Mientkiewicz feels he should be able to meet whatever expectations the Yankees have for him as their No. 9 hitter. He batted .283 in 91 games for the Royals last season before undergoing season-ending back surgery in August, and the Yankees would likely be more than satisfied if Mientkiewicz is able to duplicate that production in pinstripes.
Manager Joe Torre believes that Mientkiewicz can be a productive member of the lineup, even if hits grow scarce during a dry spell. Mientkiewicz is reasonably adept at putting the ball in play; he struck out 50 times in 314 at-bats last season and has averaged better than one strikeout per six at-bats over his career.
"He doesn't necessarily have to get a hit to be a contributor," Torre said. "If you want to move runners, I think he can help you in that regard. He doesn't swing and miss a lot. You can do a lot of things [to] keep the inning going."
Even though the Yankees have been widely projected to be slotted to carry a platoon at first base, using Mientkiewicz against right-handed pitching and either Josh Phelps or Andy Phillips against left-handers, Torre said Wednesday that the arrangement is not necessarily set in stone.
Though Mientkiewicz is likely to receive the majority of the club's at-bats by first basemen, Torre said that would be determined by Mientkiewicz's production.
"We'll see what his stroke looks like going into the season, and then I think we'll make that decision," Torre said. "I think he's capable of doing that, but I don't want to bury him either if he's struggling."
Mientkiewicz has been insistent that no matter what Torre decides, he will be fine with the setup. Mientkiewicz said his 2006 season with Kansas City reignited his passion for the game, and his enjoyment factor has only increased following surgery by Dr. James Watkins in Los Angeles on Aug. 29 to remove part of a herniated disk.
"The back's great," Mientkiewicz said. "If you'd told me two months ago that I would feel like this, I'd have told you that you were crazy. It's kind of frightening how good I feel right now. It's been so long since I actually had no pain. It's a different, nice feeling."
Bye for now: The Yankees reassigned top prospect Phil Hughes to Minor League camp following his bullpen session on Wednesday, with pitching coach Ron Guidry seeking out the 20-year-old shortly before 5:45 p.m. ET.
Hughes' three spring appearances were underwhelming. The right-hander appeared against the Twins once and the Indians twice in exhibition play, allowing four runs and six hits over 4 2/3 innings for a 7.71 ERA. He walked six and struck out two.
Hughes said that his last outing in particular -- a 1 1/3-inning appearance against Cleveland at Legends Field on Sunday -- opened his eyes. Unable to throw his curveball and changeup for strikes, Hughes allowed three runs and four hits to the Tribe.
The experience, Hughes said, convinced him that there was work to be done at Triple-A. He possesses a Major League fastball and a curveball that is considered a plus pitch, but his changeup and slider will need to be further developed.
"You can't come in here and expect to get big-league hitters out with just two pitches," Hughes said. "I knew that from the start, but it's a matter of going out there and being able to command the third and fourth pitches. That'll be a key for me."
Before Wednesday's game, Torre volunteered that Hughes' demeanor contrasts strongly with that of a former touted prospect in the Yankees organization, third baseman Drew Henson. Torre recalled that Henson seemed to take each demotion to the Minor League camp as a failure.
"[Hughes] seems to be pretty level-headed, knowing what our plans are," Torre said.
The Yankees have been consistent in stating that their desire is for Hughes to pitch as much as possible at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. General manager Brian Cashman said earlier this spring that Hughes could spend the entire season at Triple-A, with perhaps a September callup, and that the organization is in no rush to hurry Hughes to Yankee Stadium because of his value as a long-term asset.
Hughes said that he would love to pitch in the Major Leagues sometime in 2007, but he also said he understands his situation. If Hughes appears in New York this year, it would be because one of the Yankees' starting pitchers is unavailable or unreliable.
"It's not really my decision to make," Hughes said. "I can just take what I learned here, work on some stuff and do what I need to do. At some point, we'll see."
Additional reassignments: The Yankees also reassigned right-handers Matt DeSalvo and Ross Ohlendorf, plus left-hander Chase Wright, to Minor League camp on Wednesday.
This and that: Catcher Wil Nieves (right forearm tenderness) resumed throwing on Wednesday and remains on track to return to game action by the weekend. ... Andy Pettitte and Carl Pavano are likely to split the pitching duties Saturday against the Phillies, with Pettitte slated for five innings and Pavano for four. ... Torre said he would ask Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to bat his club in the bottom of the ninth if winning so Pavano could get a full four innings.
Coming up: The Yankees welcome the Braves to Legends Field on Thursday, facing off under the lights at 7:15 p.m. ET. Left-hander Kei Igawa is scheduled to start for New York, with right-hander Lance Cormier going for Atlanta.
Right-handers Tyler Clippard and Mariano Rivera will also pitch for the Yankees. Oscar Villarreal, Tyler Yates, Jonathon Johnson and Peter Moylan are slated to relieve for the Braves.