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03/17/11 9:55 PM ET

Soriano avoids division foes in spring

TAMPA, Fla. -- Rafael Soriano told the Yankees in January that he doesn't like to pitch against division rivals, so the right-hander had been surprised to see his name listed for Wednesday's game against the Orioles.

"I pitch different," Soriano said. "I don't like to pitch the same way I pitch in the regular season. It's not easy when you have to play 18 games against the same team. I don't like that."

Soriano reminded manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild of his unique program, something that he said he has followed with the Braves and Rays.

"I've been doing that the last four years," said Soriano, who led the American League with 45 saves last season. "It works for me, so I'm not going to change."

While the Yankees and other clubs periodically send starting pitchers to Minor League games so they can avoid division opponents or long bus rides, Girardi said he couldn't recall another reliever who subscribed to such an idea in Spring Training.

"I don't have a problem with it," Girardi said. "I think he's thinking ahead. He wants to hide his stuff as much as possible. ... If Mo [Mariano Rivera] came and told me the same thing, I'd probably say yes. I don't think that's catering to a guy. It's understanding his desires and what he wants to do and how he wants to get ready."

Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was in the visiting dugout for Thursday's game, said that he was aware of Soriano's program.

"Last year with Rafael, he and I had a conversation in January or December pretty much describing how he felt and how he liked to get ready," Maddon said. "I was good with it. I have no problem with anything like that. I think it's actually wise to do. I think sometimes you become overly controlling about things. The guy that's been around, I really want to listen to what he has to say. If he can describe to me intelligently what he wants to do, I'm in."

Girardi and Rothschild switched Soriano to throw instead in a Minor League game at the Yankees' Himes Avenue complex on Thursday afternoon, but the outing didn't go particularly well.

"I didn't feel really good [with] my command, especially my fastball and my slider," Soriano said. "I don't feel like I have everything down. I don't know why, but that's what I feel today."

Soriano said he threw 21 pitches in an inning of work against Yankees Minor Leaguers, issuing a walk and allowing a double.

"That doesn't count," Soriano said. "The only reason I like to go there is that I can throw my pitches and see how I feel."

In line as the setup man for the closer Rivera, Soriano said he expects to next pitch on Sunday against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla. He then plans to make appearances in back-to-back games on March 25 and 26 against the Astros and Pirates, respectively.

Yanks considering Gardner at leadoff spot

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees are ready to entertain a new look at the top of their lineup, considering a move to install Brett Gardner as the leadoff hitter and bumping Derek Jeter down in the order.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he plans to experiment with different lineup combinations for the rest of camp, and on Thursday that meant moving Gardner to the top, with Jeter hitting second.

"Obviously, you want a guy that gets on all the time and has the ability to score runs in a lot of different ways," Girardi said. "That's the type of leadoff hitter that you want."

The Yankees had the components of their likely Opening Day order on the field Wednesday for a 10-0 victory against the Orioles, with Jeter leading off. Girardi moved Gardner from ninth to first in Thursday's lineup against the Rays.

"That's what I've done all my life -- Little League to here," Gardner said. "It's what I've always been used to. My approach doesn't change when I'm hitting there; the last couple years, I know what my role is. I'm thankful to be in the lineup and to play."

Jeter is hoping to rebound from a season in which he batted a career-low .270, hitting leadoff 137 times. Jeter was in the No. 2 spot in the lineup just 18 times last year, but his career splits are remarkably similar whether he's batting first or second.

The 36-year-old Yankees captain owns a .313 average, .385 on-base percentage and .454 slugging percentage in 732 games leading off, compared to a .314 average, .384 on-base percentage and .456 slugging percentage in 1,270 games batting second.

"If you're talking about 2009, Jeet had a great year," Girardi said. "If you talk about last year, the year was not as good. I think that he's going to get back to what he did."

Gardner, 27, batted .277 in 150 games last season, leading the Yankees with 47 stolen bases and a .383 on-base percentage, despite a wrist injury that hampered his second half.

"It's why we're trying it, because of what he did last year and the problems that he causes for other teams," Girardi said. "He puts pressure on the pitcher, and a lot of times pressure leads to mistakes."

Girardi called switch-hitter Nick Swisher, who batted second on Wednesday, "a versatile hitter" who could hit anywhere in the lineup. There is no thought being given to dropping Jeter any lower than second.

"We signed Jeet to be a top-of-the-order hitter, and to score runs and be a catalyst for us," Girardi said.

In a small sample size, Gardner also succeeded in the leadoff spot, batting .500 (10-for-20) with a .600 on-base percentage in 25 plate appearances as the first batter in the game.

He also led the Majors with 4.61 pitches seen per plate appearance, though that stat isn't worn as a badge of honor by Gardner, who believes he grew tentative in the second half because of the wrist injury, and looked for walks too much.

"I don't think that's necessarily a good thing," Gardner said. "If you told me I could lead off all year or hit ninth all year and see five pitches a plate appearance and still get on 38 percent of the time, I'd sign up for it. That's not something that's really easy to do."

Berra finds ready catcher in Rays' Maddon

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yogi Berra stumbled again on Thursday afternoon, but this time Joe Maddon was there to make the catch.

The Hall of Famer snagged his sneaker on a protective carpet around the batting cage at George M. Steinbrenner Field before the Yankees' game against the Rays, but Tampa Bay's manager was in the right place at the right time, wrapping Berra up.

"It's one of those things you see it, he's going down, there's Yogi Berra falling right in front of you," Maddon said. "So you try to catch him. It might have been my best play as a professional."

A guest instructor at Yankees camp, Berra didn't miss a beat afterward, walking around the coaches room afterward. He also was part of a group in Joe Girardi's office that was talking with former Yankees manager Joe Torre, who called him, "My man, Yogi."

"He said, 'Nice hands,' I think," Maddon said. "When a guy with great hands tells me nice hands, I took it as quite a compliment."

One week ago, Berra was briefly examined at a local hospital after the 85-year-old tripped and fell in the visiting clubhouse before a Spring Training game against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., landing on his backside. He was discharged after four hours.

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