Lofton likely will start opener

TAMPA, Fla. -- Bernie Williams had his appendix removed
Thursday, and New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said the center
fielder most likely will miss Opening Day.

"I'm very sorry for Bernie because he came in such great shape
and worked so hard," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said.
"He's a very integral part of this team. I know Bernie. He'll
fight through it and be back quicker than everybody thinks. He'll
be back full burner."

Williams, New York's regular center fielder since 1992, began
experiencing discomfort Wednesday night, Torre said, and was sent
to St. Joseph's Hospital for tests Thursday. Doctors determined the
35-year-old Williams needed an appendectomy, which was performed by
Dr. Joseph Diaco.

"It would be a long shot for him to start the season," Torre
said. "It will probably put him back three weeks. I think in three
weeks he can probably get in the flow of things. It wouldn't be
fair to rush him at-bats and all that stuff."

Kenny Lofton, signed as a free agent and expected to challenge
Williams for the starting job, takes over in center field.

"I like Kenny Lofton," Steinbrenner said. "I think we're
fortunate we have him out there. Every one of the teams in the race
in the American League East is going to have a setback. This was an
early one for us."

Lofton hit .296 for Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs with 12
homers, 46 RBI and 30 steals last year.

"I came into spring training expecting to play center field and
DH," Lofton said. "My preparation is going to be the same."

Williams had surgery on his left knee last May. The four-time
Gold Glove winner, whose defense has deteriorated in recent years,
batted .263 with 15 homers and 64 RBI in 445 at-bats last season.

"When Bernie is ready to play baseball, I'm sure that this
isn't going to keep him from playing center field," Torre said.

Travis Lee, who agreed to a contract this week, most likely will
start the season splitting time at first base and designated hitter
with Jason Giambi.

"If we decide that Jason is going to take on more of a
prominent role as a DH, that for sure is going to bring another
first baseman into the mix," Torre said.

Giambi hit 41 homers with 107 RBI last year, mostly as the DH
late in the season. He didn't start Game 5 of the World Series
because of knee trouble and had surgery Nov. 18.

"I'll play wherever," Giambi said.