Texas slugger Juan Gonzalez took part in agility drills yesterday, then was held out of the rest of the Rangers' workout because of a continuing problem with his back.

"He was ready to go, and I probably would have played him if there was a game," Manager Buck Showalter said. "At this point it's just better to let him rest."

Gonzalez, a two-time American League most valuable player, hit .282 with eight homers and 35 RBI in 70 games last year. He was sidelined by an injured right thumb that put him on the disabled list on July 31.

"It's just a little tight right here," Gonzalez said, pointing to the left side of his lower back. "It's a little uncomfortable, but I'll be fine."

* YANKEES: Hideki Matsui went 0 for 2 in his first intrasquad game with New York.

The three-time MVP of Japan's Central League started in left field and hit fifth for the "Gators," which included the regular starters.

Matsui's day was documented by a large contingent of Japanese media, which had a particular interest in where the outfielder was in the batting order. When Ron Guidry, the former Yankees pitcher who managed Matsui's team, was ready to post the lineup in the clubhouse, Guidry was surrounded by a dozen reporters.

Several television crews videotaped the lineup card after it was posted in the first base dugout during batting practice.

"It's been a while since my last actual game," Matsui said through an interpreter. "I felt pretty good playing the game."

Matsui left after the fourth inning of the five-inning game so he could do his conditioning work before heading to an appointment with a dentist. Manager Joe Torre said Matsui might need a root canal. He is not expected to play in today's intrasquad game.

* INDIANS: 3B Matt Whitney, a first-round pick by Cleveland last June, broke a leg while retrieving a basketball and could miss the 2003 season.

Whitney and two minor leaguers were awaiting another player to go to dinner Sunday when they began shooting a basketball, according to John Farrell, the Indians' director of player development.

The ball got away, Whitney jogged to retrieve it and turned his ankle when he stepped on a box that covered a sprinkler head.

Whitney had surgery yesterday at Celebration Hospital in Orlando to repair fractures to his left tibia and fibula.

"It came in a situation that we don't condone, having another kind of ball in his hand," Farrell said. "We will have a talk about that.

The 19-year-old from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is regarded as one of the top young position prospects in the Indians' organization. He hit .286 with 10 homers and 33 RBI in 45 games last year at Class A Burlington.

* ASTROS: Houston will wear the mission patch from the space shuttle Columbia throughout the season to honor the astronauts who died earlier this month.

The Astros received permission from NASA and the families of the astronauts to wear the patch. The team also will conduct a special ceremony on Opening Day, April 1, at Minute Maid Park.

When the Colt .45s changed their name to the Astros in 1965, coinciding with the opening of the Astrodome and recognizing the space program, 24 astronauts threw ceremonial pitches at the team's home opener.

In each season since moving to Minute Maid Park in 2000, the Astros have hosted a "NASA Day" honoring astronauts and employees of the Johnson Space Center in southeast Houston.