The Yankees were confident Joba was about to get his career back on track, and that makes this injury even more painful

It’s not that the Yankees are going to be significantly hurt if Joba Chamberlain can’t pitch this season. He appeared in just 27 games last season, and the Yankees still had the American League’s best bullpen ERA.

When David Robertson got hurt earlier this spring, the Yankees held their breath because he had established himself as a late-inning bullpen anchor. This is different. The Yankees are so deep in pitching that this spring has been an audition of left-handed relievers to allow Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi to evaluate their options.

For Joba, this spring was about something else. It was about reestablishing his career and proving that long after the hype of those early years had faded, he was still capable of being a first-rate Major League pitcher. The Yankees had raved about his work ethic in the wake of last summer’s Tommy John surgery, and Cashman seemed to believe that both Chamberlain and Phil Hughes were prepared to be major contributors.

Now Chamberlain seems unlikely to pitch at all in 2012, and Cashman couldn’t say whether a gruesome dislocated left ankle might be career threatening. Still, Chamberlain is only 26 years old and has plenty of time to heal and get himself prepared for next spring.

If Buster Posey and Kendrys Morales can recover from their ankle injuries, there’s hope for every other player in baseball. In a lot of ways, Chamberlain had already proven himself to the Yankees. He’d shown the work ethic and determination that at times they wondered about. He was a much-hyped player when he arrived in 2007, and for a time, he was as good as advertised

In his first two seasons, he was 6-3 with a 2.17 ERA while appearing in 61 games. Since then, he’s 14-10 with a 4.44 ERA and 132 appearances. But last summer he settled nicely into a relief role before he got injured.

He’s young enough to have plenty of time to recover. He’ll need a few days to allow his emotions to settle and to be prepared to attack another long rehabilitation process. But Cashman won’t give up on him as long as he doesn’t give up on himself. Joba can still have a great career.

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