Torre: 'I know he's disappointed'

TOKYO -- Kenny Lofton's time atop the New York Yankees' batting order didn't even last until Opening Day.

Lofton, a leadoff hitter for most of his career, is being dropped to ninth in the lineup by manager Joe Torre for Tuesday night's season opener against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Torre's lineup: Shortstop Derek Jeter will lead off, followed by LF Hideki Matsui, 3B Alex Rodriguez, 1B Jason Giambi, RF Gary Sheffield, C Jorge Posada, DH Ruben Sierra, 2B Enrique Wilson and Lofton.

Torre announced his decision to drop Lofton before Monday's exhibition game against the Hanshin Tigers. It didn't go over well with Lofton, who is just 8-for-50 (.160) at the plate this spring.

"Right now I don't think he is where he needs to be," Torre said.

Then, without any prompting, the manager responded to questions he thought would be asked.

"No, he wasn't happy. No, he didn't yell. I know he's disappointed."

After watching speedy Juan Pierre spark the Florida Marlins to a World Series victory over the Yankees, owner George Steinbrenner signed Lofton to a $6.2 million, two-year contract, going ahead with the deal on his own instead of consulting general manager Brian Cashman.

Torre made clear during the offseason that the center-field job wasn't automatically Lofton's. But Bernie Williams, New York's regular center fielder since 1992, had his appendix removed Feb. 26 and won't be back until April 6 at the earliest. When he returns, Lofton could wind up being totally out of the lineup.

"I feel like I'm a leadoff hitter, and that's where I'm comfortable. I don't feel comfortable nowhere else," said Lofton, a six-time All-Star.

Lofton, who batted ninth against Hanshin, was disappointed Torre made a judgment based on his spring-training statistics.

"Spring training, that don't mean nothing to me," Lofton said. "I don't make a big deal about spring training. Some people do, I don't. I've never been a spring-training hitter."

Lofton, 36, batted .296 last season for Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs with 12 homers, 46 RBI and 30 steals. Torre expects him to eventually wind up back in the leadoff spot.

"Once the games start, it's totally different," Lofton said. "When the games start, I start. Focus and concentration go to a whole new level."

Game notes
The Yankees won't decide whether to put Williams on the DL until April 6, when their season resumes at Tampa Bay. If they do put him on
the DL, we would be eligible to be activated for the home opener on April 8 against the Chicago White Sox.