Yanks’ Williams has appendix removed

Bernie Williams solved the New York Yankees’ center-field problem, at least for the start of the season.

Williams’ appendix was removed Thursday, and manager Joe Torre said the center fielder most likely would miss opening day.

“I’m very sorry for Bernie because he came in such great shape and worked so hard,” Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in Tampa, Fla. “He’s a very integral part of this team. I know Bernie. He’ll fight through it and be back quicker than everybody thinks. He’ll be back full burner.”

Williams, New York’s regular center fielder since 1992, began experiencing discomfort Wednesday night.

“It would be a long shot for him to start the season,” Torre said. “It will probably put him back three weeks. I think in three weeks he can probably get in the flow of things. It wouldn’t be fair to rush him at-bats and all that stuff.”

Kenny Lofton, signed as a free agent and expected to challenge Williams for the starting job, takes over in center field.

“I came into spring training expecting to play center field and DH,” Lofton said. “My preparation is going to be the same.”

Also, New York released third baseman Aaron Boone, who hurt a knee in a pickup basketball game Jan. 16 and will miss most or all of the season. The injury set the stage for the Yankees to acquire Alex Rodriguez from Texas last week. Boone, an NL All-Star last season, becomes a free agent.

New York says he is entitled to just 30 days of termination pay, which comes to $917,553 over the Yankees’ 188-day season. The move cuts the active payroll to $180.9 million.

“I know I’ll be back 100 percent next year for the season,” Boone told the Associated Press from his home in Newport Beach, Calif., where he already has begun physical therapy on the knee. “That is ultimately my goal. Now with that said, I expect that I will be playing late in this season.”

In Vero Beach, Fla., Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Alex Cora remained uncertain he would participate in any exhibition games after breaking his right forearm playing winter ball.

“We’re hoping to get the range of motion back first,” said Cora, who had surgery Jan. 30. “That’s the first step, and then we set other goals.”

Cora, 28, said he would have to play in at least some exhibition games to be ready for the April 5 opener.

“If I’m not able to play here, there’s no way I could start the season with the team,” he said.

In Tucson, Ariz., Roberto Alomar reported to spring training along with the other position players on the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I think I put on seven or eight pounds. I feel in much better shape,” the 12-time All-Star second baseman said. “The last few years I didn’t do what I needed to do to stay in shape. I think at my age now, 36, you have to work more than you used to work before so you can stay in shape. This game is not as easy as people think it is.”

In Scottsdale, Ariz., the Giants said ace Jason Schmidt appeared to be healed following offseason elbow surgery, putting him in line to be San Francisco’s opening-day starter.

“If everything is OK, he’ll be the guy,” manager Felipe Alou said. “I anticipate Schmidt being ready from the start. He seems to be healthy.”

Schmidt, an All-Star right-hander, was 17-5 with an NL-leading 2.34 ERA.