Notes: Damon copes with role reduction

Notes: Damon copes with role reduction

NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon has never been shy about sharing a smile around the Yankees clubhouse. Slowly, he's also learning to handle splitting playing time.

The stretch run has presented a new challenge for the 33-year-old Damon, who is adjusting to life as a part-time outfielder and designated hitter. With Melky Cabrera cementing center field and both Jason Giambi and Shelley Duncan vying for DH at-bats, Damon is grinning and bearing through whatever at-bats he can muster.

"There was a day not so long ago when you'd show up to the ballpark and know you're leading off and playing center field," Damon said. "Now, it's different. You have to adjust for the team aspect of it. It'll all be better as long as we make the playoffs."

Damon was in his familiar Opening Day slot Friday, playing center field and leading off. More and more, that has become a guest appearance.

Yankees manager Joe Torre said he rested Cabrera because of Damon's strong career numbers against Tigers left-hander Nate Robertson -- Damon entered play hitting .471 (8-for-17) against Robertson, with a double, triple and five RBIs.

Torre said that Damon has handled the reduction with aplomb. In Thursday's game, with two runners on base and the Yankees looking to claw back against Justin Verlander, Torre swapped the left fielder Damon out for Duncan as a pinch-hitter.

"He went in and changed shirts, came back out and became a cheerleader," Torre said.

Yet Damon, who has two more years under contract with New York, realizes that Cabrera is the Yankees' future in center field. After a slow start, the 23-year-old switch-hitter has caught fire, hitting .337 with six homers and 38 RBIs since May 30.

"It's definitely something that I'll be thinking about," Damon said. "They have a number of things to address during the offseason. We'll just have to wait and see. I think they can pretty much pencil Melky in as the everyday center fielder for a number of years."

Fill-in Phillips? While Damon adjusts to his new role, first baseman Andy Phillips has also seen a shift in playing time recently.

Because the bench is stronger and several players are contributing significantly, including first basemen Duncan and Giambi, Phillips understands the change and said he is content with helping in any way he can.

"It's not different," Phillips said. "Once you see the lineup, when you're not in there at the beginning, you have to start trying to follow the game along and get yourself prepared for an opportunity of you getting in there. That's the only difference. Obviously, when you're playing, you know you're getting ready from the first pitch on, and when you're coming off the bench, you just have to think along with the game and when you might be used."

Mo rest: The Yankees planned to play Friday without the services of closer Mariano Rivera, who is being offered a small oasis of rest as he handles a rocky patch to his season.

Rivera last appeared Wednesday against the Orioles, when he allowed three runs in the 10th inning -- including a two-run homer to Aubrey Huff -- and suffered the loss. In his previous appearance Monday, Rivera didn't convert his first save in 19 opportunities but still logged a win.

Torre said that the intent is to keep Rivera out of action, but as always, game situations have a way of changing the blueprint. In Spring Training, Torre said he was steadfastly against Rivera pitching more than one inning, a rule the manager has since cracked numerous times.

"Again, we don't know if [the rest is] going to make a difference, but this is the way we're approaching it," Torre said. "If something happens and all of the sudden he's pitching, [then] he's pitching. This is our plan right now. ... I think it would have to be really a situation where we had no choice."

Farns' worth: Right-handed reliever Kyle Farnsworth has quietly pieced together three good outings in a row, working his way back into the late-inning relief mix after requesting his use in more situations.

Farnsworth pitched a scoreless sixth inning around a walk Thursday and had fired two perfect innings in his previous pair of appearances, striking out a batter in each. Torre said that he was most excited about Farnsworth's pitch location, which was "electric down" in all three appearances.

"He seems to be more comfortable coming into the game, and doesn't seem to be muscling the ball as much," Torre said.

Remembering Scooter: The family of Hall of Fame shortstop and longtime broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, who passed away Monday at 89, has requested donations to be made in lieu of flowers to: St. Joseph's School for the Blind, 761 Summit Ave., Jersey City, N.J., 07307.

Rizzuto is expected to have a private wake and funeral this week near his longtime Hillside, N.J., home.

Bombers bits: Two U.S. Navy F-18s will fly over Yankee Stadium on Saturday as the Yankees celebrate Military Appreciation Day. The U.S. Army Golden Knights will also parachute jump into Yankee Stadium. ... The Yankees have 32 home sellouts in 2007 and are averaging a Major League-best 52,355 fans per game.

Coming up: The Yankees play the third game of their four-game series with the Tigers on Saturday, sending right-hander Roger Clemens (4-5, 4.00 ERA) to the mound opposite right-hander Chad Durbin (7-5, 4.68 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 3:55 p.m. ET on FOX.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Caleb Breakey, an associate reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.