Injury allowed Joba some needed time off

Injured pitcher Joba Chamberlain looks on from the

Injured pitcher Joba Chamberlain looks on from the dugout as his team plays the Milwaukee Brewers at Yankee Stadium. (June 29, 2011) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain used the word "blessed."

Blessed that he's had no setbacks in his rehab from June 16 Tommy John surgery and, most significant to the pitcher, that he got to see his 5-year-old son, Karter, off to kindergarten in September.

"This injury was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Chamberlain said Friday morning. "I was able to see my son's first day of school. There's no amount of money, there's no world championships, there's nothing that can compare to watching my son walk into school for the first time. And I wouldn't have been able to do that if it wasn't for this surgery. For that I'm very thankful."

That's not to say Chamberlain is looking for more time off; he wants less, actually. All involved, including general manager Brian Cashman, say the righthander is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation.

Chamberlain pitched three half-mound bullpen sessions last week and will throw three more this week. Should those go well, he said, he'll go to the full mound the week after.

"It's really not the day that you pitch that they're worried about, it's the day after, just from the stiffness and anything like that," Chamberlain said. "Knock on wood, we haven't had anything like that . . . I've never had any of that from Day 1."

All good signs, Cashman said, but that doesn't mean the timetable for Chamberlain's return has been pushed up. The best-case scenario usually is a full year. Even with no setbacks, sometime in June, or even a bit later, is the GM's target.

"He's had a heck of a rehab. He's doing phenomenal," Cashman said Saturday. "We just have to be careful because he's doing so well not to move up the expectation schedule. No matter how good he's feeling, it still doesn't move the time frame up in significant increments. He's going to want to look at April or May. We should look at June."

Chamberlain pitched well -- 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA -- before being shut down and undergoing surgery. The center of attention since he came up in August 2007, he said it was good to get away as he recovered. Now he's looking forward to assisting, in whatever role, what was one of baseball's best bullpens in 2011.

"Hopefully I can come back and add to it and continue the success they had last year," Chamberlain said of the bullpen. "Just to be able to help our guys out and to be on the field. It was so frustrating last year to be there and not be able to compete and help the guys. It will be nice to be in uniform and to be able to lace the spikes up and get to work."

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