Notes: Mussina content with command

Notes: Mussina content with command

TAMPA, Fla. -- Grinding through a mediocre warmup session on Saturday, Mike Mussina wasn't sure what his second Grapefruit League start of the season would look like. As it turned out, he had no reason to worry.

Mussina limited the Rays to a wind-aided home run and two hits in 2 2/3 innings at Legends Field, striking out five before being lifted in the third inning only because he had surpassed his pitch count at 54.

One turn after the right-hander bloated his spring ERA by allowing five runs (four earned) to the Astros, this was an unarguable improvement.

"You try to throw up a zero every time you pitch, whether you want to admit it or not," Mussina said. "You erase it when March is over, but you want to get everyone out, the same way you would if it was July. The first step in doing that is being able to control where the ball is going."

Mussina was pleased by his ability to drop breaking balls into the strike zone, though he also barely missed with some other pitches that home-plate umpire Mark Carlson wasn't biting on.

Tampa Bay's only real damage came on Jonny Gomes' second-inning homer, which Mussina -- and most observers -- thought would be an easy popup to right field. Heavy winds carried the ball into the party deck in right field, so Mussina didn't chalk the pitch up as a mistake.

Mussina also said he felt pleased with his velocity, which was pegged by radar guns at 88 and 89 mph. No longer a threat to consistently pop gloves in the 90s, Mussina said he can work with what he has.

"Eighty-eight in March is OK," Mussina said. "I can pitch with that."

One season after Mussina was lifted from the Yankees' rotation due to a string of ineffective starts, the 250-game winner's effectiveness at age 39 will be a key factor in how the club conducts its business.

Manager Joe Girardi said that he did not believe Mussina needed an outing like Saturday's to wipe clean his March 3 effort at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., where the Astros rapped him for six hits in two innings.

"It's obviously good when you have something like this happen because you can build on it, but I didn't really have any concern," Girardi said. "I saw some good things in his other start. Sometimes the numbers aren't there, and sometimes the wind is howling out."

H-Mat team: Hideki Matsui is set to play his first Grapefruit League game on Sunday, listed on New York's travel squad for a game against the Twins in Fort Myers, Fla.

"I took [batting practice on Saturday], and everything is fine," Matsui said. "I think I will be ready."

Matsui, 33, has been brought along slowly as he rehabs from arthroscopic right knee surgery performed in November. He suffered a stiff neck last week that sidelined him from BP drills briefly, but he sprayed line drives around Legends Field on Saturday with ease.

"He's ready to go," Girardi said. "I think it's a good chance to get him some at-bats. We'll do as much as his body can take."

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On the clock: Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are both recovering from their respective right lat strains.

Rodriguez singled and walked in New York's 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay -- including a daring and successful tag-up from first base on a fly ball to center field in the fourth inning -- while Posada was limited to just catching Chien-Ming Wang's morning bullpen session.

"Jorgie was telling me how great his arm felt," Girardi said. "I said, 'That's great. See you on Monday.'"

The Price is Right: David Price's outstanding seventh inning, highlighted by high-90s speed, became must-see TV in the Yankees' clubhouse.

Price, the No. 1 selection in last year's First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt, hit Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli in the left elbow with a fastball but then struck out Shelley Duncan, Jason Lane and Wilson Betemit to end the inning.

Watching the YES Network feed, Ian Kennedy recalled Price throwing fastballs, curveballs and sliders to master USC hitters. Alan Horne, who pitched at the University of Florida, said, "He threw changeups and we swung and missed -- a lot."

Pausing on his way out the door, Joba Chamberlain was also impressed.

"He's got some torque on that, huh?" Chamberlain said rhetorically, right about the time Lane fanned through some outside heat.

Five cuts: The Yankees reassigned five right-handed pitchers to Minor League camp on Saturday, bringing the number of players in camp to 59. Sent across the street were Steven Jackson, Dan McCutchen, Mark Melancon, Scott Strickland and Steven White.

Bombers bits: Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy were named the Yankees' 2007 Minor League player and pitcher of the year, receiving the Kevin Lawn Award. ... Cervelli was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa after a ninth-inning collision with the Rays' Elliott Johnson that broke Cervelli's right wrist. He had his right wrist wrapped.

Coming up: The Yankees gear up for a long bus ride south to Fort Myers on Sunday, when they'll meet the Twins for the second time this spring. Right-hander Phil Hughes will draw the assignment for New York, with right-hander Boof Bonser countering for Minnesota. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET.

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