Notes: Mussina takes hill for first time

Notes: Mussina talks of past, readies for future

TAMPA, Fla. -- Before Saturday's outing, Mike Mussina reminisced about his Spring Training days with the Orioles, who he spent an entire decade with from 1990-2000.

From the sound of it, the experience was somewhat of a long, strange trip through Florida. He spent his first big-league camp in Sarasota, Fla., in 1991 and then in St. Petersburg the following season when the Orioles began training at the Huggins-Stengel complex formerly used by the Cardinals.

For the next three seasons, the Orioles split their Spring Training between the fields in Sarasota and St. Petersburg, where they'd practice at one site and play games at another, before moving to their current site in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in 1996.

"It would be a workout just getting between each place," said Mussina. "There'd be times where we'd do early morning workouts and then hustle to play. We'd pack our stuff up and rush to get to the other field in time for the game."

Listening to Mussina recount stories from early in his career is a reminder that the 38-year-old Stanford graduate has aged and matured despite his still-youthful appearance. And, after his two-inning outing on Saturday against the Pirates during which he allowed two hits, including a towering solo homer to Brad Eldred, Mussina's self-evaluation further exemplified his status as an elder statesman.

"When you're 25, you expect to go out there and have it the first day you pitch," said Mussina, who threw 34 pitches, 24 for strikes. "Now, I don't expect to be great the first day. I just expect to find a feel for it and work out from whatever that starting point is."

His starting point on Saturday involved Pirates left fielder Andrew McCutchen, who fouled off four consecutive pitches on a 2-2 count before reaching first on an infield single. By the time the first inning had ended, Mussina had tossed enough pitches (19) for a full Spring Training day's work where he didn't have to add any in a bullpen session.

"I definitely used up enough in the first inning," said Mussina. "It felt strange for the first time. But your goal is to at least get the ball over the plate, and I did that, for the most part."

Mussina said he felt good about his curveball and had decent location with it, but he was disappointed that it came off his hand so slow. But his analysis of his work equates to someone understanding how life is as a veteran pitcher.

"You just don't go out and do full speed immediately, especially before you're out there in a game," said Mussina, who gave up two hits with no walks or strikeouts. "You have to get used to game speed again. Sometimes the command of the baseball takes the most time. Once you get used to that, then you're fine. But that's just stuff you've got to work on throughout spring."

Manager Joe Torre understands just as much where older pitchers like Mussina are as well, and knows that the first outing is more about surviving as opposed to dominating.

"He wasn't pleased, obviously," said Torre. "He might have been overstriding a bit, but he came through it and felt fine. That's all you really want. That's the thing, when you watch these guys in Spring Training, that there's no physical issues. They've been around long enough to know what works."

One of the things that worked was Mussina's fastball, which Torre said was a key to Mussina starting so well last season, when he won six of his first eight first games.

"He threw a lot of fastballs today, which was good," said Torre. "He did the same thing last year, which built up his arm strength."

And, amidst the dreary day that reminded many of New York in April or May, the cheery Mussina also knows how to have a good time with his first appearance as well.

When asked if he's where he wants to be at this point of the season, Mussina joked: "Well, I threw the same pitch where the [umpire] called it a ball before and then [Eldred] hits it out a long way. So, I guess, I'm in midseason form when it comes to that."

Field of hopes and dreams: Torre was impressed by 26-year-old righty Matt DeSalvo on Saturday. The non-roster invitee allowed three hits and one run, but the Yankees skipper praised DeSalvo for the confidence he showed on the mound.

"He's throwing the ball really good," said Torre. "He's comfortable to watch this spring. Last year, he struggled at the start and tried to make up for it and that he eventually found himself in Double-A ball. Your mind rules your body and, I think, last year, he fought it so much that he lost everything. Now, he's in such a positive frame of mind that his stuff is so good, we just have to keep him there."

Torre also has liked what Kevin Thompson has shown in the field and at the plate. Thompson started in place of Bobby Abreu in right field on Saturday and had a double in two at-bats.

"He's got the tools," said Torre. "He got our attention last year. The more you see him, the more he's exposed to the big leagues, he's going to eventually stay here. The most important thing for him is to play. We know that, in the event of an S.O.S., then we'll have him and Kevin Reese ready to fill in."

Step one: Torre is looking forward to watching Carl Pavano pitch against the Phillies on Sunday, describing the outing as "step one."

"It seems like he's ready for this," said Torre. "There's no special covenant here, so hopefully he has no physical issues when he pitches his two innings."

Gone, but not for good: The Yankees sent Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, P.J. Pilittere, Omir Santos, Marcos Vechionacci, and Steven White to Minor League camp following Saturday's game. ... White threw off flat surfaces in a bullpen session in what Torre described as "very impressive."

So cool: Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi have been big believers in wearing sunglasses since early in their careers. But a lot has changed in terms of technology and they appreciate the innovations in design of the light blockers.

On Saturday, the two locker neighbors had a chance to see the newest style from Rooly sunglasses. Two representatives from the company, Larry Maddox and Bryan Hooper, who had already fitted the players in earlier visits, brought a few of the specially-made pair for them to try out in different conditions.

It's a far cry from when Damon and Giambi first started playing, when they used to wear flip-down types.

"Those were so uncomfortable and difficult to manage," said Damon, who used to sport the style during his days with the Royals. "They would be too dark and it would make it tough to pick up the ball a lot of times. The ones now are so advanced that you have ones that you can wear when it's overcast, when it's super bright and you don't have to worry about flipping them down. You can just wear them throughout the game and feel like they're not even on your face."

I feel good: Abreu said he has been feeling substantially better in the past two days. He was in good spirits on Saturday after a morning workout in which he ran on the treadmill for 30 minutes.

"I feel real happy with where I am and the way things are going," said Abreu, who strained his oblique muscle earlier in the week. "It's too early to say, but I feel optimistic with the way it's getting better."

When asked if he'd be ready sooner than expected, though, Abreu grinned and said, "Well, I don't know about that, but, hey, you never know. We'll see."

Coming up: The Yankees go for their fourth consecutive win of the exhibition schedule on Sunday when they travel to Clearwater, Fla., to face the Phillies in a 1:05 p.m. ET start.

Pavano will make his first start of the spring, with lefty Cole Hamels taking the mound for the Phillies.

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