First Pitch: Don't forget about Joba

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
7:00
AM ET
Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have been lumped together for years now, ever since 2007, when they both made their big-league debuts.

Hughes has been one of the big topics of conversation this spring, while Chamberlain has flown under the radar to some degree. Which is natural -- Hughes is competing for a spot in the starting rotation, while Chamberlain continues his rehabilitation following Tommy John surgery last June.

But don't sleep on Chamberlain. He is way ahead of schedule, should be throwing live batting practice in the near future, and could be back in the bullpen for the Yanks by June.

"We're really pleased with where he’s at," said manager Joe Girardi, when asked about Chamberlain on Wednesday. "He’s chomping at the bit a little bit, but we gotta make sure we keep him on the right pace."

Girardi thinks this time off, although difficult, could pay huge dividends for Chamberlain and the Yankees in the end.

"I've seen a lot of positive signs already," Girardi said. "When you look at the work that he's put in to get to where he is at this point, he's been ahead of schedule the whole time, and that's because of what he's done. So I think you could see how the experiences he's been through have played a role in getting him to where he is."

Remember, Chamberlain was off to a pretty good start last season, before he suffered the torn ligament in his elbow. He was 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA in 27 innings pitched, striking out 24 and walking just seven. That was his lowest ERA since 2008, his first full year in the bigs.

"I'm anxious to see him pitch in a game," said Girardi. "But I'm not gonna allow myself to rush him, because we want him long-term."

UP NOW: My story on Hughes' strong performance in Wednesday's outing against the Rays.

ON DECK: Mark Simon will tell you more about Hughes' much-improved changeup in a blog item posting at 10:15 a.m.; then Andrew Marchand will opine on how many wins Hughes will collect this season in an item posting at 11:30 a.m.

IN THE HOLE: After I spend some time in the Yankees clubhouse early Thursday afternoon, including a huddle with manager Joe Girardi, I'll be making the two-hour car ride to Fort Myers for Thursday night's game between the Yankees and Red Sox.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who should Mariano Rivera's heir apparent be: Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, or Chamberlain?
Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146