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Cervelli's defense impresses in spring opener

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Yankees still believe their three-headed catching competition may take all of Spring Training to sort out, but Francisco Cervelli definitely made a good first impression in the club's exhibition opener Saturday.

Manager Joe Girardi wants to see strong defensive play from his catchers this spring, and Cervelli answered the call in New York's 8-3 win over the Braves, firing a rocket to second base that nabbed Atlanta's Todd Cunningham attempting to steal in the second inning.

"Amazing. It feels really good," Cervelli said. "I've been working a lot on my throwing, so I'm not surprised. I threw really good in winter ball. I got a lot of people out, and I feel like I'm back to what I used to be in '09."

Girardi said that Cervelli also did a nice job blocking balls behind the plate on Saturday before noting, "I mean, that's a beautiful throw. You can't make it any better than that, so that's a good sign."

Cervelli is vying with last season's backup, Chris Stewart and prospect Austin Romine to serve as the Yankees' Opening Day catcher. Cervelli went 0-for-2 with a walk while Romine had a two-run single, but Girardi said he has urged the catchers not to worry about their offensive statistics.

"I made it clear to them in a meeting [Friday]," Girardi said. "Defense is No. 1 here. We need to play good defense."

Cervelli was disappointed to be demoted to the Minors as camp concluded last season, but said that he eventually came to see the setback as an opportunity to hone his game.

"I just tried to cover all the little holes that I used to have in the past," Cervelli said. "I've been working so hard. I want to hit, too, but the priority here is the defense."

Cervelli said that he felt his throwing peaked at the big league level in 2009, in part because he had trouble adjusting to not playing every day. The result was that Cervelli said he developed bad habits of rushing throws and jumping at pitches before they reached his glove.

He also experienced a rash of passed balls last year at Triple-A, seeming so upset by the demotion to the Minors that his parents, Manuel and Damelis, traveled from their home in Venezuela to trail their son around the league for three weeks.

"When they saw the situation, I told them, 'I'm fine,' but they're 50-something years old so they do whatever they want," Cervelli said. "They showed up in Buffalo. They said, 'We're here, so what are we going to do now? We're going to follow the bus everywhere we go so you better play better, and that's it.'"

Cervelli has worked with Minor League catching instructor Julio Mosquera to tighten the defensive aspects of his game, and after playing in winter ball, Cervelli believes he reported to camp with the necessary tools to win the everyday catching job.

"Right now, I look at the past and I think it was [for] the best," Cervelli said. "Maybe last year, the first two months in Triple-A was bad. The frustration, you don't understand it in the moment, but when you have a little time and you think a little fresh, you realize things happen for a reason -- and always a positive reason."

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