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Yankees Opening Day outlook

Yankees Opening Day outlook

A rash of pitching injuries late in Spring Training interrupted what had been an enjoyable camp for the Yankees. It wasn't exactly "Camp Quiet," the tranquil ideal that general manager Brian Cashman continually dreams of but never achieves, but the Yankees had been progressing through the Grapefruit League and keeping their players on the field.

With ace Chien-Ming Wang down for much of April, the Yankees' Opening Day performance fell largely by default to right-hander Carl Pavano, who hasn't pitched a Major League game since June 27, 2005.

Until the Yankees can recoup their starting five to full strength, they'll lean on one of the most dominant offensive lineups in the game and a bullpen that manager Joe Torre projects as improved over last season's assemblage.

Talent is not the question for the Yankees, who figure to blast past much of their American League competition. Finishing off the goal of a world championship is more of the mission, an achievement they have been unable to duplicate since 2000.

BATTING ORDER
1. Johnny Damon, CF
Damon returns for his second season in Yankees pinstripes, having set a career high with 24 home runs last year. The 33-year-old knows how to set the table, and he became the fourth player in team history to hit at least 20 homers and steal at least 20 bases in his first season with New York.

2. Derek Jeter, SS
Jeter had one of his best all-around seasons in 2006, finishing second in the AL MVP balloting while securing his third-consecutive Gold Glove Award. Though nothing but a World Series ring satisfies Jeter, the Yankees had plenty to be happy about with their shortstop's performance.

3. Bobby Abreu, RF
Abreu lends a patient approach to the lineup as he returns for his first full season, which should tire out starting pitchers and help the Yankees to see more soft middle relievers. Abreu has reached the 100-walk plateau in eight consecutive seasons.

4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Beyond whatever off-field issues may linger, Rodriguez is poised for a monster season. Motivated in part by his inconsistent performance in 2006, Rodriguez trimmed his body fat over the winter and is entering the season with a lithe physique. He hit 35 home runs and drove in 121 runs last year, but A-Rod wants to do even more.

5. Jason Giambi, DH
Time will tell how Giambi responds to his transition into a full-time designated hitter, but so far, the 36-year-old slugger is taking it in stride. Giambi has historically hit better when he plays the field, but the Yankees are hoping to squeeze an uninterrupted season out of Giambi by limiting his innings at first base.

opening day 2007

6. Hideki Matsui, LF
With a healed left wrist and sans his consecutive games streak, Matsui enters his fifth year of service for the Yankees looking to make up for the four months he missed in 2006. The Yankees hope his contributions can be similar to 2005, when Matsui set career highs in batting average, hits, doubles and RBIs.

7. Jorge Posada, C
Leaner and continuing to work on his defense, Posada has tweaked his game to account for his advancing years. The Yankees have come to rely on Posada's contributions to the point where his skills may actually be underappreciated, a tough scenario to have happen in New York.

8. Robinson Cano, 2B
A superstar in many other lineups, the Yankees flash their wealth by permitting Cano to blend into the bottom of their order. The 24-year-old finished third in the AL batting race last season and has developed into one of the game's most dynamic young players.

9. Josh Phelps, 1B
Phelps is getting the start with Tampa Bay starting left-hander Scott Kazmir on Monday, and he will probably continue platooning with Doug Mientkiewicz at first base in the early going. The Rule 5 Draft pickup is a career .293 hitter against lefties, as opposed to .257 against righties, but the 28-year-old also has a respectable 36 home runs and 145 RBIs in 803 career at-bats against right-handers.

ROTATION
Carl Pavano, RHP
Even Pavano admits that he wouldn't have anticipated drawing an Opening Day assignment, though he continues to have high hopes for authoring a comeback story in New York. Pavano has shown signs of rust from his long layoff, but the Yankees have been pleased when flashes of his talent break through.

Andy Pettitte, LHP
The return of the lanky lefty was among the more satisfying storylines of the Yankees' Spring Training. Nostalgia aside, the Yankees will be looking for Pettitte to put up results and help anchor their staff. He's done it before on the Bronx stage, so nerves aren't a concern. If Pettitte can hit the 200-inning plateau for a third straight year, the team will be elated.

Mike Mussina, RHP
Aging gracefully, Mussina is relying more on his veteran guile as his velocity ticks downward, but it didn't hurt him much during his 15-win campaign in 2006. Mussina can still mix pitches and hit his spots with the best of them.

Kei Igawa, LHP
The Japanese import seemed to round into form as March wore on, using exhibition starts more to tweak his command. That pleases the Yankees, who were concerned earlier about Igawa's need to prove himself in the United States. He has shown a knack for the strikeout early in his Yankees tenure, but also wildness.

Darrell Rasner, RHP
The rotation is weaker without Wang, but young pitchers like Rasner will help hold the fort until his return. The 26-year-old picked up a spot on the roster when Jeff Karstens was sidelined with an elbow injury late in camp. He won three games for the Yankees last season and can serve as a long reliever as well.

BULLPEN
The Yankees have four familiar faces returning for their projected 2007 bullpen, with all arms leading to the best in the business, Mariano Rivera. Setup men Kyle Farnsworth and Scott Proctor are poised to again handle the brunt of the seventh- and eighth-inning duties, though the Yankees will tread cautiously to avoid overuse. Mike Myers is back as a situational left-hander, but one addition the Yankees believe will make a major impact is right-hander Luis Vizcaino, who has appeared in 70 or more games in four of the last five seasons. He can handle both lefties and righties, which provides another go-to option in a bullpen that has become no stranger to ringing telephones. As the season goes on, the Yankees can mix and match from a crew of candidates that includes Brian Bruney, Sean Henn and Colter Bean, according to their needs.

BURNING QUESTION
Can the pitching staff hold up for a run at the World Series? Even before Wang went down with a hamstring injury, there were concerns about the Yankees' rotation, particularly the back end. The Yankees' starting pitching is decent but not spectacular, and always open to a midseason acquisition (this means you, Roger Clemens). The Yankees should have little trouble providing plenty of run support, which was one of the reasons an aching Randy Johnson still compiled 34 victories in his two seasons with the Yankees. There's no reason to think that the 2007 starters won't be similarly able to pick up a few cheap wins here and there, but October is always a different animal. Pitching wins in the playoffs and it remains to be seen if the Yankees have enough.

ON THE RECORD
"We're a little limited right now on options for our rotation. We've got some of it figured out. It's sort of like a puzzle. We're going to have to fill in spots that we were hoping we wouldn't have to fill in." -- Torre

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

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