Notes: Phillips at ease in camp

Notes: Phillips at ease in camp

TAMPA, Fla. -- Andy Phillips might have reported to camp without a guaranteed roster spot, but he had plenty of reasons to smile.

Phillips' wife, Bethany, is healthy and just a short drive away after chemotherapy eradicated a rare form of cancer from a molar pregnancy last year. Suddenly, a first-base battle with Rule 5 selection Josh Phelps doesn't seem so daunting.

"I've learned a lot in the last year with the kind of stuff I had to deal with my wife," Phillips said. "Things kind of shake out the way they're going to shake out. That's what you've got to hang onto and trust."

The Phillips are looking forward to spending Spring Training together this year in Tampa, which the first baseman said was a welcome change from last season's distracting times.

In camp, Phillips will have to prove he belongs on the Yankees' Major League roster. The team has tentatively planned to carry a platoon consisting of Doug Mientkiewicz against right-handed pitching and either Phelps or Phillips to face lefties.

Both players are in interesting situations. As a Rule 5 pick, Phelps must be offered back to the Baltimore Orioles for $25,000 if he does not stay on the Yankees' Major League roster all season; Phillips has used up all of his Minor League options.

No matter, said Phillips, who batted .240 with seven home runs and 29 RBI in 246 at-bats for New York last year.

"I'm looking forward to trying to win a job, no matter what," Phillips said. "That's no different this year than in the past.

"I'm trying not to think about situations and circumstances, because if you do that, more obstacles get in your way. You just try to go out and play, and hope your performance dictates what happens."

I take this team ...: Baseball was just about the last thing on Kevin Whelan's mind last November, zipping around Houston and running errands in preparation for wedding his wife, Adria.

Tomorrow's ceremony all set? Check. Outfit ready? No problem. Music for the reception? This wedding stuff is a piece of cake.

Then, the one phone call that threw the 23-year-old reliever, informing him that he'd been traded. The Detroit Tigers sent Whelan plus pitchers Humberto Sanchez and Anthony Claggett to the Yankees for outfielder Gary Sheffield.

"I was driving down the road, and they called," Whelan said. "I called [Adria] and she said, 'Don't joke around today!' It was already a hectic day, and that just compounded things. We just waited for a few days to talk about it. It was definitely a surprise for both of us."

A non-roster invitee to this year's Yankees camp, Whelan went through the ceremony and hosted about 400 guests at a reception, less than 24 hours after being notified of his relocation.

But changes in job description are nothing new for Whelan, who was 4-1 with a 2.67 ERA in 51 games for Class A Lakeland last year.

A converted catcher, Whelan still utilizes a snapping release motion to fire his fastball, splitter, slider and forkball. The somewhat deceptive motion garnered 69 strikeouts in 54 innings for Lakeland.

"Everyone has their own way of throwing," Whelan said. "That's just the way I'm comfortable with throwing growing up. Going out there every time I pitch, there's always something you can learn, and that's just what I try to do."

Catch this ... and this ...: Yankees catching coach Tony Pena has already found midseason form, unveiling a unique drill Sunday to perfect the art of snagging pop fouls behind home plate.

Workouts began with the players in a normal crouched position, chasing a ball propelled 200 feet in the air from a pitching machine. Many, including Jorge Posada, had difficulty tracking it through windy conditions.

Pena then put the nine catchers through a bevy of drills that seemed odd at first, but eventually made sense. First, he had an individual player jump up from a lying down, face-down position to chase after balls.

Then, a player stood and spun clockwise before running after the pop fly. Next, three players lined up next to each other near home plate and, with balls shooting into the air rapidly, they had to talk to one another to select a ball to catch.

The mad scientist Pena next had one catcher at a time go after two balls from a crouching position. Then, three balls.

At times, it seemed like a lesson in futility. As each drill progressed, Pena instructed each player on the different nuances of how to make the correct angle and take the proper line of attack.

Finally, after a multitude of out-of-the-ordinary drills, Pena ended with having a single player take a normal catching position and track down a foul ball of game-like heights.

By this point, each catcher managed to track the pop-up with ease.

"If you can't catch it now, then you better just leave right now," Pena shouted to each player.

Torre update: Yankees manager Joe Torre returned to camp on Sunday after missing one day with a flu-like symptoms, including a fever.

"Normally, if you're not feeling well, you come here to get better," Torre said. "I just didn't feel like getting out of bed."

Torre updated reporters on the status of his older brother. The children of former Major Leaguer Frank Torre, Elizabeth and Frankie, may be possible kidney donors for the 75-year-old former first baseman.

Joe Torre said Sunday that blood tests have been sent to New York for analysis and results are expected this week. Frank Torre needs a kidney transplant due to medications he has taken since receiving a new heart during the 1996 World Series.

On the level: Right-hander Steven White, who was held out of workouts after complaining of stiffness in his shoulder and neck, threw off flat ground on Sunday. White, a 25-year-old starter, had left the Legends Field complex wearing a protective neck brace late last week.

Quotable: "That means he doesn't have to miss one for the rest of his life." -- Torre, when a Japanese reporter noted that Hideki Matsui had missed numerous games last season, ending a lengthy consecutive games streak.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Contributor Chris Girandola added to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.