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By MIKE READLING and JOHN ASHLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2002


Giambi delivers with a powerful first impression

Giambi delivers with a powerful first impression

TAMPA -- It took Jason Giambi exactly six pitches to show the sellout crowd at Legends Field on Saturday why the Yankees are so happy to have him in camp this spring.

Giambi, who signed as a free agent this offseason, made his New York debut after missing the team's first two games with tightness in his left hamstring and immediately took Toronto starter Brandon Lyon deep over the leftfield wall.

Well, sort of deep. The ball, which Giambi had to reach to hit off the end of the bat, sailed high toward leftfield and caught a wind gust, barely clearing the 318-foot sign.

"That was a smart piece of hitting," Giambi said jokingly. "I was using the elements. I used the wind and kept it just inside the line."

Giambi homered again in the fifth, this time in a little more convincing manner, clearing the wall in right-centerfield.

"I just wanted to put the ball in play today actually. Just get my feet wet," Giambi said. "But I guess jumped in head first. I had a good time today."

ROCKET ROLLIN': Expected opening day starter Roger Clemens struck out four of the seven hitters he faced and allowed one hit in his first start.

Despite gusty wind, Clemens retired the first two batters he faced on three pitches before giving up a single to Raul Mondesi. He recovered to strike out Carlos Delgado to end the first and Jose Cruz, Eric Hinske and Chris Latham in the second, mixing fastballs with sliders and splitfinger pitches.

As is his ritual early in the spring, Clemens exercised in the clubhouse between innings to keep his heart rate up and simulate pitching more than two innings.

"These are still conditioning starts," Clemens said. "I'm just trying to get ready."

TODAY'S GAME: The Yankees travel to Kissimmee to play the Astros at 1:05. Andy Pettitte will start against Houston's Roy Oswalt.

Solid introduction

TAMPA -- He may have struck out and lined out to shortstop in his two at-bats, but Toronto catcher Kevin Cash did what he needed to in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Yankees -- he caught manager Buck Martinez's attention.

Martinez said before the game he was going to give Cash a couple of innings behind the plate. The former Gaither High standout has been with the team for two years and has not advanced past Class A, but Martinez hoped the surroundings would put Cash, a nonroster invitee, at ease.

While unproductive at the plate, Martinez said Cash was impressive with the way he handled young pitchers Chris Baker and Chad Ricketts, a 1993 product of East Lake High. Cash was happy to get a chance to show his stuff.

Chief among Cash's positives, Martinez said, was the way he worked Baker through Drew Henson's at-bat with the left-handed John Vander Wal on deck.

"He was a real, real plus," Martinez said.

PITCHING FORM: Martinez was also eager to see Baker for the first time in a game situation, hoping to see the form that led him to a 15-6 record with 3.72 ERA for Double-A Tennessee last season.

Baker, a 29th-round draft pick in 1999, pitched the seventh, allowing one run on two hits.

TODAY'S ACTION: The Jays play at home against Philadelphia at 1:05. Chris Carpenter will start for Toronto against the Phillies' Randy Wolf.

Person rocked in debut

CLEARWATER -- The challenge facing Phillies starter Robert Person was obvious before his first pitch against the Pirates at Jack Russell Stadium.

It was blowing out to leftfield at 26 mph, with gusts to 34.

Person, the Phillies' No. 1 starter, couldn't keep his pitches down in the face of a strong wind and quickly gave up four runs on five hits in the first inning.

Pittsburgh's Chad Hermansen began the 18-7 rout with a leadoff home run and Craig Wilson followed three batters later with another homer to left.

"It was great. It was windy. Those are conditions you dream about pitching in," Person said, laughing off the rough start to his season. "It was just the kind of conditions where you have to get the ball down. But it was the first game and I was hyped and got the ball up in the zone."

Giving up early runs has been a concern this spring for Person, who would like to be recognized as the ace of the staff.

"It means a lot because it means a lot of hard work has finally paid off," he said. "I consider myself if not the ace, one of the aces since we didn't have one for so long, supposedly.

"The last three years ... I've been confident enough to be (the ace), so it's the same as last year and the year before."

SHAKE IT OFF: Right-hander Nelson Figueroa, who's out of minor-league options and in a battle with "phenoms" Brett Myers and Carlos Silva to make the roster, worked the fourth inning and hopes his performance is quickly forgotten.

Figueroa faced seven batters and allowed a triple, double and two singles. He also gave up two runs on four hits.

"There's a stockpile of arms here," Figueroa said. "Young, talented arms that can pitch in the big leagues. If someone goes out there and throws a shutout for four innings, I can't really go out there and try to top that. It's a whole mind game you play with yourself.

"You hope it doesn't come down to one spring training game like this."

REGULARS RETURN: The majority of regulars started, including third baseman Scott Rolen and catcher Mike Lieberthal. Both were hitless in two at-bats. Nick Punto and John Mabry led the offense with two hits, and Bobby Abreu, Marlon Byrd and Kevin Jordan homered.

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