Montero's hitting impresses Girardi

New York Yankees catcher Jesus Montero suits up

New York Yankees catcher Jesus Montero suits up for a work out during spring training in Tampa. (Feb. 14, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

TAMPA, Fla. - In his first start since the backup catcher's job became his to lose, Jesus Montero did nothing to lose it.

The 21-year-old catcher played six innings Saturday, going 2-for-3 with an RBI in the Yankees' 10-8 loss to the Nationals. Montero, whose improved defense has been a focal point of camp, is 3-for-11 (.273) in four games.

Joe Girardi, calling Montero a "no-panic hitter," said how the catcher performs at the plate is the least of his concerns.

"He knows how to hit, is probably the best way to put it," Girardi said. "There's always so much talk about his defense. He's worked really hard on his defense and we want him to continue to do that, but this is a kid who's used to playing every day, and it seems like his stroke is coming back to him. He's hit some balls hard. Seems like whenever there's a runner on base, he turns it up a bit, too."

Girardi and a trainer came out to look at Montero in the top of the fourth after Ian Desmond fouled a ball off the knuckles of the catcher's right hand. Montero stayed in the game and singled home Jorge Posada in the bottom half of the inning.

"He's OK," Girardi said. "It might be a little sore tomorrow, but he's OK. I'm not really concerned about it."

Amazing Bryce

Nationals phenom Bryce Harper, 18, who grew up a Yankees fan, went 1-for-2 with an RBI, driving in a run off Romulo Sanchez in the eighth.

"It's pretty amazing to be 18 years old and be doing what he's doing," Girardi said. "Everything I've heard about him, he's handled it well. Good-looking swing."

Harper, on the cover of Sport Illustrated as a high school sophomore and among the most hyped draft prospects in history, said it was a thrill to play against the Yankees.

"It was awesome," said Harper, who is 2-for-10. "It was really cool, coming in here, having all the fans and everything like that. Seeing CC [Sabathia], [Nick] Swisher, all these guys. A-Rod sitting over there and Robinson Cano. It was a great feeling."

Brackman debut coming

Andrew Brackman (groin) got through his one-inning simulated game just fine and is likely to make his exhibition debut early this week.

"What I saw today was really good," Girardi said. "I would expect the next time we'll see him, it will be in a game."

Brackman's first pitch was grounded hard back up the middle by Austin Krum. Brackman fielded the ball cleanly, prompting Girardi, watching from behind the mound, to shout to no one in particular: "That's why we do it, PFP!"

PFP is the baseball acronym for pitchers' fielding practice.

Still raking

Jorge Vazquez keeps swinging a hot bat. The fringe candidate for a backup infield spot had two hits, including a two-run double. Vazquez, who started at first and can play third - though his range is a concern there - is 7-for-12 (.583) with two homers and five RBIs and a 1.250 slugging percentage.

"He's definitely opening eyes with what he's doing," Girardi said. "We've talked about taking a middle infielder and a corner infielder, and he can play both spots."

He remains a long shot, though, as Eric Chavez's ability at third makes him the favorite along with Ramiro Peña.

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