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Notes: Bench making an impact

Notes: Bench making an impact

NEW YORK -- Manager Joe Torre has seen a remarkable change in his bench over the past few weeks and months. Gone are the seldom-used Kevin Thompson, Chris Basak, Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves.

On Tuesday, the Yankees' dugout bench featured a completely revamped set of reserves. But it's not just different personnel, it's a different personality.

"I think the guys who are on the bench every day are having fun with it now," Shelley Duncan said. "I think at some point in the year people can sort of be upset about not playing, but now, looking at the lineup every day, everybody can say, 'Whoa, this is a bench. We're a part of it.'"

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There on the blue-padded bench, at least for Tuesday's game, sat Jose Molina, an eight-year veteran who has batted .292 with three doubles since joining the Yankees at the trade deadline.

Also there was Andy Phillips, who, despite a recent slide at the plate, has put together a .280 average with a couple of home runs and 20 RBIs in 150 at-bats.

Then there was -- now, this one could come as a surprise -- Johnny Damon. He was sitting there because of Melky Cabrera's outstanding defense in center field. Damon brings to the bench a speedster who can slap the ball around and hit a long ball now and then. His .259 average is down this season, but the 12-year veteran has stolen 20 bases in 22 attempts, not to mention he's doubled 19 times.

And, of course, there's the rookie Duncan, who after coming on the scene this season became a cult hero of sorts by hitting five home runs and batting a .722 slugging percentage, higher than that of Alex Rodriguez.

Other players included in the mix are Jason Giambi and Wilson Betemit, both of whom started on Tuesday at designated hitter and first base, respectively.

Torre said the makeup of the bench and how it's being rotated is all a part of an effort to "blend" together the entire roster, keeping the players both fresh and hopefully at the top of their games.

"Great players on the bench," Betemit said. "I mean, these guys can do anything. That's why we're here. If they need me or one of these guys to do a job, we're ready to do it. That's part of the team."

Duncan said for players like Damon and Giambi to accept a role off the bench, even if it's only for a few games a week, is a testimony to the Yankees' goal of being world champions.

Phil Rizzuto: Sept. 25, 1917 - Aug. 14, 2007

"It really shows the light that you see at the end of the tunnel and how close we're getting to it," Duncan said. "We haven't arrived yet, but we keep grinding to get there. Each day we get closer, closer as a team, and it's about winning right now. That's what it takes. It takes a 25-man roster, and these guys are being true professionals and being wonderful teammates. No one is complaining, nobody is asking for more [playing] time. It's awesome."

The Joba plan: Though praiseful of his newest arm in the bullpen, Torre said he would stick mostly with experience on the mound and keep Joba Chamberlain on his "set in stone" pitching plan: One inning pitched, one day off; two innings pitched, two days off.

"Last night, I watched him out there in the eighth inning and I was holding my breath getting through it," Torre said. "Not that he was afraid of it, but he was pumped. And I was just happy the result was there and, 'Nice going, but you're out of the game.'"

The team is trying to ease Chamberlain into his role as a reliever, which, prior to this season, was foreign to him. Having such a set plane for a pitcher with a couple of years in the Minor Leagues might be overboard, but Chamberlain has blown through four leagues in the Minors this year, rocketing through the system.

"We have to keep in mind that we drafted him a year ago at this time, and he's 21 years old," Torre said.

The Yankees manager hinted at another reason why the Yankees have been delicate with Chamberlain's splash in the Major Leagues thus far -- he reminds Torre of the beginning of Angels' closer Francisco Rodriguez, who, after his ascent through Los Angels' farm system in 2002, has compiled 135 saves and posted a 2.32 ERA.

Igawa here to stay: According to a report on ESPN.com, Kei Igawa will remain a Yankee for the foreseeable future, as the Yankees withdrew the left-hander from waivers before the 2 p.m. ET deadline on Tuesday. The Yankees and Padres had reportedly been discussing a deal that could have included Igawa.

Rizzuto tribute: In honor of the late Phil Rizzuto, the Yankees will Rizzuto's No. 10 on their left arms for the remainder of the season. The team is also wearing black armbands this season in honor of Cory Lidle, who died in a plane crash shortly after the Yankees were eliminated from the postseason last year.

Bomber bits: Doug Mientkiewicz has started taking batting practice, and Torre said a Sept. 1 return is a sure bet for the first baseman. ... Betemit, who has started at first base for two consecutive days, will take over at second base on Wednesday while Robinson Cano takes a day off.

Coming up: The Yankees will send Phil Hughes (2-1, 4.64 ERA) to the mound to face off with Orioles ace Erik Bedard (12-4, 3.11) in the final game of this three-game series at Yankee Stadium. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET.

Caleb Breakey 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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