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Joba Chamberlain throws 98 mph during a perfect inning

Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain delivers against the Detroit

Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain delivers against the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game in Lakeland, Fla. (March 10, 2010) Credit: AP

TAMPA, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain is ready for the next step and could pitch for the Class A Florida State League Tampa Yankees on Friday night in Bradenton.

"I think it's time to move," Chamberlain said Tuesday. "Not saying that these hitters aren't good, but they necessarily don't have the plan that the guys at the upper levels have. Now I think it's just time to be able to take a step forward . . . To be able to get a high level and see what happens."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has not ruled out Chamberlain, coming back from ankle and elbow injuries, rejoining the team before his 30-day rehab assignment ends early next month.

In his third GCL game Tuesday, Chamberlain struck out two during a perfect inning against Philadelphia minor-leaguers. His fastball reached 98 mph, which surpassed the 97 he topped out at in both of his first two games.

"I thought everything was more consistent," Chamberlain said. "It was definitely better than the last couple."

Chamberlain allowed one unearned run, no hits and has six strikeouts in four innings.

Chamberlain's progress has the Yankees "very encouraged," manager Joe Girardi said before Tuesday night's game against the Blue Jays. "It seems like he's getting through this, and it shouldn't be a real long time, if everything goes according to plan."

Austin Romine, coming back from a seasonlong back injury, caught Chamberlain.

"He did a great job today," Chamberlain said of Romine. "In, out. Up and down. Being able to mix up pitches. We have to approach these guys like we're facing big-league guys. You've got to pitch the way you're going to pitch against guys in the big leagues."

Chamberlain dislocated his right ankle bouncing on a trampoline with his son March 22. The righthander went 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 27 relief appearances last season before elbow-ligament surgery June 16.

With John Jeansonne

New York Sports