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It's tough returning to minors after taste of big leagues

Yankees pitcher Chase Whitley delivers against the Baltimore

Yankees pitcher Chase Whitley delivers against the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Baltimore. Credit: AP / Gail Burton

There is a saying pretty much all minor-leaguers are familiar with, and have been for years, born from endless bus rides, spartan food options and mostly cramped clubhouse quarters.

If you don't like it down here . . .

"Play better," Chase Whitley and Preston Claiborne said in separate interviews.

The pitchers are part of a group -- and they're hardly alone in the Yankees' clubhouse -- who are 'tweeners of sorts -- young players who have gotten a taste of the big leagues but, for a variety of reasons, haven't been able to stick.

"It's easy to get spoiled up here," said another such player, catcher John Ryan Murphy.

Claiborne, with a smile, put it this way: "It is difficult going from charter flights, having your own row, to sitting on a bus and traveling for sometimes six, sometimes 14 hours."

Murphy, 23, joined Whitley and Claiborne among the Yankees' Sept. 1 call-ups. Murphy played 16 games with the Yankees last season and 25 games, mostly in April and May, this season.

Every player in the minors, of course, has one goal: to make it to the majors and stay there. But all season, on every team, there is a constant shuttle of players being called up and sent down.

For any player, particularly a young one, being in the majors for even a day or two and then getting sent back down can make re-adapting a challenge.

"It's an adjustment, just the change of scenery," Whitley said.

The righthander came out of nowhere this season, spot-starting May 15 against the Mets at Citi Field and pitching 42/3 innings of a 1-0 Yankees victory. The 25-year-old went 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA in his first seven starts before hitting a rough patch, being sent to the bullpen and ultimately back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 21.

"It's difficult to go from 30,000 to 300 people or whatever," Whitley said. "But the hardest thing to do, I think, is to try and get your intensity at the same level when you're going down. It's obviously easy to go from there to here . . . I think that's where you find out what kind of pitcher you are, what kind of person you are."

Claiborne had a terrific first half of 2013 before fading in the second half, but still appeared in 44 games. He got into 15 games, mostly in May, this season before being demoted, and he suffered a shoulder injury shortly after that.

Claiborne, 26, spent two months in Tampa rehabbing and pitched well enough in the minors before getting the call Sept. 1. He said part of the mental adjustment is realizing the players in Triple-A are pretty good, too. Success like he had in the first half of 2013, when he posted a 2.43 ERA in 25 games, doesn't automatically translate into dominance in the minors.

"If you get sent down and you don't have the type of success you had previously, where you don't show you have the same work ethic or mentality or mental fortitude," Claiborne said, "it will get exposed really quick. And then maybe you'll get surpassed for another guy."

Murphy, speaking from a hitter's perspective, agreed.

"The difference in level of play is really not that far apart; guys in the majors are obviously able to do it more consistently," he said. "But if you're not mentally locked in, it's going to show and it's going to show on a daily basis. You're going to get eaten up."

Claiborne, leaning against his locker in the spacious Stadium clubhouse, spoke earnestly about his big-league quest, which will continue next spring when he again will be in competition for a bullpen spot.

"Everybody strives to get to this point," he said. "Staying here is one of the toughest things to do."

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