Notes: Wang on pace to pitch opener

Notes: Wang on pace to pitch opener

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Yankees have not officially decided on their Opening Day starter, but Chien-Ming Wang continues to appear as likely a choice as any.

Wang was efficient in a five-inning performance Friday against the Houston Astros, allowing one run and four hits in the Yankees' 4-3 loss.

The right-hander said he was especially pleased with his changeup and slider, and he had good command for most of the effort -- Wang threw 46 of his 61 pitches for strikes, with just a momentary blip in the second inning when he left fastballs up on doubles to Carlos Lee and Luke Scott.

"Every time, better and better," Wang said.

One season after tying Minnesota's Johan Santana for the American League lead in victories, Wang is generally regarded as the Yankees' ace and the likeliest candidate to lock heads with Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir on April 2.

Through four Grapefruit League appearances -- including the Yankees' Grapefruit League opener on March 1 against Minnesota -- Wang has compiled a 2.54 ERA, allowing four runs and 12 hits in 14 innings.

"He's getting there," manager Joe Torre said. "He's not all the way there yet. He's not as sharp as he's going to be, but he's not having any problems."

Of importance is Wang's improving slider, which Torre said has come a long way from his debut season in 2005. It made a great leap last year and has been a focal point of Wang's sessions in Spring Training, making him more likely to tap it from his arsenal in a tight spot during the regular season.

"If you have the pitches, the more comfort you have with them, the more likely you are to use them," Torre said.

Torre said that the team has not yet set any plans for the season opener, with Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina in the running for the assignment.

"We just want to make sure these guys get through their next start or two," Torre said. "The most important thing for me is that, any one of the three of them that you decide, the other two of them won't take exception."

Bobby swings: Bobby Abreu (strained right oblique) took 55 swings in an indoor cage at Legends Field on Friday, The Associated Press reported.

Torre said that he hadn't heard any updates from the Yankees' camp during their game in Kissimmee, Fla., which the manager took to be a good sign. No news is good news, he reasoned.

"All systems were go today," Torre said. "He had a pretty good look on his face this morning."

Without any further setbacks, Torre suggested that Abreu could make his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday at Sarasota against the Cincinnati Reds, the day following New York's lone off-day of the spring.

That would give Abreu 10 exhibition games to round into shape for his projected Opening Day assignment at Yankee Stadium, which Torre said was realistic. Abreu was injured while taking batting practice in Tampa on Feb. 26.

No liftoff: Roger Clemens kept his fastball and splitter in his back pocket on Friday, instead tossing lob batting practice to his children on Field 4 of the Astros' Spring Training complex.

Clemens also kept to himself and did not speak to reporters, 10 days after he made an appearance at Legends Field to watch good friend Pettitte pitch.

Torre said he did not intend to seek out Clemens for another informal chat, but said that he believed Clemens already knows whether or not he intends to pitch in 2007.

Clemens and his representatives have continually maintained that if Clemens decides to play this year, it would only be for the Yankees, Astros or Red Sox.

"Just knowing Roger the way I do, in the event he decides to play again, he's certainly going to be ready to do it," Torre said. "That's part of his lifestyle. ... I think Roger has it all figured out anyway."

Bernie a topic: In discussing the talents of outfielder Bronson Sardinha -- who is batting .345 this spring after an 0-for-4 collar Friday -- Torre couldn't help but mention Bernie Williams' name.

The 23-year-old Sardinha has made great strides after working with hitting coach Kevin Long last season at Triple-A Columbus, and Torre said he was one of the biggest surprises of camp.

That said, Torre would prefer a more veteran presence as a fifth outfielder, if the Yankees intended to carry one. That prompted the manager to bring up Williams, reiterating that "Bernie at least had a chance to be a part of this ballclub, coming off the bench."

Torre said that his two recruitment calls to Williams, urging him to consider accepting the Yankees' standing non-roster invitation to Spring Training, went unreturned. Torre said that he would be surprised if Williams latched on with another team in 2007, but also handicapped the 38-year-old outfielder's chances on reappearing with the Yankees.

"I think it would be a very, very long shot," Torre said. "Spring Training would have been important for him and for us, too, just to try to put things together."

This and that: Torre said right-hander Darrell Rasner will pitch in a Triple-A game on Saturday. ... Right-handers Chris Britton and Scott Proctor will pitch in Minor League games at the Himes Field complex on Saturday.

Coming up: The Yankees travel to Clearwater, Fla. to see the Phillies on Saturday, facing off at 1:05 p.m. ET. Pettitte is scheduled to start for New York, with left-hander Jamie Moyer going for Philadelphia.

Right-hander Carl Pavano is scheduled to pitch four innings after Pettitte pitches the first five, which will be Pavano's second time facing the Phillies in Clearwater this spring. Philadelphia plans to use left-hander Matt Smith, right-hander Geoff Geary and right-hander Ryan Madson in relief.

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