Notes: Yankees embracing returns

Notes: Yankees embracing Classic returns

JUPITER, Fla. -- With the United States having been eliminated late Thursday night in the World Baseball Classic, four Yankees who participated in the inaugural event are making their way back to the team's Spring Training facility in Tampa. That's bad news for the U.S., but good news for the Yankees.

"The negative thing about losing turns out to be a benefit for us in that we don't have to cram everything into the last week or 10 days," manager Joe Torre said before the club's 5-2 loss to the Cardinals on Friday at sold-out Roger Dean Stadium.

Torre is particularly concerned about the return of center fielder Johnny Damon, who has been struggling with tendinitis in his left shoulder. Damon pinch-ran for fellow Yankee Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning of Thursday's 2-1 loss to Mexico, and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman felt relieved after talking to renowned arm specialist Dr. Lewis Yocum, who examined Damon on Monday in California.

Yocum told Cashman that Damon was cleared to pinch-run and pinch-hit before the Mexico game, so the GM is hopeful that the Yanks' leadoff hitter will be able to serve as a designated hitter in a game soon.

Cashman doesn't have a timetable for Damon's return to center field, but he'll be able to eyeball the Classic players up close on Sunday. The Yankees opted to have Damon, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Al Leiter head home to Tampa rather than joining the club here, where it will wrap up a two-day visit Saturday with a game against the Florida Marlins.

Torre laughed that he didn't have to worry about the left side of his infield being behind schedule, because Jeter and Rodriguez worked side by side during the inaugural event.

Outfielder Bernie Williams, who played for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, called Torre from Tampa on Friday morning and asked what he should do. Torre told the veteran to remain in Tampa and added that Williams might require some extra defensive work, since he was used as Puerto Rico's designated hitter.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina seemed deeply appreciative Friday to have played with Williams on Team Puerto Rico.

"It was a dream come true for me to play with him," Molina said upon his return here following Puerto Rico's elimination.

Chacon battles: Right-hander Shawn Chacon allowed seven runners in 3 2/3 innings Friday against the Cardinals, yet he was touched for just a run in a no-decision. He prides himself on minimizing the damage created by his sometimes shaky control.

"I'm going to have days where I'm sort of wild," Chacon said after walking two and giving up five hits. "But I learned a while back that you're only one pitch away from getting out of a jam. If you always think that way, you're better off rather than trying to throw harder and work faster.

"Now I stop and take a deep breath," he added. "My intent is to slow the game down mentally. When you do, you focus better."

Chacon, acquired from Colorado last season, also has been ultra attentive when Yankees standouts Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson talk about pitching. Chacon calls Mussina "the scholar" among the staff's pitchers. Chacon also said he loved listening to Johnson talk for 15 minutes the other day about his cutter.

"I could listen to him talk all day about it," he said.

The two veterans' openness has helped Chacon feel accepted as he tries to endear himself further to the Yankees after going 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 14 games last season.

Chacon is just glad he can prepare for the season away from the glare of the World Baseball Classic. He could see on television the seriousness of this early-season competition, with each country's pride at stake.

"Sometimes it feels like you're representing a whole country pitching for this team," he said. "But really, it's nice not to have to put that on your shoulders in the spring."

Crosby sidelined: Outfielder Bubba Crosby, who made the trip from Tampa, sat out Friday's game with a tight hamstring. Torre said it's unlikely the outfielder will play on Saturday, either.

Despite Crosby's .190 spring average, Torre has a high opinion of the 29-year-old as someone he trusts to perform. Apparently, some sessions with hitting coach Don Mattingly did wonders.

"There was a time last year when he was never a consideration, except as a pinch-runner or as someone you'd put in late in a game," Torre said. "But after Donnie worked with him, I saw a different hitter. He once was a dead pull hitter -- hit the ball in the air and swing and miss. Donnie got him waiting on the ball. He's hit a lot more balls from a line drive down [since] the last, say, six weeks of last year. He's a much better player now."

Coming up: Right-hander Jaret Wright, roughed up for eight runs in his last start against Pittsburgh, is expected to pitch for the Yankees against the Marlins on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET as the club winds up a two-day stay in Jupiter.

The Yankees, whose lineup Friday included regulars such as Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano, will have a similar lineup Saturday, Torre said.

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.