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Chamberlain settling in as Tigers' setup man

The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- After a rocky start to the season, Joba Chamberlain is becoming a stabilizing force in the Detroit Tigers' bullpen.

Chamberlain, the longtime New York Yankees reliever who signed with the Tigers in December, has not allowed a run in his past five appearances and has only given up two runs in his last 11 outings. He is now the main setup man, a role that many expected Bruce Rondon to fill before Rondon joined the long line of pitchers who had Tommy John surgery this spring.

Chamberlain's goal all along was to win the eighth-inning role.

"It was something I knew how to do," he said. "I knew what the role was and what it took, so I try to embrace that and do everything in my power to get the ball to Joe (Nathan, the closer)."

His latest appearance against Houston on Wednesday was arguably his best to date. He inherited a two-on, two-out situation in the seventh and induced Astros second baseman Jose Altuve to ground out. He then struck out the side in the eighth, and the Tigers went on to win 6-2.

Chamberlain had his own experience with the dreaded Tommy John procedure, undergoing the surgery in 2011. He endured a slow road to full recovery, as his 4.93 ERA last season suggested. He finished with 26 walks and 38 strikeouts in 42 innings a year ago, but his fastball and slider are showing more bite with his new team. He has 18 strikeouts and just three walks in 12 2/3 innings.

The Tigers signed him for the bargain price of $2.5 million, but he will command a much bigger payday as a free agent again after the season if he continues pitching at his current level.

"It's two years out of surgery, so it's a matter of getting back and getting comfortable," he said. "At times last year, it went really well, and at times last year, it went really bad. It's part of the game. You've got to continue to grind and continue to work and understand it's going to come along if you put the work in."

Chamberlain is far removed from the much-ballyhooed prospect he was when the Yankees brought him up in 2007. Wisdom, along with injuries, made him a totally different player.

"I'm a pitcher now, just reading swings, reading stances, knowing the situation, knowing if I faced the guy before and how I got him out," he said. "Early in my career, I just threw. But that's part of growing. This game is so hard and there's so many adjustments to be made. It's a game of change, it's a game of you making adjustments and other people making adjustments. For me, it was being able to learn to pitch and slow the game down."
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