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Notes: Abreu shuffle continues

Notes: Abreu shuffle continues

Right fielder Bobby Abreu had never hit eighth in the order in his 13-year career.

Until Tuesday night.

Abreu hit just .208 in May, his lowest single-month average. Over the first seven games of the Yankees' current nine-game road swing, he's 4-for-28 with just one RBI. New York manager Joe Torre stuck Abreu in the eight-hole in the opening game of a three-game set in Baltimore on Tuesday, and Abreu went 1-for-4.

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But Torre said another move, this one with more potential impact, could be the answer. Abreu hit in the fifth spot on Wednesday, a switch Torre said will put a little more responsibility on Abreu's bat, something he feeds off on a regular basis.

"Bobby takes on a great deal of responsibility emotionally, and I think sometimes it works against him," Torre said. "Every time we lose a game he feels personally responsible. Do I want to change that? No, because I wouldn't want to change what he's made of. He needs to take the walks, hit the singles and do things like that. That's why he's so effective in the three-hole for us when he's hitting."

Unfortunately, he's simply not hitting. Abreu, a career .300 hitter, is batting .257 this season. He finished a season with a lower average only twice -- in his first two seasons in the Majors.

Abreu has now hit in six different positions in the Yankee lineup this season, the most he's ever been shuffled in his career. Torre said the slump has gotten to the point where Abreu is trying to pull the ball and fighting too much at the plate. But positive signs from Tuesday's performance motivated Torre to push Abreu a little higher.

"You hook on anything, the line drive to left field and the base hit [Tuesday]," Torre said. "When you're trying to pull the ball, you are basically giving away half the plate and it makes it tougher. Usually pulling the ball is just a reaction, not something you consciously try to do. To me, when he's fighting himself like this, he's getting to the point of wanting to do too much."

Torre stated that the devotion with which Abreu approaches the game is a key factor in the prolonged nature of his struggles.

"He puts more blame on himself and it seems to mount up," Torre said. "Instead of leaving yesterday, yesterday and coming in today, he seems to have it mount up on him. He's very quiet and very professional and a great teammate for everybody. But again, there's something to be said that when it means so much to you and you care so much, you fight it too much and that's what he's doing right now."

Cheerleading, not closing: Torre said he's worried about veteran closer Mariano Rivera's light workload this season affecting his consistency. Rivera has only worked in 27 games this year and has nine saves, while he pitched in 62 games last season and finished with 34 saves.

"It's a concern," Torre said. "He's become a cheerleader, unfortunately. He's out here on the bench pulling for guys. Mentally he's fine, but the only problem is that it's nice to get him into a routine, and we haven't been able to do that."

Torre said in Spring Training that he wouldn't use Rivera before the eighth inning, but he's been forced to go back on his word, partly because of New York's inability to win close games. The Yankees are a Major League-worst 4-13 in one-run contests, a record which takes precious outings away from their capable closer.

"There are certain situations where you get to a point of wanting to use him," Torre said of his predicament. "Once you commit to him, there isn't free substitution, and you have to take him out. You have a lot of games where you almost say to yourself, 'Wow, this game is out of hand, let's get him in there.'"

Another issue taking away from Rivera's appearances is the problem the rest of the bullpen has had, as it leads the Majors with 138 walks.

"What we need to do is to go out there and be able to bring somebody out of the bullpen who's going to throw strike one," Torre said. "That's the thing that's missing from other bullpens that we've had."

Still searching for 350: Roger Clemens made his third start in search of his 350th career win on Wednesday, trying to become the seventh player ever to accomplish that feat. The milestone win has special meaning to Torre, who remembers catching Warren Spahn's 350th win in 1963 as a member of the Milwaukee Braves. Spahn was the last pitcher to reach the 350-win mark.

Having seen what it takes to reach that plateau, Torre spoke Wednesday about the respect he has for both Clemens and the pitchers that came before him.

"I think it's a lot tougher I think to maintain your dedication and determination and health issues," Torre said of reaching 350 wins in modern baseball. "Roger mixes it up and looks at every aspect of his game. He was here last night watching and asking questions. He knows in his mind what he's going to do. That's what's remarkable for me. Watching Roger at his age, he takes nothing for granted and works every hitter, even the day before he pitches."

Quotable: "It's uncomfortable, it's frustrating, and certainly nothing good comes from it. We've had bad counts out of the bullpen. I know it's a matter of trying to make good pitches, but there's only so much plate to pitch to." -- Torre, on the Yankees bullpen's Major League-leading 138 walks

Up next: The Yanks wrap up their series in Baltimore and their road trip on Thursday when Chien-Ming Wang (7-4, 3.51) faces Daniel Cabrera (6-8, 4.98). First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.

Geremy Bass is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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