TAMPA, Fla. -- Once again, the mission statement will be emblazoned directly on Joe Girardi's back, leaving no question about the expectations of where the Yankees' manager is being asked to lead his team by the end of the 2010 season.
By changing his uniform number to 28, Girardi delivered an early message to his assembled players that one World Series championship is not enough. Girardi does not think that complacency will be an issue in his veteran clubhouse, but it can't possibly hurt to make sure everyone's eyes are on the prize.
As Girardi heads into his third season as the Yankees' skipper, he inherits a club that bears a striking resemblance to the one that hoisted the World Series trophy last Nov. 4, though the relaxed Spring Training in Tampa, Fla., has permitted him to ease new arrivals into the clubhouse atmosphere.
A season of excitement and tough American League competition lie ahead in the forecast, as Girardi and the Yankees attempt to achieve the difficult task of repeating as champions -- something that no Major League club has been able to accomplish since 2000.
MLB.com: Your "Core Four" guys of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera all played well for you last year. They're a little older now, so what indications do you have that they can keep fighting time and be those same kinds of players in 2010?
Girardi: You see the physical shape that they came into camp in, and you see the level that they're performing at. You watch their movements. I was asked about Andy and his first start against Philadelphia that he made (on March 17) -- his location was there and his velocity was there. Those are two good signs. As far as Jeter and Posada, it's just the way they're swinging the bat, and Mo is Mo. They look good. They look healthy. They look strong.
MLB.com: You seemed to have a very good idea of what your team might look like coming into Spring Training. What would you say has been your biggest surprise of the last seven weeks?
Girardi: I think it's more the younger guys that we brought into camp. They were good. I see an organization that has a lot more depth. You see these kids advancing and the depth that we have in the catching position with guys like Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. That was good to see.
MLB.com: Obviously, you picked Phil Hughes in the end, but what do you think the impact of that fifth-starter's competition is going to be on all of the guys who were involved in it?
Girardi: Competition is good for them, because I think it brings out the best in them. It made them pitch at a high level early, so you feel that they're extremely prepared for the season.
MLB.com: What do you think you need this year from Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson in your outfield?
Girardi: Consistency is what you're looking for -- if they consistently play at the level that they're capable of playing. Curtis has had some big years, he really has, and Gardy has been a guy that we believe can be an everyday player. But he's never really had that chance, and you want to see how he reacts to that. So far, he's shown the ability to hit right-handers as well as left-handers. He's shown the ability to adapt to playing left field, if that's where we put him, and he's an exciting young player.
SHAPING UP THE SCHEDULE
Early schedule The Yankees won't waste any time diving full-on into the game's heartiest rivalry, taking on the Red Sox at Fenway Park to open the season on April 4. Six meetings with their American League Championship Series foes from 2009 also await in the early going, as the first West Coast swing of the season looms April 20-25.
One fortunate aspect of New York's schedule is that, despite the fifth starter being one of the most compelling storylines of Spring Training, the winner will actually get to be skipped a few times in April. In fact, the Yankees won't even play a Monday game until May 3 against the Orioles in New York.
Interleague Play New York Mets at Citi Field, May 21-23; Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium, June 11-13; Philadelphia Phillies at Yankee Stadium, June 15-17; New York Mets at Yankee Stadium, June 18-20; Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, June 21-23; Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, June 25-27.
Key home dates:
April 13-15. Yankees vs. Angels: The two clubs reprise their matchup from the 2009 ALCS, won by the Yankees in six games after the Halos came up ice cold in the games at Yankee Stadium.
May 17-18. Yankees vs. Red Sox: After opening the season with three meetings on Yawkey Way, the Red Sox visit the Bronx for the first time in 2010.
June 15-17. Yankees vs. Phillies: The top two clubs in the big leagues last season lock heads in a rematch of the World Series, taking the same field where the Yankees hoisted the trophy last November.
MLB.com: Around this time last year, Alex Rodriguez was one of your great unknowns. What have you seen from him physically this spring with his hip, and what can you expect from him between the lines?
Girardi: A healthy year, completely healthy. He looks really good to me. There's no limitations. It's like the hip thing was never an issue. His range of motion is good, he's not limited and I think he has gotten to some balls defensively that I'm not sure he would have gotten to last year. That's the way he looks to me. At the plate, he's Alex. I think he can be back to his old form, I do.
MLB.com: Your top four starters this year are going to be CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Pettitte and Javier Vazquez, which I think most people would agree seems pretty formidable. Do you think it's the best one you've had here?
Girardi: On paper. Our rotation was really good last year, too, when you look at Chien-Ming Wang being in it, but he never came back with the foot injury and the shoulder injury. You can compare last year's staff to this year's staff on paper, but we never got the healthy Chien-Ming Wang.
MLB.com: How do you see the back end of the bullpen shaping up, now that you've restored Joba Chamberlain to relief work?
Girardi: I think we'll take a look at this the last week and continue to evaluate during the season. You'd like one of the guys to emerge as your eighth-inning guy, but we've used other guys. You know, I don't like to use those guys two or three days in a row. I'd like to see one guy emerge as our eighth-inning guy, and Joba has a great shot at it. He's done it before, he understands what it's like to pitch in that inning and he has a great chance.
MLB.com: It seems like there was a lot of talk out there about how Nick Johnson needs to replace Hideki Matsui's production as the designated hitter, among other changes this winter. Let's talk about Johnson -- how do you evaluate what his role will be and what you need from him?
Girardi: Really, you need Nick Johnson just to be Nick Johnson -- get on base, hit his doubles, drive in runs, have quality at-bats, see a lot of pitches and hit some home runs. You don't really need him to be Hideki, you just need him to be himself. I think that's the problem with players. Sometimes you get into a situation where you try to be someone you're not. You look at Nick Johnson and you can also think, "Is he going to be Johnny Damon? He's hitting in the No. 2 spot." Or people might say, "Well, he's replacing the DH." You can't be both, so you're better off trying to be yourself.
MLB.com: And how much of a concern is keeping him on the field?
Girardi: You know, I know he's had some health issues. Personally, I've never had to deal with those, because I've never had him as a player. You hope that leaving him as a DH that he can remain healthier. But we're used to dealing with that; we had that with Matsui last year, and we had to worry about it all the time.
MLB.com: What did you see from Robinson Cano that told you he was ready to be your No. 5 hitter?
Girardi: We just thought it was time for him to make that step. I thought he made some great strides after having what people considered an off year in 2008. You want to see players mature, and we hope that he's able to fill that spot.
MLB.com: No team has repeated as a World Series champion since 2000, as you know. Why do you think that's so difficult, and what makes you think the Yankees could buck that trend in '10?
Girardi: I think there's a lot of parity in baseball. Teams have done a very good job, whether it's been through revenue sharing or signing free agents, they've done a good job. We happen to be in a cycle where there's a lot of teams that have been really good, but it seems to rotate every year who wins.
Obviously, you have to stay healthy -- that's first and foremost. Players have to play up to their ability. Then, when you get to the playoffs, you have to play at an extremely high level. We know that our guys for the most part are all tested in that area. Curtis Granderson has been in a World Series, he's played in the playoffs. Javy Vazquez has pitched in very meaningful games. You feel that this club has a good chance of having another very good year, but you have to prove it and you have to play well.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.