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03/27/08 12:49 PM ET

Despite flu, Damon returns to lineup

Veteran expects to be ready to start in left field on Opening Day

TAMPA, Fla. -- Johnny Damon parted the Yankees clubhouse. Still battling a particularly nasty case of the flu, the outfielder warned everyone in his general vicinity to provide him a wide berth.

"You don't want to get too close to me," he told one bystander.

Despite his body aches, Damon was back in camp and back in the lineup as a designated hitter on Thursday, hoping to log a couple of quick at-bats before the club departs Tampa for a two-game stint in South Florida.

"Hopefully it doesn't get worse," Damon said. "It actually feels better today. Maybe I shouldn't brag that I never get sick."

The 34-year-old said that he has been taking a heavy amount of medication -- "I've got so much in me right now," he said -- in hopes of battling the flu, which has left him with head congestion and a burning throat. Damon went 0-for-3 in the Yankees' game against the Indians in Winter Haven, Fla., on Tuesday, but was excused from camp Wednesday.

The bug has been going around the Yankees, especially at the club's Minor League complex. Shelley Duncan and Jeff Karstens have also been under the weather recently.

Damon said that he will play in the two exhibition games at Dolphin Stadium on Friday and Saturday, no matter what. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has said that he expects Damon to be the Yankees' leadoff hitter and left fielder on Opening Day in New York.

Damon believes he can be ready for the assignment.

"I sure hope so," Damon said. "I just have to go out there. If I get the same amount of improvement that I got last night, there will be no question."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.