Kevin Brown was put on the 15-day disabled list by the Yankees yesterday because of a strained lower back. Brown, 39, is 7-1 with a 4.13 ERA in 13 starts during his first season with New York. The move was made retroactive to June 10, a day after Brown was forced to leave a start against Colorado after two innings. OF Bubba Crosby was recalled from Class AAA Columbus.

The Yankees have the best record in the major leagues, but the health and depth of their rotation has been their top concern. Mike Mussina left his start Friday night against San Diego after three innings when he felt tightness in his right groin.

* HAPPY RETURNS: Trot Nixon will be activated from the disabled list and make his 2004 debut for the Red Sox today when they play the Rockies. The right fielder has been on the DL since the start of the season with a slight herniated disk and a strained left quadriceps. . . .

Florida ace Josh Beckett, on the 15-day disabled list because of a blister on the middle finger of his right hand, will start Thursday night against the White Sox. Beckett threw another bullpen session yesterday and reported no problems.

* YOU'RE FIRED: Frustrated by a season-long struggle to score runs, the Mets fired batting coach Denny Walling and replaced him on an interim basis with bench coach Don Baylor. The Mets went into last night batting .246, next-to-last in the majors.

-- From News Services