Mike Mussina played catch Friday for the first time since the Yankees removed him from their rotation last week because of inflammation near his elbow and said he could return for the final two weeks of the season.

Mussina made about 40 throws before the series opener against Boston. He plans to play catch again Saturday and Sunday, and he could have a bullpen session Tuesday, when the Yankees are at Tampa Bay.

He would need at least one additional bullpen session and thinks he could pitch in a game during the Yankees' final homestand against Baltimore and Toronto, which runs from Sept. 19-25.

Mussina threw with his elbow wrapped in a sleeve, and the 36-year-old right-hander said there was a noticeable improvement from the way he felt before his time off.

"I felt it every throw, every throw, all the time," he said. "Today I did not."

In his last outing, Aug. 29 at Seattle, Mussina allowed four runs and six hits in three-plus innings, failing to complete the fifth inning in consecutive starts for the first time since September 1996.

"For one day, I feel all right," he said. "How do I feel after three days in a row? We'll see."

Mussina is 12-8 with a 4.34 ERA. He said the elbow had become too troublesome for him to remain in the rotation without the break.

"I just couldn't, I couldn't do what I wanted to do on the mound anymore," he said. "I went as long as I could, and I just couldn't do it anymore."

Asked whether it was hard to watch from the dugout while the Yankees played the Red Sox, Mussina joked, saying: "It was hard to sit and watch the last series." New York lost two of three to last-place Tampa Bay.

Right fielder Gary Sheffield was not in the starting lineup for the second straight game because of a strained left thigh muscle. Sheffield was hurt in the first inning Wednesday night, pulling up while chasing Jonny Gomes's triple to right-center.

Sheffield said through Yankees spokesman Rick Cerrone that he felt improvement. New York manager Joe Torre didn't want to rush Sheffield's return, fearing the injury could get worse.

"I'm sure he's not going to wait until he's 100 percent to tell us he can play," Torre said. "The last thing I want to do is hound him every day and say, 'How does it feel?' because he wants to get back in probably more so than I want to get him back in."

Torre said first baseman Tino Martinez, who missed the previous seven games with a strained right ribcage, probably wouldn't swing a bat until Tuesday.

Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina was removed from the rotation last week because of an inflamed elbow. On Tuesday, he could have a bullpen session when N.Y. faces Tampa.