DETROIT--If Joba Chamberlain wanted the role, he was going to have to fight for it. The job of being the Detroit Tigers' set-up man was not going to be handed to him despite a lack of options in the bullpen.
And after the way Chamberlain began the 2014 season it appeared that he would be anything but reliable. But Joba Chamberlain had other plans and despite a rough start he eventually settled in and became the solid set-up man that Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had been looking for.
"I said in spring training, I hope someone kind of takes that set-up role and runs with it, and Joba's shown so far, he's running with it," Ausmus said. "We're going to keep handing him the ball, and hope he can hand the ball to Joe (Nathan). It's the fact that the starting pitching is going, generally, seven innings. Joba has pitched well, and Joe has pitched well, so it's really starter, Joba, Joe in a lot of cases."
Having a beard the size of a lumberjack may not have helped helped, but it couldn't hurt. Chamberlain began sporting the beard at the beginning of the season after a vote by fans following his appearance on MLB's Intentional Talk.
When Chamberlain signed with the Tigers during the offseason, there were questions of whether he could handle the job, considering how the 2013 season went. His track record was less than ideal and the fact that he had not been far removed from Tommy John surgery did little to instill confidence in his abilities.
Chamberlain's spring training was less than impressive, but he continued to make the adjustments needed. And when Bruce Rondon underwent his own Tommy John surgery in March, Chamberlain was given his chance. It wasn't one that he was about to miss out on.
"I feel like that's why they brought me over here," Chamberlain said. "Obviously with the experience that I have, just kind of pitching in every situation. But from the time that I signed, that was what my goal was and someone was going to have to take it from me." (via the Oakland Press' Matthew B. Mowery)
Chamberlain has allowed a combined five runs since the season began. Two of those runs occurred on April 24 in the eighth inning against the Chicago White Sox, a game the Tigers won 7-4. However, with that one exception Chamberlain hasn't allowed a run since April 8. He'a also kept all five inherited runs he's had this season from scoring, too.
He has not given up a home run and since the start of the season Chamberlain has accumulated 18 strikeouts in 14 outings and a combined 12⅓ innings pitched. Wednesday night while facing the Houston Astros, Chamberlain gave his best performance yet. He used his slider to induce a groundout to end what could have been a messier seventh inning.
But the eighth inning is where he truly shined, striking out the side effortlessly. After getting Dexter Fowler to strike out on a foul tip Chamberlain froze Jason Castro and Chris Carter in the batter's box and they went down looking. Chamberlain did not hide his excitement and exited the field with an emphatic fist pump.
His consistency of late has given Ausmus reason to trust him and is glad someone picked up the role, something the Tigers needed to stabilize the bullpen. "He's certainly pitching a lot better," Ausmus said. "His fastball's crisper, his slider's sharper and he's throwing strikes. I was certainly confident sending Joba back out there for a few more outs. He's certainly capable of getting four outs."