Hitting or not, Johnson helping Yanks
Designated hitter drawing enough walks to make difference
OAKLAND -- Nick Johnson's line across the box score on Tuesday essentially explained his early run at the plate this season -- no hits, but a couple of walks and two runs scored in the Yankees' 7-3 victory over the Athletics.
So it goes for the notoriously patient Johnson, who was imported in large part due to his high career on-base percentage. Johnson may be batting just .146 through his first 41 at-bats upon returning to the Yankees, but entering Wednesday, he led the team and ranked second in the Majors with 16 walks and owned a .407 on-base percentage.
"I don't think anyone is complaining about how much he's on base," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Sometimes you look at his batting average and you think that he's really struggling and maybe not helping the team, but you look at how much he's been on base, and he's helping us."
Maybe it's rubbing off on Johnson's teammates. The Yankees entered Wednesday leading the Majors with 71 walks and one walk per 7.25 plate appearances, having seen 2,070 pitches through 13 games -- an average of 159.23 per game.
Still, Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long has mentioned to Johnson that he needs to be more aggressive in hitters' counts. Johnson entered play Wednesday hitless in his past 12 at-bats and went 3-for-16 on the club's recent homestand.
Girardi 'careful' in leaning on Joba
OAKLAND -- On the spring day that Joba Chamberlain sat in his manager's office and was told he wouldn't be a starting pitcher for the Yankees this season, the right-hander immediately began thinking about the eighth inning.
If the Yankees weren't about to hand the job to him on a silver platter, which they wouldn't, Chamberlain made it his mission to prove that Joe Girardi should be giving him the ball in those key situations once again.
"That's the first thing that came into my mind," Chamberlain said. "Knowing that I've been in that situation before, but also knowing that I still had a lot to prove. It's not just going to be handed to me; we've got a lot of guys throwing the ball well.
"I had to go back out there and prove myself again in that role. There was no time to be disappointed, because I had to prove to myself that I could still help this team on the other side."
Chamberlain seemed like a natural fit for the role in Tuesday's 7-3 win over the A's, hurling 1 1/3 scoreless innings of relief with three strikeouts to help preserve Javier Vazquez's first victory of the season.
It must have been enough of an audition for Girardi, who finally seems ready to declare that Chamberlain has been anointed as his eighth-inning reliever.
"I think he's done what most of us expected him to do," Girardi said. "I think he's enjoying himself and what he's doing. It's nice when guys have roles and you can turn to them, and when the phone rings they know it's them."
Girardi prefers to keep his bullpen roles fluid, mostly because he likes to stay away from using pitchers three days in a row and anticipates that there will be days when someone else is asked to fill in. But Girardi noted that he likes the way Chamberlain has gone about his business, which is as close as a definitive statement as he has offered.
"The thing about Joba is [that] I don't want to push him too fast," Girardi said. "He's adjusting to going back-to-back and those sorts of things. That's why I haven't really said, 'Oh, this is going to be my eighth-inning guy.'
"We have to see how guys respond a few times going back-to-back and how they physically feel. You have to be careful that you don't crown someone before it's time."
Chamberlain entered Tuesday's game in the seventh inning, inheriting a high-pressure situation with the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate, and he escaped by striking out Kevin Kouzmanoff put an end to the Athletics' latest and greatest threat of the evening.
"One bad pitch to a great hitter could tie the game," Chamberlain said. "To bring me in that situation -- bases loaded -- you've got no room for error. There's no free base. To have that confidence to put me in that position is a good feeling."
While the Yankees have made it known that Chamberlain won't return to the starting rotation in 2010, the right-hander has not closed the door on the idea that he might someday log another big league start. But for now, he is a reliever, and that is where his focus needs to be.
"I can't look at what it's going to be," Chamberlain said. "I take it one day at a time. It's one thing where you've got to embrace your role and go with it. You can't look back, you can't look ahead. You've got to take it one pitch at a time and continue to go from there."
Cano's patience pleases Yankees
OAKLAND -- If it seemed like Robinson Cano got a lot of face time during Tuesday's Yankees telecast, that wasn't by accident. The second baseman spent a lot of extra time at the plate, seeing 31 pitches in the span of five at-bats.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi not only volunteered that statistic a day later, but he marveled at it. Cano tied a career high with three walks and also struck out a pair of times, leading Athletics pitchers to put in a little extra work against him.
"It is impressive," Girardi said. "We've talked about this young man. We think he's maturing and he has a better idea of what he needs to do and how to work pitchers -- what to look for in certain at-bats and situations, and knowing if a pitcher is trying to make you chase. I think he's growing up."
Girardi noted that the stat probably isn't something that could have been said about Cano two or three seasons ago, and Cano acknowledged that might be true. He believes he is seeing better pitches now.
"It's not difficult," Cano said. "I'm a free swinger, but it's not hard. The good thing is that I started in Spring Training. I've been hitting the ball better. I'm just taking pitches, seeing what I want, and if it's not what I want I'll take the walk."
Cano worked extensively with hitting coach Kevin Long this spring, stressing plate selection, and Alex Rodriguez is also in his ear quite a bit. On the bench, Cano is also trying to steal a page from the Yankees' most patient observer.
"I watch Nick Johnson a lot," Cano said. "He doesn't chase pitches. It's got to be whatever he wants, and if it's not what he wants, he doesn't swing. That's why he's so successful. That's the kind of guy I take a little bit from."
Cashman delivers ring to Nady
OAKLAND -- One day after the Yankees brought 2009 World Series rings across the country for Athletics pitchers Chad Gaudin and Edwar Ramirez, general manager Brian Cashman crossed from the Bronx to Queens to hand off another.
Cubs outfielder Xavier Nady received an unexpected surprise at Citi Field when Cashman delivered the glittering prize to the former Yankee before Chicago's game against the New York Mets. Nady told The Associated Press that he thought the ring was "gorgeous."
The Yankees' starting right fielder on Opening Day last season, Nady played just seven games for New York all year, going on the disabled list in April with a right elbow injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery.
Randy Winn logged his second start with the Yankees on Wednesday, filling in for Nick Swisher, who received a scheduled day off. ... Brett Gardner started Tuesday against left-hander Gio Gonzalez and might start again on Thursday against left-hander Dallas Braden. ... Over the Yankees' current five-game winning streak entering play Wednesday, they had held opponents to three runs or fewer in each game, outscoring opponents, 30-11. ... Derek Jeter needs two doubles to tie Don Mattingly (442) for second place on the franchise's all-time list. Mariano Rivera needs two strikeouts to tie Roger Clemens (1,014) for 10th place in franchise history.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.