Notes: Igawa still making adjustments
Cabrera flashes leather; Hughes, Ehlers honored before game
TAMPA, Fla. -- Eight of Kei Igawa's first nine pitches missed the strike zone Thursday, and with two Atlanta Braves on base and none out, Ron Guidry made an unexpectedly early trot to the mound.
Communication has been just one hurdle for the Japanese left-hander this spring, but whatever Guidry said in his Louisiana twang, it seemed to help.
Igawa struck out the side to end the inning and, even as he battled spotty control, finished off three scoreless frames to complete his third Grapefruit League start.
"I'm not sure how Gator communicated with him," Torre joked later. "Maybe Cajun is close to Japanese."
Preparing for his first Major League season, Igawa's adjustments are continuing. The 27-year-old needed 62 pitches to get through three innings of work, and recorded just 29 strikes.
He was continuously behind in the count, throwing just one first-pitch strike to Atlanta's first nine batters -- a called strike to free-swinging former Yankee Craig Wilson, who eventually struck out.
The performance was "effectively wild," as catcher Jorge Posada put it. Igawa walked four but struck out five, and the Yankees seem encouraged by Igawa's ability to throw offspeed pitches behind in the count and his willingness to respond to tweaks.
Guidry's spoken words and assorted gestures told Igawa that he needed to reach out further and finish off his pitches -- a lesson that has been repeatedly stressed in bullpen sessions, not just under the lights at Legends Field.
But, as Torre revealed earlier on Thursday, Igawa has taken conditioning drills into his own hands on occasion.
Two days after his March 5 debut against the Detroit Tigers, an unsatisfied Igawa walked out to the adjacent Field 3 bordering Legends Field and repeatedly threw baseballs against a chain-link fence from flat ground.
"I only do that when I feel I need to keep my balance," Igawa explained through interpreter Yumi Watanbe. "It's just a way to shift my weight from one leg to the other."
Igawa said that the exercise is fairly common among Japanese pitchers, except it is usually conducted with a netted screen that could catch the thrown balls. Lacking those amenities, Igawa instead opted for the clanging of horsehide against metal.
Torre said that Guidry later instructed Igawa that the Yankees would prefer if he conducted those types of drills with the supervision of a coach.
"We're here to support him, not to change him," Torre said.
Igawa seems to be making plenty of other adjustments on his own. Though Posada said he was pleased with Igawa's slider and called his changeup "good," the catcher said that Igawa's demeanor may have seen the most improvement over the past 10 days.
"His presence around the mound is better," Posada said. "Before, he was walking around the mound a little bit. Now, he's getting the ball and throwing it. He's just getting more comfortable."
What a grab: Melky Cabrera helped out Igawa's performance in the second inning, making a tumbling, backhanded grab in center field to rob catcher Brian McCann of an extra-base hit.
"It scared the [heck] out of me," Torre said. "At first, I thought he was just trying to be a hero when he said he was OK, because it looked like he may have been shaken up."
Cabrera was fine and remained in the game, though he left after three at-bats in favor of Kevin Thompson. Torre said he lifted Cabrera early to allow him to rest, as he is on the travel roster for Friday's afternoon game at Kissimmee.
The Yankees envision the 22-year-old Cabrera, who batted .280 in 130 games for New York last season, filling in as the primary reserve at all three outfield positions this season.
"This kid is capable of doing a lot of great things," Torre said. "He's got great reactions," Torre said.
Cape Fehr: Players union executive director Donald Fehr met with the Yankees on Thursday before their scheduled game against the Braves, discussing bullet-pointed topics of current interest -- likely including Sen. George Mitchell's ongoing investigative committee -- and answering players' questions.
Fehr said that this year's meetings have been tranquil compared to past seasons' due to a new labor agreement that was reached last fall.
"This is really different," Fehr said. "It really takes the edge off. It makes things a lot easier. Everybody's happy."
Rewarding experiences: Prior to Thursday's game, the Yankees presented infielder Cody Ehlers and right-hander Phil Hughes with the Kevin Lawn "Player of the Year" awards, indicative of the top Minor League performances in 2006.
Both players accepted the awards from Torre and Craig Cole, of Balfour Jewelers, dressed in street clothes. They are currently in Minor League camp, though Hughes had just been reassigned from the Yankees' clubhouse a little more than 24 hours earlier.
Ehlers, 24, batted .298 with 18 home runs and 106 RBIs in 134 games for Class A Tampa last year, earning selection as the Florida State League Player of the Year. Hughes, 20, was a combined 12-6 with a 2.16 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 26 starts between Tampa and Double-A Trenton, and is widely considered the Yankees' top prospect.
The awards are dedicated to Kevin O'Brien Lawn, the son of longtime Yankees vice president and chief of operations Jack Lawn, who passed away in 1999.
Services scheduled: The funeral services for William Mattingly, the father of Yankees bench coach Don Mattingly, will be held Friday in Indiana.
Torre said that Mattingly plans to return to Tampa on Friday evening, rejoining the club for Saturday's game. William Mattingly passed away Tuesday after undergoing several brain surgeries this week.
This and that: The Yankees reassigned right-hander Tyler Clippard to Minor League camp. Clippard fashioned a 1.35 ERA over three spring appearances. ... Outfielder Bobby Abreu (strained right oblique) is expected to take batting practice Friday, Torre said. ... Catcher Wil Nieves (sore right forearm) played catch on Thursday and is expected to return to game action over the weekend.
Coming up: The Yankees travel to Kissimmee, Fla., to see the Astros on Friday, facing off at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang is scheduled to start for New York, with right-hander Woody Williams going for Houston.
Right-handers Kyle Farnsworth and Luis Vizcaino are slated to relieve for the Yankees. The Astros plan to use right-handers Chris Sampson and Dave Borkowski, plus left-hander Trever Miller.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.