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Monday, March 26, 2012
First Pitch: The unsung heroes of spring


The big story at Yankees camp this spring has been the competition for the starting rotation.

The Yankees' every-day starting lineup has basically been set in stone from the get-go, with Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones sharing the DH duties.

There's little, if any, flexibility when it comes to the 25-man roster that the Yankees will take north two weeks from now. But there are a few underdog stories that have emerged here in Tampa that are worth taking a quick look at:

* Outfielder Justin Maxwell is hitting .414, with 12 hits in 29 at-bats. He also has 11 runs scored, the most of anybody in camp, and is tied for the stolen base lead with Brett Gardner at four. Maxwell, 28 years old, 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, was a fourth-round draft pick by the Nationals in 2005. The Yankees acquired him from the Nats in a trade in Feb. 2011; he hit .260 in 48 games for Scranton Wilkes-Barre last season before suffering a torn labrum.

* Infielder Doug Bernier is hitting .370, with 10 hits in 27 at-bats. The 31-year-old was undrafted out of Oral Roberts, but signed with the Colorado Rockies as a non-drafted free agent in 2002. He has been a career minor leaguer, except for four at-bats with the Rockies in 2008. He spent last season at Scranton-Wilkes Barre, where he hit .237 in 95 games.

* Outfielder Dewayne Wise is hitting .429, with 12 hits in 28 at-bats. The 34-year-old was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the fifth round back in 1997, and has played for five major league clubs. He is probably most remembered for his incredible ninth-inning catch that preserved Mark Buehrle's perfect game with the Chicago White Sox in 2009. Wise played in 69 major league games combined last year for the Marlins and Blue Jays, batting .202.

* Finally, a pair of catchers have also done real well at the plate: Jose Gil is batting .529, with nine hits in 17 at-bats, the highest average of any Yankee in camp with more than two at-bats; Gustavo Molina is batting .500, with six hits in 12 at-bats. Gil, 25 years old, played most of last season at Double-A Trenton, hitting .253 in 73 games. Molina, 30, hit .253 in 47 games with Scranton last season.

(Gil was re-assigned to minor league camp after Sunday's game.)

Will any of these players be on the Yankees' Opening Day roster? Probably not. But if injuries happen, and they always do, don't be surprised if you see one or more of these guys in the bigs this summer.

UP NOW: My story from Sunday's 1-1 tie with the Tigers, on Michael Pineda's strong outing.

ON DECK: The Yankees are off on Monday. But Phil Hughes will throw against minor leaguers at the Yankees' minor league complex, because it would have been his turn to pitch.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Would you like to see one of these underdogs make the Yankees' major league roster?