TAMPA, Fla. - As Francisco Cervelli walked through the clubhouse in the bottom of the seventh inning of Wednesday's game, CC Sabathia called to the catcher from a corner.

"Wow," Sabathia said, "what a hitter."

Cervelli smiled. The 28-year-old, the favorite to win the backup catcher's spot behind Brian McCann -- assuming he isn't traded, which remains a possibility -- has never been known for his power but leads the Yankees this spring with three homers.

"That's really good because that's the first time in my life," Cervelli said of hitting two homers in a game. "I think I'm going to sleep well tonight."

Overall, Cervelli hasn't done anything to hurt his trade value, playing solidly behind the plate while hitting .500 (8-for-16) with a .556 OBP.

With many teams in need of catching and the Yankees borderline desperate to bring in infield help, Cervelli is among the biggest chips they have to play.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Cervelli prefers to stay with the Yankees but also knows a trade might allow him to realize an oft-stated goal: to be a starter.

"I've been here forever," said Cervelli, signed by the Yankees' as a non-drafted free agent March 1, 2003. "I feel like this is my house but if somebody wants me to go , I have to make the adjustment. I've told you guys many times, my dream is to be a starting catcher. Right now my role is a backup, that's what I'm playing for, but I'm never going to stop [trying] because the opportunity's going to come again."

Ryan still limited

Brendan Ryan, out since last Friday with soreness in his lower back, sounds like a player ready to return, though the Yankees are playing it cautious.

"They keep telling me April 1 and to be patient," Ryan said. "It's just something we're being very careful with because it's a back thing."

Ryan took swings with a broomstick for a second straight day and hopes to swings a bat Thursday. Joe Girardi said the club was shooting for "next week" for Ryan's return to the lineup.

Extra bases

RHP Jose Campos, acquired by the Yankees along with Michael Pineda in the Jesus Montero trade with the Mariners, made his spring debut in the sixth inning, allowing a hit and striking out one . . . The Yankees optioned LHP Nik Turley and OF Slade Heathcott to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and C Gary Sanchez to Double-A Trenton.