Notes: Veterans impressed by Pavano
Damon, Giambi swap superlatives on right-hander's start
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If this baseball-playing thing doesn't work out, at least Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi could have their backup plan lined up.
Following Carl Pavano's two-inning stint against the Phillies at Bright House Networks Field, the Yankees stars addressed reporters side-by-side, playing off each other in a conversation that appeared half broadcast team, half stand-up routine.
"We need him," Giambi said of Pavano. "He's going to make a big difference in our club."
Damon interrupted, "If he can keep them to four or five runs, he'll win 15 [games]."
Back and forth, the first baseman and the center fielder swapped superlatives about Pavano's 33-pitch, 16-strike performance. Damon said he liked what he saw; Giambi agreed. Giambi said Pavano was pitching inside; Damon opined that he "sunk it good."
On it went, with the two players bordering the clubhouse exit while second-string Yankees and Phillies battled on the field, neither in any particular rush to leave.
Damon laughed that the worst show of Pavano's command didn't even come on the mound; after Pavano completed his second inning of work, he attempted to elbow Damon in a friendly gesture. Whatever was Pavano's intended target, he missed by a long shot, catching Damon flush in the stomach.
"He gave it to me in the gut," Damon said.
Either way, the teammates agreed that no matter their thoughts on Pavano's injury-plagued last 1 1/2 seasons -- his last Major League game was played on June 27, 2005 -- the right-hander can expect a clean slate for 2007, at least from these two.
"You've got to start clean," Giambi said. "There's no reason to dredge up anything in the past. I like Carl a lot. We get along really well and he's going to be a difference maker for us. When we faced him with the Marlins, he can be as dominating as anyone."
Damon added: "Life's too short, man. There's no reason to have animosity. We're all going to the same boat."
With their points made, interspersed with a few laughs, the Damon and Giambi show was finally off to parts unknown. But not without one last parting rim-shot.
"Let's go get sexy, 'G,'" Damon told Giambi.
Look out: Yankees manager Joe Torre had a scare in the third inning when Philadelphia right fielder Shane Victorino lost control of his bat, sending the lumber hurtling toward the skipper's head.
Sitting outside the first-base dugout on a folding chair, Torre ducked as the bat whizzed overhead, eventually landing near a fan, who was not injured.
"I was starting to read the print on that son of a gun," Torre said.
Victorino, who was batting against Jeff Karstens, eventually sent a bat over to the fan in exchange for the game-used item. Torre joked that he wanted to know when his atonement gift would be arriving.
The four seats outside the visiting dugout at Philadelphia's Spring Training site are exposed to all manners of game play, but Torre stated the obvious when he said a foul ball is preferable to a lost bat.
"Bats are tougher to get away from than balls, because you don't know what they're going to do," Torre said. "I was afraid to even turn around, because I heard, 'Thud.'"
Go fourth, young man: Venezuelan product Jose Tabata, 18, assumed the duties of cleanup batter for Sunday's game, going 1-for-4 as the Yankees' left fielder in a lineup filled out by bench coach Don Mattingly.
Torre said he has been impressed, in limited exposure, by Tabata's presence and power at the plate. He compared Tabata to Mariners outfielder Jose Guillen.
"He's very quiet up there," Torre said. "All he has to do is work at it."
Catching on: Wil Nieves and Todd Pratt are officially in the early stages of the Yankees' backup catcher competition.
Torre said it is too early to identify a front-runner, but Nieves -- a strong defensive receiver -- made his move on Sunday by throwing out Philadelphia speedster Jimmy Rollins on a first-inning steal attempt.
"That was really good," Torre said. "He got rid of that ball really well. It's certainly a nice hash mark on his side."
But don't count Pratt out yet. A non-roster invitee to camp, Pratt has veteran experience and the full backing of third-base coach Larry Bowa, who "loves" Pratt from their days together with the Phillies, according to Torre. Pratt has said that he will retire if he doesn't make the Yankees this spring, but he's shown few signs of slowing down.
"He's getting up there a little bit at 40 years old," Torre said. "But his work ethic and personality light up a clubhouse."
In action: Closer Mariano Rivera is scheduled to make his Spring Training debut on Monday against the Tigers.
Rivera has been limited thus far to workouts and throwing bullpen sessions at Legends Field, as the Yankees continue to allow the 37-year-old closer to determine his own pace. As is his custom, Rivera is not making road trips with the Yankees this spring.
This and that: Right-hander Humberto Sanchez (right forearm strain) threw soft-toss on flat ground Sunday, while southpaw Ben Kozlowski (abdominal strain) also threw, pitching coach Ron Guidry said. ... Right-hander Brian Bruney (rib cage pain) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Monday. ... Torre said there was no news to report on first baseman Andy Phillips, who has been granted a leave of absence from the club. Phillips' mother was involved in a serious automobile accident last week in Alabama.
Coming up: The Yankees play the fifth game of their exhibition schedule on Monday, with left-hander Kei Igawa making his Grapefruit League debut against the Tigers. First pitch is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast on MLB.TV.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.