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Friday, March 9, 2007
FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/9

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

• With Mark Kotsay out at least two months because of back surgery, Milton Bradley will move over from right, and play centerfield. That means both Shannon Stewart and Dan Johnson have starting jobs for now. With both Kotsay and Bobby Kielty gone, Oakland's outfield depth is no more.

Alex Gordon had his first really big day of spring on Thursday, smacking four RBI and mashing a triple and a double. His slow first couple of games are a memory, and Mark Teahen is an outfielder.

• Good news: Kerry Wood struck out three hitters in his single inning of work on Thursday. Bad news: he also hit a batter, threw a wild pitch, and allowed a grand slam to Termel Sledge. Whoops. Wood reportedly feels fine, but watch him his next couple outings.

• Bad news for Cardinals' reliever Josh Kinney: he needs Tommy John surgery. Kinney was a pleasant surprise on a national stage during last year's improbable run in the playoffs, and might well have been St. Louis's main setup guy if he'd stayed healthy. Now that role will probably fall to Brad Thompson, who's looked good in a starting role this spring, but who'll be needed more urgently in the pen.

• Kind of a nice little match-up between the Twins and Red Sox on Thursday: Johan Santana against Curt Schilling. Santana won the battle, pitching three scoreless innings, giving up one hit and two walks, and striking out three. Schilling, who apparently needs a new contract because he ate his old one, threw four innings and allowed two hits and one run.

• The man San Francisco would like to grab hold of the closer's role, Brian Wilson, pitched poorly against mostly substitutes on Thursday, walking three batters in just one inning, and allowing two earned runs. Armando Benitez keeps making noises about how fit he feels, but forgive me for not buying that line again. Keep in mind: Tim Lincecum waits in the wings for the Giants, and could be in the bigs as a closer toward the end of the year, if San Fran needs him. For now, though, he's still being groomed as a starter. A tiny, miniature starter.

Mike Pelfrey of the Mets pitched three innings Thursday and allowed no earned runs. He hasn't walked a batter this spring, but Newsday speculates Pelfrey probably can't get enough done this spring to help him pass Chan Ho Park. Which begs the question: oh my goodness, why not?

• Arizona lefty Doug Davis was struck on his pitching elbow by a Reggie Willits grounder and had to leave his exhibition start. However, he told reporters his exit was precautionary, and he's day-to-day.

• The Atlanta Braves' web site confirms that Mike Hampton has a strained oblique, and will be out between four and eight weeks. Hampton fell to the ground in pain during batting practice on Thursday. A decent amount of noise had been made over the past week about Hampton's great progress from major arm surgery, how he was ahead of schedule, etc. Forget all that. Hampton is undraftable. Move along. Nothing to see here. The injury probably sets both Kyle Davies and Lance Cormier up with rotation spots for a couple months; the two had been set to battle for Atlanta's fifth-starter role.

• The Kansas City Star reports that Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister, who both still have minor-league options available, are fighting for the Royals' fifth rotation spot. Jorge de la Rosa and Joe Nelson are out of options, Odalis Perez can refuse a minor-league assignment, and Gil Meche makes more money than Barbra Streisand. At this point, Bannister's better stuff and stronger makeup seem to make him the choice, but there's a long way to go in spring.

• After battling an arthritic neck since reporting to spring training, Orlando Hernandez finally started an exhibition game on Thursday, and kind of stunk. Baltimore got five straight two-out hits against El Duque, racking up five runs in the second inning, according to Newsday. But at least grandpa pitched.

• Remember that noise I gave you a few days back about how Angels' castoff Kevin Gregg looked like the frontrunner for Florida's closer's role? Um, sorry about that. Now the team's web site reports the lead guy is Matt Lindstrom, and Henry Owens could find himself in the mix as well. Both guys are throwing better than Gregg, and Taylor Tankersley is still resting his sore shoulder, hoping to throw off flat ground soon.

• Texas manager Ron Washington told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that both Nelson Cruz and Brad Wilkerson are likely to be full-time players at the corner outfield spots when the season begins, which is pretty bad news for free-agent acquisition Frank Catalanotto, who already got his share of bad news when some guy named Sammy Sosa started taking swings in anger. Will Frank the Cat be completely out in the cold? Will he take some DH at-bats away from Sosa? Stay tuned, but for the moment, he's going to be very hard to draft.

• Oh, Brad Eldred, we hardly knew ye. The 27-year-old star of spring is headed to Triple-A Indianapolis, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, further proof that the universe is a hard, cold place.

• And finally, Dave Veres of the Rockies pitched an inning of shutout ball against the A's on Thursday. This is notable because Veres is trying to make it all the way back to the bigs after hip replacement surgery. Which means yes, grandma, you should still put in a few hours a day on your split-fingered grip. You've still got a shot.

Christopher Harris covers fantasy baseball, football and NASCAR for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.