Notes: Pettitte gets back to game action

Notes: Pettitte gets back to game action

TAMPA, Fla. -- Facing the Blue Jays' Triple-A lineup Friday, Andy Pettitte made it through two innings unscathed, prompting him to wonder aloud if he would get some runners on base to work from the stretch position.

It was at that point that pitching coach Ron Guidry leaned over to manager Joe Torre and muttered, "Be careful what you wish for."

Pettitte completed his first mound action since a March 17 start in Clearwater, Fla., against the Phillies, but his stamina wasn't quite where he expected it to be.

Soon after Pettitte spoke those words, the Blue Jays obliged, putting up a four-run fourth inning before Guidry ended the left-hander's afternoon after 66 pitches. Pettitte allowed four runs and seven hits in the start, walking one and striking out three.

"I was good and gassed," Pettitte said. "I lost my release point that last inning, and lost my mind a little bit, and my legs. But I got right back to where I was.

"It was a real good work day for me. I hadn't pitched in two weeks. I needed it -- I needed it real bad."

Pettitte said that one lasting effect from his back spasms -- which did not recur Friday and are believed to be a past hindrance -- was that the Yankees medical staff still discourages him from running in-between starts, an activity that Pettitte feels helps him build stamina.

As such, Pettitte's scheduled outing Wednesday against the Devil Rays will probably be capped at five innings.

That's the major reason the Yankees decided to scrap a looming plan that would have had Pettitte face about six hitters Friday, then bounce back for what could have been an abbreviated, adrenaline-fueled start against Tampa Bay on Opening Day.

"We talked about it a little bit," Pettitte said. "That's what we were scratching our heads about. We didn't know how much stamina there'd be."

Meanwhile, as Pettitte worked against the Double-A order, right-hander Mike Mussina had no problems ripping through Toronto's Triple-A club one diamond over.

Making his final appearance before his scheduled start Thursday, Mussina struck out five in seven shutout innings, scattering four hits.

"It's time to go," Mussina said. "I felt good throwing the ball today. I've felt good the last three times. We've done a lot and there's still more to work on, but I feel like I've got a decent idea where the ball is going."

Mussina jokingly told Torre that he had been offended when the manager left the Himes Avenue complex following Pettitte's four-inning stint. Torre's area of concern was with Pettitte -- whom he personally delivered back to the door of the Yankees' clubhouse in his designated golf cart.

"I was the chauffer," Torre said. "I had no choice. I couldn't leave one guy out there sweating and waiting to ice himself."

Wil's thrill: Wil Nieves was all smiles in the Yankees clubhouse Friday, which did nothing to distinguish the morning from any other during Spring Training.

Yet, the happiest player in camp now had a real reason to grin.

After 12 years toiling in the Minor Leagues, the 29-year-old Nieves has a chance at semi-regular duty in the big leagues. Torre pulled Nieves aside on Friday morning and informed him that he'd beaten out non-roster challenger Todd Pratt to serve as Jorge Posada's understudy.

"This is just the beginning," Nieves said. "I worked hard to make the team, and I'm going to work even harder to stay. I don't want to be here [just] this year. I want to hopefully be their backup catcher for a while."

Nieves has had 10 regular-season at-bats with the Yankees scattered over the last two seasons, with no hits. He has proven to be a solid hitter in the Minors, batting .288 in 969 career games since breaking in with the Padres' in 1996, and the Yankees' pitching staff has taken well to working with Nieves as a defensive receiver.

"Pitchers absolutely love throwing to him," general manager Brian Cashman said.

Torre said this week that the only hurdle left for Nieves to pass would be adjusting to Major League life, a chance he'll now have.

Lefty left out: Left-hander Ron Villone has been asked by the Yankees to report to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, an alternative he said would take some time to mull over.

The 37-year-old left-hander was in Spring Training on a non-roster invitation, and would have earned $2.5 million if he had made the Yankees' roster. But Villone didn't give the Yankees enough reasons to consider carrying him, allowing eight earned runs and 13 hits in five innings.

"I don't expect much in this game," Villone said. "You expect to earn stuff. I haven't pitched well lately, but again, I know what I'm capable of doing. It seems right around the corner."

Villone said he expected that he would receive consistent work to regain his command if he reported to Triple-A, but he wanted to confer with his representatives and family before making a decision.

Cashman said that Villone will be released so that he may negotiate with other clubs, but he could always re-sign with the Yankees.

"I get the feeling they still want me around," Villone said. "Obviously, I need to be a little bit sharper."

Additional roster moves: The Yankees announced Friday that Andy Phillips -- who lost out to Josh Phelps as a right-handed batting first baseman -- cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre.

"It's one of those catch-22 things," Torre said. "You pull for the kid to get claimed so he can go to the big leagues, but it's nice having him here. He's a class act."

Infielder Chris Basak was reassigned to Triple-A, while catcher Todd Pratt was released. Pitchers Colter Bean and Chris Britton did not make the roster and also will be sent to Triple-A.

The Yankees plan to open the 2007 season with four pitchers on the disabled list -- Jeff Karstens, Humberto Sanchez, Jose Veras and Chien-Ming Wang.

No Brown out: Non-roster catcher Jason Brown picked a good time to garner his first at-bat of Spring Training, stroking an opposite-field single off Detroit's Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning of Friday's 6-2 Yankees loss.

A 32-year-old journeyman, Brown's main duties this spring have been mostly confined to warming up pitchers and catching bullpen sessions. His lone plate appearance was witnessed by numerous friends, who saw the hit on ESPN and fired off text messages.

"It wasn't something I was worried about," Brown said. "I was happy to get in there and get an at-bat. Of course, it's more fun to play and get at-bats."

Coming up: The Yankees will play the final game of their 30-game Grapefruit League schedule against the Tigers on Saturday at Legends Field.

Left-hander Kei Igawa (2-0, 2.65 ERA) will start for New York, with southpaw Mike Maroth (0-1, 4.95 ERA) going for Detroit. First pitch is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. ET.

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