A nagging back injury that plagued Baltimore Orioles left fielder-designated hitter Marty Cordova during the final week of spring training forced him out of the lineup tonight in the second game of the regular season.

Cordova went into Manager Mike Hargrove's office shortly after 4 p.m. today and informed Hargrove that the back injury -- described as a lower back strain -- had gotten worse and had not responded to treatment the last two days. Hargrove decided to scratch Cordova from the lineup.

"It just hasn't come around," Hargrove said. "I felt the best thing to do was keep him out of today's game and keep him around to maybe pinch-hit during the game."

Cordova had been scheduled to bat seventh as the designated hitter. Instead, left fielder B.J. Surhoff was shifted to designated hitter and Melvin Mora was put in left field and into the seventh spot in the order.

Cordova's back first began bothering him during a two-hour bus ride to Fort Myers, Fla., on March 24. Two days later, Hargrove had to scratch him from the lineup in an exhibition game and Cordova started only once the rest of the week.

The Orioles have played down the injury, saying Cordova's status is day-to-day. However, a nagging quadriceps strain last spring that failed to get better forced him to start the 2002 season on the disabled list.

Cordova's absence further hinders an offense that already is without primary designated hitter and No. 3 batter David Segui, who is on the disabled list with a broken thumb. Segui is eligible to be activated on Saturday, but the Orioles have been non-committal about his return.

Already saddled with a diminished bench by the decision to carry rookie shortstop Jose Morban -- whom the Orioles are required to keep on the 25-man roster or part with, but who will not play much -- the Orioles had only infielder Jose Leon and backup catcher Brook Fordyce as healthy reserves tonight.

Ailing Johnson Expects to Start

Right-hander Jason Johnson, scheduled to start the Orioles' fifth game of the season on Saturday, was forced to leave his tuneup start at the Orioles' minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla. on Monday after one inning because of back spasms on his left side.

However, following a pain-free bullpen session this afternoon, Johnson said he expects to make his start Saturday against Boston. . . .

Because of off-days on Tuesday and next Monday, all five Orioles starting pitchers will get an extra day of rest before making their second starts of the season.