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Joba believes he'll begin in bullpen

Joba believes he'll begin in bullpen

TAMPA, Fla. -- With less than two weeks remaining before the Yankees break camp, Joba Chamberlain believes that he will begin the year in New York's bullpen.

The 22-year-old right-hander has prepared during Spring Training as a starting pitcher, and the Yankees have not reached a final decision. But with five healthy hurlers primed for the rotation, Chamberlain has surmised that his role will be in relief.

"You stretch your innings out and you go from five or six [innings] to one or two, and it's a little bit easier to go that way," Chamberlain said. "It's good. My arm strength is good, and I felt loose in my last outing. I'm looking forward to getting to New York."

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Chamberlain said that he plans to meet with Yankees manager Joe Girardi and the club's coaching staff on Wednesday, following the team's trip on Tuesday to play an exhibition game at Virginia Tech University.

"We're still preparing him as a starter, but eventually you've got to narrow it down to five," Girardi said. "You've got to put the best arms in the bullpen and you've got to make some decisions."

Chamberlain said the uncertainty has not affected his spring.

"They've been great, so I can't complain about not knowing anything," Chamberlain said. "We're getting close to crunch time and the beginning of the season. Physically it's hard, but mentally, it's a little bit harder. Just to have that idea of what the plan is will be good."

After posting a 0.38 ERA in 19 games down the stretch last season, the Yankees said that Chamberlain would begin Spring Training preparing as a starter, which was his role in college and in the first half of last year's Minor League season.

"The goal of the organization has always been to have him as a starter and to develop him as quickly as possible to be a starter," Girardi said. "That's why you see him starting now, because that's what we're trying to do. We want him as polished as we can get him, as soon as we can get him polished. That's why the innings are important."

But after Chamberlain threw just 112 1/3 innings in his first professional season, the Yankees have been cautious about allowing him to proceed much further than the 140-inning mark this season.

He last started on Saturday against the Tigers in a split-squad game, allowing four hits -- including a Curtis Granderson solo homer -- and three runs in three innings at Lakeland, Fla. Chamberlain, who has a 6.14 ERA in 7 1/3 Grapefruit League innings, would next start on Thursday, and the Yankees have not yet decided on his innings count.

With young hurlers Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy looking sharp, and veterans Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina all slotted for rotation jobs, Chamberlain feels he could slot back in where he excelled last year, setting up for closer Mariano Rivera.

"My feel has been great," Chamberlain said. "It's more the routine of sitting down there and getting your body going from a standstill and not the beginning of the game.

"It's a long Spring Training and a lot of things can happen. I knew the situation of what was going to happen. I was hoping everybody would stay healthy and I'd get the chance to do whatever they had set for me."

The Yankees continue to envision Chamberlain as a starting pitcher going forward, and it is possible that he could transition back to the rotation later in the year. Part of the preliminary plan for that is believed to include Chamberlain returning to the Minor Leagues and building his innings back up.

That would be more challenging than going from starting to relieving, Chamberlain admits, but he believes he would be up to the task.

"We'll cross that bridge if it comes," Chamberlain said. "It's one of those things you can say, but until you're put in that situation, you don't know. I think if that comes about, we'll have to sit down and talk about it, but right now we'll just take it one day at a time.

"You can do anything you set your mind to. You've got to be patient. That's kind of the hardest part, just being patient with what's going on, and not get overanxious and rushed."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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