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New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli changes to safer helmet

TAMPA — Francisco Cervelli is choosing safety over style.

The Yankees backup catcher, who sustained a concussion Saturday, will begin wearing a bulky helmet similar to one briefly worn last season by Mets star David Wright.

Like Wright last summer, Cervelli was hit in the helmet by a 94 mph pitch. It was his second concussion since November. Cervelli was cleared by a neurologist Monday and is scheduled to play his first game today, when the Yankees travel to Viera to face the Nationals.

Cervelli, who also sustained a concussion while playing in the Venezuelan winter league, said fellow catcher Jorge Posada called him the Great Gazoo, the martian with a huge green helmet on The Flintstones.

"It's ugly," Cervelli said, holding the helmet that has about an extra half-inch of padding. "It's not about how it looks. I've got to take care of myself."

Minor-leaguers are required to wear the Rawlings S100 helmets starting this year. Wright wore one for two games last year but ditched it, saying it wasn't comfortable.

Cervelli tried it during batting practice Thursday.

He said it was heavier but he will adjust to it. He said he probably will use a standard helmet when he runs the bases and is behind the plate.

"I've got to see how it feels in the game," he said. "This year, I think I'm going to wear it the whole season."

Jeter ill: Even if rain hadn't cancel Thursday's game against the Braves, SS Derek Jeter would have sat with the flu. He's expected to sit out again today but could return for one of Saturday's split-squad games. Ramiro Pena would have started for Jeter on Thursday.

Pitching schedule: RHP A.J. Burnett, scheduled to start Thursday, threw a three-inning simulated game instead. LHP Andy Pettitte still will start today.

Phillies: Two pitches enough for Blanton

CLEARWATER — Joe Blanton used a mix of fastballs and changeups to shut down the Tigers in the Phillies' 4-0 victory.

Blanton has focused solely on the fastball-changeup combination in his first two starts before incorporating breaking pitches. Thursday, he allowed three singles in four innings.

"I've never really done it this way," Blanton said. "But my changeup was so big for me last year that I really want to get good command of it on both sides of the plate to both righties and lefties before I move on. I'm still throwing the other stuff on the side. I just figure if I can get those basics down, I can expand off of that."

Blanton, 29, hopes the new regimen helps him avoid a start similar to 2009, when he had a 7.11 ERA over his first eight starts. In his final 23, beginning in mid May, he was 10-5 with a 3.16 ERA. The timing coincided with when he began to feel comfortable with throwing the changeup.

"It's a big pitch in today's game. It really keeps hitters off- balance," Blanton said. "Last year I used it against righties and lefties both, and it helped me out in a lot of situations when I didn't have a good curveball or a good slider.

Miscellany: OF Raul Ibanez hit his first homer, a solo shot off Joel Zumaya in the sixth. … RHP Scott Mathieson, attempting to make the team after two Tommy John surgeries, struck out two in the ninth. … RHP David Herndon, a Rule 5 pick, has not allowed a run or hit in four appearances, including Thursday's inning of work.

Jays: Marcum hopes for opening day start

PORT CHARLOTTE — The way the schedule works out, RHP Shaun Marcum is in line to start on opening day. But he does not plan on asking manager Cito Gaston or pitching coach Bruce Walton if it will remain that way.

"I'm sure they're probably keeping it a secret until the end," Marcum said, smiling.

Thursday against the Rays, Marcum pitched three shutout innings He worked fast, pounded the strike zone and used strong pitch movement.

"If he keeps going like that," Gaston said, "I would say he's got a good chance to be the opening day starter."

Veteran presence: SS John McDonald, 35, is entering his ninth season but is quick to say younger players are probably better off hearing about the things he learned from more recognizable names. He mentioned Omar Vizquel and Roberto Alomar.

"I wouldn't necessarily teach kids to be exactly like me," McDonald said. "But I feel like over the course of the last 10 years, I've got a lot of knowledge to give back to younger players.

"So you kind of want to be — not necessarily a coach on the field — but I would encourage and I will encourage all of our younger infielders to ask as many questions as they can."

FAST FACTS

Yankees

Where: George Steinbrenner Field, corner of Dale Mabry and Martin Luther King, Tampa. Today: at Nationals, 1:05, Viera, MLB Network. Information: yankees.com

Phillies

Where: Bright House Field, 601 Old Coachman Road, Clearwater. Today: at Tigers, 1:05, Lakeland; at Rays, 1:05, Port Charlotte. Information: phillies.com

Blue Jays

Where: Dunedin Stadium, 373 Douglas Ave., Dunedin. Today: vs. Astros, 1:05. Information: bluejays.com

New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli changes to safer helmet 03/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 11, 2010 10:24pm]
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