Randy Johnson's playoff status uncertain

New York Yankees left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson has a herniated disc in his lower back, an injury that could prevent him from pitching in the playoffs next week.

Randy Johnson has a herniated disc in his lower back, an injury that could prevent the New York Yankees left-handed starter from pitching in the playoffs next week.

The injury was discovered during an MRI exam this week, and Johnson received an epidural injection Friday.

"Hopefully that will ease the discomfort," New York manager Joe Torre said. "If it doesn't ease the discomfort, I'm not sure he's going to be able to pitch. But we don't expect that to be the case."

Torre's announcement came one day after the crosstown Mets said Pedro Martinez will miss the post-season because of a torn tendon in his left calf muscle.

Johnson, who turned 43 on Sept. 10, is expected to play catch Saturday and throw a side session Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

Johnson has a 7.64 ERA over his last three starts, giving up five runs each outing and failing to last longer than six innings. He is 17-11 this season with a career-high 5.00 ERA.

Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina will pitch the opening two games of the best-of-five series against Detroit or Minnesota. Johnson is scheduled to pitch Game 3 on the road next Friday.

"If he says he's ready to go or will be ready to go on Friday, we'll write him in. If things change, then we'll do something else," Torre said.

"I certainly want Randy Johnson, bad back and all. His capabilities are very, very high. He's pitched for as long as he's pitched, and we know darn well he wasn't 100 per cent every single step along the way."

If after watching the weekend sessions the Yankees don't think Johnson can pitch next Friday, Torre said he probably would omit the Big Unit from his first-round roster. If that happens, the Yankees would use Jaret Wright and Cory Lidle in Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 4.

Johnson has been bothered by back spasms over his last few starts — beginning a day after his birthday — but didn't tell the team until after he allowed five runs and seven hits over six innings in an 8-0 loss last weekend at Tampa Bay. The Yankees then decided he would skip his final regular-season start.

"You don't know what you're going to get when he pitches," Torre said earlier this week. "The one thing I'm hoping for is that he feels better, and then we'll deal with the command at that time. But you can't have both. You can't have him stay sharp and throw and be able to rest something."

Johnson missed more than four months of the 1996 season with a herniated disc in his lower back that required surgery. Torre said he was unsure whether this injury would also require surgery during the off-season.