Notes: Matsui likely to DH for playoffs
Lingering right knee pain may keep slugger away from outfield
NEW YORK -- Hideki Matsui found his right knee more flexible as the Yankees worked out in the Bronx on Tuesday, preparing for their American League Division Series matchup with the Cleveland Indians.
Matsui left the Yankees over the weekend and missed the club's final two games of the regular season, returning to New York to have his troublesome hinge drained of excess fluids. The ailment had limited his mobility for weeks.
"It just feels lighter since the water was drained," Matsui said through an interpreter. "The water was keeping me from really bending my knee."
Matsui's knees had been a concern down the stretch for the Yankees, who took advantage of the designated hitter spot to spell the 33-year-old outfielder and allow Johnny Damon to patrol left field.
Yankees manager Joe Torre had said that he was leaning toward using Matsui as a DH only in the playoffs, but as of Tuesday afternoon, he had not decided if Matsui would play in the series opener at Jacobs Field on Thursday.
"I think Hideki's fine," Torre said. "We'll check matchups and do some things and figure out what we want to do. I think everybody who has a possibility to play can play. I don't think we're going to be limited by anything."
Matsui is 0-for-9 with a walk in 10 plate appearances against Game 1 starter C.C. Sabathia, whom the Yankees have not seen since 2004.
If Matsui does not play on Thursday, a likely candidate to DH is rookie outfielder Shelley Duncan, who appears to be a lock for the yet-to-be-finalized ALDS roster.
Duncan was auditioned late in the season against left-handed pitching for a possible role coming off the bench or serving in the lineup against southpaws, batting .303 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 33 at-bats.
"I'll be prepared if I am [in the lineup]," Duncan said. "I'll study up Sabathia and get my swing right, and feel good."
Though this will be Duncan's first postseason as a player, he is no stranger to Major League Octobers. Duncan, the son of longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan, recalled roaming the Oakland A's clubhouse in 1988, when Kirk Gibson hit his classic game-winning home run off Dennis Eckersley.
More recently, he was present for the St. Louis Cardinals' World Series run last season, along with his father and brother, outfielder Chris Duncan, so Shelley believes he has something of a feel for the playoffs and the atmosphere.
"Once the game starts, the adrenaline gets going a little, but until then, it's just a baseball game," Duncan said. "It's just baseball."
Additionally, Torre indicated that he was leaning toward starting Doug Mientkiewicz at first base through most of the playoffs. Mientkiewicz batted .429 in 22 September games and had clearly outplayed Jason Giambi, who will be utilized as a DH or off the bench.
Rocket's a go: Roger Clemens appears to have been cleared for a Game 3 start after a 69-pitch workout on Tuesday in Tampa, Fla.
Torre said that he heard from club official Billy Connors after Clemens went through the full paces of a simulated game, facing both left-handed and right-handed batters while fielding his position and covering bases.
"It was a very good report," Torre said. "Everything got high marks."
Clemens would pitch the Yankees' first home game of the ALDS, on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET. He is expected to join the club in Cleveland on Tuesday. Good friend Andy Pettitte, who spoke with the Rocket during the club's dark day on Monday, said he believed all along that Clemens would make himself ready.
"As far as I'm concerned," Pettitte said, "that was a given."
Looking ahead: The queries about last October's dismal 1-for-14 performance in the Division Series against the Tigers keep coming for Alex Rodriguez, but the All-Star third baseman has continued to shrug them off.
A-Rod's new approach has been to look forward, not back, and part of that is why Torre believes the probable AL Most Valuable Player will be able to exorcise the demons and questions that remain from the 2006 postseason.
"I think he sort of internalized a lot last year, and in doing that, I think he really built up a lot of baggage where he tried to make up for it," Torre said.
"Right now, if it's a good day, it's fine; if it's a bad day, it's fine," Torre added. "He's going to come back and be the same guy every day. In doing that, he's going to have a good chance of just being Alex Rodriguez."
For his part, Rodriguez said that "this is not tennis or golf," and that the Yankees would need a "team effort" to topple the Tribe and move on to the next round. Rodriguez said the Yankees have their work cut out for them in Cleveland, despite running the table over the Tribe in a six-game regular-season series.
"We know they're a good team," Rodriguez said. "[Going] 6-0 doesn't mean much. We've got to go out, and it's a new season now. We have a lot of respect for them."
What's old is new again: The Yankees worked out on the field on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, essentially taking part in an extended batting-practice session before boarding buses to the airport.
For Pettitte, who returned to the Yankees this season after a three-year absence, the scene was all very familiar: scores of hyper-aggressive camera crews, adoring fans piled beyond iron gates clamoring for autographs and a sendoff to postseason games awaiting in other cities.
"It's just like old times," Pettitte said. "This is what I expected."
Pettitte has spoken often about his winter conversations with Torre and general manager Brian Cashman, helping kill any ideas of retirement and spurring him back to New York to put together a 15-win season. The road was bumpier than Pettitte anticipated, but he knows better than most that a new season is about to begin.
"To get to the World Series, that's the goal, obviously," Pettitte said. "I've been spoiled in my career, to where I'm expecting to be in the postseason. ... There's no doubt we look around us and say, 'We're going to do this again.' That's our mind-set, but we've got our work ahead of us."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.