Joba Chamberlain encouraged by his progress

Joba Chamberlain reacts after getting Toronto's Adam Lind

Joba Chamberlain reacts after getting Toronto's Adam Lind to strike out and end the eighth inning. (Sept. 23, 2007) (Credit: Newsday/Audrey C.Tiernan)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain had his right ankle taped beneath a navy blue sock, but otherwise, he looked no different firing pitches from flat ground Wednesday morning at the Yankees' minor-league complex.

Shortly afterward, at a picnic table sheltered from the blazing sun, Chamberlain talked excitedly about rejoining the Yankees -- and the chance to silence any remaining skeptics. When Chamberlain suffered that gruesome open dislocation of his right ankle, from a March 22 trampoline accident, some suggested his career might be over.

"When I get on the mound, a lot of people are going to be like, 'Wow' -- that's something I'm proud of: the hard work we put in," Chamberlain said. "There's a lot of people doubting me. I'm fine with that. I've been doubted my whole life.

"Some people said I would never pitch again, that I won't pitch this year for sure. And lo and behold, if everything keeps going well, it's going to be here in the near future."

Chamberlain, 26, was unable to give an exact timetable for his return to the Bronx, but a good estimate seems to be soon after the All-Star break. He said he began throwing off a mound weeks ago and already is up to 30-pitch bullpen sessions. Next week, those will be split into two 20-pitch innings as Chamberlain continues lateral agility drills. In about two weeks, he will progress to pitcher's fielding practice, the last step to prepare him for a rehab assignment.

"The running has been fine," said Chamberlain, who tapes only the ankle and does not wear a brace. "We've had no soreness. No setbacks."

At this point, with so much attention focused on his surgically repaired ankle, last season's Tommy John surgery is an afterthought. The only reminder is the long scar that runs along the inside of his right elbow.

Chamberlain said the Yankees refuse to let him see any radar gun readings -- "I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing" -- but that probably is the team's way of guarding against overthrowing during his rehab. Plus, Chamberlain doesn't need the radar gun to tell him how the ball is coming out of his hand.

"It feels better, it just feels easier," Chamberlain said. "It feels fresh, really. I got a new arm, essentially."

Chamberlain has watched every Yankees' game during his time away from the team, but it hasn't been as easy as it sounds. In some ways, it's been more difficult than any of his sprint workouts in the sauna-like conditions at the Hines facility's fields.

"Honestly, there's some times where I can't watch," Chamberlain said, "because I was in spring training and still part of me feels like I let them down. But at the end of the day, it has given me a lot of time to think, to be thankful for the position that I'm in."

When the season began, Chamberlain was a luxury for a bullpen that was stocked for the late innings. Now, with Mariano Rivera lost for the year, a healthy Chamberlain could slot into a more pivotal role. He intends to be ready, for whatever spot that might be.

"Obviously, everybody is going to be surprised," Chamberlain said. "People wrote articles that said I was never going to pitch again. It's fine. Well, come write the story when I throw the first time and say something to me then.

"There will be very few people that probably swallow their words and say, 'Hey, I doubted it and he came back.' But that's fun for me. That's awesome."

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