anything," Chamberlain said. "I go do my job on the mound whenever I'm called upon; everything else will take care of itself. If I stay healthy, continue to do my job and continue to build on how good I know I can be, then everything else will take care of itself.
"I don't know what people see me as. I see myself as somebody who goes out and competes and gives you everything I've got every time I get on the mound, no matter what role I'm in."
While Chamberlain said he has accepted his duties in the Yankees' bullpen since landing there in '09, he added that he never closed the door on pitching another first inning somewhere down the line.
"You just don't stop," Chamberlain said. "You're always thinking in different situations of what it could be. Who knows? I don't know what the future holds for me. I have no idea. All I can control is to be healthy this year, to go out and pitch, and whatever happens, happens."