TAMPA, Fla. -- Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda threw live batting practice Thursday to a group of Yankees outfielders that included fellow Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki.

Toward the end of the batting practice session, Juan Rivera crushed a homer off Kuroda to deep left field. Ichiro followed that up by lining a shot two rows deep into the right-field stands, prompting a roar of cheers from the fans sitting in the George M. Steinbrenner Field bleachers.

Manager Joe Girardi wasn't there to watch Kuroda pitch, but joked afterward, "I heard he threw strikes."

Ichiro took in the crowd's applause, bowing and doffing his helmet and saying, "Thank you." Even Kuroda cracked a smile on the mound.

"They knew it was coming, I heard," Girardi said.

Girardi eyeing effects of outfield change

TAMPA, Fla. -- It's difficult to calculate exactly what kind of impact Brett Gardner's move to center field will have on the Yankees' defense. It's even more difficult to figure out what kind of effect, if any, the switch will have on Gardner and Curtis Granderson at the plate.

Both outfielders said Thursday they didn't think switching positions would negatively affect their offensive production. But manager Joe Girardi said it's something to keep an eye on, specifically with Granderson, as the spring goes on and they spend more time in their new roles.

"It's still a legit concern, how it affects him at the plate, how it affects his game," Girardi said. "That's something I'll think about.

"It could affect both of them. [Gardner has] played a little bit of center when we've given Grandy a day off, but Grandy really hasn't played left field."

Gardner offered that his defense has nothing to do with his offense, and Granderson said he's done enough moving around -- bouncing up and down the lineup, playing for different teams and so on -- to adapt on the fly.

"I've done everything," Granderson said. "It's just another one of those changes, and change is always a good thing."

But it's not easy to evaluate where a player stands during Spring Training, especially early on. The at-bats are few and far between, the pitchers are supposed to be ahead of the hitters and the bloated Spring Training rosters sometimes lead to unequal competition.

Girardi admitted that it won't be easy to gauge how the switch is affecting either player offensively or defensively during Spring Training, but he hoped the Yankees could figure it out over the next month and a half.

"We do have a lot of games, and hopefully we'll get a pretty good read on what we're going to see," Girardi said. "If people don't want to hit the ball to either one of them for the whole year, that's fine with me."

Classic-bound Yanks to play early before departure

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees could be sending a total of seven players from their organization to the World Baseball Classic, most notably Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira, and manager Joe Girardi said Thursday he'll try to get them as many at-bats as possible before they depart to play for their respective countries.

Girardi said Cano (Dominican Republic) and Teixeira (United States) will travel with the club to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Saturday to play the Braves, adding that Cano will likely play six of the Yankees' first eight games while Teixeira figures to play five of those.

Girardi singled out a few other players scheduled to take part in the Classic who will receive more playing time the first week or so of Grapefruit League play: outfielder Melky Mesa (Dominican Republic), infielder Gil Velazquez (Mexico) and left-hander Juan Cedeno (Dominican Republic).

Minor League right-hander Pat Venditte, who spent last year with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, will play for Team Italy, and Minor League infielder Walter Ibarra is expected to play for Mexico.

Bombers bits

• Girardi said right-hander Phil Hughes, who revealed Wednesday that he had a bulging disk in his upper back that will keep him sidelined for about two weeks, was feeling better Thursday. Hughes is still taking anti-inflammatory medication and isn't expected to progress to the next step of his recovery, working out in a pool, for a few more days.

"Good sign for me," Girardi said.

• Right-hander Mark Montgomery, who had been sidelined with back spasms but began throwing, was also feeling "much better," according to Girardi. Montgomery has been playing catch since Tuesday.

• Girardi joked again Thursday about the idea of designated hitter Travis Hafner playing the field. Hafner hasn't been doing any defensive drills, and Girardi said it would have to be an "emergency, emergency situation" for Hafner to put on a glove in a game. Hafner hasn't played defense since 2007 due to an arthritic right elbow, and Girardi quipped that the only gloves the 35-year-old slugger will need are batting gloves.

"When we do fielding drills, he goes to the cage," Girardi said. "He's a DH."

• With the Yankees' Grapefruit League schedule beginning Saturday with a road trip to face the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the Bombers will have a shorter workout Friday.