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Hitchcock won't go north

Yankees left-hander Sterling Hitchcock will start the season on the disabled list after being shut down for 7-10 days with a strained ligament in his lower back.

General manager Brian Cashman said Hitchcock probably would throw for two weeks before rejoining the team.

"He will make minor-league rehab starts," Cashman said.

Hitchcock had tests on his injured back Wednesday and received the diagnosis Thursday.

"There are no long-term concerns," Cashman said. "He'll be ready sometime in mid April."

Hitchcock was hoping to win a spot in New York's rotation. He is 2-1 with a 7.30 ERA in four exhibition games.

"No question it puts him behind the 8 ball because of the time left," manager Joe Torre said.

Hitchcock first felt back stiffness during a start March 5. The problems cleared up but came back after his start Saturday.

The Yankees have two open rotation spots. They likely will be filled by David Wells and Orlando Hernandez.

"It's a manageable situation," Cashman said. "This is just a short-term thing."

STILL ACHING: Outfielder Rondell White is progressing slowly and might not be ready for opening day.

White is scheduled to take batting practice for the first time today since straining his left rib cage Feb. 25. He reported no problems Thursday after flip drills in the batting cage and running sprints.

"Tomorrow is a big test," White said.

Manager Joe Torre said White could start playing in minor-league games Monday or Tuesday.

"We know the player we signed," Torre said. "It's matter of how much baseball he can get in."

He is not counting on White TO BE ready for the season opener April 1 in Baltimore.

"It could happen," Torre said.

BLEACHER BUM: David Cone plans to be at Yankee Stadium for the home opener April 5.

Not in the dugout or mound, but in the bleachers.

"I've never watched a major-league game from the bleachers," the right-hander said. "The bleacher creatures, they're the best fans."

_ TIMES WIRES

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