Notes: Ensberg faces former club
Infielder focusing on improving at-bats, fine-tuning mechanics
TAMPA, Fla. -- When Morgan Ensberg trotted to first base on Monday at Osceola County Stadium, the former Houston Astro found his surroundings extremely familiar. But what surprises him most is how well he's adjusting to a new position.
A third baseman for most of his career, the 32-year-old Ensberg is attempting to make the Yankees this spring as a right-handed-hitting first baseman. Offered another opportunity to start as he returned to one of the ballparks where he started his professional life, Ensberg hopes to keep making small adjustments and open eyes.
"I've felt really comfortable over there," Ensberg said of first base. "I feel pretty competent as an infielder. It doesn't feel so foreign. I'm not as concerned about learning first base as I am about having quality at-bats. It's familiar territory."
Ensberg said that Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long has helped him tweak his swing greatly in camp, already boiling down his mechanics and making them less complex.
"I'm embarrassed to say it, but in two weeks of working with Kevin, I have felt so much better as a hitter than I have my entire life," Ensberg said. "This is just working on stuff in the cage. This is silly. I would have thought that there was a time that I knew what was going on, but he just makes things simple."
It's striking how quickly Ensberg has separated from his Astros roots. An Opening Day third baseman for four consecutive seasons who slugged a career-high 36 homers in 2005, Ensberg was sidetracked by a right shoulder injury the next year while diving for a foul ball.
He has not been the same offensive player since. Traded by the Astros to the Padres last July, Ensberg scanned his old roster and believes that his former club is not the same organization he knew.
"There's a disconnect," Ensberg said. "I [didn't] really expect to feel anything. A lot of what makes you miss a place are the teammates that you had. The reality is that all of the guys that I came up with were all traded. I know Roy [Oswalt], Lance [Berkman] and Brad Ausmus. That's amazing."
In fact, Ensberg's closest friends from the Astros -- Adam Everett, Eric Bruntlett and Brad Lidge -- have moved on to other organizations. Another, Jason Lane, has landed in Yankees camp.
"That's not the team I was on," Ensberg said.
Ensberg, who also played alongside Andy Pettitte in Houston, said that he is not keeping up with Roger Clemens' current legal troubles. He prefers to remember Clemens as he was in the Astros clubhouse, where the right-hander was an icon for players.
"One of the best," Ensberg said of Clemens. "I said that he and Jeff Bagwell were two of the best teammates that you could have. I was really impressed with how they treated everybody. It had very little to do with the fact that they were great players. They treated people equally -- the low man on the totem pole, they treated the same as the high guy. They were just friendly guys."
Life's a beach: If Robinson Cano has another strong season, he can thank the shores of Boca Chica. Every Friday during the offseason, the Yankees second baseman was among a group of players who hit a beach in the Dominican Republic, incorporating aquatics into their workout regimen.
Combining swimming and running on sand into a weekly program that included weightlifting and climbing stairs at a local stadium, Cano reported to camp in fit condition. He appears to have put on additional muscle as he looks to improve upon a 19-homer, 97-RBI campaign in 2007, but says he would prefer to repeat his 41-double showing for a third consecutive year.
"I don't think about [home runs]," Cano said. "Fifteen to 20 is about where I want to be. I can hit balls the other way and go gap-to-gap. I never think about being a power hitter."
Cano worked out over the offseason with Yankees teammates Melky Cabrera, Wilson Betemit and Edwar Ramirez. He earned a four-year, $30 million contract extension after finishing the year batting .306, helped greatly by a red-hot July in which he hit .385.
Cano credits most of the second-half surge to Long, the Yankees' hitting coach, who repeatedly provided an optimistic forecast. Long would pull Cano aside and tell him not to worry, that sooner or later he would begin to hit. Sure enough, Cano's batting average steadily rose.
"Especially after the first half I had," Cano said, "I would be hitting .220 and think, 'How can I get to even .280?' To finish over .300 when the season ends, I was happy with that."
Honoring Bernie: There is no official plan yet, but Hank Steinbrenner told The Associated Press that the Yankees will find a way to honor the career of former center fielder Bernie Williams.
A lifetime .297 hitter, Williams played 16 seasons with the Yankees, but separated from the organization awkwardly, declining a non-roster invitation to Spring Training last year. Williams is believed to be retired from baseball, though he has not officially done so.
Going long: One of the Yankees' goals this spring is to find a reliable long reliever. Manager Joe Girardi said on Monday that the Yankees are likely to select one from a group of pitchers who have starting experience -- Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner and Kei Igawa being the main candidates.
"I think it's real important, especially with the young starters," Girardi said. "We have to be creative in their innings. If we get a chance to take them out of a game when there's a big lead ... that guy becomes very important."
Swing away: Hideki Matsui was scheduled to take batting practice on Monday, two days after his neck tightened up while swinging. Girardi said that Matsui's neck will not slow his timetable for getting into a game, which has been pushed to next week by his rehab from right knee surgery.
"The running is the important part, the cutting," Girardi said. "And he's not having any problems. When I saw him the first day in Spring Training, I [said], 'Wow, he looks great.'"
Bombers bits: Bobby Abreu has shown good athleticism early in camp, particularly running the bases. ... Pettitte is three chapters into 'Quiet Strength,' by Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy. So far, he's been impressed. ... Jesus Montero, who was reassigned Sunday, stood out to Girardi for his receiving skills. Girardi said that he believes the 6-foot-4 Montero can progress as a catcher. ... The Yankees reassigned infielder Marcos Vechionacci to Minor League camp.
Coming up: The Yankees are on the road again Tuesday, traveling over to Dunedin, Fla., to see the Blue Jays. Right-hander Phil Hughes (5-3, 4.46 ERA in 2007) makes his first Grapefruit League start for the Yankees. Igawa, Chase Wright, Jeff Marquez, Billy Traber and Heath Phillips are also scheduled to work.
Right-hander Jesse Litsch (7-9, 3.81 ERA in 2007) is scheduled to start for Toronto. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.