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Notes: Damon joins walking wounded

Notes: Damon joins walking wounded

BOSTON -- Johnny Damon has been quietly ailing since the Yankees' series last week at Minnesota, and he was finally held out of the lineup Saturday with lower back pain and a sore left hamstring.

The center fielder has felt burning discomfort in his lower back on and off since playing on the turf of the Metrodome, but the hamstring is a new injury.

Damon reported feeling a grab while he completed a diving catch on a ball hit by Boston's Kevin Youkilis in the fifth inning Friday night. He came to Fenway Park early Saturday for treatment.

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"I had a tough time sleeping last night," Damon said. "I was rolling around trying to find the most comfortable position. It's sore and it's not in one spot. It's pretty much the whole back area."

Damon said that he expected to return to action on Sunday, but his availability for Saturday's contest was questionable.

He vowed to be ready if Yankees manager Joe Torre called upon him as a late-inning pinch-hitter, but Damon did not participate in batting practice before Saturday's game, instead remaining in the clubhouse for attention from the training staff.

Damon said that the lower back issues have been recurring since leaving Minneapolis, continuing when the Yankees moved on to Oakland. Damon said they subsided during the team's three-game series at home against Cleveland.

"It got better when we got back to New York," Damon said. "I plan to be back in there [Sunday]. Normally, when my back starts hurting, that means my hamstrings are pretty tight. I need to try to figure it out and get it right."

Damon said that his left knee stuck in the Fenway Park outfield as he caught Youkilis' ball on Friday, ending the fifth inning behind starter Andy Pettitte.

"I've been feeling [things] with my legs all year," said Damon, who also missed time this month with a strained right calf. "It's about the same [Saturday] as last night, but I don't see that as any concern going forward."

The Yankees don't, either. With Hideki Matsui available to come off the disabled list Monday, Torre said that he did not anticipate carrying an extra outfielder to accommodate Damon's possible unavailability.

That likely means Kevin Thompson, who started Saturday in left field, could be headed for Triple-A.

Posada sidelined: Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who was replaced in Friday's game with a bruised left thumb, was not expected to be available to catch Saturday, as reserve Wil Nieves filled in.

Torre said he could potentially use Posada, who was injured awkwardly handling a Pettitte cutter in the first inning on Friday night, as a late-inning pinch-hitter.

"It's not as bad hitting," Torre said. "He's still an emergency backup for us today. He's not totally out."

In Posada's absence, the Yankees have banked on first baseman Josh Phelps, who last caught in a professional game in 2002 at Triple-A, as an emergency catcher.

After Posada's injury, the Yankees sent Phelps down to the bullpen on Friday, where he strapped his catching gear on -- he'd been carrying a glove all spring, tucked in the back of his Legends Field locker -- and warmed up relievers Scott Proctor and Luis Vizcaino.

"You just try to catch as much as you can," Phelps said. "It's a different ballgame when you get in the game. A lot can come at you."

The Yankees also seem to have no shortage of supplemental catching candidates. Miguel Cairo is capable and Torre said that Doug Mientkiewicz has also volunteered for consideration.

"Mientkiewicz said, 'I'd love to do it,'" Torre said. "That shows how sick this man is."

The good and the bad: Mientkiewicz said he received his fair share of jeers on Friday, and he completely expected to hear plenty, wearing a Yankees uniform in Fenway Park.

But it was the fans who piled on Mientkiewicz about his possession of the 2004 World Series ball that got under the first baseman's skin.

On Oct. 27, 2004, Mientkiewicz caught the final out as Boston sealed its first title in 86 years. He eventually donated the treasured item to the Baseball Hall of Fame, though apparently some Red Sox fans are still not aware of that fact.

"The whole ball thing, it's like, 'Please, please, go away,'" Mientkiewicz said.

Hearing nasty comments relating to the World Series ball rankles Mientkiewicz for another reason. In 2005, Mientkiewicz said he received death threats from a fan in Washington, D.C., who got hold of Mientkiewicz's cell phone number and left disturbing messages.

"They'd describe what my wife was wearing and say, 'She's not coming home tonight,'" Mientkiewicz said.

Police eventually apprehended the suspect, Mientkiewicz said, but he did not know the outcome of potential criminal proceedings -- and doesn't want to know.

Mientkiewicz said he did not wear his Red Sox World Series ring for six months because the encounter left such a bad taste in his mouth, but has eventually come to separate that experience from the good times he had in Boston.

"When it involves your family, I got really upset about it quick," Mientkiewicz said. "You thought you were going somewhere, and then you get a couple of lunatics. But then again, I can't let people change what happened [with the Red Sox]."

Open study: One day after his blown save against the Red Sox, closer Mariano Rivera spent a good amount of his early afternoon breaking down the performance with special pitching instructor Rich Monteleone, analyzing the outing frame by frame on a laptop computer.

Torre said that Rivera may have been flying open, though the manager said his closer's stuff was good. Rivera said Friday that he would not have taken any of the pitches back, and that he felt his location was decent.

"We just need to get him back on track," Torre said. "Even though he's as good as they come in this game, you want to get out there and do it."

Comeback trail: Mike Mussina threw 30 pitches off a mound on Saturday and Carl Pavano tossed for about seven minutes, as both right-handers make their way back to the Yankees rotation.

Mussina, on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, is probably closer than Pavano. Mussina is expected to throw another session on Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., under the watch of pitching coach Ron Guidry, and will increase his workload if he feels up to it.

"If he comes out of the next bullpen feeling as good as he does now, then my guess would be a rehab [start]," Torre said.

On that timetable, Mussina would be lined up to pitch at Texas sometime in the May 1-3 series. With a projected rehab start Friday, Mussina likely won't pitch for Triple-A Scranton, which is on the road at Columbus.

The Yankees could send him to pitch for Double-A Trenton, which has a game that night in Harrisburg, Pa.

"I'd rather not be in Tampa," Mussina said. "We have places to choose from. We'll find something."

Pavano, who is shelved with a strained right elbow, still felt some tightness, according to Torre.

"It's probably a little better than last time," Torre said. "He'll probably do it again in two days."

Comeback trail, Part II: Right-hander Chien-Ming Wang threw a 55-pitch bullpen session in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday and said he feels fine, the Yankees announced. Wang is expected to come off the disabled list to pitch Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Coming up: The Yankees play the final game of their weekend series with the Red Sox on Sunday, sending left-hander Chase Wright (1-0, 5.40 ERA) to the mound for his second big-league start.

All eyes, however, will be on right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-2, 2.70 ERA), who faces off for his first appearance against the Yankees. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET.

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

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