TAMPA, Fla. -- Go ahead and declare that the Yankees have no reliable way to get the ball to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning. It's actually what Brian Bruney wants to hear.

Reporting to camp nearly 20 pounds lighter this spring, the suddenly svelte right-hander says that he is more motivated than ever and has his mind set on claiming the Bombers' eighth-inning role for the upcoming campaign.

"I like people that doubt me," Bruney said. "I would rather somebody doubt me than call me the best. Tell me I can't do something, and I'll do it. That's how I look at it. Now it's my goal to prove all the doubters wrong."

The Yankees have not set their late-game plans in stone -- at least not yet -- but manager Joe Girardi anticipates that the bridge to the closer will be paved by both the 27-year-old Bruney and left-hander Damaso Marte to begin the year.

Nothing against Marte, of course, but Bruney said that he wants to be that guy.

"I look at it like it's mine," Bruney said. "I've got to prepare for the eighth inning. Until somebody tells me what I'm throwing, my goal is the eighth inning. That's what I'm mentally preparing for."

Coming off an injury-shortened campaign that featured a 1.83 ERA in 32 games, Bruney has done little to hurt his chances, having made a positive impression from the minute he reported to Tampa.

The Yankees had heard rumors of a new-look Bruney making the rounds, but it wasn't completely understood until Girardi actually saw his reliever in person.

"When people had seen him here in camp a little bit earlier, they said, 'Boy, Bruney sure looks great. He's skinny,'" Girardi said. "I was thinking, 'Gosh, what does he weigh, 180 pounds?' I'm thinking he's going to look like Edwar Ramirez when he comes in."

No, Bruney won't be confused for his fellow bullpen mate Ramirez, whom Joe Torre once nicknamed "The Thermometer." But Bruney reported to camp weighing 217 pounds, meaning he had lost another 18 pounds over the winter.

The last time Bruney had tipped the scales under 220, he was a high school junior.


"I look at it like it's mine. I've got to prepare for the eighth inning. Until somebody tells me what I'm throwing, my goal is the eighth inning. That's what I'm mentally preparing for."
-- Brian Bruney

"Every decision that I make now, if it's not helping me in some baseball form, it's not worth my time," Bruney said. "Food, sleep, drink, all that stuff is tailored for baseball. I put the best stuff into my body."

The metamorphosis began after the 2007 season, when Bruney began to shed the first of what would be approximately 40 pounds. No longer satisfied with simply having a spot in the big leagues, Bruney said he rededicated his focus to becoming the best pitcher he could.

"He came in last year in great shape, and a lot of people said, 'Let's see if he maintains that,'" Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "Well, he did. We had a lot of long heart-to-heart conversations."

Eiland summarized his underlying theme: players like Bruney are blessed with great talent to get where they are, and that he would be doing a disservice to himself and his family if he didn't take advantage.

"He doesn't complain about work and doesn't complain about running," Eiland said. "He used to. Not anymore."

Well, depending on the situation. A good portion of Bruney's weight loss can be credited to distance running, though he won't be registering for the New York City Marathon anytime soon. That cardio work is a major reason why Bruney has been able to keep his diet in check.

"I can tell you exactly how many miles everything is," Bruney said. "I'm too careful now. There's no reason for me to have six beers or a double cheeseburger. It's absurd to me. I can make healthier choices."

It beats paying the price. Bruney actually says he hates running and needs to trick his mind into thinking he can go further -- first, just a mile, then to 10 minutes, then just five more minutes on to 15. The most important thing is that, at the end of the day, the work gets done.

"I'm not running thinking that it's going to make me a better player," Bruney said. "I don't run the ball to the plate. I just think that I'm getting into better shape. I'm thinking about everybody in the room -- coaches, players -- and that my job this year is pretty important. I know I can't watch TV and sit on the couch and feed my face all day."

Since he now showcases more energy, Eiland said that he has to fight Bruney back at times when the hurler tinkers with other pitches in the bullpen, assuring him that what he has is enough. That confidence tells Eiland that more success could be around the bend for Bruney.

"His mind is in the right place and he's figured some things out for the better," Eiland said. "It's a great thing. I give him a lot of credit for what he's done, and he's going to play a big part for us."