Notes: Giambi on comeback trail
Slugger determined to have bounce-back season in '08
TAMPA, Fla. -- Legends Field's right-field party deck had its first souvenir delivered by Jason Giambi, who mashed an inviting fastball into a crowd of assorted sunbathers early in Sunday's 7-7 tie with the Phillies.
But for Giambi, the real reason to celebrate came two innings later. The slugger, long chastised for a pull-happy approach, ripped a well-struck double up the left-center-field gap in the third inning, trotting into second base with an RBI and a sense of accomplishment.
"I'm more excited about that than anything," Giambi said. "[Hitting coach] Kevin Long and I have been working hard in the cage. I'm excited. It's a good start and we're going to keep it going this year. I'm not going to let it get away."
Hitting the ball to the opposite field has been a focus in Giambi's batting-practice sessions. Power is still Giambi's calling card, but he believes he was at his best early last season -- batting as high as .330 on May 5 -- before injuries drew him away from his spray approach.
"He's worked very hard in the cage going the other way and just reacting when the ball is inside," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's making sure that he stays on everything and doesn't get pull-conscious. The work is paying off."
After missing two months last season with a torn left plantar fascia, the 37-year-old Giambi feels primed for a rebound campaign. Having discovered orthotic inserts to guard against future foot injuries, Giambi did all of his running on flat ground this winter and feels more agile.
"As long as I get out there and play the games, I put up the numbers," Giambi said. "The last couple of years, I've had some injuries. Hopefully we'll stay away from that. I'm working hard."
He'll never be a burner on the bases, but the Yankees hope that Giambi can go from first to third without limping. He showed a little burst of renewal in the second inning on Sunday, when Andy Pettitte nabbed Pedro Feliz leaning on a pickoff play. Giambi chased down Feliz to apply the tag.
"I'm a cat out there," Giambi said.
Splits-ville: Some batters have figured out how to maintain their productivity without touching a fielder's glove. Boston's David Ortiz is one; longtime Mariner Edgar Martinez was another. Giambi isn't in their class, nor does he believe he ever will be.
"I'm excited when I get out there and play, and get moving around," Giambi said.
In a spring when Giambi is trying to prove he can play first base, it's worth revisiting the splits, which Giambi calls "mind-boggling." A lifetime .309 hitter with a 1.008 OPS as a first baseman, Giambi has hit just .243 as a DH with an .861 OPS. The trend didn't hold true last year, when Giambi hit .184 as a first baseman, but he was limited to 46 at-bats there.
Girardi laughed and said he is well aware of the discrepancy.
"It's something that he's done most of his career, play defense," Girardi said. "I think it takes a special kind of guy to be a DH. I really do. There's a lot to think about between each at-bat, whereas if you're playing defense, you're into the game all the time."
Closer getting closer: Mariano Rivera threw 41 pitches in a side session on Sunday and is projecting that he will see his first Grapefruit League action Friday against the Astros. The 38-year-old closer said that he was "real happy" with his bullpen session, which was caught by Jorge Posada.
"Bueno," Rivera said. "We'll see how it feels tomorrow."
Rivera said that he expects to pitch about nine or 10 spring innings, all of them at Legends Field.
Fast Lane: A right-handed batter who can play first base and the outfield, Jason Lane has some characteristics in common with Shelley Duncan. Now they also have a statistic to share, as Lane belted a home run to keep pace in the race to open eyes in camp.
Lane, who also tripled, has struggled in the past two seasons, hitting .201 and .175, respectively, at the big league level. When the Yankees came calling with an invite to camp, Lane said he snapped it up, hoping to capitalize on an existing relationship with Long from the Minor Leagues.
"They said they needed some right-handed bats to even out the lineup against lefties," Lane said. "I was really eager to work with Kevin Long. I felt like he could help me out and make me a little more consistent. Really, anytime the Yankees are interested in you, you can't really pass that up."
First cuts: The Yankees made their first four cuts of the spring this weekend, reassigning infielders Eric Duncan and Marcos Vechionacchi to Minor League camp after Sunday's game. Those moves followed two cuts on Saturday, when catchers Jesus Montero and Austin Romine were sent across the street to the Himes Ave. complex. The Yankees now have 65 players in camp.
Bombers bits: In New York's first two games, Giambi and Duncan have both homered in the first inning and driven in runs with a third-inning double. "It'd be fun [to keep it going]," Giambi said. ... Kyle Farnsworth served up a home run to Pat Burrell leading off the sixth inning on Sunday. ... Steven White (1 2/3 innings, five earned runs) and Brian Bruney (one innings, two earned runs, blown save) also struggled.
Coming up: The Yankees head north to play their second road game of the spring, meeting the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Mike Mussina (11-10, 5.15 ERA in '07) makes his '08 Grapefruit League debut after pitching two innings in intrasquad action last week. Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (9-13, 4.58 ERA in 2007) counters for Houston.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.