By Ashley Dunkak
LAKELAND, FLA. – Joba Chamberlain could have made more money elsewhere, Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday. Chamberlain, one of the team’s steadiest relievers in 2014, came back to Detroit in part because he felt badly about the way the 2014 season ended.
Over his first 41 appearances for the Tigers, Chamberlain turned in an ERA of 2.63, and he recorded 40 strikeouts and 12 walks. Over his next 28 appearances, Chamberlain had an ERA of 4.97, and he struck out 19 and walked 12.
His struggles continued into the postseason, when during the American League Division Series he gave up three hits and four earned runs in two appearances that, combined, lasted only one-third of an inning.
“I didn’t finish the season the way I wanted to, and we have unfinished business as a team, and I personally do,” Chamberlain said Tuesday morning outside the clubhouse. “Started off well and just, at the end, didn’t finish the way I wanted to, so that was a big factor, and obviously winning for this city and Mr. I [team owner Mike Ilitch] is something that, as soon as I signed up last year, was something that I wanted to do. It was just, when we were talking to other teams and had the other opportunity, it was best for my family and best for myself and big thing is my son’s really comfortable, and that makes me comfortable. It’s just a tremendous opportunity.
“There was a lot of other teams interested, but at the end of the day we did what was best for my family and myself,” Chamberlain continued. “We always talked. It was always a conversation, and when things got going, we obviously knew the situation based on dollars-wise, but it just ended up – it just worked perfectly. This isn’t about money, this isn’t about anything, this is about the fact that I get to play with this group of guys and for this coaching staff and Mr. I and Dave and everybody … It never was about money. It was about the fact of doing what’s best for my family, and I feel like Detroit is part of my family.”
Both Dombrowski and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus were surprised Chamberlain was available for signing. Dombrowski said the team always had interest in Chamberlain but did not think a deal would happen.
“We stayed in contact with him throughout the winter,” Dombrowski said. “We always liked the job that Joba did for us last year. Really was more in a situation having added Joakim Soria and having [Bruce] Rondon come back, we had felt very comfortable with the guys we have, but we stayed in contact. He wanted to come back here, he liked it here, he understood our circumstances of limited ability to kind of pursue him as far as roster spots but as far as also dollars were concerned.”
“I … thought somebody else would step up and entice him to join them,” Dombrowski added. “I don’t know what happened in terms of why he turned down a couple offers. I’m not really sure about that. I never really asked him that, but I just assumed as people looking for pen and his name’s been out there and I know people have had interest, that something would work out somewhere else, but it just didn’t, for whatever reason – and I do know at the end he had some other offers and he just got back and [his representative] said, ‘Hey, you know what, he likes it there, he liked his teammates, he liked playing for Brad, he liked dealing with Jonesy, and he wants to come back to the Tigers.'”
Last year, the Tigers did not sign Chamberlain to be their eighth-inning man. Rondon was supposed to land that job, but his injury kept him sidelined all season, and Chamberlain filled the void. For the first half of the season, he did so quite well.
“I’ve said it before – he was our most consistent pitcher from wire to wire,” Ausmus said in his office Tuesday. “I know people like to point to the fact that he didn’t pitch as well in the second half as he did in the first half, but all in all, you put the season together, he pitched pretty well for us – really in a slot that he wasn’t expected to pitch in. We thought Rondon might pitch in the eighth inning, and he ended up being the eighth-inning guy because Rondon got hurt, so I think he definitely adds to that depth we talked about yesterday.”
Chamberlain said he should be ready to jump into workouts with the team because he has been staying in shape and throwing bullpens while he waited for a deal to happen.
“I’ve been throwing bullpens and everything, so I’ll sit down with Jonesy [pitching coach Jeff Jones], I’ll probably throw a bullpen tomorrow and basically just kind of go from there,” Chamberlain said. “Games start soon. I’m not too far behind, if behind at all, whatever you want to call it. I’ve probably thrown six or seven bullpens. We’re right where we need to be.”
Chamberlain insisted he did not pitch too many innings last season. He described the source of some of his struggles as the adjustment to the workload rather than the workload itself.
“It was the first time that I’d been completely healthy, and it’s just when you go through a workload like that, it takes a toll, but that’s not an excuse,” Chamberlain said. “I’ve got to do my job better, and I know that and I know some things I can change. Obviously having two full healthy years of offseason work and doing the things that I’ve done, I can kind of take bits and pieces of what helped me and hurt me last year. I’m really looking forward to it.”