Henn pecking at Bronx's doors

Henn pecking at Bronx's doors

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Dozens of boxes packed with personal effects are lined up against an interior wall leading to the Yankees' clubhouse at Legends Field, waiting to be sent north to the Bronx.

They are an unmistakable sign that Spring Training is entering its final days. For Sean Henn, it's a foreign development.

"I've never been in camp this long," Henn said. "[I never] had to worry about shipping my car to New York or the things they're winding down camp with.

"Extra luggage? I don't know what you guys are talking about."

Henn appeared in four September games with the Yankees in 2006 after being converted from a starter to a reliever.

Last season, the southpaw commuted to Yankee Stadium by purchasing railroad tickets in upstate Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and then rode the Hudson Line for about an hour, departing at 125th Street in Harlem and switching to the subway for the final approach.

With the Yankees switching their Triple-A affiliate to Moosic, Pa., for the 2007 season, Henn is at least assured of having an automobile at his command somewhere within a 90-mile radius of the Bronx.

And with the way he's pitching, it may be more likely that Henn will scribble his name on the sign-up sheet for New York shipment.

Henn has prospered this spring, pitching six scoreless, hitless innings and picking up a victory.

"I just wanted them to see that I'm comfortable," Henn said, "and do my best to make the decision on them hard."

In his most recent appearance on Friday, Henn relieved Darrell Rasner in the fifth inning, sawed off Pittsburgh's Jason Bay and then pitched a perfect sixth. Henn completed his outing with a strikeout of Jose Castillo.

"Right now, he looks like a different animal out there," manager Joe Torre said. "He just lets the ball go. Before, it looked like he was wishing. Now, he's willing."

Henn spent most of last season at Triple-A Columbus in the International League, going 3-1 with a 4.01 ERA in 18 games (six starts).

A starter throughout his professional career, Henn had enjoyed the rhythm of pitching on a regular schedule that starters are afforded, but he said he jumped at the opportunity to become a reliever when it was explained to him.

General manager Brian Cashman and pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras reasoned that Henn, who features a fastball, a hard slider and a developing changeup in his arsenal, would be able to find a regular Major League assignment quicker out of the bullpen.

"That's all you need to hear," Henn said. "You'll do whatever to get there."

The Yankees came into camp considering Henn, who was touted repeatedly as an internal candidate by Cashman, for a roster spot. Henn's odds only seem to grow more realistic by the day.

"We never stopped looking at Sean Henn," Torre said. "He's had enough of a taste up here over the last few years. From what we saw last fall and this spring, he's much improved and seems much more relaxed."

To date, Henn's Major League statistics are underwhelming -- in seven appearances over the last two seasons, Henn is 0-4 with an 8.27 ERA. He said that the experiences compiled during his 36 days of Major League service time could help him in 2007.

"I think when you go over something time and time again, it becomes routine," Henn said. "For me to sit in the bullpen and be all wide-eyed because there's 50,000 people there, just listening to the fans and getting caught up in it ... by two or three weeks of it, it's like, 'OK, it's not a big deal anymore.'"

While Henn has done little to hurt his chances this spring, 37-year-old Ron Villone's chances of making the Opening Day squad appear to be fading.

Villone had opened eyes early in camp with higher velocity than last spring, but his outings have grown rocky as the finish line nears. In seven appearances this spring, Villone is 2-0, but he has allowed 10 hits and five runs in five innings for a 9.00 ERA.

"Initially, when I saw him throw earlier this spring, it looked like he was ahead of last year," Torre said. "But after watching [Thursday] and a couple of other outings, it looks right now like he's trying to impress by creating more velocity. It is what it is."

Henn said he was even unaware that the Yankees had inked Villone to a Minor League contract in February, relaying the surprise he felt when he walked into the clubhouse and spotted his eventual competition for the roster.

"I was shocked he was there," Henn said.

Henn said that he still considers Villone the front-runner to serve as the second left-hander behind Mike Myers in New York's bullpen.

On Day 1, Henn put himself in the mind-set of pursuing what he believed was already secured by Villone. Now that he may be pulling closer to the lead, Henn prefers to think as though he is still a step or two behind, saving one last burst for the finish.

"Because of what he's done, he's obviously the front-runner," Henn said. "You can't take that away from him. It's definitely his spot and I'm chasing it."

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