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Neagle is perfectly happy with Yankees

By BRUCE LOWITT and Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000

Denny Neagle will be a free agent at the end of the season. Don't expect the Yankees' newest pitcher to roam far from New York.

"The most important thing I look at right away is, "Will this team win?', and that's a no-brainer," Neagle told the New York Post. "This team is going to go out there and put a team on the field that's going to win. I like that already. I love New York. I love the atmosphere. So let me go out there and get some things done and see if we can maybe iron out a contract. ...

"I have a 6-month-old (son). Hopefully if I sign a four- or five-year deal, he'll be doing his early years growing up (in New York)."

The 31-year-old left-hander had an 8-2 record when the Reds traded him (and the rest of his $4.75-million salary) to the Yankees nine days ago for four minor-leaguers: pitchers Ed Yarnall and Brian Reith, infielder Drew Henson and outfielder Jackson Melian. Neagle won his first start, beating the Phillies with eight innings of one-run, five-hit pitching.

He was astonished that there are players who don't relish playingwith the Yankees. "I find that amazing," Neagle said. "But there are some people who don't like pizza, which I find amazing also."

When the Yankees traded for him, they got more than a pitcher with a solid resume -- a two-time all-star who was 20-5 with a 2.97 ERA with Atlanta and was third in the Cy Young Award voting.

The Yankees also got a comedian, a prankster.

Before Sunday's game, Neagle sneaked behind outfielder David Justice and startled him by barking like a dog.

"I think I'll blend in pretty well as far as that's concerned," Neagle said.

FROM E4 TO DH: Chuck Knoblauch has not made a throwing error since June 28. That streak would not be a big deal for most infielders. But for the Yankees second baseman, who periodically couldn't find first base, it's news.

So is manager Joe Torre's decision to use Knoblauch as his designated hitter.

"We are not trying to hide him," Torre told the New York Daily News. "What I have been trying to do is get more offense in there with (Jose) Vizcaino. And left field has been a struggle (Shane Spencer is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee). That's all I'm doing it for. (Knoblauch) hasn't had a problem. He seems very comfortable out there defensively."

When the Yankees got Vizcaino from the Dodgers June 21, Torre got a second choice for second base. And if Torre wants to keep Knoblauch off the field but in the batting order, "I told him that it would be fine with me," Knoblauch said. "Hopefully, I will get better at hitting."

JUSTICE "A BIG LIFT': Not long ago, the Yankees seemed to be pursuing the Tigers' Juan Gonzalez or the Cubs' Sammy Sosa to add punch to their lineup. But Gonzalez exercised his contract's no-trade clause, and the Cubs wanted too much for Sosa.

So they got Justice from Cleveland. He debuted for the Yankees June 30against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Justice is 14-for-49 (.286) with five home runs and 13 runs batted in for the Yankees. "He's certainly been a big lift," third baseman Scott Brosius said. "He's swinging the bat well and he's a presence in the lineup, something else the pitcher has to worry about."

CONEHEAD CASE: "One way or another, this has got to stop," Da said. "I'm either going to pitch my way out of here or I'm going to turn this thing around."

This thing is a disappointing season -- six consecutive losses,a 1-8 record and 6.63 earned-run average. "It just seems like every time he makes a bad pitch, they're not hitting a single, they're hitting a home run," catcher Chris Turner said.

Still, Torre said, Cone will remain in the starting rotation.

By the numbers

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