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Healthy Joba eyeing bounceback season

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NEW YORK -- In accepting a couple of humanitarian awards Tuesday night at the Baseball Assistance Team's 24th annual Go to Bat for B.A.T. fundraising dinner at the Marriott Marquis, Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain mentioned "what an honor it is for me to be able to wear this uniform."

Now, as free agency looms next offseason, he has every intention of a big year on the Yankees' staff. He said he is "100 percent healthy" and raring to go next month in Florida for Spring Training. When he gets there, he said, he plans to "hug it out" with newcomer and former Red Sox arch rival Kevin Youkilis in that same uniform.

"I think we're going to be great," Chamberlain told the crowd. "Obviously everyone talks about moves other teams have made. We haven't made many moves, but I'm still gonna take our lineup and what we're putting out there every day. We've got our pitching staff where we want it to be. And guys we've got thrown in. We've had an addition -- I think you guys know who he is. His name's Kevin Youkilis."

"Your buddy, right?" emcee Michael Kay said.

"It's going to be a good addition for us," Chamberlain replied.

"Did you call him?" Kay said.

"I did call him, actually. I left a message, just to welcome him to our side," Chamberlain said. "To tell him that I'm glad he's on our side for once, and to be able to win it on our side. I know it was the holidays and it was busy and stuff, so I'll see him at Spring Training, we'll hug it out and we'll go forward."

Youkilis has not responded yet. They warred a long time in the American League East, mano-a-mano.

"I did everything I can do," Chamberlain said in an interview with reporters before the dinner. "I can't control what Kevin Youkilis does. I can only control what I can do.

"He's obviously won before. He knows how to win. He's played in a market where he understands what's going to happen, so I don't think there's anything that's going to catch him off-guard, in terms of seeing you guys all the time and answering those questions. That's part of coming here to play. Just to be able to have him on our side, he's a big addition, obviously can play third base, can play first, DH, hits to all parts of the field. It'll be nice having him on our side, for sure."

Chamberlain drew laughter and applause at the dinner when he said, "And for everybody, don't worry, I sold my trampoline this offseason." Indeed, it was that trampoline's usage that led to an open dislocation of an ankle last spring, an injury that came after he had spent the previous offseason rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Those back-to-back problems kept him from Yankees action until Aug. 1. Chamberlain made 22 appearances and ended the season with a 4.35 ERA.

"One hundred percent, right now everything's good, throwing curveballs and sliders, and just continuing to get stronger," he said. "It's been great. It's one of those things where you're able to just focus on what you've done. You go back to where you're healthy and what worked and what you did during your rehab to make your shoulder stronger, your elbow work. You just put it all together. It's been a good offseason."

Chamberlain said he gradually felt comfortable after getting August "out of the way" upon his return last season. After facing Double-A hitters in rehab and then jumping into the pennant race, he called it a matter of "getting back into that routine of just reading swings, read and feed, knowing the situation and pitches."

"To be able to finish strong was obviously good," he said. "Everything clicked into place for me in September, just to be able to take everything that I learned from that year and tack it onto this year and build from that."

All eyes will be on the Yankees' bullpen, now that Rafael Soriano has moved to Washington and Mariano Rivera returns to his closer role. Chamberlain said he has "kind of played every role there has been," and now he says he is ready for anything, sitting alongside David Robertson, Boone Logan and the all-time saves leader in Rivera.

"In Spring Training, you have a lot of guys who are capable of doing a lot of things in that bullpen," Chamberlain said. "Hopefully Mo comes back and his knee does what he wants it to do, and for us that makes us an unbelievable ballclub, with him on the back end. There are also other guys in there who can step up. We're gonna have to, obviously. There's going to have to be a seventh-, eighth-inning guy who can continue to fight and claw for that hole and get after it."

Rivera is 43 now, so it is impossible not to consider how the future of this bullpen shakes out. Is it something Chamberlain thinks about?

"I mean, you have to," he said. "You have to embrace the fact that you're on the back end of that bullpen. God forbid something does happen to Mo, and knock on wood, I hope he finishes this year healthy and he saves 55 games for us. That means we did our job in front of him.

"But obviously if things go not the way you want it to, there are going to be guys who have to step up. I think we all know that. We just have to take that in stride and get to Spring Training and get ready and take it one day at a time."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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