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Tuesday, March 13, 2007
FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/13

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

• Eesh. Could the Red Sox be engaging in some Politburo-style misinformation? Manager Terry Francona told NESN that if the season started tomorrow, Julian Tavarez probably would be his closer. That is ugly. Tavarez's numbers last year were just shy of horrible: five wins, one save, 4.47 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. A closer look reveals Tavarez's most effective stretch of the season came in the final few weeks, when Boston was all but eliminated and in desperate need of starters. Tavarez jumped in and started five games. Remove those surprisingly effective if utterly meaningless outings, and his numbers for '06 were: two wins, one save, 4.93 ERA and 1.66 WHIP. Also, the league hit .293 against him. It would be beyond a disaster if Tavarez closed for this team. Maybe Tito said this simply because if the season started today, Mike Timlin couldn't pitch because of his bad oblique. What a mess.

• Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated note, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Red Sox have inquired about the availability of Armando Benitez who, one would imagine, the Giants gladly would chauffeur directly to the airport. Brian Wilson hasn't been consistent so far this spring, but if Benitez isn't there for any reason, he's next in line for saves.

• The Associated Press reports that new Texas closer Eric Gagne felt no pain while facing hitters for the first time on Monday. Let's not go crazy: It was 11 pitches to some Brewers' minor-leaguers. But it's good news, and the Rangers' plan to use Gagne as their closer seems to be on-schedule.

• You may know the name, but don't draft Javy Lopez. He had nothing left in the tank as an Oriole last year, and was even worse filling in for the injured Jason Varitek in Boston. Now the Rockies have released him, according to the team's web site, primarily because he'd yet to throw out a single base runner in eight stolen-base attempts. This means Chris Iannetta and Yorvit Torrealba are deemed strong enough to handle Colorado's catching duties; Iannetta is a decent sleeper who can be owned in NL-only leagues.

• After Seth McClung pitched poorly against Houston on Sunday (two hits, two walks, one HBP and two runs allowed in one IP), manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Tribune that the Devil Rays' closer job was "still up for grabs." Chad Orvella, who spit the bit multiple times in '06, is still a possible candidate for another try.

Chipper Jones had to leave Atlanta's Monday exhibition game because of a sprained ankle he suffered during his first at-bat, according to the Associated Press. The Braves are calling the injury "day-to-day," but keep an eye on it.

• The AP also reports that Corey Koskie told reporters he's "nowhere near returning to the field" because of his post-concussion symptoms, and that he's unlikely to play before the All-Star Break. Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino are set to platoon at third for Milwaukee, but Ryan Braun probably makes the most interesting fantasy draftee, despite the fact that he'll almost certainly begin the year in Triple-A, butchering minor-league grounders.

• Potential Royals fifth starter Brian Bannister had to leave Sunday's exhibition game against the Rangers when he was struck on the knee by a line drive, according to the team's web site, but Bannister isn't expected to miss his next start. He's locked up with Zack Greinke for the team's last starting spot, and I think he'll win it.

• Last year's first-round pick Andrew Miller won't break camp with the Detroit Tigers, according to the Detroit Free Press, as he was sent down to Single-A Lakeland on Monday. This isn't a shock, but Miller has looked very good, mostly, in his spring work, and could be back for another big-league taste sometime earlier than September this year. He's going to be really good.

• The beanballs continue: Nelson Cruz, set to be Texas' starting right fielder, was struck on the head by a pitch from Brewers' top prospect Yovani Gallardo, and was taken to the hospital for precautionary tests, according to the Rangers' team web site.

• Angels top prospect Brandon Wood will begin the year at Triple-A, where he'll play third base exclusively, according to the LA Times. Wood was drafted to be a shortstop and has great power potential, so a shift to the hot corner does hurt his fantasy value some. Still, overall this is probably good news for Wood, since he's not blocked at third in Anaheim. Chone Figgins has any number of places in the field to play (or teams he could get traded to), whereas Orlando Cabrera appears entrenched at short. The move could mean that Wood figures in the Angels' plans this year.

Boof Bonser has about rendered the "competition" for the Twins' fifth-starter job null and void. He pitched another four shutout innings on Monday, this time against the Marlins. Since getting beaten up in his first outing, Bonser has gone seven without allowing a run. Matt Garza did make his return from an injured neck and threw two innings of scoreless ball in relief, but it's sounding more and more like he's destined for Triple-A. Man, the Twins' Triple-A rotation could best the rotations of about five big-league teams, huh?

Greg Maddux was scratched from his Monday start, according to the team's web site, because of a strained abdominal muscle that he injured toward the end of his last outing. The team told reporters they didn't expect the injury to linger.

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