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Monday, March 4, 2013
First Pitch: First impressions

By Wallace Matthews

TAMPA, Fla. -- We're nearly at the halfway point of spring training and before I head home for a one-week break, here are a few of the early observations I made at Yankees camp over the first three weeks.

THE PITCHING LOOKS GOOD: Even without seeing many of the starters throw in real games, the fact that CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, none of them young and all coming off injuries, have thrown so well in their live BP sessions and simulated games makes me think they will be their old selves once the regular season starts.

BUT PHIL COULD BE A PROBLEM: Phil Hughes did OK in his first throwing session after being shut down for two weeks with a bulging disk in his upper back, but it was only a game of catch -- seriously, no more intense than one you would have in the park with your kids and probably less so, since big-leaguers tend to skip the diving-catch portion of most schoolyard games -- and we really won't know if he's fully recovered until he cuts loose, maybe later in the week.

THIS WILL DEFINITELY BE A DIFFERENT OFFENSE: And not just because Curtis Granderson will miss the first month of the season. On the plus side, Brett Gardner has already reminded us why the Yankees missed him so much last season with his ability to get on base and create havoc on the basepaths. On the minus side, I'm still not seeing how they're going to replace all the home runs they lost to free agency and injuries this winter.

YOUKILIS MIGHT BE FUN: Already, he's said a couple of things that have been marvelously unfiltered and if he keeps this up, he will be a tabloid headline writer's dream. Plus, he looks as if he can still hit.

THE EARLY COMPETITIONS: I have Francisco Cervelli ahead of Chris Stewart for the startiung catcher's job so far, and Juan Rivera ahead of Matt Diaz for the backup outfielder's job. Joe Girardi's decision Sunday to call off the center field experiement with Brett Gardner might also mean jobs for one or more of the kids, like Melky Mesa or Zoilo Almonte.

BEST STORY IN CAMP: Has got to be Ronnier Mustelier, a Cuban emigre who left his family behind to play in the major leagues and hasn't seen his 6-year-old son since 2009. It's a pity he doesn't speak more English, and I don't speak more Spanish, because I know there's a lot more there. Plus, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound fireplug has a live bat.

UP NOW: Blogs on the ever-changing center field situation, Andy Pettitte's desire to pitch forever and Ichiro's near disaster on Dale Mabry Highway on Saturday afternoon.

COMING SOON: The Yankees get their first day off Monday and there will be no player access. But I will have a story on why Derek Jeter thinks this Yankees team could be more like the 1996 team than the 2012 team, so watch for that later.

The great Andrew Marchand will take it over for the next week, and I will return to camp on Monday, March 11. As always, thanks for reading.