Pregame Notebook: Yanks look to avoid sweep

07/28/2013 12:23 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

NEW YORK -- Perhaps lost in the celebration that is Hideki Matsui's official one-day signing/retirement and Derek Jeter's return is the fact that on Sunday afternoon, the Yankees will take the field behind Phil Hughes looking to avoid being swept by the Tampa Bay Rays.

In their first homestand after the break, a three-game set tucked in the middle of 15 road games, the Yankees have lost twice in two distinctly different ways to the Rays. Friday night saw CC Sabathia get touched up for seven runs in a 10-6 defeat, and Saturday saw Ivan Nova's seven-inning gem topped by Chris Archer's two-hit shutout in a 1-0 thriller.

Today, the Yanks turn to Hughes, who is 0-6 with a 7.42 ERA in his last six starts at the Stadium, and manager Joe Girardi offered a simple synopsis of what he's looking for out of his right-hander.

"Command of his fastball is extremely important, as is being able to pitch down in the zone and mix his other pitches in," Girardi said.

There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks that Hughes may be in danger of losing his rotation spot - or traded ahead of the July 31 deadline. But Girardi said you'd never know it by watching Hughes work.

"I think he's handled it extremely well," Girardi said of the right-hander. "He's worked hard, gone about his business and has been prepared every day to do what he needs to do. I know sometimes people could get a little nervous around the trade deadline, but I haven't seen that from him."

Behind Hughes will be a familiar face in Jeter, who has been activated and will play shortstop for the first time this season. Jeter will be playing just his second game of the year, but even the skipper admitted the feel is a lot different with the Captain's name penciled into the starting nine.

"Just his presence is important, and it has been for a long time. His presence brings it, and I think guys understand that he is coming back from two injuries," Girardi said. "Derek's been a winner his whole career, and he understands what it's like to play in these games down the stretch. He does things the right way, and I think that's why he's so important to us."

When he returned on July 11, Jeter served as the designated hitter against Kansas City, but Girardi said there was no thought of doing that again today.

"No, we need him to play shortstop because we're going to National League cities, so there's no DH for the next five games," the skipper said. "My hope is that he gets through today and I get to pencil in his name again on Tuesday, because last time we weren't so lucky."

In that game against the Royals, Jeter hit four ground balls and ran hard, as he always does, on every one, but ended up leaving with what was a Grade 1 quad strain. And while Jeter said he doesn't know how to "run under control" and give less than 100 percent, Girardi intimated that the Captain is going to have to find a way to be smart without compromising his ideals.

"The last time I checked they don't give me a bungee cord to attach to him when he's hitting, so the only thing I do is continue to preach to him that I know it's not in his DNA, but he's going to have to find a way to run under control when the situation calls for it," Girardi said. "When he has to run hard, go for it, but he has to protect his leg and his body for a few days and get through this."

And with the way the schedule works out, hopefully Jeter can ease back into his regular spot as the everyday shortstop.

"He's gonna play today and get a day off, then play two days [in Los Angeles] and get a day off," Girardi said. "Then we get into a stretch of six, and maybe we DH him one of those days in Chicago, but it should allow us to play him every day."

Other news and notes from the Yankees' clubhouse on Hideki Matsui's retirement day:

- Jayson Nix was in the clubhouse this morning, and said he believes he will be activated Monday or Tuesday ahead of the first game in Los Angeles. Nix has missed nearly four weeks with a strained hamstring, but said he has "felt great" since he began running on Tuesday and came through a handful of rehab games in Florida okay.

- Curtis Granderson, meanwhile, is at least a few more days away from returning, and Girardi wouldn't rule out a return in San Diego: "We are pleased with the progress he's making. I don't think that you'll see Granderson in LA but we'll see after that."

- David Phelps will make his second rehab start in Trenton on Tuesday. He is set to throw five innings or 75 pitches, and while Phelps said he "felt good" and was relieved after coming through his first rehab start okay, Girardi said there's no thought process yet on when he could return.

"The fair thing is to evaluate his start, see how many pitches he throws, and go from there," Girardi said.

- When asked about Matsui's contributions, Girardi said, "Not only was he a middle-of-the-order hitter that had great production, he was staple in the clubhouse. He was adored by his teammates, was a leader, and he was tough. Think about what he went through every day with his knees to play, and go back to Game 6 [of the 2009 World Series] to see how important that was to us. You're going to have a hard time finding a player in our clubhouse who was more well-liked than Hideki Matsui over the years."

- Last word goes to Girardi, explaining how Matsui became so popular with both fans and teammates despite the language barrier: "He has a sense of humor, and he probably understands a lot more than he's capable of talking, but players learn to communicate in different ways because we have to do it on the field. His smiles, and all the things that he would do, you're able to communicate. For me it's great to see him because of what he's meant to this organization and what kind of person he was."

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