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Yanks' leftfield job remains up for grabs

A week ago it seemed Darryl Strawberry was a lock to be named the Yankees' starter in leftfield. A lot can happen in seven days.

Now manager Joe Torre is hedging on just who will earn the starting nod _ Strawberry, Tim Raines or Mark Whiten _ and he doesn't plan to make a final decision until this weekend's series against the Braves in Atlanta.

"I have an idea but it's not like one guy's going to start and the other isn't," Torre said. "I think there's enough outfield playing time that everybody's going to get some of it."

Torre has more factors to consider than just which player is hottest at the plate. Strawberry (.304, 14 RBI) is a proven power hitter but has been slowed since bruising his left knee sliding into second during an intrasquad game. Playing on the grass of Legends Field is difficult enough, but because the Yankees open the season on artificial turf (in Seattle), Torre might sit Strawberry to prevent further aggravating the injury.

Raines (.429, 13 runs) came to camp in impressive shape but is the oldest of the trio at 37 and has been the subject of trade rumors since spring training began.

Whiten is the most versatile _ he can play all three outfield positions _ but only started playing again Sunday after sitting out since March 9 with a strained left rib muscle.

LHP Andy Pettitte, who came into the game with a 0.75 ERA, had his first shaky outing Sunday against Pittsburgh, giving up five earned runs on nine hits over seven innings in a 5-3 loss.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was in attendance as a guest of the Yankees.

Former first-round draft pick LHP Brien Taylor, a can't-miss prospect in 1991, continued his downward spiral Friday in a game at the Yankees' minor-league complex, giving up six earned runs on five hits and three walks in one inning. Taylor, 25, had reconstructive surgery on his left shoulder in 1993, missing the entire season. He has pitched just 56 innings since, going 0-5 with an 18.73 ERA (nine starts, 16 innings) at Class A Greensboro last season.

New York starts LHP David Wells (1-1, 0.75) against Indians RHP Jack McDowell today in Winter Haven. The Yankees return to Legends Field on Tuesday against the Twins, with RHP Dwight Gooden (1-1, 2.74) facing LHP Scott Aldred in a 1:05 p.m. start.

_ JULIE GOODRICH

Oliver headed for surgery

PLANT CITY _ C Joe Oliver will need surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, sidelining him for 4-6 weeks.

Oliver hurt the thumb while making a tag at home plate Saturday. The thumb was more swollen Sunday, and the Reds sent him for X-rays and a MRI that found the tear.

Surgery will be scheduled in the next day or so. Since Oliver was in camp on a nonroster basis, he will go on a minor-league disabled list.

The Reds considered carrying three catchers _ Oliver, Eddie Taubensee and Brook Fordyce _ because they were out of options on Fordyce. The injury means Fordyce will become the second catcher.

OF Deion Sanders had a bunt single and a run-scoring triple, accounting for two of Cincinnati's six hits against the Royals. His two-out triple in the fifth off RHP Jeff Montgomery made it 3-1, but the Royals scored twice in the ninth to win 5-3.

_ TIMES WIRES

White Sox stop Sprague

DUNEDIN _ Toronto 3B Ed Sprague didn't have a good day against LHP Wilson Alvarez and the White Sox in an 8-1 loss at Dunedin Stadium, and that's a rarity for Sprague this spring.

Sprague was hitless in three at-bats against Alvarez, and his teammates fared little better.

Going into the game, Sprague was hitting .365 with 19 hits, three homers and seven RBI in 19 games. Last spring, Sprague batted .413 with 31 hits, seven homers and 20 RBI in 25 games.

Jays starter RHP Erik Hanson had his worst outing in six starts, yielding six runs on seven hits through three innings.

C Sandy Martinez was optioned to Syracuse.

RHP Robert Person (0-2, 5.91) starts for the Jays against RHP Mark Leiter (1-0, 2.81) and the Phillies at 7:35 tonight at Jack Russell Stadium.

_ PHIL GULICK

Petkovsek outdoes Hershiser

WINTER HAVEN _ RHP Mark Petkovsek gave up one run in five innings and outdueled RHP Orel Hershiser as the Cardinals beat the Indians 4-1.

A stadium record 6,879 turned out for a matchup of Central Division champions from each league.

Petkovsek (3-0), the Cardinals' No.

2 starter behind RHP Todd Stottlemyre, gave up six hits with one walk and one strikeout.

Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight attended and sat next to his friend, manager Tony La Russa, on the bench. Knight also took throws from infielders during pregame drills.

_ TIMES WIRES

Rangers pound Phillies

PORT CHARLOTTE _ OF Rusty Greer's two-run triple highlighted a six-run second inning that sent the Rangers to a 9-4 win over the Phillies.

The Rangers, who have won seven of their past eight games, scored six runs in the second inning on five hits off loser RHP Mark Portugal. In addition to Greer's triple, the other runs scored on SS Kevin Stocker's throwing error, a groundout by SS Benji Gil, and singles by OF Mike Devereaux and 1B Will Clark.

C Mike Lieberthal hit two homers for the Phillies.

_ TIMES WIRES

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