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After first-pitch homer, it's all good for Vazquez

Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez on the mound in

Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez on the mound in a spring training game against the Phillies at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. (Mar. 8, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

TAMPA, Fla. - It would be easy to make a connection between Javier Vazquez's last game as a Yankee in 2004, known for the two home runs allowed, and the first pitch of his second stint in pinstripes, which was swatted out of the yard.

But doing so would obscure this: Vazquez pitched well in his first start of spring training.

Really well.

After allowing a first-pitch home run to Jimmy Rollins, an extremely sharp Vazquez struck out four of the last six hitters he faced as the Yankees beat the Phillies, 7-5, at George M. Steinbrenner Field Monday.

Vazquez struck out the side in the second inning, getting Raul Ibañez and Ben Francisco on a pair of nasty changeups and Jayson Werth on a fastball.

In the first inning, Vazquez, who struck out 238 in 2191/3 innings last season with Atlanta, struck out lefthanded-hitting terror Chase Utley with a 75-mph changeup that dropped out of the zone.

"That was as good a changeup as I've seen all spring," manager Joe Girardi said.

Vazquez, the only Yankees starter not to have made an exhibition start, joked about waiting so long to throw a pitch in a game and then having the first one hit out of the park. But he was mostly pleased with the outing.

"I was definitely happy with the way I threw today," he said. "I threw all my pitches."

Girardi said all of those pitches seemed crisp. "Great changeup today, pretty good curveball today, I liked what I saw," he said. "He's got outstanding off-speed stuff as well as a good moving fastball. He's just added to what he has. He can throw any pitch at any time."

Jorge Posada, who caught Vazquez during the righthander's difficult first tour as a Yankee - including the relief outing in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox in which he allowed a grand slam and two-run homer to Johnny Damon - said those pitches have all been refined, especially the secondary ones.

"I think he has found a way of adding and subtracting on his breaking stuff," Posada said. "I just think he's a different Javy than we saw in 2004."

Certainly a more comfortable one, Vazquez said.

Shortly after camp started, Vazquez used that word when describing his feelings this time around compared with the first. He didn't specify what he meant then but did yesterday.

Part of that comfort derives from not being depended on to lead the pitching staff, not with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in front of him.

"You have those three horses in front that won the World Series last year," Vazquez said. "So it's good to come in and be part of that rotation. It's awesome to be with three guys like that."

Said Girardi: "I think it's probably easier . . . The expectations [of 2004] aren't there, and that's got to be better."

But the comfort also comes from a dynamic many talked about regarding last year's team.

"It seems a looser clubhouse, looser guys," Vazquez said. "That helps out when you have guys that like to loosen it up a little bit."

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