Joba escapes unscathed against old friends

Joba escapes unscathed against old friends

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain has thrown to Francisco Cervelli for years. Pitching against him was something altogether different.

As Chamberlain stared toward the batter's box and saw his former teammate waiting to swing, he had his Spring Training test.

"He's caught me for a long time, my whole career," Chamberlain said of facing Cervelli in his return to Steinbrenner Field in a Tigers uniform. "To be able to get that at-bat and see the swings that he was taking and to get him to swing on a slider was a good sign."

Chamberlain retired Cervelli with the pitch the batter probably knew was coming once he got to two strikes. Chamberlain eventually got out of the inning with that pitch, making it through a scoreless seventh with two runners stranded. He fell behind with his fastball, struggling to command his heater, then rescued a potential disaster of an inning with the sharp-breaking slider he wanted to regain.

"Today was a big key for me, as far as my slider," Chamberlain said. "I wanted to come in and make sure I felt confident with it, because it was something that was going to get me back over the rubber and to the plate. I got a couple strikeouts on it. I've got to continue to locate my fastball and pitch off that, and to know that I still have my slider there is a good sign."

Chamberlain didn't get an immediate reception from the sellout crowd when he entered, but only because it was the seventh-inning stretch and "God Bless America" was playing. Once he was introduced, the crowd reaction was mixed but muted.

For some of them, Chamberlain's struggles had to look familiar. He threw 12 balls and 12 strikes for the inning. Many of the balls were fastballs early in the inning, putting him behind in the count against his first three innings. Several of the strikes were sliders late.

He retired the first two batters he faced after 2-0 counts, then fell behind on a 3-0 count to Jose Gil, who lined a single to left off a fastball. Chamberlain put Dean Anna in a 1-2 count before missing with a couple sliders and losing him to a walk.

Up came Francisco Arcia, who took a couple strikes to fall behind and set up the slider. He took one for a ball, but Chamberlain spotted the second for a called strike and an escape.

"He got into a little bit of trouble, and got himself out of it," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I'm sure he had a little bit of mixed emotions coming back and playing against the Yankees, but he threw a couple sliders that looked really good. When his slider is on, it's a swing-and-miss pitch."

Chamberlain wasn't making much of the emotions. He said hello to many of his old teammates before the game, he said, but wanted to focus on his work.

"It's another game," he said. "It's one of those things where you have to be able to slow it down a little bit, and I wasn't able to do a good job of that today. It's something to work through."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.