Here's a holiday present the Yankees can enjoy all the way until spring training: Mariano Rivera, who is coming back from right knee surgery, says he'll be ready to pitch Opening Day April 1.

"Oh, yeah, I don't see why not," Rivera said Wednesday at the Stadium, where he was helping out with the Yankees' annual holiday food drive. "We have at least three months, four months until that point. I'll be ready."

The 43-year-old closer suffered a torn ACL last May, but he's "feeling good" now as he progresses through rehab.

"The leg's getting stronger and stronger," he noted, before adding, somewhat philosophically: "You have to give it time. I'm doing my part and time is doing its part."

Rivera has not started throwing regularly, but he was lobbing the ball off a mound a few weeks ago as part of a commercial shoot. "My arm is good," Rivera said. "Everything else feels good. I will start throwing a baseball pretty soon."

While he's no junkie for hot-stove baseball news — "Once the season is over, I don't follow baseball," he says — Rivera was aware that the Yankees agreed to a deal with Kevin Youkilis and were about to re-sign Ichiro Suzuki, too. He's pleased by the idea of both moves.

"I just heard it here," Rivera said. "Those two guys are veterans and good players and they know the league. They will be helpful for the team."

Youkilis, who turns 34 in March, was long a flashpoint in the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry after several dust-ups between the sides, including a few Youkilis-Joba Chamberlain staredowns. Rivera knows that some Yankee fans are uncomfortable with Youkilis donning pinstripes, but the third baseman always impressed Rivera with his intensity.

"One thing I know, the guy plays hard," Rivera said. "Definitely, Yankee fans won't like him because he was wearing the Red Sox uniform... I can't decide for them. But he will be my teammate and I have to respect that.

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