Notes: Matsui determined to stay healthy

Notes: Matsui determined to stay healthy

TAMPA, Fla. -- His fractured left wrist still throbbing from an injury suffered the previous evening, Hideki Matsui released a statement last May, saying that he was "very sorry" and "disappointed" that he had let his teammates down.

The Yankees outfielder points to that May 11 game against the Red Sox as the most painful moment he has had on a baseball field, but the following four months of inactivity leading up to his September return weren't much easier to handle.

That's why Matsui plans to do everything in his power to avoid another stint on the disabled list.

"I just want to make sure I do my due diligence in terms of being on the field," the 32-year-old said through an interpreter. "I will make sure I'm prepared for every game. As long as I can achieve that, I think everything will come together."

Matsui's injury altered the landscape of the Yankees' 2006 season and ended a personal playing streak of 1,768 consecutive games, dating back to his service for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.

"As a starter, your teammates and everybody expects you to be out there, helping the team," Matsui said. "Not being able to be out there and fulfill expectations was something, basically, that I was apologetic about."

While the Yankees had respected and honored Matsui's iron-man status, tabbing him to play in 518 consecutive games as he opened his Major League career, the team's outfield projects for a certain measure of added flexibility with the string no longer intact.

With Matsui sidelined, young outfielder Melky Cabrera embraced the opportunity to display what he can do on the Major League stage, a performance that the Yankees hope Cabrera can reprise in a reserve role.

Earlier this spring, manager Joe Torre said that he hopes to find at least 300 at-bats for Cabrera, the lone backup outfielder heading north with the club for Opening Day.

Certainly, center fielder Johnny Damon and right fielder Bobby Abreu will enjoy their share of days off. Now Matsui can expect to have those occasional respites as well.

"When it comes to off-days and all that, I'm not really in a position to say I want to be off this day or off that day," Matsui said. "I'm just going to continue to do what I have been doing in the past, and that is to prepare for every game. Whatever Joe says, I'm just going to follow."

Matsui said he does not believe anything has changed as a result of the injury. He proved that right away by going 4-for-4 in a Sept. 12 contest against the Devil Rays -- Matsui's first game after being activated from the disabled list, but furthered the point with a strong Spring Training.

Matsui batted .339 with one home run and six RBIs this spring, going 1-for-2 in the Yankees' Grapefruit League finale Friday.

"I never really had pressure or anything like that when the streak was still on," Matsui said. "Nothing changes with what I had been doing or my attitude. It's still going to be the same."

First game, first base: Josh Phelps was called into Torre's Legends Field office on Friday morning, where he was informed that he had been selected to go north with the Yankees.

Recounting the conversation on Saturday morning, Phelps said he thanked Torre for the opportunity to be on the club. Torre told Phelps, "Don't thank me. You did it."

Phelps left little doubt about his abilities through a Grapefruit League campaign in which he batted .395 -- including his fourth home run off Detroit starter Mike Maroth on Saturday -- but his addition to the roster brings a whole new set of questions.

The Yankees entered Spring Training envisioning a platoon in which Doug Mientkiewicz garnered the majority of at-bats against right-handed pitching and either Phelps or challenger Andy Phillips batted against lefties, but that may no longer be the case.

Mientkiewicz's spring got off to a tough start and, though he rebounded late in camp to finish batting .159, Torre has hinted that the Yankees may reconsider the platoon. Informed of this, Mientkiewicz did not flinch.

"If you play well, you'll play," Mientkiewicz said.

Exhibit one of what could be a season-long swap will come on Monday, when the Yankees open up the regular season against Devil Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir. Mientkiewicz said he would love to be a part of the Yankees' Opening Day festivities, but said he would understand if Phelps got the call instead.

"Of course I want to play," Mientkiewicz said. "But that being said, whatever makes us better as a group, that's what I'm concerned about."

As for Phelps, who has been handling an endless avalanche of cell phone messages and e-mails since he received the good news on Friday, also left the decision in Torre's hands.

"I just want to be a piece of the puzzle," Phelps said. "I'll do whatever I can do to help the team win."

Never concerned: When right-hander Brian Bruney was sidelined early in Spring Training with lower back soreness and a case of the flu, some speculated that the reliever had fallen behind and might not be able to catch up.

"I wasn't concerned with it," Bruney said. "It seemed like everybody else was, but I wasn't. As soon as I got hurt, people just started automatically pegging me for Triple-A. It [ticks] you off a little bit."

Though he said he received telephone calls from his father, asking if his chances of making the team had suffered following news reports from Yankees camp, Bruney proved the doubters wrong in the end.

His improved velocity and command won him a spot on the Yankees' roster, despite a 6.75 ERA in eight Grapefruit League appearances.

The Yankees factored Bruney's performance in 2006 down the stretch into the equation -- in 19 appearances after being called up in August, Bruney posted an 0.87 ERA and struck out 25 in 20 2/3 innings, walking 15.

"I didn't really feel like I was behind," Bruney said. "I felt coming in that I had a job, and that it was mine to lose. It was a matter of just being able to put together quality innings, throwing strikes. That's all I was really concerned about."

New kid in town: Kei Igawa was assured of at least one win before he took the mound Saturday against Detroit, starting the Yankees' final game of the Spring Training schedule.

Before the afternoon contest, Igawa was honored with the James P. Dawson Award, issued annually to the most outstanding Yankees rookie in Spring Training. Igawa picked up a no-decision in his six-inning start, allowing three runs on six hits while walking none and fanning three.

"He's certainly progressed every time he went out there," Torre said.

Igawa finished with a 3.13 ERA in six starts. His next outing is scheduled to be his Major League debut on Friday against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

"I'm very excited," Igawa said through an interpreter. "I'm looking forward to it. My goal is not to walk any batters."

The James P. Dawson Award was established to honor a New York Times sportswriter who died while covering the Yankees' Spring Training in 1953. Igawa was presented with an engraved Raymond Weil watch from William Barthman Jewelers.

Late scare: Infielder Miguel Cairo was hurt in the fifth inning of Thursday's game when the Tigers' Jack Hannahan slid into second base, breaking up a double play. Hannahan rolled into Cairo's left knee and the infielder crumpled to the ground, limping around for several moments before remaining in the game.

"He got kicked in the knee," Torre said. "He was in [the trainer's room] icing it, but I don' think it's a problem."

Quotable: "It was a good, efficient camp. We got a lot done. The weather cooperated; it was great. Everyone got right where they needed to be -- right down to the last pitcher on the mound." -- Torre

Coming up: After a Sunday afternoon workout at Yankee Stadium, Monday finally brings Opening Day in the Bronx, a day of rebirth and renewal that will be made even more notable as right-hander Carl Pavano makes his first Major League start in 1 1/2 years.

Left-hander Scott Kazmir gets the call for the Devil Rays, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 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.