LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Tigers have gotten a good return on their short-term investment in right-hander Joba Chamberlain.
“He’s been the one piece that has been consistent all year,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.
Chamberlain leads the American League in holds heading into Detroit’s road trip this week against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels.
He pitched the eighth — the inning that has become his to pitch — in Sunday’s sweep-avoiding win for the AL Central-leading Tigers against Cleveland. He held opponents scoreless for the 13th time in 14 games and 25th time in 27 appearances since mid-May.
“Every time he comes into the game, I feel like he goes 1-2-3 pretty easily,” teammate Drew Smyly said after earning the win against the second-place Indians. “He’s been pretty amazing. I don’t know if he’s one bad game all season. That’s hard to do out of the bullpen when you’re pitching the eighth inning every game.”
The Tigers hoped Chamberlain would bolster their bullpen when they signed the former New York Yankees player to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. With a new team and no rules about facial hair to worry about, he has been letting his beard grow for six-plus months.
“I save a lot of money on razors,” Chamberlain joked. “And, spend a little bit more on shampoo and conditioner.”
Chamberlain is pitching so well, and so often, he earned $200,000 for pitching in a 35th and 40th game. If he pitches twice on this week’s road trip, he’ll pick up another $100,000 and he can keep the checks coming by appearing in a 50th and 55th game.
In his seventh season with the Yankees last year, he was limited to 45 games because of a strained right oblique and perhaps because he was not a trusted option with a career-high 4.93 ERA. The previous two years, he pitched in a total of 49 games because of right elbow and right ankle operations.
Now, Chamberlain is relatively healthy — saying he deals with “stiffness” in his ankle — and very happy.
“It’s a great fit all around,” Chamberlain said. “I faced these guys enough. I’m just glad I don’t have to face them anymore.”
Chamberlain came into the majors with a bang, averaging more than a strikeout per inning in 2007 as a reliever and in 2008 as a pitcher who took turns in the rotation and was used out of the bullpen. After going 9-6 in 31 starts in 2009, he pitched a career-high 73 games the next year as a reliever.
Injuries, though, took a toll and led to his departure from the Yankees and an opportunity in Detroit.
“I knew what I was capable of,” Chamberlain said, shrugging off any sense of surprise at his comeback. “I’ve had the opportunity to pitch in every situation in baseball, as a starter as a reliever and everything in between. I knew I had to prove it in spring training, get better and go from there.”
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