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Injury may settle battle

Manager Joe Torre has said all spring that the three-pitcher fight for the final two spots in the starting rotation would work itself out. It looks as if he may be right.

Sterling Hitchcock again felt soreness in his lower back a day after Saturday's outing in Vero Beach and had X-rays and a CT scan on Wednesday afternoon.

Hitchcock first felt pain during a start March 5 but said it had dissipated before flaring back up.

"I'm not really concerned, it'll get better," said Hitchcock, who played catch Tuesday but was shut down Wednesday. "I just woke up stiff the next day and it's been stiff ever since."

Hitchcock went into camp fighting David Wells and Orlando Hernandez for the final rotation spots. Hitchcock is 2-1 with a 7.30 ERA and has allowed 17 hits with nine strikeouts and six walks in 12 innings.

Wells seems to have assured himself of a spot with a 2.30 ERA on eight hits in 15 innings. He has 10 strikeouts and no walks.

HURTIN' AGAIN: One night after he returned to the lineup after a four-day rest, centerfielder Bernie Williams was back on the bench with a sore left hamstring against the Pirates.

Williams, who missed time with a calf strain earlier, missed three games before Monday's off day. He returned Tuesday only to feel the hamstring tighten while running out a pop fly.

_ MIKE READLING

Adams making health a nonissue

DUNEDIN _ With every start, Phillies right-hander Terry Adams is sending a message: There is nothing wrong with his elbow.

It's the same thing he has been saying since September, when Dodgers team physician Frank Jobe recommended Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow, Adams said.

Rumors of elbow problems coincided with several multiyear offers being taken off the table, and Adams was left to sign a one-year, $2.7-million contract with options through 2004.

"I have to prove to everyone I'm healthy," Adams said after holding the Blue Jays to one run in five innings in a 5-5 game Wednesday. "I don't feel any different than I have in the last five or six years."

THEN THERE WERE 36: The Phils trimmed their roster by four, optioning three to Triple-A Scranton and releasing pitcher Allen McDill.

McDill, 30, couldn't have fared much better in five spring appearances; he posted a 0.00 ERA in 5 innings, striking out six and walking none.

TODAY: Right-hander Brandon Duckworth (1-1, 5.00 ERA) starts today's 1:05 p.m. game in Bradenton against Pittsburgh, which counters with left-hander David Williams (0-1, 4.91).

_ GREG AUMAN

Newly anointed starter struggles

DUNEDIN _ Wednesday marked the first time Scott Eyre had pitched since he was told last week he would open the season in Toronto's starting rotation. He gave up four earned runs and five hits in 4 innings.

"I think I tried too hard," said Eyre, 29, who has 29 starts but one since 1998. "Whether I give up four runs or not, I think I've thrown the ball well. I don't think I was relaxed because they told me."

Eyre walked four after issuing two in his previous 12 innings.

"Scott fought himself a little bit, just didn't have his rhythm or command, just one of those days for him," manager Buck Martinez said. "Knock on wood, we haven't had many of those days from our starters, but he wasn't as sharp as he was last time."

BENCH PUNCH: Outfielder Chris Latham, who had 73 at-bats in Toronto last year, salvaged the tie with a home run in the ninth. Latham, who had two hits to improve his average to .231, is a leading candidate to make the Jays as a reserve.

TODAY: Right-hander Chris Carpenter (1-1, 2.79) starts at 1:05 in Orlando against Atlanta, which sends former Rays starter Albie Lopez (0-2, 6.00).

_ GREG AUMAN

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