Notes: Cano 'always worried'
Second baseman afraid slump is just around corner
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Don't get Robinson Cano wrong. Cano grinned plenty when he popped his first home run of the spring this week, and for that matter, he probably smiles as much as any Yankee.
But while the 24-year-old second baseman has his stroke intact, batting .333 with nine RBIs in Grapefruit League play, he harbors a sneaking suspicion that his next slump could be right around the corner.
"Let me tell you something: I'm always worried," Cano said. "If you get two hits today, sometimes you don't get hits for the next five or 10 games. I'm always worried how it's going to be the next game. It's not easy -- just go into the game and get some hits. I'm always worried about how it's going to be."
The Yankees have no such qualms about Cano's play. After he finished third in the American League batting race last season, New York is looking for big things from the All-Star as he plays his third Major League season.
A compact left-handed batter who hit 15 home runs in 482 at-bats last season, Cano has a stroke that some have suggested could be ripe to add power potential in future seasons.
His three-run shot off Houston's Woody Williams on Friday wasn't exactly an aberration, though Cano said he continues to simply try to drive the ball for doubles. In a lineup flush with power hitters, Cano said he is content to stick to the form that has made him one of the game's most dynamic young hitters.
"It's a different game than that," Cano said. "I wish to improve my power, but not in a home run way. Sometimes I'll try [to hit home runs in batting practice], but I'm a line-drive hitter."
Yankees manager Joe Torre said that he hasn't seen any signs of slowing from Cano, who continues to report to Legends Field three times a week for early-morning defensive drills with infield coach Larry Bowa -- an exercise package that Cano believes has helped him markedly.
A contractual bargain for the Yankees, having signed a one-year contract worth $490,000 earlier this month, Cano still exhibits an innocent, joyful approach to the game that Torre said is "great to see."
"You sense if somebody's forcing the issue," Torre said. "We've talked to him about several things in regard to hitting and his contract, all that stuff. We've tried to cover all the bases. He seems to be having fun. Hopefully that's the case."
Two for the show: Torre has a tough decision on deck as he prepares to officially name his Opening Day starter -- an event that could take place on Thursday, he said.
One day after Chien-Ming Wang's sinkers picked up midseason break, according to catcher Todd Pratt, Andy Pettitte retired the final 13 Phillies he faced in the Yankees' 3-2 loss at Bright House Networks Field on Saturday.
"It was a tough day to pitch," said Pettitte, who walked none and struck out four. "It was real windy out on the mound. The ball was pretty slick and I was fighting myself early on to get a feel for the strike zone."
Pettitte said he was kicking himself after the first few innings, admitting frustration after falling behind early in the count and missing with his offspeed pitches.
The left-hander found his groove by the middle innings. No Phillies batter reached base against Pettitte after Chase Utley's first-inning double. Pettitte has now put up 10 scoreless innings in three starts this spring.
"I was able to come back and throw strikes when I needed to," Pettitte said. "It was a good outing. Any time you go out and put zeroes up, you've got to feel decent about it."
Pettitte said that the chilly conditions in Clearwater on Saturday -- temperatures in the 60s and a brisk breeze -- were a good reminder of what awaits him for his New York reintroduction next month.
He added that whether it happens on Opening Day or later on in the team's first homestand, Pettitte's return to the Yankee Stadium mound will be an event for him to remember.
"It's always an honor," Pettitte said. "That would be special. For me, no matter when I pitch, that start for me is going to be like my Opening Day to get back on that mound."
In the swing: Torre remained behind at Legends Field on Saturday morning to watch Bobby Abreu take batting practice for the first time since straining his right oblique on Feb. 26.
Abreu batted in a group that included Cano and Alex Rodriguez on Field 2, completing a full session that was satisfactory to Torre's concerns.
"He even had a couple of semi-check swings in there," Torre said. "That was good. ... He didn't look like he was favoring [one side]. The first few swings he was cautious, but once he was comfortable, he was fine."
The Yankees are optimistic that Abreu -- projected as New York's starting right fielder -- could return to action Thursday at Sarasota. That would give him 10 straight Grapefruit League games leading into the regular season, which Torre said would be enough time to get into hitting shape.
"This is something that we'd really go slow even if it was during the season," Torre said. "You know that a setback is usually a pretty good setback. You're never going to know for sure until you play the game."
Good news for Phillips: After being injured in a serious car accident, Linda Phillips, the mother of the Yankees' Andy Phillips, was released from a Birmingham, Ala., hospital on Thursday, the infielder said.
Though doctors say it will be two to three months before she can attempt to walk again, Phillips said that knowing his mother is resting comfortably is a load off of his mind.
"It was a big day when she got to go home," Phillips said. "To get to see her progress, that was special. She's feeling a little worn out right now, but she was happy to be able to get up and go home."
Phillips played third base behind Pettitte and Carl Pavano on Saturday in Clearwater -- a position he played in the Minor Leagues, but is out of practice at -- in an attempt to garner more at-bats after missing a week away from the team. Phillips went 1-for-4 but committed an error, leading to an unearned run.
Before the game, Torre said that Phillips would be capable of serving as an emergency fill-in at either second or third bases, offering "a little more versatility" than Josh Phelps, the right-handed-hitting first baseman who is fighting Phillips to win a platoon role on the Yankees' roster.
Phelps, however, has the ability to serve as an emergency catcher. He last caught in a game in 2002 with the Blue Jays, but Phelps said he helped warm up pitchers as recently as last season at Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers chain.
Either way, Torre said that the decision might come down to the last week of camp.
"It's just a process," Torre said.
On track: Catcher Wil Nieves (right forearm soreness) went through batting exercises Saturday at Legends Field and is expected to return to game action sometime in the middle of next week, as early as Tuesday.
Coming up: The Yankees host the Pirates on Sunday at Legends Field, facing off at 1:15 p.m. ET. Right-hander Mike Mussina is scheduled to start New York's 18th game of the exhibition season, with left-hander Zach Duke going for Pittsburgh.
The Yankees plan to use right-handers Mariano Rivera and Luis Vizcaino in relief.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.