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03/23/08 2:20 PM ET

Pettitte's back has seen better days

Left-hander optimistic that pain won't delay start to season

TAMPA, Fla. -- Andy Pettitte tucked a pillow under his knees on Saturday evening and went to sleep feeling better about his back spasms, which seemed to be loosening up. If the situation held, he would be able to play catch in the morning and get his spring back on track.

No such luck. Pettitte awoke on Sunday with the same tightness in his lower back, preventing him from getting on a baseball field and increasing the concern level that he may be impacted as the regular season approaches.

"I felt real positive about how I was progressing, and I was hoping today I'd come in and feel great, but I can't," Pettitte said. "I'm definitely optimistic, because I think it's going to clear up."

All Pettitte can go on is the way he responded last year to back spasms. Last March, Pettitte felt pain in his back shortly after performing squatting lift exercises, which prevented him from leaving the house for a few days.

The 35-year-old left-hander believed those were more serious than the ones that tightened up on his drive home from Legends Field on Saturday. Though he still feels tightness when he goes through a dry pitching motion, Pettitte does not see any problems with making his first start of the season, which would come on April 2 against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.

"All I can go with is how I felt last year, when I hurt my back," Pettitte said. "I didn't think I hurt it anywhere near that significant, so I'm just not real sure. If I come in tomorrow and I feel good and I'm able to play catch and get on the bump, I'll be good to go."

Pettitte had been in line to pitch in Thursday's Grapefruit League exhibition against the Pirates, the final game before the Yankees' Spring Training stadium is renamed to honor principal owner George M. Steinbrenner.

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With his inability to at least play catch on Sunday, Pettitte said it was unlikely that he would be able to make that start. Speaking at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the new plan is to see if Pettitte can pitch in a Minor League game on Friday in Tampa. If he can, the lefty would be ready to pitch in the second game of the season.

"You want to pitch, and even if you miss one start, you feel like it's the end of the world," Pettitte said.

Pettitte needs to get close to 80 pitches in that exhibition start to be prepared for the regular season, though Girardi could always shuffle the pitching rotation to eliminate any timing concerns.

Plotted as the Yankees' No. 2 starter, Pettitte could instead slot as New York's fourth or fifth to begin the season, thus accommodating any extra work he would need.

"You've got options," Pettitte said. "It's just the first start of the season."

The Yankees brought Pettitte back on a one-year, $16 million contract largely to help lead a rotation in transition. After winning 15 games last season, Pettitte is envisioned to fall in behind Opening Day starter Chien-Ming Wang, helping to eat up innings in a rotation that also includes veteran Mike Mussina and youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

"I've got to feel good to be able to go out there and pitch," Pettitte said. "It's not as gloom and doom as sometimes we think it is. The important thing is to get it right and get out there as soon as I possibly can."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.