Notes: Damon may see time at first
With Interleague Play looming, switch could happen soon
BOSTON -- Johnny Damon has spent a good portion of this weekend from the vantage point of first base at Fenway Park, getting looks at batting practice grounders and flagging throws.
It turns out, there's more to the story than just a simple drill to keep Damon's reflexes sharp. The Yankees are seriously entertaining the notion of using Damon as a part-time first baseman, perhaps as soon as later this month.
With regular first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz sidelined for at least six to eight weeks with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist, the Yankees will turn to Josh Phelps as their everyday first baseman. But Damon, who is now the club's designated hitter with Jason Giambi sidelined, is eager to take on the challenge of a new position.
"I'm a very good athlete and I think having a bigger glove definitely helps that," Damon said. "I just think I have to learn a few things and not be discouraged, because it's going to be something new for me. I just have to look at it as a positive thing that can possibly help extend my career."
The 33-year-old Damon has seen his first two months of the season plagued by various injuries, most notably recurring calf cramps that hinder his ability to pursue fly balls in center field.
With Melky Cabrera now enjoying service as New York's regular center fielder, Damon said that manager Joe Torre took Damon aside during the weekend at Fenway Park and told him that he could see time at first base when the Yankees return to National League parks later this month at Colorado and San Francisco.
"It looks like it's easy for him," Torre said, "but we haven't gone that far yet."
A position switch could help the Yankees mask Damon's weak throwing arm, which opposing clubs have routinely taken extra bases on. A left-handed thrower, Damon may quickly adjust to making throws like the 90-foot toss to second base.
"My arm as an outfielder was very below average," Damon said, laughing. "Now, as a first baseman, it's just below average."
Damon said he planned to continue his workouts before Monday's game against the White Sox in Chicago, reporting early to U.S. Cellular Field to go over drills with bench coach and nine-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner Don Mattingly,
Mattingly said it would be impossible for Damon to replicate overnight the caliber of defense Mientkiewicz provided, but said he believed Damon could be passable if he applies himself.
"A guy like Dougie just plays it differently than other guys," Mattingly said. "You just need to be solid over there. Make the plays you're supposed to make. I don't know how much it's going to happen or not. We'll see."
Mientkiewicz heads home: Mientkiewicz was released from Massachusetts General Hospital on Sunday and was driven back to New York by his wife, Jodi, one day after suffering a concussion, cervical sprain and a broken bone in his right wrist in a violent collision at first base with Boston's Mike Lowell.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Mientkiewicz will miss a minimum of six to eight weeks, with most of the time due to the recovery from the fractured scaphoid bone.
Cashman said the injury is normally a very slow healer, though the Yankees expect to have Mientkiewicz back at some point this season. Torre said the Yankees will miss Mientkiewicz's grit.
"I call him Pig Pen," Torre said. "He just has that grinder personality where he sticks his face in it all the time. He's a good teammate."
First for Phelps: With Mientkiewicz shelved, Josh Phelps will assume everyday duties at first base. The right-handed hitting Phelps, batting .267 with two home runs and nine RBIs entering play Sunday, said he is looking forward to the opportunity to playing into a lasting starting role.
"It's just a mental adjustment," Phelps said. "If you have a bad day, there's always a chance to redeem yourself. That's one benefit a player has of playing every day."
Phelps said he cringed, along with the rest of the Yankees, when Mientkiewicz was flattened in the seventh inning of Saturday's loss to Boston. As a fellow first baseman, though, Phelps said he felt a little additional sympathy.
"You never want to see anyone get injured on a play like that, especially on a play that's so freak," Phelps said. "That could just have as easily been me. That's how I look at it. He did everything he could to try and pick that ball, and as it came back up, he leaned back and tried to trap it in his glove. He had no idea."
Read all about it: Rookie right-hander and literary devourer Matt DeSalvo will return to the Yankees on Monday, just three days after packing his belongings and leaving Fenway Park.
DeSalvo was shipped to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday to create room for reliever Chris Britton, who was to help the Yankees over the weekend before returning to Triple-A.
But because Roger Clemens is unavailable to pitch Monday and Mientkiewicz's injury allows the Yankees to bring back DeSalvo ahead of the usual 10-day wait period, the 26-year-old hurler will trade his scheduled start at Buffalo for one against the White Sox.
"He just needs to be aggressive," Torre said. "If he's aggressive, he's going to give himself a chance."
The Yankees passed on recalling left-hander Kei Igawa for the Monday start. Igawa pitched instead Sunday at Rochester for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and did well, striking out nine and allowing two runs in seven innings, but pitching coach Dave Eiland told Torre that he recommended at least one more Minor League start for Igawa.
Coming up: The Yankees move on to Chicago, opening a four-game series with the White Sox on Monday night. DeSalvo (1-2, 5.40 ERA) will face right-hander Jon Garland (3-3, 3.91 ERA), with first pitch scheduled 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.