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Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Updated: February 21, 11:27 AM ET
Around the Grapefruit League

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Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers picked Derek Lowe to start on Opening Day for the third straight year.

Lowe will be penciled in to pitch the team's season opener April 2 in Milwaukee, Dodgers manager Grady Little said Tuesday. The right-hander is looking forward to redeeming himself after he gave up seven earned runs in an 11-10 loss to Atlanta in last season's opener.

"It's always exciting to pitch Opening Day," Lowe said. "The way I pitched last year was disappointing, so I get another opportunity."

Although Little was quick to select his Opening Day starter, he said he's still working on filling out the rest of the rotation, looking at who matches up best against particular opponents.

Elsewhere in the Grapefruit League:

Cincinnati Reds: Outfielder Adam Dunn lost a little weight in the offseason -- he's not sure exactly how much -- and reported for spring training with two new outfield gloves and a new resolve to become a better defensive player.

"That's something I've probably taken a little too lightly in the past," he said. "That's going to be my main focus this spring -- not to be a good one, but a great one. And I think I can."

Manager Jerry Narron thinks part of Dunn's problems in the field last year were a result of the uncertainty over where he would play. The Reds initially planned to move Dunn to first base, forcing him to concentrate on that position in the offseason.

"The season as a whole was disappointing all the way around," Dunn said. "It's out of my head now."

Florida Marlins: Matt Lindstrom might be the hardest-throwing Swedish-speaking former Mormon missionary in baseball.

It's a large leap from Stockholm to the big leagues, but Lindstrom has a shot at becoming the Marlins' closer this season.

A fastball clocked last fall at 102 mph makes the rookie right-hander a strong candidate, and his missionary background may help, too. Idaho native Lindstrom spent two years in Sweden, where he went door to door trying to spread the Mormon faith -- in Swedish -- with decidedly mixed results. He was once chastised by a 350-pound bus driver who said Mormons try to steal money.

"There were some humbling times, that's for sure," Lindstrom said. "Swedish people aren't really adept at listening to people who want them to listen to a message about religion. They're blockheaded. I know, because I am one."

Houston Astros: Brandon Backe, who had Tommy John surgery in September, thinks he'll be ready to start games again by late August and he'll do everything he can to prove it to the Astros.

"I refuse to let myself go and never be able to pitch like I know I'm still capable of pitching," Backe said. "If you tell me that there's only a 5 percent chance of coming back, then I'm going to think I'm part of that 5 percent that can do it."

The 28-year-old Backe came to spring training with a precise workout plan and he's fought his competitive nature to stick to it. His biggest fear isn't re-injuring the elbow, but getting labeled a slacker by his teammates.

On Tuesday, he threw pitches 60 feet for three minutes, 90 feet for 10 minutes, then 60 feet for another three minutes. He's scheduled to throw off the mound a week from Monday.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Nathan didn't have a history as a closer when he came to Minnesota in that heist of a trade made more than three years ago with San Francisco.

Even the Twins wondered if he could do the job when his velocity was down in the spring of 2004, his first camp with the club. But after three dominant seasons, including two All-Star Game appearances, Nathan has established himself as one of baseball's best ninth-inning pitchers and might be in line for a lucrative contract extension.

"If it was a perfect world and I had my way, I would rather have something done before the regular season," said Nathan, 32. "Just because I think most of us would rather concentrate on what's important, and that's the ballclub winning games. ... We'll just see where the talks lead us. We know it's something you don't do overnight, and it's something that's got to work for both sides."

General manager Terry Ryan signed Nathan to a $10 million, two-year extension in March 2005 that worked quite well for Minnesota. Nathan will make $5.25 million this season, and the Twins also have a $6 million option on his deal for 2008 that would be clearly below market value for his age and accomplishments.

New York Mets: Carlos Delgado arrived in camp declaring himself ready for Opening Day, whether it's in St. Louis or with his wife, Betzaida Garcia, for the birth of their first child. Delgado says he's "pretty close" to 100 percent after offseason surgeries on his right wrist and left elbow. He spent his first day in camp taking a physical, swinging in the batting cage and taking grounders at first base.

"I want to win," Delgado said. "Personally, there's a lot I can do better, but I'm not here to talk about individual accomplishments. I want to do whatever I can do to make this team better. I think I can be more consistent with my batting average. Last year, I had one of the worst batting averages of my career, but I also had the most fun of my career."

Delgado also revealed his wife's official due date is April 1 -- the day of the Mets' season-opener in St. Louis.

"Right now, I've got my mind in baseball," he said. "The date is April 1 as of right now. They say sometimes it's later, sometimes it's sooner. Whatever day it is, I'm going to go."

New York Yankees: Johnny Damon is upbeat about his physical condition after playing through a sore shoulder and a broken bone in his foot last season.

"The foot is completely healed," Damon said.

"I haven't ran much because obviously after the season I was a little banged up, wanted to rest a lot. This first week of spring I'm definitely going to work on getting in better shape."

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pirates second baseman Jose Castillo brushed off the criticism leveled at him by shortstop Jack Wilson, saying he's focused on regaining his starting job.

The two met Tuesday morning to talk about Wilson's public lashing of Castillo last month. Neither discussed the meeting afterward, but Wilson said beforehand, "I'm sure everything's going to be fine."

It was their first conversation since a Jan. 26 TV interview in which Wilson described Castillo as having been "lazy" last season and added biting assessments of Castillo's conditioning and mental preparation.

"I don't care what guys say," Castillo said Tuesday when asked about Wilson's comments. "I'm coming here ready to play, with my bat, my glove, everything."

St. Louis Cardinals: Jim Edmonds will be taking it easy at the start of spring training following a winter that included shoulder and toe surgery and a continued recovery from post-concussion syndrome.

The St. Louis Cardinals' center fielder won't hit or run during the first couple of weeks of workouts, and will only throw lightly. He said Tuesday he'll use the time to work on his conditioning after an offseason spent shuttling between doctors.

"This is not a good situation to be in, but it's a situation I've been dealt," the 36-year-old said. "I just have to do the best I can, work a little bit harder than normal and try to get ready."

Edmonds played 110 games last season, his fewest since joining the Cardinals in 2000. He failed to win a Gold Glove for the first time since coming to St. Louis.

Toronto Blue Jays: Frank Thomas arrived in Dunedin, Fla., and announced he wants to compete for a title before he retires.

Thomas, 38, signed a two-year, $18.12-million contract in November after playing one season with the Oakland A's. In 2006, he hit .270 with 39 homers and 114 RBIs.

Thomas is happy to be with Toronto, His third team in three seasons after 15 years with the Chicago White Sox.

"It's great. I tell people grass is always greener if you have never tried it. To me, last year was something different for me to be in another clubhouse, a relished opportunity. It was a wonderful year and I got to meet a lot of new people, but I had to leave and I found myself in Toronto."

Washington Nationals: Infielder Ronnie Belliard arrived Tuesday, two days after agreeing to a minor league deal. He was the only player not yet in camp. ... An MRI exam showed Shortstop Cristian Guzman's surgically repaired shoulder is healed, team doctor Ben Shaffer said, but it's not known when he'll be cleared to fully participate in workouts. ... Right-handed pitcher Chad Cordero was in Arizona for his arbitration hearing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.