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YANKS TAKING IT FOR THE TEAM; NUXHALL REMAINS ALIVE AND WELL

Here's a suggestion for the New York Yankees' 1998 team slogan:

"Duck!"

The Bronx Bombers are turning into the Bruise Brothers this spring. Through the first 20 exhibition games, Yankees hitters had been struck by pitches 29 times -- or more than three times the rate they were hit during the 1997 regular season.

"I think it's a Yankee thing," said new Yankees DH Chili Davis, who already has been hit twice. "I've never seen it like this before."

That might be true. The Yankees have engaged in a pair of purpose-pitch battles this spring, first with the Cleveland Indians and earlier this week with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees still are steamed at Indians pitcher Jaret Wright, whose inside fastball knocked Luis Sojo out for at least four weeks with a broken wrist. There were fewer recriminations when Toronto ace Roger Clemens plunked Derek Jeter in the chest on Tuesday, because Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu already had hit two Blue Jays, including shortstop Alex Gonzalez with a fastball above the left ear.

It was clear to everyone that Irabu did not hit Gonzalez intentionally -- it was a full-count pitch --but that didn't prevent Clemens from returning the disfavor. The Rocket wasn't going to waste an opportunity to send a message that he will protect his teammates.

"I knew he was going to hit me," said Jeter. "I thought he'd hit someone, and I figured it would be me. You think about it, shortstop for shortstop."

There was other news involving Irabu. He has tendinitis in his right elbow and is likely to stay in Florida when the team leaves to begin the regular season.

Irabu, who worked 12 2/3 shutout innings in his last three exhibition starts, was scheduled to start the Yankees' third game of the year on April 3 at Oakland.

"I'm disappointed," Irabu said through an interpreter. "This is the most important time of the season right now."

Yankees team physician Dr. Stuart Hershon said X-rays and an MRI revealed inflammation and a very small bone spur, which the doctor said is not related to Irabu's current problem.

It's news to Nuxy

Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Joe Nuxhall got some bad news in the March 13 issue of Sports Collectors Digest. The magazine contains an ad listing one of Nuxhall's old jerseys for sale ($750-$950) and trades on Nuxhall's distinction as the youngest player (15) to appear in a major-league game, but it also contains this haunting line:

"Joe's amazing feat was brought to light again last year after his untimely death."

Nuxhall, despite his untimely death, continues to broadcast Reds games on radio.

New name for Hollins

Give Orchard Park's Dave Hollins a new nickname: The Fall Guy. Jim Edmonds, who sat out Saturday's 12-4 exhibition victory over the Chicago Cubs because of a twisted knee, complained about a strike call, and umpire Gary Darling came over to the dugout in the middle of the fourth inning to investigate.

"The ump said, 'Who said that? Who said that?' " Hollins said. "I said, 'Uh, I did.' He said, 'OK, you're gone.' I said, 'Thank-you.' " Hollins was ejected and got to take the rest of the afternoon off, which, considering the 85-degree temperatures, wasn't so bad.

"I'm a team player," Hollins said. "I didn't want to lose Jimmy."

Olson eyes comeback

Former Baltimore closer Gregg Olson has spent the past four years trying to reconstruct his career, ever since he chose to decline reconstructive elbow surgery in 1993.

This might be the year.

Olson is in camp with the Arizona Diamondbacks, working to recapture the sharp-breaking curveball that once made him one of the game's top relievers.

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