Karstens hits bump in road vs. Jays

Karstens hits bump in road against Jays

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- It can be difficult to tell when Johnny Damon is joking around. It's even more challenging while he's wearing sunglasses and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt.

But the Yankees center fielder said he was being honest when he approached right-hander Jeff Karstens following the Yankees' 9-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Monday, boosting the hurler's spirits before hitting the road.

"You're good," Damon told Karstens. "You're a good pitcher. Seriously."

Karstens' bid as a dark-horse candidate for the Yankees' rotation hit a snag against Toronto's lineup, with windy conditions and an inexperienced left fielder combining to snap the 24-year-old's spring scoreless-innings streak at 10.

Karstens allowed four runs and six hits in a 75-pitch performance Monday, spanning 4 1/3 innings. He struck out two and still has yet to issue a walk in 13 1/3 spring frames.

"We've still got a lot of time left," Karstens said. "I learned a lot today about what I can and cannot do when I'm out there. You can't throw fastballs at 91 [mph] by people, especially when you're behind."

After recording the first four outs, Karstens thought Troy Glaus stroked enough of a pitch to homer, but a swirling breeze held it in the ballpark. Utilityman Miguel Cairo -- attempting to stay sharp in left field just in case of a future emergency -- then couldn't corral an Alex Rios fly ball that was scored a double, putting two aboard.

One out later, on what Karstens thought was a much better pitch than the previous two hits, Aaron Hill brought in both runs with yet another two-bagger off the wall.

"They were playing wall-ball, it seemed like," Karstens said.

Karstens would be charged with two additional runs when reliever Chris Britton surrendered a two-run single to Lyle Overbay in the sixth. Manager Joe Torre said the effort didn't change much relating to Karstens' continued bid for a Major League role.

"It's just more information," Torre said. "He's been [darn] near perfect, so I don't think he could hold up against that."

Karstens said he wasn't too deeply troubled by his spring string being nixed.

"You're going to give up runs at some time," Karstens said. "If that wasn't the case, I'd be in the big leagues. But everybody gives up runs."

After pitching in eight games (six starts) for New York last season, Karstens believes he came into camp better prepared for life in the Majors.

His velocity has ticked up a few mph after spending three months working out at Athlete's Performance in Los Angeles, shacked up in a hotel and training five days a week alongside established big leaguers like Chase Utley, Garrett Atkins, Nomar Garciaparra and Chad Cordero.

"You don't have any idea how hard these guys work in the offseason to put up the numbers they put up," Karstens said.

Karstens said that he was given a CD-ROM by the training center that shows a side-by-side photo comparison of the right-hander in November and on Jan. 19, the day he returned home to San Diego.

The results, he said, look like a magazine advertisement for 'Before' and 'After.' The change, visible most in Karstens' broader shoulders, has been striking to teammates and friends who hadn't seen him since last fall.

"My posture even got better," Karstens said.

If Karstens isn't a candidate to make the Yankees' starting rotation -- Torre said Monday that the team wants left-hander Kei Igawa, the likeliest candidate to be bumped, to be one of the starters -- he could serve as a long reliever and the 12th man added to the staff.

"You're adding just another layer to him right now," Torre said. "I have a sense he'll handle it fine, because he didn't shake last year when we brought him up."

Likewise, this isn't the time for Karstens to begin worrying and pressing. With probably two spring starts remaining, Karstens prefers to think as though he is operating on bonus time.

His Double-A and Triple-A teammates from last season have already been playing across the way from Legends Field on Himes Avenue for several days, and Karstens said he'll enjoy every minute he's still pitching for the big club.

"I came into camp thinking I'd probably hang around for a little while, and once games started at the Minor League complex, I'd be back over there," Karstens said. "I'll just make the most of it [and] have fun."

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