"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The First Taste

The Yankees played their first game of 2006 yesterday afternoon in Tampa. Well, sorta. They played an intrasquad game with Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson managing the two squads, but it’s something.

As is the tradition, the elder Berra’s squad featured the regulars while Jackson’s team was loaded with minor leaguers and hopefuls. The reverse was true for the pitchers, as Jackson got to start Mike Mussina, who pitched two scoreless innings against his own kind, while Yogi started things off with Philip Hughes, who hurled a pair of hitless frames against his own kind.

According to a report from Sunday, the remaining pitchers were to be Steven White, Scott Erickson, Darrell Rasner, Matt DeSalvo, Dusty Bergman and Jose Veras for Jackson and T.J. Beam, Jeffrey Karstens, Mark Corey, Frank Brooks and Matt Childers for Berra.

One line-up note for Berra’s team: Bernie Williams got his first taste of right field since 1992 (when he was 23), reportedly making a nice snag in the gap on a ball hit by Kevin Thompson.

The reason Bernie was in right was that Gary Sheffield was held out due to back spasms he experienced on Sunday. Sheffield’s a back and Hideki Matsui’s left knee (Matsui also sat out the intrasquad game due to minor swelling in that knee) are the current crop of spring aches and pains. You all recall how Jorge Posada’s stiff neck and Randy Johnson’s tight calf derailed their seasons last year, right? No? Oh, that’s because they didn’t. The reason spring training exists is so that players can get back in game shape and have ample time to nurse such minor boo-boos along the way. There’s no point in fretting over each one.

That said, Carl Pavano’s back and Tanyon Sturtze’s shoulder remain worth watching. There was no new news on either yesterday. Mussina, meanwhile, threw in the intrasquad game to get lined up for his first spring start this Sunday. You’ll note that the “Important Dates” section on the side bar has reverted to “Upcoming Schedule.” The Yankees kick off their exhibition season on Thursday against the Phillies with Shawn Chacon on the mound. Chacon will be followed by Jaret Wright (who you may recall had a great spring last year), Randy Johnson, Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang in the Pavano-free five-man spring rotation.

Meanwhile, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon are the only Yankees participating in the World Baseball Classic. The US training camp opens Friday at Chase Field in Phoenix. The US squad will play an exhibition against a Giants slit-squad on Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona, then play their first tournament game on Tuesday, also in Chase Field. Tournament schedule here, TV schedule here.

Meanwhile, back in Tampa, the absence of those three could mean extra long looks for Felix Escalona and Russ Johnson in the infield and Kevin Thompson and Kevin Reese in the outfield. Joe Torre has already said that he will not use Eric Duncan at third base this spring, to allow him to focus fully on continuing to learn first base.

It’s a bit fractured, but that’s our first taste of real baseball news this spring, so savor it. I’ll finally get that line-up post up tomorrow. Then Thursday: baseball!

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver