06/29/2002 8:22 pm ET
Hernandez headed for the rotation
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Joe Torre told Orlando Hernandez that while he would be pitching out of the bullpen upon his return from the disabled list, his future with the Yankees was as a member of the starting rotation.
After Friday night's performance out of the bullpen, Torre might want to reconsider.
Hernandez tossed four shutout innings in relief of Mike Mussina, nailing down the Yankees' 11-5 win over the Mets to earn the first save of his career.
After the Yankees took a 6-1 lead, the Mets crawled back to make it a 6-5 game against a shaky Mussina. But Hernandez entered the game to begin the sixth, and held the Mets off the scoreboard the rest of the way.
"He restored order. His first two innings were the biggest of the game, getting the momentum back on our side," Torre said. "He had everything working. Changed speeds, changed locations. That's what makes him so hard to hit."
Hernandez, who had made just one relief appearance in his career before Saturday, said he was just happy to be back with the team instead of rehabbing his strained back in Tampa.
"It's good for me, I can help the team now," Hernandez said. "I want to help the team in any way."
As he kissed the game ball from his first save, Hernandez said that he doesn't expect many more saves to come his way.
"The closer isn't my job, it's Mariano's," Hernandez said.
After Ted Lilly's sub-par outing on Saturday against the Mets, Hernandez could get the start next Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Torre has said all along that Hernandez will return to the rotation after the All-Star break, but his return may come even sooner than that.
"I told Lilly a long time ago that it doesn't matter [how he pitches]," Torre said. "I sensed that he was pressing, especially after he pitched the one-hitter against Seattle. So I told him to go out and have some fun, pitch the best you can, because it doesn't matter how well or how badly you do, you're going to end up in the bullpen."
Lilly gave up six runs (five earned) in four-plus innings on Saturday, dropping his record to 3-6.
"It's not a knock against him because what's happened to him has been tremendous for his confidence, as well as my confidence in him," Torre said. "His time will come to be a starter."
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Sterling Hitchcock, who has battled back spasms since June 10, was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to June 18. Hitchcock underwent an MRI on Saturday and was diagnosed with a sprained lower back with inflammation. He will be treated conservatively.
Hitchcock had a similar injury in Spring Training, which kept him from beginning the season with the Yankees. Randy Choate, who had been sent down on Sunday to make room for the returning Hernandez, was recalled to take Hitchcock's spot on the roster.
"Because we could back-date him from the last time he pitched, it was an easy call," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. "Based on him having dealt with this on the whole road trip, he wasn't getting better. It sounds like it's the same area as the spring."
Ron Coomer, who has missed the last six games with a pinched nerve in his neck, took two cortisone shots in the neck and spine on Friday and could return to action as early as Sunday.
"Yesterday, I couldn't even get out of bed without help. I'm doing much better than I was yesterday," Coomer said. "I'll see how I do tomorrow. I still have a knot in my neck, so I'll be on the massage table, and hopefully will be able to play in the next day or so."
Shane Spencer was examined Saturday by two doctors and took a cortisone shot in his left wrist on Saturday. Spencer has been battling the wrist injury since running into a wall while making a catch in the Arizona series earlier this month.
"It was localized, so I felt it right away," Spencer said of the shot. "Hopefully it works. It was that or a couple of weeks on the DL, which, given a choice, was a no-brainer."
Spencer will try to swing a bat on Tuesday and could play as soon as that night.
"I think it's going to be a few days for him," said Torre. "We're a little thin right now."
Mark Feinsand covers the Yankees for MLB.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.