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Notes: Duque available from pen?
10/08/2004 8:03 PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- Although the Yankees tabbed Javier Vazquez to start Game 4 of the American League Division Series, New York isn't counting out the possibility of Orlando Hernandez taking the ball in the series.

Hernandez could work out of the bullpen in either Game 4 or Game 5, depending on the status of his tired right shoulder. The right-hander threw a short bullpen session on Friday, but he sprinted past reporters at the end of batting practice, not answering any questions about his health.

"If he feels up to it, he'll be available out of the bullpen," said manager Joe Torre. "But I told him point-blank that there's no game more important than his health."

Hernandez said Thursday that he was feeling better than he had in the past few days, giving the Yankees the hope that he could pitch in the ALDS. Friday, they named Vazquez as the Game 4 starter -- which had been the plan all along -- but Torre said that if Hernandez continues to show improvement, he could find himself back in the rotation should the Yankees advance past the Twins.

"That he's feeling better is an indication that we could get something out of him, however long the series goes," Torre said. "We're basically leaving it to when he feels well enough to do it."

Esteban Loaiza will continue to be the team's long man out of the bullpen, as Tanyon Sturtze has evolved into more of a short-inning reliever. Torre said that even if Hernandez doesn't pitch in the series, he doesn't regret his decision to take 11 pitchers on the roster instead of Jason Giambi.

"I'd second-guess myself if there was somebody missing that I wanted to use that I didn't have," Torre said. "Jason would be that person, and I didn't feel that it was a big risk doing this."

No field for Lofton: After saying on Thursday that Kenny Lofton would start in center field for the Yankees, Torre changed his mind on Friday, penciling Lofton in as the team's designated hitter for Game 3.

Lofton did not play in either of the first two games of the series, but with Ruben Sierra's 0-for-8 against the Twins, Torre decided to give Lofton a try.

"It was more just Ruben over-swinging right now," Torre said. "Ruben on the bench, he's a weapon. He's more used to doing that than the other guys are."

The decision to keep Bernie Williams in center field, Torre said, was to keep his outfield aligned the same for communication purposes. Earlier this season, Lofton and Hideki Matsui were crossed up on fly balls in the outfield.

"I wanted the outfielders on either side of him to be used to the same guy," Torre said. "I didn't want a communication thing because we have a different center fielder."

And for Game 4? With Johan Santana coming back on short rest to pitch Game 4 for the Twins, Torre will likely send the left-handed hitting Lofton back to the bench in favor of the switch-hitting Sierra.

Torre didn't commit to using Sierra, but said that with Lofton's recent inactivity, he didn't think it was a good idea to throw him in against a lefty like Santana.

"If Kenny's playing every day, it may be a different story," Torre said. "But to play him one game and then against Santana, that would be a tall order."

Torre also said that he would probably leave Matsui, a left-handed hitter, in the cleanup spot against Santana. Matsui was dropped down to the No. 6 spot for Game 1, but the left fielder had two hits against Santana.

"Matsui had some good at-bats against him," Torre said, "so I may not have him down in the order."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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