The 32-year-old Mientkiewicz was signed primarily to lend his strong defensive skills to the infield, and he has shown flashes of the deft error-saving play that the organization envisioned.
Even with a powerhouse offensive lineup around him, Mientkiewicz must produce at least a little from his projected No. 9 spot to make the arrangement work.
"Everyone keeps saying, 'You're on the team,'" Mientkiewicz said. "I understand that, but you also want to earn your way on the team. I didn't expect to come in here and hit .400, but I didn't expect to do this either."
On the positive side, manager Joe Torre pointed out that Mientkiewicz has been making contact -- he has struck out only twice this spring -- and has been smacking line drives in a number of his appearances.
"He seems to be having better at-bats," Torre said. "That's why it's advantageous to watch guys instead of just looking at results."
Mientkiewicz said he spent about 1 1/2 hours on Sunday working with bench coach Don Mattingly and hitting coach Kevin Long, going through batting drills on a back diamond at Legends Field.
While he had resisted those types of heavy workouts earlier in camp, preferring to remain cautious so as not to irritate his surgically repaired back, Mientkiewicz said he enjoyed the experience, grueling as it may have been.
"It seemed like three weeks," Mientkiewicz said.
Mientkiewicz said that he felt more confident going into Monday's game, the lessons from Long and Mattingly ringing in his ears. He spoke of being more aggressive and loose at Knology Park, comparing the feeling of rapping his bat against home plate to carefree hitting in the backyard as a child.
"If the season started tomorrow, I'm going in the right direction," Mientkiewicz said. "I'm better than what I've shown."
Numbers crunch: Torre said that the decision on the Yankees' fifth starter will go beyond simple Grapefruit League statistics, with left-hander Kei Igawa and right-hander Jeff Karstens the likeliest competitors.
Head-to-head, Karstens' statistics have been more striking than Igawa's, even after Karstens allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings to Toronto on Monday. This spring, Karstens is 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA, striking out 11 and walking none in 13 1/3 innings.
The manager plans to sit down with his coaches at some point after the team's off-day Wednesday to make a determination. Going in, however, Igawa seems to have a leg up.
"We want Igawa to be one of the starters," Torre said. "The only way that wouldn't happen is if we think he can improve here or there. It's something that may be difficult to do all at once."
The Yankees signed Igawa to a five-year, $20 million contract, following a $26 million posting bid. The southpaw's results have been inconsistent this spring, compiling a 5.14 ERA while walking seven and striking out 12 in seven innings.
The Yankees have spoken repeatedly about Igawa's ongoing adjustment to life in a new country and with a new club, and shipping him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre might not be the best solution. Torre said that pitching coach Ron Guidry raved about Igawa's latest bullpen session leading into his scheduled start Tuesday against the Phillies.
"We feel very strongly, obviously, with the money we gave him," Torre said. "His ability coincides with everything he's accomplished over in Japan. We're pretty confident that our scouts know what the [heck] they're doing."
Abreu ready for duty: Bobby Abreu said he is prepared to serve as the Yankees' designated hitter on Tuesday against the Phillies at Legends Field. Abreu strained his right oblique while taking batting practice on Feb. 26 and has spent most of the last three weeks receiving treatment.
"Three weeks inside the training room," Abreu said. "I don't think that's good at all."
The Yankees plan to bring Abreu along cautiously so as not to duplicate the injury. Tuesday was selected because it is a home game and the Yankees can better control Abreu's play, compared to Thursday and Friday, which are road games at National League parks.
"We've invested so much time, I think we'd be making a big mistake if we tried to rush things," Torre said.
Abreu said that he still feels some tightness in his side, though he has taken batting practice, played the field and run the bases with no issues. It remains possible that Abreu could stay behind in Tampa when the Yankees go north, just to be safe, but Abreu said that he expects to be in New York on Opening Day.
"I feel stretching in there when I make a move or anything," Abreu said. "There's no pinching and no pain, so no problem."
'Pen proud: Torre said that Guidry called Carl Pavano's bullpen session Monday "outstanding." Pavano said following his last start on Saturday that his upcoming bullpen would be a major checkpoint in his effort to return to some sort of normalcy in his routine.
"To me, that's the best news of all," Torre said. "The more you pitch without any setbacks physically, the closer you are to getting the guy that you signed back."
This and that: Catcher Wil Nieves returned to action Monday at Dunedin, going 0-for-1. ... Torre believes that left-hander Ron Villone has been trying to manufacture velocity, costing him his command. ... The Yankees held a group session with a number of relievers Sunday, explaining that innings may grow scarce now that starting pitchers are beginning to get stretched out. ... Right-hander Chris Britton allowed five runs in one-third of an inning and has a 13.50 ERA.
Coming up: The Yankees are back at Legends Field to see the Phillies on Tuesday, facing off at 7:15 p.m. ET. Igawa (0-0, 5.14 ERA) is scheduled to start for New York, with right-hander Zack Segovia (0-0, 3.60 ERA) going for Philadelphia.
Right-handers Mariano Rivera and Kyle Farnsworth are also slated to pitch for New York.