Damon can't escape facing Big Unit

Damon can't seem to shake Unit's shadow

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees, he figured his days of hitting against Randy Johnson were behind him.

He was wrong.

Damon was one of four hitters lucky enough to face Johnson during batting practice on Thursday, as pitchers threw to hitters for the first time this spring.

"There's nothing quite like it," Damon said. "It was good to see the best right out of the chute. ... He's the best, and you have to be able to do something against the best to be successful. He's still pretty intimidating when you step in the box against him.

"I'm hoping this was my last time today."

Johnson threw to Damon, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield and Wil Nieves, though none of the hitters even bothered to swing at most of the Big Unit's offerings.

"They were working on tracking the ball, but it's nice just to get out there, I guess," said Johnson. "It's hard to evaluate where you're at when they're still early in Spring Training."

"I was watching pitching practice, not hitting practice," said manager Joe Torre. "I feel for them. I'm glad it's them and not me. It's a horrible time for hitters."

When hitting coach Don Mattingly was making out the lists of batting practice groups, he delivered the bad news to Damon that he would be hitting against the five-time Cy Young Award winner.

"I've known Jason [Giambi] longer than you," Mattingly told Damon, "so you have to hit off Randy Johnson."

There were a few moments of excitement, as Johnson brushed Jeter off the plate once, then did the same to Damon.

"I think Randy was getting a little upset that they weren't swinging," said Torre. "He was throwing hard, and he had a couple that were close shaves."

"The problem for me is that I'm pulling for both sides," added the manager. "When you see Randy do what he did today, you like that -- except for the fact that he's pitching against your guys. It's sort of a double-edged sword."

On his third pitch to Damon, Johnson grazed the center fielder's left forearm, though Damon was fine.

"Guys were teasing him, saying he should have done that last year," Damon said. "He did it plenty of times last year. I was never comfortable."

"They're my teammates, so they're safe," Johnson said. "Some of them, anyway."

Torre sympathized with his hitters, remembering how much he hated taking batting practice against his team's pitchers. He said that Tom Seaver was one of the few pitchers who would throw 85-mph fastballs down the middle, making the exercise a little easier to take.

"Not everybody has control like Tom Seaver," Torre said. "[Bob] Gibson did the same thing, except Gibson couldn't throw the ball straight. Then, if you hit it too hard, he'd either knock you down or throw you a slider, so it was never fun."

It didn't seem like much fun for Damon, either -- not that facing Johnson has ever been a treat for him. Last season, Damon went 2-for-16 with five strikeouts and five walks against the big left-hander, as Johnson went 5-0 against the Red Sox.

"Our guys couldn't hit him; I might have had the best at-bats against him, because I was able to walk and then run around the bases," Damon said. "The other guys were hoping to get a pitch to hit, and you're not going to get many great pitches to hit off him. He did his job. He was definitely the difference-maker."

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