DETROIT -- Joba Chamberlain was once for the Yankees what Bruce Rondon now is for the Tigers: the young hard-throwing right-hander who is seemingly capable of long-term dominance out of the bullpen.
In his first full season in 2008, Chamberlain struck out 118 hitters in 1001/3 innings.
Now, for 2014, the Tigers hope Rondon can be an eighth-inning fireballer like that to set up closer Joe Nathan.
But Rondon must prove he has the health, ability and savvy to do so over a full season. The Tigers wanted to find a veteran reliever to step into Rondon's role if he couldn't do it.
They evidently have selected Chamberlain for that assignment. On Thursday, according to reports from reliable media outlets, the Tigers signed Chamberlain to a one-year contract. As reported by Buster Olney of ESPN, the contract is for $2.5 million, plus performance bonuses.
On Wednesday, after the signing of outfielder Rajai Davis, general manager Dave Dombrowski said the Tigers' roster was set for spring training with the exception perhaps of another reliever.
"A bullpen arm -- not big-time -- but somebody that might give us a little depth out there," Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski repeated that preference Thursday morning as the meetings were ending. Later in the day, the Tigers apparently had filled that desire for bullpen depth by signing Chamberlain.
As usual with free agents, the Tigers didn't make an immediate announcement of the signing, perhaps because Chamberlain hasn't yet passed the requisite physical.
Chamberlain, 28, has spent his entire career with the Yankees. He broke in with them toward the end of the 2007 season, and by that fall had a major role in their playoff bullpen.
After he had all those strikeouts in 2008, the Yankees turned him into a full-time starter in 2009. He went 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA. He pitched in relief in the postseason as the Yankees won the World Series.
Chamberlain went back to the bullpen in 2010 and has been there since. He appeared in a career-high 73 games in '10. But over the next two seasons, he was limited to a combined 49 games by two injuries, one typical for pitchers and the other unusual.
He missed much of 2011 because of ligament replacement surgery in his elbow -- the Tommy John operation.
In March 2012, he suffered an ankle injury while jumping on a trampoline and was out until August.
This past season, Chamberlain appeared in 45 games. As throughout recent years, he has managed to average approximately a strikeout per inning.
Late this season, Chamberlain's velocity returned to his preinjury levels. Although often used in a mop-up role, his velocity was back to 95-96m.p.h.
However, his slider was still absent. And there's another parallel with Rondon: Chamberlain has to be able to throw sliders for strikes to make his fastball effective.
If there was a troubling statistic in his work this year, it's that he allowed eight homers while pitching 42 innings. He yielded five of those homers at Yankee Stadium, where the home-run distances to right are ridiculously short.
He'll work now in a big park, Comerica Park. In 151/3 career innings there, he hasn't yielded a homer.
Chamberlain is 4-0 lifetime against the Tigers.
Not exactly Nathan's 36-for-36 in saves, but once again, if you can' beat 'em, sign 'em.
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