Thursday, February 22, 2007
Around the Grapefruit League
New York Yankees: Carl Pavano cleared another hurdle, and Phil Hughes impressed. It was a good day all around when the Yankees' projected rotation and top starting prospects threw batting practice for the first time.
Pavano, starting the third season of a $39.95 million, four-year contract, hasn't pitched in the major leagues since June 27, 2005, because of shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and rib injuries. He threw 35 pitches, including one that hit Alberto Gonzalez in the back. The Yankees are looking for Pavano to fill a spot at the back end of the rotation.
"It's just about building up and get into the games," Pavano said. "Getting out there and competing again. I came off feeling good, so it's a positive. I felt like I good command of everything."
Hughes is expected to start the season with Triple-A Scranton, but a callup during the year is possible for the right-hander. Selected by the Yankees in the first round of the 2004 amateur draft, Hughes went 10-3 with a 2.25 ERA in 21 starts with Double-A Trenton last year after compiling a 1.80 ERA in five outings at Class A Tampa.
"The kid is special," pitching coach Ron Guidry said. "He's got great ability. We just have to wait and see what happens in his situation."
Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Japanese left-hander Kei Igawa and prospect Humberto Sanchez also pitched batting practice on the main field. All the pitchers made 30 to 40 pitches and are scheduled to throw BP again Saturday. Relievers are to throw to hitters Friday. Manager Joe Torre said Mariano Rivera will probably take part, although the closer has opted in the past to work off a bullpen mound instead.
Transplant for Torre's brother? Former major-leaguer Frank Torre should find out next week whether one of his relatives is a match for a kidney transplant.
The brother of Yankees manager Joe Torre needs the procedure because of medication he's taken since receiving a new heart more than a decade ago.
"He has to wait until next week," Joe Torre said. "Until they find out if it's a match. They've got all the stuff. There's a number of tests they have to run."
The 75-year-old Frank Torre, who spent seven seasons with the Milwaukee Braves and Philadelphia Phillies from 1956-63, had a heart transplant in October 1996. The following day he watched from his hospital bed as his brother managed the Yankees to victory in the World Series clincher against Atlanta.
Joe Torre said his brother, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, is in good spirits.
If there is no match, Frank Torre would go on a transplant list and have to wait, a process that could take a year.
Elsewhere in the Grapefruit League:
Boston Red Sox: Daisuke Matsuzaka cost the Red Sox $103 million. On Thursday, he threw 103 pitches in his third bullpen session of spring training. Dice-K is very content with that magic number.
"It's nothing out of the ordinary for me," he said through an interpreter. "I didn't speed up the pace of how I pitched, either, and I was trying to stick to what I'm used to in Japan."
In high school, Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning game. In his last three seasons with the Seibu Lions, he pitched 38 complete games. The Red Sox signed him to a $52 million, six-year contract after agreeing to pay Seibu $51,111,111 for his rights.
"He's in there 80, 90 pitches deep [and] he's still going through the stretch, still checking runners, still taking it like a real game situation," General manager Theo Epstein said. "Every single pitch had a purpose."
Matsuzaka is scheduled to throw batting practice for the first time Saturday.
Minnesota Twins: As a teen at his first spring training, Torii Hunter was given a space in the Minnesota clubhouse next to a guy named Kirby Puckett. Thirteen years later, Hunter has become the mentor and unquestioned team leader. Denard Span is busy preparing himself to be the Twins' next center fielder, trying hard to improve his game and learn as much as he can from a player who could be in his final season with Minnesota.
"You never know what can happen. I'm at peace now," said Hunter, a six-time Gold Glove winner.
The club picked up his $12 million option for 2007, but Hunter will become a free agent in the fall unless his contract is extended first.
The Twins would like to work out extensions for two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, All-Star closer Joe Nathan and possibly AL MVP Justin Morneau. So Hunter -- despite his all-around ability, experience and popularity -- knows exactly where he stands. There's a good chance his deal will expire after the season without a new offer from the team.
"We were talking about some of this stuff last year," general manager Terry Ryan said. "Are we or aren't we going to pick up his option? Well, you saw what happened."
True, but that doesn't mean Hunter will return again. Instead of letting emotions about his future affect his mood, though, the 31-year-old center fielder isn't worrying about all that.
"There's no reason to talk about it. I'm still here," he said, shrugging.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Rafael Furcal will hit leadoff and Juan Pierre will follow him, manager Grady Little said.
Furcal batted .300 leading off last season and stole 37 bases in 50 attempts. Pierre, acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the offseason, has
spent most of his seven-year career hitting at the top of the order
with the Rockies, Marlins and Cubs.
"Pierre's going to bring us another leadoff hitter hitting in the first inning. We want him to handle the game as if he were the leadoff hitter also," Little said.
He also praised the players' durability -- Furcal played in 159 games last year and Pierre was in 162.
Little said he has a good idea of who will fill the 3-4-5 spots in the batting order but that he wasn't ready to announce those yet.
Florida Marlins: Alex Sanchez is trying to return to the major leagues with the Marlins after being the first player penalized two years ago under baseball's toughened steroids policy.
"I'm here to prove to everybody that I can still play. I've got some good things to give to this team," Sanchez said.
He hit .297 last year for Cincinnati's Chattanooga affiliate. A veteran of 1,527 major-league at-bats with a .296 career average, the center fielder was released by mid-June.
In April 2005, Sanchez became the first major-leaguer suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, for 10 days, after testing positive while playing for Tampa Bay.
"That's a thing of the past," he said. "I'm going from here forward. I want to help this young team win a lot of games."
The Marlins signed him to a minor-league contract, intrigued with his speed. In 2003 his 44 stolen bases for the Tigers ranked second in the American League. He stole eight more that year for Milwaukee before he was traded to Detroit.
Florida's center-field job is wide open, with Sanchez competing against Reggie Abercrombie, Joe Borchard, Eric Reed and Cody Ross,
St. Louis Cardinals: Braden Looper hasn't started a game in nearly 10 years. The right-hander has never thrown more than 86 innings during a season while appearing in 587 career games, including postseason. Yet, when the Cardinals arrived for spring training, Looper was slated to be in the starting rotation.
"I don't think it's an experiment," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "I wouldn't even consider trying him as a starter if I didn't think physically and mentally he couldn't do it."
Looper's career change is atypical for many reasons. At 32, he has never pitched more than three innings in a single outing in his major-league career.
"I've always kind of wanted to do it," Looper said. "I've never told anybody that. There was talk about it when I was with the Marlins one year but we needed a closer. People are sitting back saying, 'This is a gimmick.' For me that's fuel for the fire. I want to prove everybody wrong if they don't think I can do it."
Washington Nationals: Shortstop Cristian Guzman will resume throwing Friday after being shut down the past three days because of mild tendinitis in his right shoulder.
"I feel a lot better," Guzman said Thursday. "It's a little bit tight right now. I'm doing exercises today, and tomorrow we're going to throw from 60 feet, about 25 or 30 throws, and we'll see what happens. I'm going to do everything normal tomorrow."
Guzman missed all of last season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. An MRI this week on his surgically repaired shoulder was negative.
In other Nats news, starting pitcher Jesus Colome missed Thursday's workout after an abscess developed on his right hip. The right-hander will be held out of Friday's practice and return Saturday, general manager Jim Bowden said.
Philadelphia Phillies: Some of the Phillies are walking around with the same swagger Terrell Owens brought to the Eagles three years ago. Jimmy Rollins has said for a while the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East this season. The defending division champion Mets don't agree.
Trash-talking in baseball? Bulletin-board material is far more common in sports that don't last 162 games and stretch over six months. It's not unusual to walk into a football locker room and see a quote from an opposing player posted. But the Mets and Phillies are doing their best to spice up a mundane spring training.
"It's OK if we back up what we talk about," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I don't see anything wrong with a little cockiness in yourself. But we have to deliver."
It should make for an interesting start to the season because the teams play each other five times in the first 14 games, including the Mets' home opener April 9.
"Our whole goal is to come out of spring training ready to play and no matter who we play, we'll take that mentality," Phillies second baseman Chase Utley said.