Notes: After celebrating, starters rest
Veterans get Thursday off after securing playoff spot
ST. PETERSBURG -- The visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field was so well protected during the Yankees' wet and wild celebration on Wednesday, it would have been difficult to gather evidence that it had taken place at all.
But one night after the Yankees clinched their 13th consecutive postseason berth, the club's lineup card sufficed as a tell-tale indication.
Content to move forward with the security of at least the American League Wild Card intact, manager Joe Torre made good on a promise to rest several of his key offensive players, including Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Melky Cabrera and Bobby Abreu.
"I think today, after the emotions of last night, is a good time to give it," Torre said. "We'll just have to figure out the last few games of getting guys in there."
The modified lineup, which general manager Brian Cashman referred to as the "B-Bombers," included two players who at game time were still seeking their first Major League hits -- shortstop Alberto Gonzalez and outfielder Bronson Sardinha.
Sardinha took care of his in the top of the third, with a single off Scott Kazmir, and Gonzalez singled off Kazmir in the sixth for his first big league hit.
Torre said that he would use the remaining four games of the regular-season schedule to whittle down his roster and wrap up a few items as the club ponders its postseason squads.
For that reason, power-hitting rookie Shelley Duncan was given the start over Doug Mientkiewicz at first base, with an eye toward the possibility that the right-handed-hitting Duncan could be used to bat against a left-handed pitcher like the Indians' C.C. Sabathia, should a potential AL Division Series matchup with Cleveland hold.
"We'll see how spirited the discussions go," Cashman said. "If you make an impact here in the last week, you can open eyes. Some guys can do well and push themselves into the mix, and some guys have struggled to put themselves on the bubble."
Torre said that Thursday's mental respite could be just as important as the physical one. The Yankees let off a good amount of steam in a raucous and alcohol-splattered clubhouse late on Wednesday night, celebrating their memorable fight back from eight games under .500 and 14 1/2 games out of the division race on May 29.
"Physically, a lot of guys, their bodies do a lot of things that they will them to do," Torre said. "All of a sudden, if you don't play a little bit, you realize how much you needed that day off."
'Rules' made to be broken: Now that the Yankees have clinched a playoff spot, the alterations of the so-called "Joba Rules" for setup man Joba Chamberlain can commence.
The 22-year-old right-hander was used with a large lead on Wednesday against the Devil Rays, and Torre warned him to get some rest after his champagne spraying, intent upon using him on back-to-back days for the first time since the heralded hurler was summoned to the big leagues in early August.
Torre said that the Yankees would likely use Chamberlain -- who is 2-0 with a 0.40 ERA in 17 appearances -- again on Sunday for one final tuneup before the playoffs. Closer Mariano Rivera is envisioned making two more appearances; the two have compiled a 0.64 ERA in 28 September innings, while all other Yankees relievers have put up an 8.95 ERA in 58 1/3 innings.
"If you're going to struggle, [September is] when you might struggle," said pitching coach Ron Guidry. "That's because of the season. The longer the season goes, the more chances you have to struggle. Sometimes it catches up with you. You don't want to see that, but I think they know what is demanded of them. We have choices, and it's good to have the choices. We just need to hope they maintain a level of consistency."
Slide right in: Rookie Ross Ohlendorf believes that his slider has actually improved since he was transitioned to relief work late in the season, complementing a diving sinker and a fastball that has increased in velocity since he left the starting rotation at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Ohlendorf, 25, has become something of a curiosity for Torre, who has mentioned that the Princeton product may have a shot at making the postseason roster. Ohlendorf is likely to throw in back-to-back games at some point over New York's final contests.
Ohlendorf has allowed one hit in 3 2/3 innings over four big league appearances, striking out six, and credits his improved slider to former Yankee Jim Brower and Triple-A pitching coach Dave Eiland, both of whom helped him stay away from the side of the ball for maximum effect.
"I felt really good about how I'd been throwing, and I knew I wanted it to continue," Ohlendorf said. "I wanted to do well regardless of whether it was for the postseason or next year. I've been happy with it, definitely."
Step inside: Hideki Matsui chatted with Torre for about 10 minutes in the manager's office on Thursday, discussing various mechanics of hitting with the help of interpreter Roger Kahlon. Matsui has been pulling off pitches and jerking his body awkwardly on some swings.
Torre originally considered giving Matsui another day off on Thursday but instead rested Cabrera, playing Johnny Damon in center field.
Take your pick: In years past, on the final day of the regular season, Torre would cede his managerial duties to an outgoing player, such as Bernie Williams, who took the helm for a 7-5 loss to the Blue Jays on Oct. 1.
But with no clear-cut choice for 2007, there have been plenty of hands clamoring for the lineup card on Sunday at Baltimore. Calling it "the toughest one" of all his selections, Torre said that Rodriguez, Posada, Damon and Mike Mussina are all being considered as candidates for the honorary task.
Bombers bits: Mussina will start on Friday, and Andy Pettitte will be pulled early from a tuneup start on Saturday at Baltimore. Sunday's start is up for grabs. ... Roger Clemens will throw a simulated game on Monday in Tampa and then join the team for the playoffs. ... Jeter has six 200-hit seasons, the most of any shortstop in history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Coming up: The Yankees open their final road series of the regular season on Friday, sending Mussina (11-10, 4.96 ERA) to the mound opposite Baltimore right-hander Jon Leicester (2-3, 6.51). First pitch from Oriole Park at Camden Yards is set for 7:05 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.