TAMPA, Fla. — Starter or reliever. It makes no difference to Joba Chamberlain.
The New York Yankees’ prized right-hander threw batting practice Friday for the first time this spring and said he’s not worried about where he fits on the pitching staff.
Chamberlain, who went 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA in 19 relief appearances as a rookie last year, will likely begin this season in the bullpen before joining the rotation.
“Everything in life is uncertain,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me. Just to be thought of in both aspects I think is an honor.”
The 22-year-old Chamberlain quickly became a fan favorite at Yankee Stadium last season and he got the loudest ovation of any New York pitcher throwing Friday — including Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang.
Even senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner took time to watch Chamberlain throw 27 pitches, taking in the session from his fourth-floor office.
“It’s always fun watching Joba,” Steinbrenner said.
Chamberlain missed the first month of his initial professional season last year with a hamstring injury. He joined the Yankees after making just 18 minor league appearances.
“It’s weird to think about — what a difference a year makes,” Chamberlain said. “Your hard work pays off. The thing about it is, you can’t be satisfied. You’ve got to work even harder to be as good or better than you were last year. It’s something that motivates me every day.”
Chamberlain’s arm has already impressed new Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
“It’s just explosive stuff,” Girardi said. “Just a good, old-fashioned, power arm.”
While Chamberlain appears to have a promising career ahead of him, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is getting ready for his 14th major league season. At 33, the captain made some adjustments to his offseason training program.
“A lot of agility, a lot of lateral movement, a lot of explosive stuff to try and get quicker, faster and move around a little bit better,” Jeter said. “Last year I had some problems with legs. You do whatever you can do to try to strengthen your legs.”
Girardi said Jeter looks great this spring.
“He was banged-up last year, and played with injuries,” the manager said. “I think he’s moving great. His legs feel great. I expect him to be as good as he’s always been.”
Jeter could get additional off days this season.
“We’ll monitor that very closely,” Girardi said. “Derek is a gamer that never wants to come out. At times you’re a little beat up. If you give him a day, or a day before a day off and make it two days, it really does a lot for a body. Jeter has played a lot of games over the years. He keeps himself in great shape. We want to make sure he’s strong the whole way through.”
Notes: LHP Andy Pettitte is scheduled to throw batting practice Saturday. ... Girardi has greatly increased the players’ running program. Mussina joked that Saturday’s conditioning program will have the players using their teeth to pull an airplane. ... Luis Sojo will return for his third season as manager at Class-A Tampa. Jody Reed will be back for his second season managing the Gulf Coast League Yankees. ... Hank Steinbrenner on his father, George: “He’s doing great. We talk, and he usually tends to agree with me or vice-a-versa.”