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02/16/08 4:32 PM ET

Farnsworth putting woes behind him

Reliever anxious to get started after tough '07, offseason

TAMPA, Fla. -- Kyle Farnsworth did not particularly enjoy spending a summer being booed at Yankee Stadium, but that negativity was a breeze compared to the concerns he faced in January.

Farnsworth told MLB.com on Saturday that he was immobilized for three weeks with a staph infection in his left leg that required hospitalization, an unexpected interruption that contributed to his reporting to Spring Training a bit trimmer.

"They think that it might have come from a mosquito bite," Farnsworth said. "At first, I thought it was a spider bite, so I itched it, and that might have helped it spread. I had it looked at and the doctors said, 'That's no spider bite.'

"It was my push-off leg, so I was concerned," Farnsworth continued. "I looked down and it was red all the way from my thigh to my kneecap. It was pretty scary."

The episode may have helped Farnsworth put last season in perspective. The hard-throwing right-hander was 2-1 with a 4.80 ERA in 64 relief appearances for New York, but he struggled at times with his command and fell out of his eighth-inning setup role for a period of time.

Farnsworth's inconsistency was a contributing factor when the Yankees decided to convert Joba Chamberlain from a Minor League starting pitcher into a big league reliever, though Farnsworth went unscored upon in 13 of his final 17 appearances of the regular season.

"It does bother you a little bit, but still, you have to go out there and pitch the way you're capable of," Farnsworth said. "You have a job to do."

Though he was under medical supervision in Tampa, Farnsworth said that the hospitalization episode did not derail his offseason training as much as it could have.

He still expects to be able to pitch on back-to-back days -- a major stumbling point for Joe Torre -- since his sometimes-troublesome back has not created any issues.

"The doctors told me rest was the best thing to help it," Farnsworth said. "I've gone to the chiropractor a few times, but I think just rest and stretches and trying to do some exercises was probably the best thing for it."

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A healthy, effective Farnsworth would be a key to the Yankees' bullpen picture, where much remains unsettled. General manager Brian Cashman has said that only three roles are decided so far -- closer Mariano Rivera, Farnsworth and veteran LaTroy Hawkins -- and if Chamberlain winds up in the starting rotation, it will be Farnsworth's job to get the ball to Rivera.

"I just want to pitch," he said. "Whether it's the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, it doesn't matter to me. Three outs. Our job as a team is to win games. That's what I'm here to help do."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a teammate of Farnsworth's with the Chicago Cubs, has insisted that he knows how to keep him properly motivated, saying that Farnsworth appeared in great shape following his first bullpen session of the spring.

"I believe in him because I've personally witnessed it," Girardi said. "I know that he can be an outstanding pitcher. I know he has the ability to strike out people in tough situations. I look forward to seeing him get out on the mound in a couple of weeks."

Farnsworth called Girardi "a mentor" when they were batterymates in the Windy City from 2000 through 2002, and said Girardi, then a veteran, "brought me underneath his wing."

"I remember being persistent, working to get the best out of him every day," Girardi said. "Some days I would try to irritate him a little bit, get him to laugh some other days. I believe in order to win, you have to get out of your comfort zone."

Farnsworth has spoken with Girardi recently concerning the expectation that he return to his past performance level, which led the Yankees to offer a three-year, $17 million deal before the 2006 season. Farnsworth appears ready to take the message to heart.

"It's definitely good to have a manager here that you have a relationship with," Farnsworth said. "It definitely helps. He's seen me pitch, and he's caught me before. He knows how to get the best out of me."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.