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Yankees 6, Rays 4

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP)

Carl Crawford knew what to expect before Tampa Bay played the Yankees on Thursday night: A crowd of New York writers were waiting to talk to him about the possibility he'll become one of the most appealing free agents in baseball after the 2010 season.

Crawford went 0 for 2, walked and stole a base in the Rays' 6-4 loss to the Yankees.

``They say it's going to be like that,'' Crawford said. ``It comes with the territory. You've got to answer those questions and I'm fine with that.''

Crawford is set to earn $10 million in the final season of a $33.5 million, six-year contract. The Rays and Crawford are not expected to resume contract negotiations until after the season, which is already causing speculation about the Yankees making a serious bid should the three-time AL All-Star opt for free agency.

``My mind is still, I'm a Tampa Bay Ray,'' Crawford said. ``I don't even think past this year. I don't really want my mind to think that far. Really, I focus on the things I normally do and that's about it. Keep it simple.''

Derek Jeter hit a two-run double in the second inning before giving his team a scare. He flexed his throwing hand several times after diving for a ball in the fourth but remained in the game.

``He said 'My hand is fine.' He'll play tomorrow,'' manager Joe Girardi said.

Colin Curtis hit a three-run homer in the sixth.

New York starter Javier Vazquez went three innings, allowing one run and two hits. He had three strikeouts and two walks.

``I got some work in, threw 62, 63 pitches,'' Vazquez said. ``Next time hopefully throw more innings. I feel pretty good. Just got out of my mechanics a few times, especially with the fastball.''

Carlos Pena snapped an 0 for 21 slide with a second-inning solo homer for Tampa Bay. Left-hander Carlos Hernandez gave up two runs, three hits, two walks and struck out six in three innings.

Rays right-hander Matt Garza, scheduled to pitch the second game of the regular season, didn't make the trip. He started in a Triple-A game instead, allowing two runs in six innings.

``He looked fine,'' Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.

What could be the final round of starts for the Yankees' fifth starter contenders begins Friday night with a spilt-squad game against Tampa Bay. Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin are both scheduled to pitch.

``We've got to see what happens,'' Girardi said. ``I think we're going to have some tough decisions, but we'll make them and then we'll move forward.''

The other candidates for the final New York rotation spot are Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Alfredo Aceves. The winner could be named around March 25-26.

New York reliever Chan Ho Park struck out one during a perfect inning in his first spring training appearance. He was signed to a free-agent contract on Feb. 28.

NOTES: Yankees LHP Damaso Marte, hit in the right lower back by a liner off the bat of Philadelphia's Ryan Howard on Wednesday, expects to pitch again in the next day or two. ... Rays OF Matt Joyce (sore right elbow) was the DH in a Triple-A game. ... New York closer Mariano Rivera will pitch for the second time on Friday. ... Former Pittsburgh first-round draft pick John Van Benschoten is pitching for the Yankees' Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club at the minor league complex.

Tagged: Yankees, Mets, Rays, Javier Vazquez, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Matt Joyce

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