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Torre remains eager to greet a new season

The way Joe Torre measures time, and he offered no scientific basis for his observation, entire years seem to fly by in about "10 minutes."

Perhaps, he said, that is why the game still "is fresh for me," and why, when contemplating his 11th season as Yankees manager that begins Friday with the first workouts for pitchers and catchers, he said without caveat, "I'm excited about it.

"You do it as long as I've done it and you get to be 65 and you don't know when, "Oh, I have to go to Florida.' I haven't felt that way, and it's great."

Torre on Wednesday threw himself into his work. He met for almost five hours at Legends Field with his coaching staff. Owner George Steinbrenner even sat in for about 15 minutes.

Torre said things are much better between him and the Boss. He said the two "disconnected" last season while rumors raged Torre might be fired.

Torre said he called Steinbrenner twice while on vacation in Hawaii to make sure barriers stay down.

"That's on me, and I will continue to do it," said Torre, in his 11th season with New York. "If he's going to have a problem, it's not going to be because we haven't talked."

As usual with the Yankees, there was plenty to discuss.

Carl Pavano's status for opening day is in question because of lower back pain, an interesting twist to what could be the spring's most compelling story as seven pitchers compete for five starting slots.

Bernie Williams is making the difficult transition from centerfield to DH with part-time duty in left and rightfields.

Torre said Jason Giambi will play the bulk of games at first base, and outfielders Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield will get occasional DH assignments to help keep them fresh.

There are five new coaches, including former managers Larry Bowa, Lee Mazzilli, Tony Pena and Joe Kerrigan, a situation Torre said "certainly helps you in making decisions."

And Torre said he will be more proactive resting players fighting injuries, something he admitted he failed to do last season with Sheffield.

He also admitted learning a valuable lesson last season while watching the team start 11-19 (its worst since 1966), rebound to win its eighth straight AL East title but lose to the Angels in the opening round of the playoffs.

"You have to remind yourself that even though you have a lot of experienced people, that you don't take anything for granted," Torre said.

"We still have to stress that in spite of having the ability to hit a lot of home runs, we have to have a different mind-set, or continue to think small and let big things happen. Sometimes when you have a club like we have, you tend to wait around for boom, boom, boom. Sometimes it doesn't happen."

Torre said the addition of centerfielder Johnny Damon will help.

"He gives us a shot of energy," he said. "Not that you're flat in any way, but his type of play is different. It gives us something more to go on. I will keep reminding players of the necessity to not shut off from winning more ways than just home runs."

As he spoke, Torre's tone was steady, his demeanor assured; elements of a managerial style credited with seeing the Yankees through one of their most turbulent seasons.

"I think he did a great job," pitcher Randy Johnson said. "We had a lot of inconsistencies the first half of the year, and to win as many games as we did says a lot about his managerial skills."

And to think, he did it all in 10 minutes.

PLAYING IT SAFE: General manager Brian Cashman said Pavano will not throw off a mound for 10-14 days while he completes an exercise program to help ease stiffness in his lower back.

Cashman said no structural damage was found by back specialist Robert Wadkins, who prescribed the program.

Cashman said Pavano, whose 2005 season ended in June because of shoulder problems, can throw on level ground. He would not, though, detail the injury or speculate on the right-hander's opening-day status.

"We have the time to make sure there are no issues and resolve what he's feeling," Cashman said.

Torre also said he did not expect right-hander Octavio Dotel (elbow surgery) to be ready until June.

Weaver finally signs

TEMPE, Ariz. - Right-hander Jeff Weaver became the last major free agent to find a team, agreeing to a one-year contract with the Angels worth $8,325,000. Weaver's younger brother, Jered, a former pitching star for Long Beach State, is a top prospect in the Angels organization.

CUBS: Right-hander Kerry Wood's rehabilitation from shoulder surgery is progressing. He's doing long tosses and throwing off flat ground. But there is no timetable for when he'll pitch again, and he might not be ready for opening day.

REDS: Utility player Ryan Freel said his latest alcohol-related arrest was based on a misunderstanding, and he's being careful to stay out of further trouble. Freel was arrested in a Tampa pool hall Jan. 8 and charged with disorderly intoxication, a misdemeanor. Freel said he was attending a bachelor party when one of his friends got into an altercation and he tried to break it up.

Information from other news organizations was used in this report.