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Pregame notes: New look at the top

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[2]Brett Gardner is not trying to lead all of baseball in pitches per plate appearance. He did it last year but said that was partially because his injured wrist left him reluctant to swing through the second half of the season.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing,” he said. “If you told me I could lead off all year or hit ninth or wherever, see five pitches per plate appearance and still get on 38 percent of the time, I’d sign up for it. I don’t think that’s something that’s easy to do. If I had 500 at-bats last year, probably 400-something of those I hit behind in the count. It’s like you’re always uphill. That’s something I want to try to improve on.”

Tonight, the Yankees will take a look at Gardner in the leadoff spot. Joe Girardi said he’ll probably have his everyday guys in the same lineup another eight or nine times this spring, and he’ll continue to play with different batting orders.

Girardi said he has no plans of dropping Derek Jeter out of the top two spots. He also liked Nick Swisher in the No. 2 spot last season, “and we’re not sure we want to upset that,” Girardi said. Based on last year’s numbers, though, Gardner is a prototypical leadoff man, and the Yankees like the fact that his speed opens some holes on the right side of the infield for Jeter.

“We’re trying it because of what he did last year, and the problems that he causes for other teams,” Girardi said. “He puts pressure on the pitcher, and a lot of times pressure leads to mistakes. You get to the guys in the middle of the order, and those mistakes become bigger mistakes. That’s what we want our hitters to be able to do.”

Gardner led the Yankees in on-base percentage last season, and the ability to draw a walk became his greatest weapon in the second half of last season. In the first half, though, he proved he could both take his walks and get his hits. The Yankees have talked to him about bringing back some of that early aggressiveness.

“That’s something we talk about a lot, something I feel I’ve done a little better job of working on this spring,” Gardner said. “I’ve swung at some 2-0 pitches, some 3-1 pitches, 1-0 pitches. Maybe even an 0-0 pitch. I think I’ve been more aggressive this spring at certain times. I know it’s something I need to improve on and I plan to do that this year.”

[3]• For the record, even hitting in front of the 3-4-5 hitters, Girardi said he wants Gardner to run when he gets on base. “I want him to get a bag any time he can get it,” Girardi said. “I don’t want it to take away from his aggressiveness.”

• Sergio Mitre came through yesterday’s bullpen just fine and will pitch tomorrow, probably around 65 pitches, but Girardi wasn’t sure of the number.

• Rafael Soriano pitched at the minor league complex today and said he walked a guy and gave up a double. He said his command wasn’t great, but he also seemed unconcerned. Girardi said he didn’t find it all that unusual that Soriano didn’t want to face an AL East team yesterday.

• Joba Chamberlain is doing long toss and throwing a flat side today. “We’ll make an evaluation with him after today,” Girardi said.

• Phil Hughes is set for 75 to 80 pitches tonight.

• These are the factors Girardi said he thinks about when deciding which lineup is best: “You look at the consistency of your lineup. You look at how easy it is to bring up situational guys to face your guys, how that’s setup. You look at how hitters work together, if it changes a guy’s approach or not (to have someone else hitting in front or behind).”

• Pat Venditte is up from minor league camp for tonight’s game, but he probably won’t pitch. He’s a backup, and Girardi said he would be more likely to give Ryan Pope or Eric Wordekemper a batter or two. RHP Josh Schmidt also up from minor league camp as a backup.

• Today’s outfield off the bench is made entirely of guys who were optioned down last night: Brandon Laird, Melky Mesa and Kevin Russo.

• Greg Golson is able to run and do defensive drills and could begin swinging a bat again in the next day or two.

Off the bench: C Gustavo Molina, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Ramiro Pena, SS Doug Bernier, 3B Eduardo Nunez, LF Brandon Laird, CF Melky Mesa, RF Kevin Russo, DH Jordan Parraz

Out of the bullpen: Boone Logan, Romulo Sanchez, Luis Ayala, Eric Wordekemper, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Pat Venditte and Josh Schmidt.

Tomorrow’s travelers today: The Yankees regular outfielders are going on the road tomorrow to play the Blue Jays.

Pitchers who will be making the trip: A.J. Burnett, Sergio Mitre, Andrew Brackman, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Eric Wordekemper, Amaury Sanit and Kevin Whelan.

Players who will not be making the trip: Austin Romine, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Greg Golson, Francisco Cervelli and Colin Curtis. Walter Ibarra is scheduled to come up from minor league camp to provide infield depth.

RAYS (8-9-1)
Ben Zobrist 2B
Johnny Damon LF
Evan Longoria 3B
Manny Ramirez DH
Matt Joyce RF
B.J. Upton CF
Dan Johnson 1B
Reid Brignac SS
John Jason C

RHP Chris Bootcheck

Associated Press photos