Bernie Re-Establishing Himself

NEW YORK – Bernie Williams says he's a more mature player than two or three years ago. That's a good thing, because he may need that maturity to carry him through the rest of this season.

Williams had a strong day at the plate in Thursday's 7-4 victory over the Anaheim Angels at Yankee Stadium, going 3-for-4 with a solo homer off of losing pitcher John Lackey, but it doesn't change the fact that Williams' role on this club is – and will continue to be – diminished.

Manager Joe Torre says that the Yankees haven't given up on Williams, the Yankees' resident five-time All-Star, and that he still considers Williams an everyday player. The included caveat is, of course, that Torre also considers part-time candidates Ruben Sierra and several other Yankees to be everyday players as well.

"It doesn't mean they're playing seven days a week," Torre said.

Privately, the Yankees are concerned not so much by Williams' slow start at the plate after missing all of spring training due to an appendectomy performed on Feb. 26 (his hot performance Thursday raised his average to just .214), but by his decreased mobility in centerfield.

But while Williams says his experience allows him to work the count better and have more productive at-bats, his 35-year-old body says that he is beginning to slow defensively.

True enough, Williams – who never possessed a truly great arm to begin with – is no longer considered among the American League's upper echelon of centerfielders.

Since the Yankees are unlikely to swap Williams with Hideki Matsui in left and cannot interchange him with Gary Sheffield in right, the bench appears to be the only other logical position that Williams can help from – especially with Kenny Lofton chirping from the dugout that he deserves more playing time.

To his credit, Williams has continued to work extremely hard to regain his former performance. He admitted Thursday that his recent slump had lowered his confidence somewhat, but said that he was taking the experience in stride.

"Everybody goes through slumps," Williams said. "The measure you learn from them [is important]. You just have to limit your time."

Torre said the Yankees had noticed the pressures beginning to take their toll on the outfielder, and that he had spoken to Williams regarding that topic.

"It's such a tough game to play because you have to have meetings with yourself," Torre said. "Sometimes, you start doubting yourself and we wanted to push him off of that."

The ever-toiling Williams has also been a regular in the trainers room, as he works to re-strengthen his body after the appendectomy.

"A lot of the guys on the medical staff haven't given up on me," Williams joked.

Neither have Torre and the Yankees, who will continue to watch for signs of Williams' re-emergence. Torre has already noticed one promising note: in Thursday's game, Torre said Williams had used his hands more at the plate, which could have meant a higher bat speed against the Anaheim hurler Lackey.

As he continues to re-establish himself in the Yankee mix, Williams recovery and strength program are the key. If they're successful, Torre can't help but give Williams more playing time.

If not…

"Hopefully, we'll deal from this moment on and good things will happen," Williams said.


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