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Right fielder will not need surgery

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees right fielder Gary Sheffield can play with a torn ligament
in his right thumb and will be back in New York's lineup for spring training games later this week.

The outfielder, who reinjured the thumb last weekend, was
examined Tuesday in New York by hand specialist Dr. Melvin
Rosenwasser.

"Gary Sheffield obviously is one tough cookie," Yankees
general manager Brian Cashman said. "He played through it before
without a problem, apparently."

Sheffield, who was to return to Tampa on Tuesday, originally
hurt the thumb last July while playing for the Atlanta Braves, but
he never had an MRI exam and the torn ligament went undetected. He
hit .327 after the injury with 17 homers and 62 RBI in 69 games.

He aggravated the injury Saturday when trying to get to a fly
ball by Toronto's Orlando Hudson that landed for a triple. The
Yankees initially thought it was just a bruise, but the team
worried after an MRI exam and X-ray revealed the tear.

"We're not out of the woods on this, don't get me wrong,"
Cashman said. "But today's news was certainly more encouraging,
after the hand specialist in New York saw him, than yesterday's
news."

Sheffield was at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center at 6:30
a.m. for the exam. An operation to repair a torn thumb ligament
typically requires two to three months of recovery time.

"Based on the hand specialist's evaluation today, all the
information provided -- MRIs, X-rays, Gary's history, an onsite
evaluation of his hand -- the recommendation right now was that
surgery wasn't actually necessary, but it still remains an
option," Cashman said. "If we feel it's not working, if Gary
feels it isn't working, then obviously he'll have to have the
surgery."

But, Cashman added, "Most likely, he'll be fine."

Last year, shortstop Derek Jeter tore a ligament in his left
thumb during the AL Championship Series opener against Boston. He
kept on playing, taking numbing medication for the remainder of the
Red Sox series, and the thumb healed on its own. Rosenwasser
examined Jeter in November.

"Some guys say operate, other guys say rehabilitate. I stayed
with the rehabilitate guy," Jeter said.

Sheffield is among nine Yankees 35 or older -- and that doesn't
include pitcher Orlando Hernandez, who reached a preliminary
agreement on a contract last weekend and took a physical Monday.

For manager Joe Torre, the injuries are all part of the game.

"I really don't get bent out of shape over them, because they
happen so often," he said. "That's where we have probably an
advantage over a lot of other people -- we have some depth, and
that's very important."

Bernie Williams, 35 like Sheffield, is unlikely to be ready for
the March 30 opener following an appendectomy Feb. 26. Kenny Lofton, Travis Lee, Tony Clark, Bubba Crosby and Darren Bragg are
among the candidates who could fill the outfield spots.

Hideki Matsui could move from left to right if Sheffield's
injury is serious. Lofton has only seen time in center, not the
corner outfield spots.

"I've never done it before. Could I? I can do anything they
want me to," he said.

Sheffield left the Braves in the offseason to sign a $39
million, three-year contract with the Yankees. He was among players
who testified before a federal grand jury that indicted Barry Bonds' personal trainer for illegal distribution of steroids. Sheffield has denied using steroids.