Notes: Small gets the call to rotation

Notes: Small gets the call to rotation

BOSTON -- Aaron Small became the latest pitcher to don a Yankees uniform, as the right-handed journeyman was brought up from Triple-A Columbus to start for New York on Wednesday.

To make room on the roster, the Yankees designated infielder Russ Johnson for assignment.

With Al Leiter making his Yankees debut on Sunday night and Kevin Brown slated to return from the disabled list on Monday, general manager Brian Cashman felt it was important to add an arm to the pitching staff, so Small was brought up on Sunday to give Joe Torre another pitcher in the bullpen for the series finale against Boston.

"We wanted to go to 12 pitchers for obvious reasons," Cashman said. "We felt being at 12 pitchers was the best thing to do."

With Rey Sanchez on the DL and Johnson designated for assignment, the only backup infielder on the roster is Tony Womack, who hasn't played a game in the infield since May 1.

"You try not to go that route if you can avoid it," Cashman said. "But right now, the overwhelming need is for some excess pitching."

Small, 33, is 1-4 with a 4.96 ERA in 11 games with Columbus this season, and he also won his only start for Double-A Trenton. He missed about six weeks with a groin injury earlier in the season, but says he's healthy and ready to go.

In 146 Major League games with five teams, Small is 15-10 with a 5.49 ERA. He has made three starts in his career, all with Oakland in 1996. This spring, Small went 0-1 with a 4.97 ERA for the Yankees in six Grapefruit League games, pitching well enough to impress Torre.

"If he has command, he has a lot of movement on his ball and he keeps it down," Torre said. "He knows how to pitch."

Small would have started for the Yankees on Sunday night had Leiter not been acquired on Saturday. That was just the latest false start for Small, who had been told several times this season that he may be called up to New York.

"I wasn't disappointed that they got other people, but I was looking forward to the challenge," Small said. "I was disappointed, thinking I had a chance to get back to the big leagues, not with the moves they made. I have no control over that."

Small will fill the spot in the rotation on Wednesday, but the Yankees can skip it with an off-day next Monday. Carl Pavano, on the DL with right shoulder tendinitis, could return when the spot comes around again on July 30.

"It's better to go up and down than to never go up at all," Small said. "No matter how many times it happens, it's always exciting to get called up to the big leagues. This is where you want to be."

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Yankees Coverage
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Notes: Small gets the call to rotation
Season Series
• 07/17: Yankees 5, Red Sox 3
• 07/16: Yankees 7, Red Sox 4
• 07/15: Red Sox 17, Yankees 1
• 07/14: Yankees 8, Red Sox 6

• 05/29: Red Sox 7, Yankees 2
• 05/28: Red Sox 17, Yankees 1
• 05/27: Yankees 6, Red Sox 3

• 04/14: Red Sox 8, Yankees 5
• 04/13: Yankees 5, Red Sox 2
• 04/11: Red Sox 8, Yankees 1

• 04/06: Red Sox 7, Yankees 3
• 04/05: Yankees 4, Red Sox 3
• 04/03: Yankees 9, Red Sox 2

Center of attention: Melky Cabrera's days with the Yankees came to an end -- for now, anyway -- on Sunday night, as the club optioned the 20-year-old back to Triple-A Columbus.

Cabrera went 4-for-19 (.211) in six games, but his defense -- supposedly his strength -- was the primary reason for the end of the short-lived experiment.

"He's 20 years old, he's come a long way, and he should be very proud of pushing himself in a position for me to consider him in a pennant race," said Cashman. "That shows you what we think about him.

"I know I was pushing the envelope by taking a look at him," the GM added. "I felt at this stage, based on the small sample, that it was best to let him go back down and continue his development while we go forward and continue our search."

Torre sat with Cabrera on Sunday night to explain the move, bringing in Luis Sojo and Bernie Williams to help the Spanish-speaking youngster understand the conversation.

"We spent some time with him explaining that it's not a failure," Torre said. "We said, 'We called you up not expecting anything. We were told you were a good player, and it doesn't mean that you're not because we didn't get it done.'"

Williams started in center on Sunday for a second straight day, prompting speculation that Cabrera may be sent back to the Minors.

"The most important thing for him is to get at-bats and play," Torre said. "Over the next couple of days, we'll probably be moving some people around."

Bubba Crosby will join the team in Texas, most likely on Monday. Williams will likely see the bulk of the playing time in center, though Womack and Crosby may play a few games to give Williams a rest.

Other moves this week will include the return of Felix Rodriguez from the DL, which will likely mean a return to Triple-A for Jason Anderson. Rodriguez threw a scoreless inning for Double-A Trenton on Sunday, and he will be activated for Tuesday's game.

Kevin Brown's return on Monday could spell the end of Darrell May's career with the Yanks.

Sanchez done? Sanchez, on the DL since early June with a cervical sprain and vertigo, may not return this season, according to Cashman.

"I don't know if he's going to come back," Cashman said. "He hasn't made any progress with the disc issue, and they feel he might have damaged a nerve. If that's the case, he could be down the whole season."

With only Womack on the roster as a backup infielder, the Yankees could bring up Felix Escalona from Columbus, though Cashman said that is not likely to happen during the road trip.

Happy birthday, Joe: Torre turns 65 on Monday, and as has been his custom in recent years, he will spend the day with his brother-in-law, Jimmy, whose birthday was on Sunday.

"Other people say, 'Wow! That's a big birthday!'" Torre said. "You can celebrate it for a long time, as long as they don't count any more than one year for it."

Torre said that birthdays used to bother him, but ever since he battled cancer in 1999, he has a new perspective on the issue.

"When I was 58, I was thinking about being 60, which was really traumatic for me," Torre said. "Then I had cancer, and you realize that age is very insignificant, that every year has absolutely nothing to do with getting older. You realize how important every day, week and month is.

"I feel good, and that's how I base my age," he added. "If I don't feel good one day, I blame it on age."

Slow market: Cashman said he spent a lot of time on the phone with other GMs on Sunday, but he doesn't anticipate making any trades in the near future.

According to Cashman, many teams are simply asking too much for their players in this thin market, while others haven't decided whether they will be buyers or sellers before the July 31 trade deadline.

"I was busy [Sunday], talking, but I have nothing to report," Cashman said. "I'm not close to doing anything as of today."

On deck: The Yankees open a three-game series in Texas on Monday, as Brown returns to the mound after a month on the DL. The Rangers send Ricardo Rodriguez to the mound.

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.