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Yankees' Rivera pleased with spring debut

New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera throws

New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera throws in the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros. (March 16, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

TAMPA, Fla. - After A.J. Burnett finished talking to reporters, he turned to the clubhouse television in time to see Mariano Rivera walking off the mound.

"What was it, 1-2-3, eight pitches?" Burnett said.

Rivera's first outing of the spring, in the fifth inning of last night's 4-1 win over the Astros, wasn't quite that crisp, which was just fine with Rivera.

"It's work," said Rivera, who left the bases loaded in his one inning and threw 27 pitches, allowing a hit and a walk. "Actually, it's good because you're out there throwing your pitches, working. It's not six, seven, eight pitches. You need to throw, build strength. That's what I did. It was good."

As for the walk, a rarity in any Rivera outing, the 40-year-old closer smiled. "I got too excited," said Rivera, pitching in a game since Game 6 of the World Series last Nov. 4. "Better to happen now than later."

Rivera, who is expected to pitch here Friday in a split-squad game against Tampa, will throw his usual six to eight innings this spring.

"For the first time [out], it was there," he said of his command. "I made a few pitches up, but most were down where I wanted them to be."

Rivera called his feelings going into his first spring game this year compared with last year, when he was coming off shoulder surgery, "day and night different."

"I was happy with how I was feeling," he said. "Last year wasn't even close."

He turned out to be just fine in 2009, overcoming a slow start to record 44 saves with a 1.76 ERA. He was even better in the postseason, with five saves and a 0.56 ERA in 12 games.

Joe Girardi said the regular season begins to become more real when Rivera takes the mound. "You know that you're getting to the last 21/2, three weeks when Mo starts getting in there," he said before the game. "It's good to see him out there."

Burnett made his second start and allowed one run and two hits in 21/3 innings. He struck out two but had difficulty finding the strike zone. He walked four, with 33 of his 66 pitches going for strikes. "I was just quick, everything was quick," Burnett said.

Phil Hughes continued to be solid in his pursuit of the fifth spot in the rotation, allowing three hits in four shutout innings.

Notes & quotes: Girardi said Joba Chamberlain, who will pitch Wednesday after Andy Pettitte, can't pitch himself out of contention for the No. 5 starter's job with another bad outing, but he also put Chamberlain on notice. "Gotta pick it up," Girardi said. "We told him, you have to pitch now. You have to show us." Girardi said he hopes to settle on a fifth starter by March 25 or 26 . . . Curtis Granderson started again in leftfield - with Brett Gardner in center - but Girardi said it doesn't necessarily mean that will be the alignment for the season opener in Boston. The batting order, including Nick Johnson hitting second, Robinson Cano fifth and Granderson seventh, was representative of Girardi's plans for the opener . . . Damaso Marte is scheduled to make his first spring appearance Wednesday . . . Chan Ho Park threw 30 pitches in a simulated game and said he is scheduled to make his spring debut Thursday night against the Rays . . . Paul Simon threw the ceremonial first pitch.

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