Notes: Damon battles through pain
Center fielder hopes to avoid stint on the disabled list
DENVER -- Johnny Damon's level of comfort roaming the spacious outfield at Coors Field on Thursday could determine his fate as he hopes to avoid a stint on the disabled list.
With Damon limited to just three at-bats in the first two games against the Rockies -- one as a pinch-hitter and two as a fill-in first baseman -- the Yankees allowed Damon to spell Melky Cabrera for the finale and try covering the gaps as New York's center fielder.
"Melky has deserved to go out there and play, and I'm going to try to take the most out of the opportunity," Damon said.
Guarding a strained abdominal muscle in his ribcage that prevented Damon from even taking batting practice on Tuesday, the 33-year-old's recent service has come mostly as a designated hitter, but he won't be able to resume those duties until the Yankees get back to American League play next week.
He acknowledges that his injury likely won't heal unless he is permitted to do absolutely nothing for a period of time, but said that he won't campaign for an assignment to the disabled list, where he has never been in his career.
"I'm not even thinking about that," Damon said. "Ribcages are funny. You just have to battle through it. I know the team needs me to be in the lineup."
Batting .253, Damon has just six hits in his last 29 at-bats, and his physical state has become a daily point of concern for the club. Manager Joe Torre said he informed Damon of his plans to use him in center field on Wednesday but checked with Damon again on the team bus en route to Coors Field on Thursday, with Damon insisting that he felt good.
The Yankees will have a close eye on Damon's performance in the game.
"If there's something that's evident, we're going to see it," Torre said. "He's smart enough to tell us, too."
Damon's brief flirtation with first base -- he uses a personalized glove with a nickname, "Nitro," stitched on the side -- has created moments of levity in the Yankees' clubhouse.
As Damon passed through the room on his way to the batting cages Thursday morning, Alex Rodriguez looked up from his locker stall and made an acknowledgement.
"What's up, Johnny D.," Rodriguez called out. "You in there today?"
When Damon nodded, Rodriguez paused, then asked, "Where?"
Home cooking: One of the year's most unusual sights took place on Thursday morning, as reliever Mike Myers exited the clubhouse kitchen and served outfielder Hideki Matsui a late breakfast, peeling back a covering of Saran Wrap. The meal? Grilled buffalo.
Myers, who makes his home in Highlands Ranch, Co., explained that he had shot the animal sometime in January on a hunting trip. With the Yankees in town on the road trip, Myers marinated the buffalo and fired up his grill late last night, promising to bring Matsui a taste of his prize.
"He's taken me to a lot of traditional Japanese dinners and things like that," Myers said. "I told him that when he gets out here, he'll have a traditional Colorado-style meal."
Matsui tried his with A-1 steak sauce -- Myers prefers it without -- but seemed appreciative.
"He liked it," said one Japanese reporter chronicling the exchange. "He was eating it pretty good."
Switching it up: Andy Phillips was back on the bench for Thursday's matinee, with Miguel Cairo returning to duty at first base. Torre said that the decision was made on Wednesday, based upon Cairo's success against Rockies starter Rodrigo Lopez. Cairo is batting .357 (5-for-14) with a double, triple and RBI against the former Oriole.
Flying ahead: Left-hander Kei Igawa, who is scheduled to be recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday, has already touched down in the San Francisco Bay Area and is awaiting the club's arrival.
The reports on Igawa have been sharp recently, with club officials stating that the Japanese import has found command of his changeup to complement his low-90s fastball. If the reports hold water, pitching coach Ron Guidry said the offspeed offering could play a vital role in helping Igawa find success at the big-league level.
"He was trying to just get people out with his fastball," Guidry said. "He couldn't get the other one over. If you don't have that, you take the other one out of the equation and they just look for [the fastball]. You've got to almost be perfect with it, and he couldn't do that.
"If he can get [the changeup] over, that alleviates them having to shut one out. They have to look for more pitches. They have to be aware of more pitches, and just putting that in hitters' minds gets them to think more than just looking for one thing. You've got an advantage, and that's what pitching is all about."
Bomber bits: The Yankees have three of the American League's top daytime hitters in Jorge Posada (.373), Derek Jeter (.355) and Cabrera (.353). ... The Yankees have committed just two errors in their last 14 games dating back to June 5, tying them with the Rockies for the fewest errors in the Majors during that span. ... Yankees relievers have not allowed a home run since June 4 at Chicago.
Coming up: The Yankees move on to San Francisco as they prepare to play the middle portion of their three-city road trip, opening up a series at AT&T Park on Friday. Igawa (2-1, 7.63 ERA) returns to the big leagues to make the start for New York, with right-hander Matt Cain (2-7, 3.15 ERA) countering for the Giants. First pitch is scheduled for 10:15 p.m. ET on the YES Network.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.