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Notebook: Phelps ready for the Bronx

03/31/2007 4:26 PM ET
By Jon Lane / YESNetwork.com

Phelps hit his 4th HR of the spring Saturday.(AP)
TAMPA, Fla. — Little if anything was expected from Josh Phelps this spring except to provide competition for Andy Phillips to back up Doug Mientkiewicz at first base.

Phillips is a homegrown talent and a known commodity who the Yankees gave every chance to secure his spot for 2007, especially when he returned to the team after spending a week to be with his mother after she was injured in a car accident.

Phelps, however, forced his way onto the team, and Phillips through the waiver wire and back to Triple-A. Now the Yankees' Rule 5 Draft selection may find himself in the team's Opening Day lineup. The Devil Rays are starting left-hander Scott Kazmir, and the right-handed hitting Phelps, who hit ninth against Tigers lefty Mike Maroth on Saturday, might get the nod on Monday.

Joe Torre will announce the lineup during Sunday's workout and said while Phelps starting is reasonable, it's not assured. Yet just being in the dugout is the culmination of Phelps' return to the majors after spending last season in Triple-A Toledo.

"Joe talked to me this morning and he'll let me know and let Doug know as well," said Phelps, a .293 hitter with 21 homers and 67 RBIs in 400 career at-bats against lefties. "It's going to be something special," It doesn't matter where Opening Day is. There's always that nervous anticipation, the excitement of Opening Day."

Phelps earned his keep by batting .395 (15-for-38) with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 22 spring games, including a blast to left field to lead off the third in Saturday's spring finale. The Yankees signed Mientkiewicz to a one-year deal for reliable defense and to receive the majority of at-bats. The complexion of that strategy changed when Phelps beat out Phillips and Torre was impressed enough employ a platoon at first base.

"It's fine," Mientkiewicz said. "Josh deserves it. He came in and did really well and should be rewarded for that."

The scenario doesn't surprise Mientkiewicz. Last season with Kansas City, Mientkiewicz recalled convincing manager Buddy Bell to start him in the Royals' opener against Detroit and lefty starter Kenny Rogers.

Mientkiewicz may have won the argument, but he lost the battle.

"I rewarded him by going out there and striking out the first two times," said Mientkiewicz, who finished 1-for-3. "It's a long year and if you play well, you play. I'm focused on being able to keep myself healthy enough to where if [Torre] wants to use me in any capacity, I'm his. Whatever makes us better as a group is all I care about."

Regarded as a light hitter, Mientkiewicz's spring average bottomed out at .069 before he batted .333 (5-for-15) in his last seven games, including a five-game hitting streak.

"I've been consistent the last week to 10 days, whatever it is," Mientkiewicz said. "I feel fine and ready to go. I'm making adjustments now. It took awhile, but better late than never."

MISSING BERNIE
Opening Day will be without a Yankee institution, Bernie Williams. The respected veteran turned down an invite to come to Spring Training as a non-roster player and never returned any of Torre's phone calls.

"When you go back to the clubhouse, and you know where he lockered and he's not there anymore, that's when it's probably going to hit you first," Torre said. "He was here before I was here and we become close, I feel. I just hope we can maintain a relationship because he's a special guy.

"It's certainly going to be different. I'm just sorry the way things worked out this spring with Bernie not coming down. We never will know what would have happened."

QUICK HITS
Miguel Cairo took a spike to his right knee from Jack Hannahan when the latter slid into second base to break up a double play. He remained in the game, applied ice to the area and proclaimed himself OK ... General manager Brian Cashman has not spoken to Ron Villone's camp to determine whether the left-hander will accept a demotion to Triple-A Scranton ... Jeff Karstens (elbow stiffness) threw halfway up a mound and will stay in Tampa to get his arm back in shape ... Mariano Rivera worked a perfect ninth and finished the spring with 10 scoreless innings ... The Yankees tied the Tigers, 3-3, before 10,342 to finish the Grapefruit season 14-13-3.

Jon Lane is an Editorial Producer for YESNetwork.com. He can be reached at jon.lane@mlb.com.
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