In return to outfield, Matsui passes test

In return to outfield, Matsui passes test

TAMPA, Fla. -- Patrolling left field six batters into his first stint in the field after undergoing arthroscopic right knee surgery in November, Hideki Matsui had to race into the corner to flag down a fly ball. No better time than the present.

Matsui passed his first defensive test with flying colors, recording the final out of the second inning on Thursday and retiring Ryan Doumit. He also may have put to rest any concerns about his repaired knee, which slowed his progress this spring.

"He looked like he was moving fine," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's amazing how you always get that tester right out of the gate. He had to go to his right, but he had no problems."

Appearing in his fourth Grapefruit League game, the first three of which came as a designated hitter, Matsui said that he viewed Thursday's events as a major step forward. He went 1-for-2 with a double before yielding to pinch-runner Justin Christian in the fifth inning.

"It's definitely very important," Matsui said through an interpreter. "Playing defense means you're definitely at 100 percent."

Girardi said that just as important as Matsui's break on the ball, as he raced down to the warning-track gravel, were his physical movements in applying the brakes. Matsui also passed that test.

"I look at him slowing down, too," Girardi said. "A lot of times, when you have leg problems or you're coming off of surgery, it's the slowing down that you see the limp. I didn't see any."

The Yankees have a logjam at the two positions where Matsui is most likely to see duty. Johnny Damon is slotted as New York's Opening Day left fielder, so Matsui's best bet to crack the March 31 lineup against Toronto would be as a DH.

Spring Training
News and features:
• Hoch on Pettitte's health  400K
• Va. Tech galleries: Pregame | Game action
• Yankees visit Va. Tech  400K
• Billy Crystal's at-bat  400K
• Yanks-Rays incident  400K
Spring Training info: coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

He has competition from others, however, most notably Jason Giambi, who is attempting to prove he can play first base regularly and clear up the confusion.

Numbers aside, Matsui's hope is that he will not be physically limited to just DHing, as he did last season when injuries slowed him considerably and forced him to ice frequently after games.

"As long as I take care of these knees and keep them strong, I don't think there's going to be that need to DH," Matsui said.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have several other injuries to update. Giambi was scratched from the Yankees' travel roster on Wednesday at St. Petersburg after experiencing back spasms and received chiropractic attention. Girardi said he will spare Giambi the bus ride to Sarasota, Fla., on Friday, but Giambi is expected to be in the lineup Saturday when the Rays visit Legends Field.

"It feels a ton better today," Giambi said. "I didn't hurt it at all -- I woke up and it was stiff, and [Girardi] didn't want me to play [Wednesday]. They told me to just rest it for a couple of days."

Damon, who was sidelined when he bruised a toe fouling a ball off his right foot on Monday, pinch-hit for Billy Crystal on Thursday and went 0-for-3 as the DH. Girardi said that Damon will play left field on Friday against the Reds.

Also, Andy Pettitte -- scratched from his start on Wednesday against the Rays due to tightness in his left forearm -- played catch on Thursday and reported no problems. The lefty will throw a bullpen session on Friday and is slated to start against the Red Sox on Monday at Legends Field.

Finally, catcher Francisco Cervelli had successful surgery on his broken right wrist in New York and is primed to rejoin the team on Friday.

Girardi said that this is the time in camp when aches and pains become unavoidable.

"You're going to see little things pop up," Girardi said. "When you start Spring Training, there's a lot of conditioning. When you start the games, there's increased intensity. You can do all the preparation you want, but you're going to have little things pop up because of ... movements that you can't always simulate in practice."

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