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Friday notes: Cervelli gets the first turn behind the plate

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Francisco Cervelli will start behind the plate for tomorrow’s spring opener. With that, it seems, the competition for the Yankees catching job will begin.

“I’ve seen enough bullpens,” Joe Girardi said. “Kind of actually excited to see that part.”

Not that there’s much to learn from tomorrow’s game. Cervelli probably won’t catch more than four or five innings, and it’s all but certain that no more than two of those innings will be thrown by a big league pitcher. It’s still early, and it’s hard to gather much information from these early spring games.

“I’m not going to judge them early,” Girardi said. “For me, they’ve got to get their bodies physically in shape. They’ve got to get their timing down offensively. Get to know the pitchers. They’re going to catch a lot of pitchers early they don’t know. The pitchers aren’t necessarily going to pitch to a game plan early, and you’re not going to see them following a game plan. So the early part is just the physical part. But as we move forward it’ll be the mental part as well.”

As you might expect, Girardi said his judgment of the catchers won’t begin or end with their offensive numbers. Hitting is a relatively small part of this competition.  

“A lot of times you look at a guy’s overall game,” Girardi said. “But for the catchers, the defense comes first. It has to come first. What they add offensively is a plus. Save us runs; that I will pay close attention to. I will pay attention to how they work with the pitchers. It’s not just the physical, it’s going to be the mental part of the game, too.”

[3]• Phil Hughes said the improvement in his back has been “significant” and he’s still on track to do some pool work on Sunday. “Way better than when I talked to you guy last,” Hughes said.

• Girardi on Hughes: “It’s still too early. I think you have to see him get on the mound to feel that you’re through it and that it’s not going to be an issue that pops up all the time. But that’s a good sign (that he feels better).”

• Jorge Posada mentioned today that Derek Jeter is not even taping his left ankle before going through drills. “I’ve been stepping it up every day,” Jeter said. “Every day is more and more. I’ve been increasing the workload since I started. … Just more agility, more running. You just increase the workload.”

• Any chance of Posada doing what Andy Pettitte did last spring? “He was a little younger than me,” Posada said. “I have no interest in playing ball.”

• David Phelps is scheduled for two innings or 35 pitches tomorrow. There are no other projected big leaguers scheduled to pitch tomorrow. Girardi said Brett Marshall, Nik Turley, Mike O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Branden Pinder and Chase Whitley are the next names on the list for tomorrow, but he’s not sure exactly which ones will get in the game.

• Adam Warren starts Sunday, Vidal Nuno on Monday and Jose Ramirez on Tuesday. That’s as far as the Yankees know their spring rotation. Nuno (soft-tossing lefty) and Ramirez (hard throwing right-hander) are completely different pitchers, but both are fairly interesting; Nuno because he’s an older pitcher coming off a terrific year, and Ramirez because he’s a younger guy who might be putting some things together and establishing himself as a prospect to watch.

[4]• Girardi’s take on Mariano Rivera’s morning batting practice: “He looked great. He looked like what you expect him to look like, which is a good thing. The delivery, the ball movement, the strikes he’s throwing, he’s throwing it where he wants to, he’s not taking a lot of time between pitches. He looked normal to me.”

• Posada on Rivera’s BP: “The cutter’s still cutting.”

• There was some clubhouse jealousy of Kyle Roller and Rob Segedin because they got to hit against Rivera this morning. As one young hitter told me: “How many more chances will there be?”

• Melky Mesa said it was only a few days ago that he found out about the opportunity to play in the World Baseball Classic. “I just think every opportunity I’ve got to play and do what I do normally is going to be good to me, a good experience,” Mesa said. Does he feel a need to make an early impression on the Yankees before he leaves camp? “No,” Mesa said. “Just play the game, that’s it. Nothing special. Just do what I normally do.”

• Today’s random clubhouse conversation wasn’t all the random. I actually called new reliever David Herndon this winter but only talked to him briefly. Still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Herndon has actually thrown two bullpens off half mounds. Each one was 25 pitches, all four-seam fastballs. It was awkward for Herndon because he almost exclusively throws sinkers when he pitches, but he said two-seam fastballs can tweak an elbow a little more than four-seamers, so he’s sticking with the straight stuff for now. The elbow feels good and Herndon is confident he can begin rehab games fairly early in the season.

• One random and ultimately meaningless note: Herndon is among a wall of four lockers. The other three belong to Josh Spence, Jim Miller and Matt Daley. Shawn Kelley’s locker is about two feet away on the adjoining wall. It’s the area of experienced, largely off-the-radar relievers trying to make an impression. “I think we have some pretty good competition here for some (bullpen) spots,” Girardi said.

• Standing on the edge of the outfield during batting practice today, Ramon Flores made a nice running catch right in front of me. I was putting quite a bit of faith in his ability to get there, and he did. So add me to the list of people giving Flores rave reviews this spring.

Associated Press photos (all are from a few days ago; Hughes didn’t play catch today)