LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Yankees couldn't get out of Florida unscathed on Friday as Kevin Brown's balky back acted up during his final start of the spring.

Brown allowed four runs in three innings against the Tigers before removing himself from the game before the fourth, saying his back felt "stiff and achy."

The 40-year-old right-hander has a history of back problems, so he told pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre to remove him before he did any additional damage.

"Anybody with back troubles will tell you, you have days that are better than others," said Brown, who allowed six hits and walked two in the outing. "I didn't think it was worth taking the chance of making it worse by staying out there and trying to grind it out even more."

"He wasn't getting the ball down," said Torre. "He wasn't the same guy we saw all spring, but we hope it's nothing that's going to lay him up."

Brown had back surgery in June 2002, and he spent much of last season battling back troubles. He worked with a physical therapist near his home in Macon, Ga., this winter to strengthen his back, and he hadn't experienced any problems all spring.

Friday, Brown's back felt a little stiff before he took the mound, but he tried to work through it. After warming up, he still felt some tightness, but he went ahead with the start.

"It hasn't been as good the last few days as it had been," Brown said. "Sometimes it's hard to quantify, because you're not throwing every day. I'll really work hard here the next few days, try to get it back to where it was."

Brown is slated to start on Friday against the Orioles, as the Yankees chose to use him as the No. 4 starter, skipping Jaret Wright for an extra week due to three off days. Should Brown be unable to pitch, then Wright -- who threw four innings of scoreless relief on Friday -- would get the start.

"If I don't feel I'm doing the team a service, they can have Jaret step in," Brown said. "From that standpoint, the situation isn't so dire."

"Certainly, if he's not healthy, we'll have to look at it and see if we make an adjustment or not," Torre said. "If he's hurting now, and we'll see in the next day or so, then we'll have to make sure we're healthy going into that game on Friday."

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Wright has allowed just two runs in 21 innings this spring, but because of Brown's physical demands, Torre decided that Wright would be better suited to handle a two-week layoff. Now, Wright may wind up starting next Friday if Brown's back proves to be a problem.

"It's definitely not something you want," Wright said of Brown's injury. "Whatever the situation is, I want to pitch the same as Brownie or anybody else. First and foremost, I hope he's OK."

Brown said he may go work with his therapist in Georgia this week, a move that general manager Brian Cashman said he would not oppose.

"Any time you've been through injuries, especially with your back, you can't help but be a little bit concerned," Brown said. "I'll keep doing the work I've been doing the whole time. I don't know of any other way to do it. That's what got me to the point where I was able to come to Spring Training and feel pretty good. I'll keep working, hope it was something isolated."