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Chamberlain takes mound, feels good

TAMPA — It's only 5 more inches, but in Joba Chamberlain's mind he took his most significant step yet Tuesday morning in his recovery from elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Chamberlain, 26, who had the procedure on June 16, threw off a full 10-inch mound instead of a half mound, the first time he has done so in his rehab that continues to progress ahead of schedule.

"It's the last step in getting back," Chamberlain said after his 16-pitch session, watched by manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and other staff, including guest instructor Andy Pettitte. "Just to know that you're on the mound and the last step for you is to start spinning stuff (curveballs). You know you've gotten over every hurdle to this point and I'm thankful for that."

Every hurdle hasn't been entirely cleared, and Tuesday's step doesn't mean the right-hander is going to be a factor in what is expected to be a crowded — and standout — bullpen anytime soon.

General manager Brian Cashman has maintained that the goal is to have Chamberlain back by, at the earliest, mid to late June. The time frame for pitchers returning after Tommy John surgery is generally 12-14 months.

"I think June," Cashman said earlier in spring training. "If you ask him, he's going to tell you May or April. We have to really help him with that because he's worked extremely hard."

KURODA SET: Manager Joe Girardi indicated that RHP Hiroki Kuroda will join opening-day starter CC Sabathia in the five-man rotation.

Jays: Litsch ailing

DUNEDIN — RHP Jesse Litsch, the former Dixie Hollins standout and Rays batboy, will be shut down for at least a week after feeling soreness in his pitching shoulder.

Litsch was examined by noted orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, the National Post of Toronto reported, and was told to rest the injury.

Litsch, 26, pitched 75 innings in 28 appearances, 20 in relief, last season in his comeback from elbow ligament replacement surgery. He went 6-3 with a 4.44 ERA and is expected to compete for a starting job.

PITCHER IMPROVING: RHP Carlos Villanueva, a candidate for one of the final bullpen spots, continued to make progress in his return from a right hand injury that might have been related to a circulation problem.

Villanueva, 28, played catch for a second straight day on and didn't have any issues with the hand, which felt cold when he woke up Saturday. Villanueva went through a series of tests at a local hospital and was placed on medication that acts like a blood thinner.

Phils: Ready to start

CLEARWATER — The Phillies begin their spring training schedule today, sort of.

Philadelphia is scheduled to host Florida State at Bright House Field at 1:05 p.m. Manager Jerry Manuel unveiled a lineup card that included several regulars, including SS Jimmy Rollins and RF Hunter Pence, but said 2B Chase Utley and 3B Placido Polanco will not play. He added that 1B Jim Thome will get at least one at-bat but will not play in the field.

Pitching for the Phillies will be predominantly minor-leaguers, starting with RHP Austin Hyatt, 25, who likely will start the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He's scheduled to be followed by LHPs Jake Diekman and Jeremy Horst, RHP Michael Schwimer, LHP Joe Savery and RHPs J.C. Ramirez, B.J. Rosenberg and Phillippe Aumont.

Chamberlain takes mound, feels good 02/28/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 9:24pm]

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