By PETER ABRAHAM
THE JOURNAL NEWS


(Original publication: March 27, 2007)
TAMPA, Fla. - Andy Pettitte threw 25 pitches off a bullpen mound yesterday and felt no discomfort in his lower back. He hopes to pitch in a game later this week as a final tune-up for the regular season.

"That would be great," he said. "We'll just see what happens."

Pettitte had back spasms while lifting weights on March 19 and was shut down. Yesterday was his first time on the mound since March 17.

"I didn't want to feel anything, and I didn't. It felt good throwing," he said. "That's as good as I can expect. It was nice to get back out there."

The plan is for Pettitte to pitch in the bullpen again tomorrow, then get in a game near the end of the week, likely against minor-leaguers on Friday.

"I'll see how I feel (today) when I come in," he said.

Manager Joe Torre kept a close watch on Pettitte as he pitched.

"I don't think he had any limitations," Torre said. "He felt as close to normal as you can. I felt good about what I was watching. It doesn't mean that he wakes up in the morning and it wasn't there, but it's something that once he gets loose, it's fine. We expect it to get better."

Karstens OK: Tests on rookie Jeff Karstens revealed no damage to his right elbow, putting him back in the mix to make the team.

Karstens lasted only two innings against the Tigers on Sunday before leaving the game with what he said was stiffness. X-rays and an MRI were negative.

"They're not even calling it tendinitis," general manager Brian Cashman said. "We'll see how he responds over the next few days and obviously get him going again."

"Outstanding news," Torre said.

Karstens was competing for a spot on the roster before the incident. If he gets back on the mound in a day or two, he still could have a shot.

"We'll see," Cashman said.

Yonkers man honored: Five soldiers who were injured in Iraq were honored before the game, among them Yonkers' Edwin Bono, a Marine.

The team presented a $5,000 donation to the Wounded Warrior Project. Johnny Damon is the national spokesman for the group, which aids wounded soldiers in their return to civilian life.

Extra bases: The Yankees will face the Twins today at Fort Myers, which is 2 hours and 20 minutes away by bus. In a shocking coincidence, Damon, Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Doug Mientkiewicz and Alex Rodriguez will not make the trip. ... Spring training instructor Yogi Berra returned home after spending six weeks in camp. ... The Yankees finished 3-1 against the Phillies. ... Ron Villone pitched a scoreless inning in a minor-league game. He and rookie Sean Henn are competing for a spot in the bullpen.