Category archive: Texas Rangers

BRADEN ON ANTIBIOTICS AS PRECAUTION (10:13 p.m. ET)

Oakland Athletics left-hander Dallas Braden possibly has a staph infection on his left shin but isn't expected to miss any time.

Braden woke up Friday morning with a lump on his leg and after being checked out by team trainers, was sent to see a doctor, just hours before he was scheduled to pitch against the Cubs. Although no firm diagnosis was made, Braden was given antibiotics as a precaution.

Braden, slated second in Oakland's starting rotation behind ace Ben Sheets, missed the final two months of last season because of nerve damage in his left foot. The condition left him with a tingling sensation in his entire foot -- and no feeling at all in about half of it. Earlier this week, a neurologist told him the numbness never would subside.
-- The Associated Press

STAUFFER WILLING TO HELP PADRES AS NEEDED (10:04 p.m. ET)

After pitching four shutout innings to help a Padres split-squad beat the Reds 3-2, Tim Stauffer thinks he can help San Diego, even if it's out of the bullpen.

Stauffer, a 2003 first-round pick who is out of options, is pushing hard for the final spot in the Padres' rotation but is open to a reliever role. The right-hander allowed two hits and struck out four in his first appearance since last Saturday.

"During the season relievers have to go that long or longer so I guess if that's something that's a possibility I need to get used to it," Stauffer said after a seven-day layoff. "That wouldn't be a hard transition to make."

Stauffer went 4-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 14 starts last season after missing all of 2008 with a shoulder injury. He lowered his spring ERA to 2.57.
-- The Associated Press

JOBA THE RELIEVER JOTS DOWN SAVE (7:57 p.m. ET)

Joba Chamberlain's first relief outing since he was sent back to the bullpen was a bit of an adventure -- he allowed two hits and struck out one during a scoreless ninth inning, earning the save in the New York Yankees' 2-1 victory over Detroit. It was his first game since manager Joe Girardi announced on Thursday that Phil Hughes had won the competition for the team's fifth starter spot, beating out Chamberlain and three other candidates.

"A lot of guys came in and worked hard, and we didn't make anybody's decision easy," Chamberlain said. "That was our goal as guys coming in. I'm excited about being able to get the opportunity to help this team. We'll go from there."

Chamberlain is in the mix for the eighth-inning setup role before closer Mariano Rivera. The right-hander made 31 starts and one relief appearance during the regular season last year, but pitched out of the bullpen during the playoffs.
-- The Associated Press

HOMER A SPRING FIRST FOR FIELDER (7:52 p.m. ET)

Prince Fielder hit his first home run of the spring and Randy Wolf outdueled C.J. Wilson, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to a 3-1 victory over Texas. Wolf allowed only Julio Borbon's two-out single in the third over six shutout innings. He walked one, struck out seven and faced only three batters over the minimum.

Wilson was nearly as untouchable, scattering two hits over his first five innings before tiring and giving up Fielder's two-run, two-out home run just over the left-field fence in the sixth.
-- The Associated Press

PUJOLS SCHEDULED FOR DAY OFF (7:38 p.m. ET)

Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, who rested Friday, struck out twice in a 3-2 win over Florida. Manager Tony La Russa plans to use the NL MVP on Sunday and Monday before giving him a day off Tuesday.

Brad Penny, projected to be the Cardinals' No. 3 starter, allowed one run and five hits while lowering his spring ERA to 6.10.

Penny had a scary moment in the sixth, when Hanley Ramirez's hard groundout struck him on the inside of his left thigh. He was examined on the mound by trainers and left after retiring the next two batters.

"Hit me in the muscle, good spot again," Penny said. "If it had been a knee, it might have been a problem."
-- The Associated Press

MARLINS' JOHNSON TO THROW; HENSLEY STILL SHINING (7:30 p.m. ET)

Florida Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson, who was scratched from his scheduled start on Friday because of the flu, threw on flat ground Saturday morning.

Florida's ace is scheduled to throw off the mound Sunday. If that goes well, he should make his next start on Wednesday, which would allow him to start the season opener April 5 in New York against the Mets.

Johnson, 26, won 15 games in 33 starts last year and struck out 191 in 209 innings.

Meanwhile, Clay Hensley pitched six innings in a 3-2 loss to St. Louis, yielding three runs, one earned, and three hits. He dropped his spring ERA to 0.55 in 16/3 innings, making a strong case for a rotation spot.

"I thought he did outstanding," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's getting closer to being on the team."
-- The Associated Press

TWINS TO SEND JONES TO MINORS (5:51 p.m. ET)

Jacque Jones has been told that he will not make the Minnesota Twins' Opening Day roster.

Jones hit .344 this spring with two home runs and three doubles. But manager Ron Gardenhire told him Saturday that there wasn't enough room for the veteran outfielder on a loaded Twins roster.

Jones will finish out spring training with the team and travel to Minnesota to play in an exhibition game against the Cardinals. After that, he will report to Triple-A Rochester.

After playing in the independent Atlantic League in 2009, Jones signed a minor league deal with the Twins in February. He spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Twins before leaving in 2006 for the Cubs. He also played for Detroit and Florida in
-- The Associated Press

RANGERS ACQUIRE BLANCO FROM CUBS (5:35 p.m. ET)

The Texas Rangers have acquired second baseman Andres Blanco from the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named or cash.

Blanco was unlikely to make Chicago's 25-man roster and he was out of options. In 2009, his 10th professional season and first with the Cubs, Blanco batted .252 with one homer and 12 RBIs in 123 at-bats. He sprained his knee early in spring training and was limited to nine at-bats.

Rangers manager Ron Washington says he still needs a utility infielder to spell Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus.

In 131 career major league games, including 78 during three short stints with the Royals, Blanco batted .252 with one homer and 31 RBIs.
-- The Associated Press

CHAPMAN AMONG 3 VYING FOR REDS' LAST SPOT (5:09 p.m. ET)

The only opening in the Cincinnati Reds' rotation has produced the biggest surprise of camp.

There was a glut of veterans trying to win the fifth starting spot when camp opened. With a week left, it's down to three youngsters who have never thrown a pitch in the majors.

Right-hander Mike Leake and left-handers Travis Wood and Aroldis Chapman are the last three standing. The 23-year-old Wood has the most experience -- five years in the minors. Leake was the Reds' top pick last June. Chapman is a 22-year-old Cuban defector whose sore back has hurt his chances.

The final decision likely will come down to one more head-to-head audition next week and front-office rumination about which one fits best at the moment.

Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey have the other spots.
-- The Associated Press

WELLEMEYER UPS BID FOR GIANTS' SPOT (1:06 a.m. ET)

Todd Wellemeyer made another strong start in his bid for the fifth spot in San Francisco's rotation and Aaron Rowand had two hits and drove in a run and the Giants turned away Bay Area rival Oakland 6-3 on Thursday night.

Wellemeyer, a 31-year-old right-hander who is in camp as a non-roster invitee, pitched five innings for the second straight game. He gave up two runs (one earned) and three hits while walking two and striking out four and improved to 3-0.

Rowand, the Giants' leadoff hitter, singled and scored in a two-run third inning and hit an opposite-field double to right to bring home a run in a two-run fourth after Oakland had cut the lead to 2-1. Rowand has a hit in 11 of his 13 games this spring.

John Bowker, making a bid for a reserve outfield spot, had a pair of doubles after homering twice and driving in seven runs in a 7-0 win over Kansas City on Wednesday.

Giants closer Brian Wilson recorded his second save.

-- Associated Press

ROTATION SPOTS STILL UP FOR GRABS (10:14 p.m. ET)

Trying to earn rotation spots, Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman worked out of trouble over 4 1/3 innings, while Washington's J.D. Martin began poorly but finished well, and Johnny Damon's two hits helped a Tigers split squad beat the Nationals 8-2 Thursday night.

Still working his way back from shoulder surgery in 2008, Bonderman allowed five hits and two runs -- one earned. He also threw a wild pitch and walked a batter while recording only one 1-2-3 inning. He's competing with Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson for two openings.

Martin gave up five runs in the first, then retired the last 11 Tigers he faced over five innings.

Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan singled twice and stole two bases in his first game after being sidelined 10 days with a tight right hamstring.

-- Associated Press

PADRES' LEBLANC IMPROVES TO 3-0 (6:33 p.m. ET)

Wade LeBlanc limited the Chicago White Sox to two runs over six innings and the San Diego Padres won for the 10th time in 12 games with a 5-3 victory on Thursday.

LeBlanc, battling for a spot in the Padres' starting rotation, improved to 3-0 and lowered his spring ERA to 1.80 after allowing one earned run with five strikeouts.

Third baseman Chase Headley had two hits and two RBIs for the Padres.

White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle allowed two unearned runs over five innings.

-- Associated Press

KENDRICK KEEPS FIGHTING FOR SPOT (6:12 p.m. ET)

Kyle Kendrick kept his name in the minds of the coaching staff and management as he continues to compete for the fifth starter's job. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed two runs -- one earned -- in 5 2/3 innings in the Phillies' 8-7 win over the Houston Astros.

"Obviously, you want to hear something, but it'll come down to the wire," Kendrick said. "They don't have to make a decision now. Like I've said before and like I've said all spring, it's out of my hands."

Kendrick is competing with 47-year-old Jamie Moyer for the final spot in the rotation. Moyer is scheduled to start Friday night when the Phillies travel to Tampa to take on the New York Yankees.

-- Associated Press

BERGESEN GETTING FORM BACK (6:06 p.m. ET)

Brad Bergesen got the confidence boost he needed -- at the expense of the defending world champion New York Yankees.

Bergesen took a shutout into the sixth inning, and the Baltimore Orioles got a home run from Adam Jones in an 8-0 victory Thursday.

Bergesen allowed three hits, walked two and struck out two in 5 2/3 innings. Both his strikeouts came against Alex Rodriguez.

"Today was the best I felt," Bergesen said. "Going up against the Yankees and being able to go 5 2/3 helped out, built some confidence."

Bergesen missed the final two months of his rookie season last year after being struck in the shin by a line drive. During the offseason he injured his shoulder during a commercial shoot and was forced to sit out the first 10 days of spring training camp.

-- Associated Press

ANGELS SCRATCH LHP KAZMIR (5:37 p.m. ET)

Los Angeles Angels lefty Scott Kazmir was scratched from his scheduled start Thursday against the Texas Rangers because of tightness in the deltoid muscle near his pitching shoulder.

Manager Mike Scioscia told reporters in Tempe, Ariz., that the injury, caused by fatigue in the deltoid muscle near his shoulder, should not affect Kazmir's ability to start the season on time. He is slated to open April 8 against the Oakland Athletics.

-- ESPN.com news services

WILLIS DISPLAYS COMMAND OF PITCHES (4:33 p.m. ET)

Dontrelle Willis overcame a shaky start and allowed just one run in four innings Thursday to lead the Detroit Tigers past the Toronto Blue Jays, 5-1.

Willis, who is competing for one of the final two spots in the Tigers' rotation with Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman, walked three, but allowed only one hit. His spring training ERA rose to 1.20.

Willis walked the first two Blue Jays of the game and worked out of a jam with runners on second and third to retire the side.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland wouldn't speculate on his opening day rotation, but said that he was pleased with Willis' command of his pitches, not his control.

-- The Associated Press

MATSUZAKA GOES TWO INNINGS FOR RED SOX (3:54 p.m. ET)

Daisuke Matsuzaka made his first appearance of spring training, coming on in relief of starter Tim Wakefield, and the Boston Red Sox beat the Florida Marlins 6-4 on Thursday.

Matsuzaka, whose spring has been delayed by back and neck ailments, pitched two innings, giving up a run on two hits after Wakefield allowed three runs on six hits with two walks in six innings.

In his fifth start of the spring, Chris Volstad went 4 1/3 innings for Florida, giving up four runs -- one earned -- on eight hits with three strikeouts and no walks.

Dan Uggla hit a two-run homer for the Marlins, his second home run of spring training.

-- The Associated Press

KINSLER HOPES TO PLAY MONDAY (10:36 a.m. ET)

Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who is recovering from a right high ankle sprain, hit off a tee on Monday. He has yet to put any pressure on his ankle while running, but is still targeting a Monday return to game action.

"I'm trying to keep a bat in my hands as much as possible," Kinsler said. "It's just a matter of getting the timing down. The key is seeing as many off-speed pitches as I can. So that's what I'm hoping to do."

-- Richard Durrett, ESPNDallas.com

YANKEES RELEASE RIGHT-HANDER GAUDIN (10:32 a.m. ET)

The New York Yankees have released pitcher Chad Gaudin, who was one of five candidates for the fifth starter spot.

New York general manager Brian Cashman made the announcement on Thursday.

Gaudin went 2-0 with a 3.43 ERA in 11 games, including six starts, with the Yankees last season.

Also, Alex Rodriguez declined comment for the second straight day on his pending meeting with federal investigators regarding his possible connection to a Canadian physician.

The Yankees third baseman is scheduled to meet with officials Friday in Buffalo, N.Y.

-- The Associated Press

RANGERS CATCHER STRAINS BACK MUSCLE (9:00 p.m. ET)

Texas catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was scratched from the lineup because of a strained muscle in his upper left back.

He was injured warming up the pitcher. X-rays were negative.

Last season, Saltalamacchia had surgery on the right side for thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition where a rib bone pushes on a nerve and causes numbness in the arm and hand.

-- Associated Press

KEARNS MAKES CASE FOR STARTING SPOT (8:09 p.m. ET)

Austin Kearns hit his first two home runs of the spring and drove in five runs as the Cleveland Indians rolled to a 12-5 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday.

Kearns, who has a chance at the Indians' starting left field job, went deep against Dodgers starter Eric Stults and again against reliever Aaron Miller. In 25 at-bats before Sunday, he had just two extra-base hits and had not driven in a run.

"He's a right-handed bat with a track record and some power," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He can play the three outfields. His best position is right field but he can play center and occasionally left and he's taking ground balls at first base."

Indians starter Jake Westbrook pitched well, giving up one run on six hits in 4 2/3 innings. He did not walk a batter and had three strikeouts. Westbrook has not pitched in a big-league game since May 2008 because of elbow problems.

-- Associated Press

THOME CONTINUES TO IMPRESS (8:02 p.m. ET)

Jim Thome has impressed the Minnesota Twins so far this spring.

Thome went 2 for 4 with a double and three RBIs, leading the Twins past the Tampa Bay Rays 12-3 on Sunday.

The Twins sent out their Opening Day lineup, with Thome spelling Jason Kubel as the designated hitter with Kubel playing in an intrasquad game, and tagged Rays starter Wade Davis for five runs in the first inning.

Davis, trying to earn a spot in Tampa Bay's starting rotation, gave up seven runs -- five earned -- in two innings. He walked one and struck out one.

"I had one goal, and that was to try to pitch all my innings," Davis said. "That didn't happen. I think I can do a lot better against them. I know I can do a lot better."

Scott Baker, already named the Twins' Opening Day starter, struck out three, walked one and gave up one hit in five innings.

Joe Mauer went 2 for 4 with a run scored, boosting his spring training batting average to .471 before the team announced his agreement on an $184 million, eight-year contract extension.

-- Associated Press

GREINKE THROWS MORE BALLS THAN STRIKES (6:49 p.m. ET)

AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke gave up two runs in five innings of a minor league game Sunday.

Pitching for Triple-A Omaha, Kansas City's Greinke allowed six hits, including a home run, walked three and struck out two. He threw more balls, 39, than strikes, 38.

"I was trying to throw a strike every pitch, so that was really bad," Greinke said. "Even the strikes weren't where I wanted them. The last pitch of the game was probably the only one where I actually hit my spot the whole time. I don't why I was so bad. I haven't been that bad in a long time."

The Royals opted to have Greinke to get his work in against Triple-A Portland, a San Diego affiliate, on a back field rather than face the Colorado Rockies at Surprise Stadium, but he said pitching on a back field with few watching did not affect him.

"I just pitched bad," he said. "I didn't really feel like I wasn't up for it. It was just bad pitching. I couldn't throw the ball where I wanted, so I couldn't work on anything."

-- Associated Press

YANKS SCRAMBLE TO GET PITCHERS ON MOUND (4:16 p.m. ET)

Yankees manager Joe Girardi faced a pitching problem: too many pitchers and not enough innings.

Girardi and other team officials spent two hours after Sunday's game against the Detroit Tigers was canceled by rain organizing plans for eight different pitchers.

The Yankees set up an intrasquad game Monday, which will have fifth starter candidate Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte face each other. Closer Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, Chan Ho Park and David Robertson will also pitch.

A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes, who is also competing for the final rotation spot, will pitch in a road game against Philadelphia.

-- Associated Press

BRAVES' JURRJENS STILL ON TRACK (4:02 p.m. ET)

Jair Jurrjens hasn't had much luck with the weather this spring, but the Atlanta Braves right-hander is still on track to make his first regular-season start April 8 against the Chicago Cubs.

Jurrjens fell victim to the rain again Sunday, which washed out Atlanta's scheduled game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He'll get his work in during a minor league game Monday as he continues in catch-up mode after reporting to spring training with a sore shoulder.

A 14-game winner in 2009, Jurrjens was held out of the canceled game because of the weather, as was scheduled Cardinals starter Brad Penny. The teams ended up making it into the second inning despite the rain before play was stopped.

"I wanted to pitch today, but it's not a problem," Jurrjens said. "My shoulder feels good now, so I'm OK. I'll get my work in."

-- Associated Press

METS' FIGUEROA NOT PREPARING FOR BUFFALO (3:40 p.m. ET)

Nelson Figueroa appreciates the chance the New York Mets have given him to pitch in the majors, but he admits he is leaving every possibility open to pitch somewhere else -- just maybe not Buffalo.

"I feel like I've continued to have success," the right-hander said after earning the win by throwing three innings and striking out five in the Mets' 8-1 victory over the University of Michigan on Sunday at Tradition Field.

"Until I hear otherwise, I'm going to prepare as if I'm breaking camp [with the Mets]."

If not, he said, he will explore other options, including any that don't include another stint with the Mets' Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.

He said that while he tries to keep the thought in the back of his mind, he can't help but think of camp coming to an end and what his reaction would be if he were designated for assignment to Buffalo.

"There's no way it's not on my mind," he said. "It's a situation that isn't ideal. I think I have a good rapport with the club and I like the staff [at Buffalo].

"Still, I don't looking forward to pitching in 30 degree weather for the first month and a half."

-- Associated Press

MCCUTCHEN CLOSING GAP ON RACE TO START (3:07 p.m. ET)

Pittsburgh right-hander Daniel McCutchen's start was pushed back a day after the Pirates' game against the Tampa Bay Rays was rained out on Sunday.

He'll pitch Monday in Clearwater against the Phillies' Triple-A club -- an assignment that indicates he's closed the gap on Kevin Hart in the race to be Pittsburgh's fifth starter.

Closer Octavio Dotel, out all spring due to a strained oblique, will make his first appearance Monday against another Phillies' minor-league team.

Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine also was pushed back. He will pitch Monday, either against the Boston Red Sox or in a minor league game.

-- Associated Press

HOLLIDAY SAYS HE'LL BE BACK MONDAY (1:10 p.m. ET)
Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday says he expects to return to the team's starting lineup on Monday for a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

Holliday, who is recovering from a muscle strain on his right side, has only five official at-bats this spring, with two doubles and four walks. But he said the remaining two weeks of spring training are enough time for him to get ready for Opening Day, according to the report.

"I'll be able to get another 20 or 30 [at-bats] and I should be fine," he said, according to the report.

-- ESPN.com news services

MARLINS' JIMENEZ RETURNED TO RED SOX (11:55 a.m. ET)
Third baseman Jorge Jimenez, a Rule 5 draft pick, has been offered back to the Red Sox, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports.

Players chosen in the Rule 5 draft must be returned to their club of origin if they are not on the major league roster.

"You have to carry him on the big club. We felt that wasn't going to be the case," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said Sunday before a spring training game against the Nationals, according to the report.

Jimenez was hoping to either beat out Jorge Cantu at third or win a roster spot as a left-handed pinch hitter.

-- ESPN.com news services

REPORT: A'S RELIEVER MELOAN HAS TORN LIGAMENT (11:45 a.m. ET)
Athletics right-handed reliever John Meloan says he has a torn elbow ligament and expects he will have season-ending surgery, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Meloan, who had an MRI exam on Friday, says he plans to go to Dr. James Andrews. He hopes to be ready for next spring, according to the report.

Reliever Joey Devine and closer Andrew Bailey, the reigning AL rookie of the year, have also experienced elbow problems during spring training.

-- ESPN.com news services

HARDEN LOOKS GOOD IN RANGERS DEBUT (7:24 p.m. ET)
This is a pitcher-catcher partnership that Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Rich Harden could like.

Harden, in his Texas debut, pitched two innings of one-hit ball and Saltalamacchia and Matt Brown each hit a three-run homer, leading the Rangers to a 13-3 win over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.

Harden, who spent the past 11/2 years with the Chicago Cubs, had one walk and one strikeout and gave up one unearned run.

"Rich looked great," Rangers catcher Saltalamacchia said. "He was throwing all his pitches with command, which is big, and he was just working on things. He looked comfortable. I could call anything at any time."

-- The Associated Press

MARINERS' AARDSMA TWEAKS GROIN (7:07 p.m. ET)
Seattle Mariners closer David Aardsma tweaked his groin during his one-inning outing Thursday against San Diego, but the Mariners do not believe he will miss much time.

"We don't think it's very serious and he might miss one outing hopefully and that's it," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "It was the very last pitch and he felt something in his groin. Hopefully, we caught it before it gets to be anything serious."

Aardsma worked the third inning, issuing a walk to leadoff batter Yorvit Torrealba. He then got Everth Cabrera to hit into a double play. He induced Tony Gwynn Jr. to end the inning with a left-side groundout.

Aardsma started last season as the team's set-up man, but when Brandon Morrow lost his effectiveness, Aardsma assumed the closer's role on May 15. He had 38 saves in 42 opportunities after going 128 big-league appearances without a save.

-- The Associated Press

MYERS STRUGGLES WITH CONTROL IN ASTROS DEBUT (6:11 p.m. ET)
Brett Myers showed off his new threads during the Astros' windy spring training opener.

Unfortunately, the veteran pitcher's control wasn't quite as sharp as his new uniform.

Myers, the longtime Phillies hurler, allowed three runs -- two earned -- in two innings, but the Astros rallied with nine runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and cruised to a 15-5 win over a Washington Nationals split-squad on Thursday.

Myers is projected to be the Astros' No. 3 starter behind Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez.

"The good thing was that my ball was moving a lot," Myers said. "The bad thing is I couldn't control where it was moving."

-- The Associated Press

BAY 0-2 WITH WALK, K IN METS DEBUT (4:50 p.m. ET)
Jason Bay's debut was low-key, but David Wright homered in his first at-bat and the New York Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals 17-11 on Thursday.

Bay, a former Red Sox left fielder, went 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout in his first game of the spring and first live action with the Mets since signing a four-year, $66 million contract in December.

The Mets brought in Bay to add power to the lineup after he recorded 36 homers last year.

-- The Associated Press

NEW A'S HURLER JENNINGS TO SEE ACTION SOON (2:59 p.m. ET)
Oakland right-hander Jason Jennings, who signed with the Athletics on Sunday, is scheduled to pitch in a game within a week.

Jennings threw live batting practice for the first time on Wednesday and will throw one more time in game-like situations before the A's slot him into their pitching plans.

Jennings said his arm felt great the morning after his latest throwing session. The A's plan to stretch him out as a starter or long relief. He moved to the bullpen with the Texas Rangers last year.

-- The Associated Press

YANKEES DH JOHNSON SCRATCHED WITH STIFF BACK (2:41 p.m. ET)
New York Yankees designated hitter Nick Johnson was scratched from the starting lineup for Thursday's game against Philadelphia because of a stiff lower back.

Jamie Hoffmann replaced Johnson in the game that featured new Phillies ace Roy Halladay and Yankees star CC Sabathia.

Johnson was signed during the offseason to take the spot of 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, who is now with the Los Angeles Angels. Johnson hit an RBI double in the Yankees' exhibition opener Wednesday.

Johnson was hurt during batting practice, saying the problem stemmed from wearing spikes for the first time instead of turf shoes on the mats used in the cage.

"Caught a spike," Johnson said. "I felt a little something. I could have played. We'll see how I feel tomorrow."

-- The Associated Press

RANGERS SIGN CRUZ, ANDRUS, 12 OTHERS (2:37 p.m. ET)
Outfielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Elvis Andrus are among 14 Texas Rangers who signed one-year contracts Thursday before the team's first spring training game.

With the moves, the Rangers have every player on their 40-man roster signed for the 2010 season.

Cruz, who hit .260 with 33 home runs and 76 RBIs in 128 games last season, got the biggest contract Thursday at $440,000. Andrus got $418,420 after being one of the AL's top rookies (.267, 33 stolen bases).

Jarrod Saltalamacchia ($418,580) and Taylor Teagarden ($407,010), catchers competing for the starting job, also signed.

The others who signed, all for at least the $400,000 major league minimum, were infielder Joaquin Arias; first baseman Chris Davis; left-hander Matt Harrison; right-handers Eric Hurley, Warner Madrigal, Guillermo Moscoso, Darren O'Day, Alexi Ogando and Pedro Strop; and catcher Max Ramirez.

-- The Associated Press

COMMERCIAL ORDEAL (10:30 a.m. ET)
Big leaguers Ken Griffey Jr., Torii Hunter, Ryan Braun, Orlando Hudson and Carl Crawford appear in a new TV commercial for Dick's Sporting Goods. The ad shows Griffey and Hunter racing through the store, and concludes with the other players arguing vehemently over whether Hunter was out on a tag play with Griffey at home plate.

The five players filmed the spot at a Dick's store in Dallas in the first week in February. "It was an all-day event,'' Braun said. "It's amazing how much goes into a 30-second commercial.''

Hunter said he spent almost 11 hours at the store -- several more than any of the other participants.

"They all left after six or seven hours, and I was still there doing all the running in the store,'' Hunter said. "I was sweating so much, it took them 30 minutes to get the sweat off me. Man, it was a workout.''

Wherever Hunter goes this spring, somebody asks him, "Torii -- safe or out?''

"It was Griffey's commercial, so it's going to seem like I was out,'' Hunter said. "But I was safe. I got in there.''

-- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com senior baseball writer

THERE GOES MY HERO (8:47 a.m. ET)
Tim Lincecum has back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards and a two-year, $23 million contract in his back pocket to show for it. But that hasn't made him jaded about meeting a childhood hero.

Lincecum, a Seattle native, was talking to reporters after throwing an inning against the Mariners when Ken Griffey Jr. -- a player he rooted for as a boy -- dropped by to say hello.

"Lincecum, what's up? I just wanted to say hi," Griffey said, extending his hand.

"It's a pleasure," Lincecum replied, looking awestruck as he shook Griffey's hand and watched him walk away. "It was nice meeting you," he added as Griffey headed for the Mariners' clubhouse.

Lincecum paused, let out a breath and said, "Man. Wow. He just came over. That was pretty cool."

He paused again. Then, he asked the media surrounding him, "What were we just talking about?"

Later, Lincecum acknowledged the experience took him by surprise.

"I followed him. I'm a Seattle native, so getting to watch him do his thing, actually all those guys -- [Jay] Buhner, [Joey] Cora was awesome," he said. "Just to have a guy like that come over, it caught me off guard."

-- ESPN.com news services

HAMELS EXPERIMENTING WITH SINKER (8:11 a.m. ET)
Cole Hamels' bread-and-butter pitches have been his fastball and changeup. This spring, the Phillies starter has been working on sharpening his curveball and adding a cutter as well.

But Hamels is also tinkering with a fifth pitch -- a sinker. He's tried it out during games before, with mixed results, and now wants to see if it can become a permanent part of his arsenal, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

"A few games, I would throw it, but it would get hit, and I would say, 'Forget this,'" Hamels said, according to the report. "But it's still something I'm throwing in the bullpen and am working with."

Hamels and Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee don't remember how many times Hamels tried throwing a sinker last year.

"If you're trying to pin me down to specific dates, I don't remember, but he threw it more than you might think," Dubee said, according to the report. "It could be a good pitch for him."

-- ESPN.com news services

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW (7:51 a.m. ET)
A vision test during a team physical exam has confirmed what Brewers outfielder Corey Hart has suspected since last year -- he's nearsighted.

"It kind of started last year, but I didn't really think about it," he said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I just kept playing. The ball was a little fuzzy at times, but I didn't think it was that big of a deal."

Rather than eyeglasses or contact lenses, Hart plans to wear prescription goggles in the field to correct his vision, according to the report. He's hoping he can get accustomed to wearing them during spring training.

"I'm hoping they work for me," he said, according to the report. "I don't want to have any trouble picking the ball up. Right now, it's a little fuzzy."

Why wasn't the problem caught last year? "I guessed right [on what letters were shown on the eye chart]," Hart said, according to the report. "This year, I guessed wrong. By the third letter, I was like, 'Maybe H?'"

-- ESPN.com news services

Spring Training Blog: Feb. 28

February, 28, 2010
02/28/10
10:20
AM ET
GUILLEN IN, BLOOMQUIST OUT FOR ROYALS (6:12 p.m. ET)
Jose Guillen is ready to play for the Kansas City Royals. Willie Bloomquist is not.

Guillen, who had ankle and lower back surgery after his final game on Sept. 2, is penciled in to play in the outfield for the Royals on Wednesday in an intrasquad game.

"I talked to Jose about that today," Royals manager Trey Hillman said Sunday. "I gave him a heads up. I got him in one of the projected lineups in right field. He's said he's good to go."

The Royals want to see how Guillen, who hit .242 with nine home runs last season in only 81 games, is moving after the two operations. With the addition of outfielders Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, Guillen will likely get the bulk of his at-bats as the designated hitter.

Bloomquist played in more games (125) and had more at-bats (434) last year with the Kansas City Royals than he had in his previous six seasons with the Seattle Mariners.

It took a toll.

The day after the season ended Bloomquist had arthroscopic surgery on both knees. He was on crutches for six weeks and spent most of the winter rehabbing at the Royals complex in Surprise.

The Royals have limited Bloomquist's activities in spring training and he won't be playing in any of the early exhibition games.

-- The Associated Press

ROBERTS TAKES BP (4:41 p.m. ET)
Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts took live batting practice for the first time this spring on Sunday, but manager Dave Trembley said he still isn't sure when Roberts, who has a herniated disk in his back, will play in a game.

Trembley said he'll wait for the trainers to give him the go-ahead before he gets Roberts any game action. In the meantime, "I can't put a timetable on it," Trembley said.

The Orioles have continued to portray Roberts' back issues as minor, but they've held Roberts back from normal spring activities. He reported back pain about a month before spring training and was diagnosed as having a small herniated disk a week ago. He is still expected to be ready for Opening Day.

"He's moving right along," Trembley said. "That [live BP] was the last phase. He's done everything else."

-- Jayson Stark, ESPN.com

CAMERON HURTS GROIN, SITS (4:28 p.m. ET)
Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron was forced to cut his morning short after he tweaked his groin during drills.

The outfielders were working out on Field 1 at the Player Development Complex when Cameron told Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson that his groin was bothering him. Johnson told Cameron to go see Francona, who immediately told the outfielder to get off the field.

"He's felt it the last couple of days," said Francona. "During outfield drills today, he said something to RJ and RJ sent him over to me. Because we were getting pretty active with the relays, I told him to come in and get treatment. I don't think it's anything. He tested it out and his strength was good, his range of motion was good. But it's not something we want to make worse now."

Cameron received treatment and said he's fine.

"I just need to slow my pace down a little bit and let my body catch up," he said. "I just felt like I couldn't get loose today and I didn't want to push it too much."

-- Joe McDonald, ESPNBoston.com

LYON CLOSER TO MOUND (4:26 p.m. ET)
Astros reliever Brandon Lyon is getting close to returning to the mound after having a cyst in his right, throwing shoulder drained in January.

"They think, from a health standpoint, he's fine and he just needs to continue to build the strength up," general manager Ed Wade said, according to MLB.com. "My guess is probably early in the week he'll get up on the mound, and we'll let him throw and continue to get comfortable with his surroundings. We're still of the mind he's going to be fine."

Lyon signed as a free agent in the offseason after spending last season with the Detroit Tigers, where he went 6-5 with a 2.86 ERA and registered 15 holds and three saves.

-- ESPN.com news services

ZIMMERMAN VOWS TO DO BETTER IN '10 (3:01 p.m. ET)
Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman needed only four full seasons to establish himself as one of baseball's brightest stars.

And he's not satisfied.

His 2009 campaign -- a .292 average with 33 homers and a team-leading 106 RBIs -- was capped by the kind of first-time accolades every player dreams of: selection to the All-Star Game, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger as the National League's top offensive player at his position.

So what does Zimmerman do for an encore?

Point out his flaws and vow to erase them.

"I honestly try to get better every year. Obviously, I had my best year individually last year. From when I went back and looked at it, I made a lot of mistakes," Zimmerman said Sunday. "I can do better than that. You just got to work hard, learn from what you did wrong and get better."

Zimmerman's message heading into 2010: The front office has done its job and fortified the roster, so it's the players' responsibility to enact a turnaround from a 103-loss season.

"Even if you have a $200 million team like the Yankees, if those guys don't go out there and play, [you don't win]. It's up to us to execute and to do the little things right and win," Zimmerman said. "When it comes down to it, it's our team and we're the ones who have to execute."

-- The Associated Press

BLUE JAYS WON'T RUSH MCGOWAN (2:57 p.m. ET)
Dustin McGowan was pitching to major league hitters on Sunday for the first time in more than a year and a half.

Making Toronto's Opening Day roster is not a priority for the Blue Jays -- and shouldn't be for McGowan either.

"We've talked to him about it. That date is non-existent for us with him," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "If it happens to fall on that date, great. If it happens a week later, that's fine as well, even three month after that."

The 27-year-old last pitched on July 8, 2008, removed early in a game against Baltimore with a sore right shoulder. Two days later he went on the disabled list and underwent surgery July 31 to repair fraying of the labrum. It finished him for that season and last year's as well. Then on July 9, 2009, he had surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his right knee, delaying his rehabilitation by about six weeks.

McGowan was scheduled to throw only in the bullpen on Sunday, without facing batters, "but I talked with (pitching coach) Bruce Walton," Anthopoulos said, "and our trainer signed off on it, and Dustin felt good and wanted to throw to hitters. We didn't have a problem with it."

-- The Associated Press

TIGERS CLOSER VALVERDE LEAVES CAMP (1:28 p.m. ET)
New Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde has returned to his home country of the Dominican Republic for a death in the family, manager Jim Leyland said.

Valverde will be back at the Tigers' spring training camp in Lakeland, Fla., after a few days, Leyland said Friday.

Valverde came to the Tigers as a free agent after recording 116 saves in three years for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros.

"He's a big, strong, outstanding-stuff guy with a great personality," Leyland said.

-- ESPN.com news services

RANGERS' SKIPPER: CENTER IS BORBON'S JOB TO LOSE (1:02 p.m. ET)
Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said the center field and leadoff starting jobs are Julio Borbon's to lose.

"For me, Borbon is in the same position that [shortstop] Elvis Andrus was last year," Washington said Sunday. "It's up to us to keep him relaxed and let him be who he is."

Borbon made his debut with the Rangers last season as a substitute for an injured Josh Hamilton and hit .312 in 46 games. The 23-year-old entered this spring as the leading candidate to replace Marlon Byrd, who signed with the Chicago Cubs in the offseason.

One distinct difference in the way Borbon will be used is that Washington plans to play Borbon every day, versus both right-handers and left-handers. Last season, Borbon was a meager 2-for-15 against lefties in the limited opportunities he was given.

"I feel comfortable against lefties," Borbon said. "I've never had any doubts hitting versus righties or lefties. It's a matter of coming back out and doing it consistently."

-- The Associated Press

WISDOM FROM THE MASTER (10:46 a.m. ET)
Who better to teach the Oakland Athletics' best base-stealing threat than baseball's all-time stolen base leader?

Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who's visiting Oakland's camp as a special instructor this week, spent half an hour with center fielder Rajai Davis on Saturday. He predicted Davis, who stole 41 bases in 2009, could swipe as many as 80 bags this season.

"He had no balance, but then we kept talking. I said there's something you're doing wrong," Henderson said of his work with Davis. "Everything he did, he did flat-footed. I asked him how he got to be so fast when he's flat-footed. "I said, 'Get a little on your toes,' and he never knew it made such a difference. And that's one little thing that changed him already."

"He's a good kid, and to me he's got the heart that he wants to be a basestealer," Henderson added. "The biggest thing is fear that I got to get out of him -- fear in him going out and taking control of the bases and changing the game."

Davis welcomed the opportunity to learn from Henderson.

"To get another perspective from a guy who has proven his success at this level in the major leagues is a great opportunity," Davis said. I don't know how many teams get this chance to bring back guys who are in the Hall of Fame."

-- ESPN.com news services

ESCOBAR NOT LIKELY READY FOR OPENING DAY (10:46 a.m. ET)
Mets right-hander Kelvim Escobar has yet to throw off the mound in spring training and is now expected to start the season on the disabled list with shoulder weakness, manager Jerry Manuel says.

The Mets signed Escobar to a one-year contract worth $1.25 million plus incentives, believing he could likely overcome the injury woes that sidelined him for most of 2008 and 2009 and recover the form that delivered 17 wins for the Los Angeles Angels in 2007. He was penciled in as a likely set-up man for closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Escobar said he's been playing catch every other day, but has no turntable for returning to the mound, according to MLB.com. "They don't want to rush me back, because I've already had a couple of setbacks trying to rush myself," he said. "This time, I want to do things right and make sure."

With Escobar not expected to be ready, the Mets are considering possibilities including Ryota Igarashi, Bobby Parnell, Sean Green and Fernando Nieve.

"If [Escobar's] healthy, it would have been a tremendous, tremendous fit for us," manager Jerry Manuel told reporters. "We felt like we kind of had that covered. But now with the injury situation, we have to have someone else step up and handle that role."

-- ESPN.com news services

Spring Training Blog: Feb. 27

February, 27, 2010
02/27/10
12:47
PM ET
CUBAN INFLUENCE FELT IN PHILLIES BULLPEN (6:16 p.m. ET)

When word first spread that veteran pitcher Jose Contreras was joining the Philadelphia Phillies last month, no one was happier than Danys Baez.

It wasn't just that one new member of the Phillies would be able to break in the pen with another. When Contreras joined the Phils, a team Baez had signed with earlier in January, it finalized a remarkable reunion of two men who escaped Cuba and found success in the major leagues.

Baez says he called Contreras right after he heard he signed.

Contreras told his wife that having Baez on his team made life easier.

Baez and Contreras were both members of the Cuban National team 10 years ago.

-- Associated Press

INGE CONFIDENT HE'LL BE READY (5:56 p.m. ET)
Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge says he's ahead of schedule in his return from offseason knee surgery and expects to be completely healthy by the time the regular season begins.

After earning a spot in last year's All-Star game, Inge was hampered down the stretch by tendinitis in both knees and forced to have them repaired in November. He spent several weeks wearing braces on both legs that stretched from his ankles to his thighs.

The 32-year-old has gone through conditioning and workouts with the team, but won't begin playing until the latter part of spring training.

However, "I could play right now," Inge said.

"He's doing fine," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "He's ahead of schedule, by his own admission. Exactly how far ahead of schedule I don't know."

-- Associated Press

RANGERS' HOLLAND THROWS BULLPEN SESSION (5:46 p.m. ET)

Texas Rangers left-hander Derek Holland threw a lengthy bullpen session on Saturday, his first work from the mound since spraining a knee last week.

"I had a little bit of adrenaline flowing," said Holland, who sprained his right knee during an agility drill on Feb. 20. "Nobody likes to be on the tables in the training room."

Holland threw from a full windup and the stretch in the bullpen under the supervision of Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux.

The 23-year-old said he expects to throw live batting practice Monday.

"I wanted to keep going but they want me to take it day to day," Holland said.

Holland was 8-13 in 33 appearances -- 21 starts -- with a 6.12 ERA last season.

-- Associated Press

METS HAVE ROTATION QUESTIONS BEHIND SANTANA (5:23 p.m. ET)

The top of the New York Mets' rotation is in good hands again, with Johan Santana looking healthy this spring after season-ending elbow surgery last year.

After Santana, well, there's a lot of ifs, maybes and question marks.

Mike Pelfrey regressed last year after a promising 2008 season. John Maine has struggled to stay on the field. Oliver Perez was so disappointing last season he was sent to the bullpen for a stretch. The top candidate for the final spot in the rotation is coming off surgery to repair a torn right hamstring.

And the consensus is this group could be the biggest key to New York's season.

-- Associated Press

HENDERSON TO LEAD BASE-STEALING SEMINAR (12:52 p.m. ET)

Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson arrived at the Oakland Athletics' spring training facilities Saturday in Phoenix and many of the A's said they were looking forward to working with him on stealing bases.

A's manager Bob Geren said Henderson's primary focus will be on stealing bases, but he won't be limited.

That's fine with A's outfielder Rajai Davis, who led the team with 41 steals last year. Davis wants to talk about batting leadoff and playing the outfield as well.

The A's were fourth in the majors in stolen bases last year and adding players such as Coco Crisp to the mix could increase those totals.

-- Associated Press

Spring Training Blog: Feb. 25

February, 25, 2010
02/25/10
12:27
PM ET
WEBB THROWS 45 PITCHES IN CAMP (4:41 p.m. ET)
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb feels good after his latest throwing session.

The former Cy Young winner is coming back from surgery on his right shoulder last August. He threw 45 pitches on Thursday and calls it another step forward in his recovery.

Webb expects to be ready to start the Diamondbacks' third game of the regular season. Dan Haren will pitch the opener, followed by Edwin Jackson.

-- The Associated Press

BRANYAN GOES TO WORK FOR INDIANS (4:53 p.m. ET)
Russell Branyan, his one-year, $2 million contract freshly signed, reported Thursday to the Indians' spring training camp in Arizona and prepared for his second go-around with Cleveland.

"There are a lot of good, positive things in coming back," said Branyan, who will get the majority of playing time at first base. "This is where I started. To get this opportunity, it was hard to turn down. It means a lot to me."

Branyan came through Cleveland's minor league system in the late 1990s. It was thought he would join the list of sluggers the Indians produced during the decade, which included Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. Standing 6-foot-3, Branyan hit 30 or more homers in three minor league seasons before being traded to Cincinnati in 2002.

Eight years and eight organizations later, Branyan believes he's learned from his experiences.

"I understand people a lot better," he said. "I don't let small things bother me as much anymore."

The Indians will hold their first full-squad workout Friday under new manager Manny Acta.

-- ESPN.com news services

BOSOX UNVEIL SPRING GREEN MONSTER PLANS (4:01 p.m. ET)
The future spring training home of the Boston Red Sox will have a replica Green Monster and duplicate the dimensions of Fenway Park.

The Red Sox, Lee County and Populous released preliminary renderings Thursday of the 11,000-capacity, $75 million ballpark, which is scheduled to open in 2012 about 10 miles from the current stadium. Five practice fields will be outside the main stadium, combining training camp for the Red Sox into one facility from the current two.

The Green Monster will have a manual scoreboard and seats atop the wall, which will be 310 feet from home plate down the line. The right-field fence will be 302 feet from the plate, and the bullpens will be beyond the fence in right-center, just as they are at Fenway.

"I like the Fenway similarity," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "The charm of Fenway Park. The Florida look and feel. Not a duplicate of Fenway Park with heavy red brick and New England style. It's meant to be different and lighter and airier and breezier and more Florida-like."

-- The Associated Press

STRASBURG THROWS LONGEST SESSION YET (3:52 p.m. ET)
Nationals rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg threw his longest bullpen session of spring training on Thursday, a 12-minute effort in 47-degree temperatures with winds in excess of 20 mph.

Pitching coach Steve McCatty was impressed with how the rookie fared in challenging conditions, noting that the winds made it difficult for Strasburg to throw his breaking ball.

Strasburg, the Nationals' No. 1 pick in last year's amateur draft, is already generating a buzz in spring training. On Sunday, about 150 fans, twice the normal number for Washington's first workout, watched Nationals pitchers and catchers practice -- and most were watching the hard-throwing right-hander from San Diego State.

-- ESPN.com news services

FEET, DON'T FAIL ME NOW (3:42 p.m. ET)
Nyjer Morgan is going feetfirst in trying to avoid headfirst slides, as part of the Nationals' new strategy for keeping their speedy center fielder in the lineup and off the disabled list.

Morgan fractured his left hand sliding into third base in Chicago in August, short-circuiting a promising start with a new team. After being traded from Pittsburgh to Washington on June 30, Morgan hit .351, stole 24 bases in 31 tries and played sparkling defense before missing the final five weeks of the season while on the DL.

Part of Morgan's penchant for the headfirst approach has been vanity. "I just like to get dirty," he laughed. "When you're all dirty, you look like you've been playing hard, and I play hard."

Morgan isn't the only Nationals player perfecting the new move. Manager Jim Riggleman wants players throughout the organization to employ the feet-first approach because it cuts down on hand, finger and wrist injuries.

"There's a transition there. It takes a little time, but that's why we got to keep practicing it," Riggleman said. "Our message to the guys -- not just Nyjer, but all of them -- is any of them who have always slid headfirst, we would like to get you going feetfirst."

-- The Associated Press

SANCHEZ WORKING HIS WAY BACK (2:21 p.m. ET)
Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez, still rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, hopes to begin taking ground balls within a week. If that goes well, he'll graduate to swinging a bat.

Sanchez is working out seven days a week with Tony Reale, the Giants' physical therapist. He's already throwing -- about 35 tosses from a distance of 75 feet -- but the Giants are still in one-step-at-a-time mode with him.

There's no timetable on Sanchez's return to the lineup, but it's a virtual certainty that he'll miss the start of the season. Juan Uribe can play second base in Sanchez's absence, and Eugenio Velez, Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen will all get a look at the position in spring training.

The bigger issue for manager Bruce Bochy is reconfiguring his lineup without Sanchez in the second spot. Shortstop Edgar Renteria could hit second to begin the season, then drop down to seventh or eighth once Sanchez returns. But Renteria had a .290 on-base percentage in the No. 2 hole last year, so he's not a good fit for the top of the order.

-- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com

FELDMAN TAKES THE LEAD IN RANGERS' ROTATION (12:53 p.m. ET)
In less than a year, Scott Feldman has progressed from afterthought to anchor of the Texas Rangers' starting rotation.

Winning 17 games in five months last season -- and entering the closing weeks with a chance to reach the coveted 20-victory mark -- will do that for a pitcher.

"I thought it would have been cool if I could have gotten 20," Feldman said. "Just to get 17 was a pretty cool thing. We had a good team."

Feldman was a large part of that success, posting a 17-8 record and 4.08 ERA in 31 starts. Despite not joining the rotation until late April, the right-hander was second on the club with 189 2/3 innings pitched.

Though he has just 56 career starts under his belt, the 27-year-old has become an elder statesman in a rotation that this year adds oft-injured veteran Rich Harden. It's a role that Feldman didn't necessarily expect but has embraced since the departure of Kevin Millwood.

"It's about your work ethic around here," manager Ron Washington said of Feldman on Thursday. "He's a great guy to model. You can't put leadership on people. Your teammates draw it out of you. And he's got the work ethic."

-- The Associated Press

BRAVES EXCITED ABOUT FULL YEAR OF HANSON (12:38 p.m. ET)
The Braves are very encouraged about their starting pitching for several reasons.

First, Tim Hudson says "I haven't felt this good in six years." The discomfort in Jair Jurrjens' right shoulder has diminished "from a 7 to a 0.5," says manager Bobby Cox.

And, the Braves will have Tommy Hanson for the entire season.

When another top Braves starter, Derek Lowe, was asked what impressed him most about Hanson, he said, "Where do you want me to start?"

That's how good Hanson is. "Every pitcher in the big leagues has good stuff, the difference is the guy who has it mentally, and he does," said Hudson. "You could see it last spring. When he got to the big leagues last year, he thought he was better than the hitters."

"His stuff is sensational," Lowe said of Hanson. When asked about the trade of ace Javier Vazquez, Lowe acknowledged that the Braves had lost a terrific pitcher, but he said, "We're going to get 15 more starts from Tommy Hanson. That's a pretty good start."

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

HEYWARD TURNING HEADS AT BRAVES CAMP (12:33 p.m. ET)
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward has had some prodigious batting practices so far this spring.

"It sounds like a 30-aught six going off when he hits the ball," said Braves pitcher Tim Hudson. "I was walking through the outfield, I heard that sound, turned and said, 'What in the heck was that?' "

Pitcher Derek Lowe agreed about the sound, saying, "His BP is frightening."

Heyward said Thursday that he weighed in, clothed, at 250 pounds. He said in spikes, he stands 6-foot-6.

"He is huge," said Braves catcher David Ross. "His hands are huge. Hank Aaron was here the other day and talked about how big Jason's hands are. And Hank has big hands."

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

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February, 20, 2010
02/20/10
9:04
AM ET
ASTROS WORK OUT FOR FIRST TIME UNDER MILLS (9:18 p.m. ET)
First-time Astros skipper Brad Mills ran his first workout Saturday, when Houston's pitchers and catchers reported to the club's spring training complex near Orlando.

The 53-year-old Mills is a major league manager for the first time after spending the last six seasons as Terry Francona's bench coach in Boston. Mills inherits a team with veteran talent in Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, but also wants to incorporate young players into prominent roles this season.

Mills was hired in October to replace Cecil Cooper, who was fired with 13 games left in the season.

-- The Associated Press

GAGNE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT CHANCE WITH DODGERS (7:18 p.m. ET)
Eric Gagne is pretty sure this is his last shot at a major league comeback, and he's glad to be getting it with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The 2003 NL Cy Young Award winner, who rejoined the Dodgers when he agreed to a minor league contract Friday, thinks making the team this spring shouldn't be a problem as long as he's healthy.

On his first day back inside the Dodgers' clubhouse, Gagne pulled on a fresh, blue cap Saturday and tugged at the bill. He said it was perfect.

He could have been referring to more than just the fit. Gagne has pitched for three big league teams since leaving the Dodgers after the 2006 season. But it was in Los Angeles where he became a star closer, and he says the Dodgers never left his heart.

-- The Associated Press

ROCKIES' COOK FINDS STRENGTH THROUGH WEIGHT LOSS (7:04 p.m. ET)
Colorado Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook cut out fried foods and sodas. He stopped eating desserts and avoided late night snacks.

The result was startling.

Cook reported to spring training at 200 pounds, down from 220 at the end of the 2009 season. He expects to gain between five and 10 pounds during camp but should enter the upcoming season carrying less weight.

Colorado catcher Chris Iannetta and pitching coach Bob Apodaca noticed a difference right away when Cook threw his first bullpen session of the spring Saturday. Iannetta says he had a lot more extension on his pitches and Apodaca says Cook looked "really healthy and athletic."

Cook went 11-6 with a 4.16 ERA in 158 innings last year.

-- The Associated Press

SLIMMER STAIRS AIMS FOR SPOT ON PADRES' BENCH (6:27 p.m. ET)
Matt Stairs says he pushed himself hard during his offseason conditioning program just in case any teams had interest in his services.

At the same time, however, the veteran pinch-hitter put the thought in the back of his mind that he might have to retire.

But sometime after he secured a job as a hitting coach for the University of Maine, Stairs received an invitation to spring training from the San Diego Padres. Stairs, who signed a minor league deal in January after losing 32 pounds this offseason, officially checked into spring training on Saturday.

Stairs, who began his career with the Montreal Expos in 1992 and is playing for his 12th team, weighs 198 pounds. He finished the 2009 season with the NL champion Phillies weighing 230 pounds. Stairs attributed the weight loss to a diet and playing for two senior league hockey teams in Bangor, Maine. He also was a coach for the varsity hockey team at John Baptist Memorial High School in Bangor this winter.

"I feel great right now," Stairs said. "We'll see how it goes. If I can't hit any home runs, I'll start throwing some burgers in me."

-- The Associated Press

RED SOX CATCHER VARITEK IN ODD POSITION: BACKUP (4:14 p.m. ET)
For the first time in 12 years, Jason Varitek is starting spring training as a backup.

The Boston Red Sox catcher is the No. 2 man behind Victor Martinez.

"This isn't necessarily new for me," Varitek said after the first official workout for pitchers and catchers. "Is it different? Of course, it's different. But I think that in that role that it was last year toward the end that probably got me prepared for this.

"For the most part, I'm here to support Vic as much as possible and take the load off him when he needs it."

Varitek is starting his sixth season as the Red Sox captain and said he might be a better leader when he doesn't play and can devote more attention to communicating with teammates instead of the details of the game.

-- The Associated Press

ANGELS' SHIELDS SAYS REHAB ON TRACK (3:50 p.m. ET)
Angels' reliever Scot Shields says that his recovery from season-ending knee surgery last June is on track and that Los Angeles' bullpen has never been better.

The Angels longest-tenured player said on Saturday that the Angels' relief corps is among the best since he joined the team in 2001.

Shields has been a bullpen mainstay as the right-handed setup man, spanning the tenures of closers Troy Percival, Frankie Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes.

But he made a career-low 20 appearances last season before opting for left knee surgery in mid-June. He admitted to pitching in pain while compiling a career-worst 6.62 ERA over 17 2/3 innings.

The Angels are bringing Shields along slowly this spring, and he says that was the plan all along.

-- The Associated Press

MARLINS LOOKING AT PLAYOFF BERTH (3:48 p.m. ET)
As the first spring training workout begins, the Florida Marlins are already swinging for the fences by talking optimistically about making the playoffs.

Pitchers and catchers took the field for drills Saturday with high expectations, from team president David Samson on down.

The Marlins have climbed from 71 wins in 2007 to 84 in 2008 and 87 last year, when they finished six games behind league champion Philadelphia in the NL East. The core of the team returns intact, and payroll will top $40 million for the first time in five years.

More improvement likely will be needed to crack the postseason for the first time since the Marlins won the World Series in 2003.

-- The Associated Press

DEMPSTER DRAWS INSPIRATION FROM AILING DAUGHTER (3:43 p.m. ET)
Ryan Dempster has inspiration every time he gets in a tight situation on a baseball field with the Chicago Cubs. It comes from his 10-month-old daughter, Riley, who's been fighting DiGeorge syndrome all her young life.

Riley Dempster, who was born on April 1, 2009, has undergone numerous procedures, including the insertion of feeding and tracheal tubes as she fights the disorder caused by a defect in a chromosome.

Symptoms and conditions of DiGeorge syndrome vary in different patients and with different degrees of severity. In Riley's case, she's been unable to swallow. Early on, she underwent another procedure in which a portion of the stomach is wrapped around the esophagus to promote healing and reduce acid backup.

"She's doing well. She's still unable to swallow but she's doing well. She's a tough little fighter," Dempster said this week from the Chicago Cubs' spring training complex.

Dempster said his daughter must learn how to swallow on her own and it's a difficult process for someone so small and young.

"She inspires us," Dempster said. "You know, watching. If you're going through that, I can do anything. I really feel that way."

-- The Associated Press

CARDS GROOMING BACKUP OPTIONS FOR CLOSER FRANKLIN (3:23 p.m. ET)
Ryan Franklin was one of the National League's top closers last year, even with an awful final month, a first-time All-Star for St. Louis whose ERA hovered around one until early September.

The Cardinals have faith that a pitcher who'll be 37 next month and isn't a strikeout machine can do the job again, but not enough that they're not trying to develop a backup this spring.

"It doesn't matter to me," Franklin said Saturday. "I've got a couple of years, maybe three years left, and I want to win. Whatever that takes, whatever they think, is totally fine with me as long as I'm a part of it."

Among the potential fill-ins are Jason Motte, who began last year as the closer, and Mitchell Boggs. Both throw in the high 90s, more of a typical closer template than Franklin, who is a ground-ball pitcher.

"You always want a succession plan, and if something doesn't work you want to look for something internally first," general manager John Mozeliak said. "It's just natural."

-- The Associated Press

WAKAMATSU GIDDY ABOUT MARINERS' ROTATION (3:18 p.m. ET)
A starting rotation with Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee at the top is giving the Seattle Mariners plenty of optimism for 2010.

Lee, who still has strips of athletic tape covering the area of the surgery, is scheduled to take part in pitchers' fielding practice Monday and is expected to toss a bullpen session on Wednesday. Heavy rain at the Mariners' spring training complex prevented Lee from taking part in fielding practice on Saturday.

"It would be good to get him back on the mound. That's our first step," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "Get him feeling comfortable with the club."

Yet little can douse the Mariners' excitement about having Lee, who came to Seattle in a December trade with the Phillies in exchange for three prospects.

"I joke. I said back in our winter meetings in October, I said 'Cliff Lee is the guy I'm targeting," Wakamatsu said. "That whole process was pretty amazing. At winter meetings his name got brought up and everybody got giddy in the room, and the second part is, 'Can we really do this?' and [general manager] Jack [Zduriencik] made it happen, which was pretty special."

-- The Associated Press

REDS' VOLQUEZ HAPPY IN CAMP DESPITE INACTION (3:08 p.m. ET)
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez was home in the Dominican Republic when he went to a baseball game just to see teammate Francisco Cordero throw in the winter league.

Volquez couldn't throw after season-ending Tommy John surgery, but he said he missed his teammates more than pitching. So he caught up with Cordero after the game and the veteran told Volquez to keep his head up, that spring training was just around the corner.

While he still doesn't take part in all the same activities as his teammates, and rehab is expected to take a full year, Volquez said Saturday he's happy to be around his teammates at spring training in Arizona.

"I'm still here on the team, I feel like I'm part of the team," he said. "I'm with my teammates. You get time with guys in here, you say hello to everyone, they make you happy."

-- The Associated Press

COX CONFIDENT IN SAITO, WAGNER (3:04 p.m. ET)
After watching Takashi Saito's first throwing session of spring training, Braves manager Bobby Cox had one word to sum it all up:

"Wow."

The former Dodgers closer turned 40 last week. But the Braves expect him to serve as Billy Wagner's primary set-up man. That's health permitting, of course. But Cox said he has no health worries whatsoever about Saito, whose Dodgers career was cut short by a sprained elbow in 2008, or Wagner, who missed most of last season following Tommy John surgery.

"Saito was never in the trainer's room once last year in Boston," Cox said. "And Wags has a new arm. So right now, I don't have any thoughts about those guys breaking down."

-- Jayson Stark, ESPN.com

COX ON JURRJENS, PROCTOR (3:02 p.m. ET)
On the first day that pitchers and catchers worked out, the only Braves dealing with any sort of health issue were starter Jair Jurrjens, who has a sore shoulder, and former Yankees reliever Scott Proctor, who had Tommy John surgery 11 months ago.

An MRI this week on Jurrjens' shoulder showed nothing alarming. But the Braves want Jurrjens to take it slowly at first.

"According to the MRI, he's great," Cox said. "But let's see."

Cox said Proctor is "about two weeks" behind the other pitchers. But the 33-year-old right-hander threw 50 pitches off the mound in the bullpen Saturday and "looked really good," Cox said. "He's still on a rehab schedule, but you'd never know it."

Proctor is viewed as a long shot to make the club out of spring training. But Cox won't rule it out.

"He's going to have plenty of time," the manager said. "I think he'll be ready coming out of camp. But if not, it will be real close."

-- Jayson Stark, ESPN.com

PIRATES WANT TO LESSEN DUKE'S WORKLOAD (2:58 p.m. ET)
The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to cut down on All-Star pitcher Zach Duke's workload this season.

Duke has made at least 30 starts in three of his first four full seasons in the majors. The exception was 2007, when shoulder problems limited him to 19 starts.

Duke didn't miss a start last season but faded over the final two months. On Saturday, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said the amount of work Duke put in between starts might have been the culprit.

"We'll have to take a look at that," Kerrigan said. "Maybe that has something to do with the wear and tear in August and September."

Last season, Duke was injury-free and pitched 213 innings, tops on the team and 12th in the National League. The left-hander also was tied for third in the NL with three complete games, the most by a Pirates pitcher since Jeff Suppan had three in 2003.

-- The Associated Press

WILPON OPTIMISTIC FOR METS' 2010 SEASON (2:00 p.m. ET)
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Coming off a season he said was "torture" for him, New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon is optimistic about the 2010 season.

"[It is difficult] when you have all those injuries and a bad season, and the fans were disappointed -- but not anymore than I was because I am probably their biggest fan," Wilpon said. "Now that's last year. It's 2010, it's 70 degrees in Florida and the sun is shining, so I have a great feeling of optimism."

After an injury-filled, 92-loss season, Mets fans have higher demands this year. Wilpon has them in mind, especially as the organization tries to fill the stands at Citi Field.

The need to produce likely is putting some pressure on management and coaches, but Wilpon declined to talk about whether any jobs within the organization were on the line, saying, "Those are things of the future."

-- The Associated Press

FELIZ WANTS SPOT IN RANGERS' ROTATION (1:34 p.m. ET)
Right-hander Neftali Feliz was mainly a starter in the minors before being called up to the Texas Rangers' bullpen in August. He struck out four of his first six batters and finished with a 1-0 record, 1.74 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 31 innings.

"When he joined us we saw lightning in a bottle," Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "What did we learn? That it wasn't an accident."

Should the Rangers have Perez start as he has done throughout his minor-league career or are they better off with his power fastball in the bullpen? Feliz, the team's top-rated prospect, is clear on his preference.

"I think I would be a better starter than reliever in the long run," Feliz said through an interpreter. "I'm confident. I feel like I can do better as a starter. I get a lot of questions about it and I tell them that it's up to the team to decide."

Washington said Feliz's future is as a starter. But consistent with the team's mantra this season of making decisions based on what the team needs most to win, a rotation spot isn't guaranteed.

"All the guy's done all his career is start and we want to make sure we use his assets," Washington said. "But he's not going to be given anything. By the middle of spring training we'll determine whether his spot is in the bullpen or in the rotation."

-- The Associated Press

RANGERS' LHP HOLLAND INJURES KNEE (12:56 p.m. ET)
Texas Rangers left-hander Derek Holland injured his right knee during agility drills in a light rain Saturday.

Holland walked off the field under his own power and was examined in the clubhouse by Rangers team doctor Keith Meister. An MRI was scheduled to be performed as soon as a machine becomes available.

The 23-year-old was 8-13 with a 6.02 ERA in 33 appearances and 21 starts as a rookie for the Rangers last season.

-- The Associated Press. For more on this story, go to ESPNDallas.com.

HAREN GETS OPENING DAY NOD FOR ARIZONA (12:49 p.m. ET)
Dan Haren was given the Opening Day start for the Arizona Diamondbacks over Brandon Webb, who is expected to return after shoulder surgery.

"I think it's a great reward for Dan Haren," Arizona manager A.J. Hinch told the Arizona Republic.

Hinch plans on starting new addition Edwin Jackson in the second game, and bringing Webb out for the third game.

The Diamondbacks open the season April 5 against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field.

-- ESPN.com news services

MARINERS PITCHER STILL IN VENEZUELA (11:36 a.m. ET)
Mariners pitcher Yusmeiro Petit is dealing with personal matters in his native Venezuela and is not expected to join the team until next week.

A team spokesman declined to discuss the issues Saturday, although he said they are not related to Petit obtaining a visa to work in the United States.

Petit is the only pitcher not present at Mariners spring training, where pitchers and catchers have arrived ahead of the rest of the team.

The 25-year-old Petit went 3-10 with a 5.82 ERA in 23 games -- including 17 starts -- for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season. He was claimed off waivers by Seattle in November.

-- The Associated Press

PETTITTE ON TIGER'S APOLOGY (9:19 a.m. ET)
Andy Pettitte, who had his own very public apology two years ago after admitting he used HGH, shared his opinions on Tiger Woods' statement.

"I think it will be good," Pettitte told 1050 New York's Andrew Marchand when asked what he thinks the apology will do for Woods' future. "Fans are very forgiving. People are very forgiving. For me, it was amazing. You know you have been following this team, I'm sure, and have been around this team. The fans, everywhere I went, have been unbelievable to me. I thank the Good Lord for that.

"I think my situation was a lot different. I stood and answered every question until you guys didn't have any more questions to ask and I think maybe, in my situation, made things a lot different, but I can't speak on Tiger's behalf or whatever he is going through."

In the end, an apology is only effective if it's sincere. Pettitte said that the public can detect insincerity.

"People know," Pettitte said. "People can tell if someone is sincere or not. I think people know me also. I've been around a long time. I've always been open to people and to being able to talk to people my whole career also. I think people know who I am and what I'm about."

-- ESPN.com

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February, 19, 2010
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ROCKIES' JIMENEZ THROWS FIRST BULLPEN SESSION (6:20 p.m. ET)
Ubaldo Jimenez is hoping a couple of minor adjustments will allow him to go deeper into games for the Colorado Rockies.

Jimenez threw his first bullpen session of spring training Friday, and pitching coach Bob Apodaca was pleased with what he saw.

"Today is absolutely how I'd hoped he'd come here," Apodaca said.

Jimenez went 15-12 last year, and his 3.47 ERA was the lowest in franchise history for a starting pitcher. He ranked sixth in the National League in innings (218) and strikeouts (198).

But the 26-year-old right-hander had some problems with his command when he was pitching out of the stretch. That forced him out of some games early because of a high pitch count.

Apodaca said Jimenez was quicker to the plate when he pitched out of the stretch during the bullpen session and his improved alignment led to better command.

-- Associated Press

PADRES' YOUNG FEELS GOOD AFTER PEN SESSION (6:20 p.m. ET)
San Diego Padres right-hander Chris Young says he felt good after participating in a bullpen session during the team's first workout on Friday morning.

Young, who had arthroscopic shoulder surgery on Aug. 17, says he spent all offseason strengthening his right arm and shoulder in order to be ready for spring training. He threw 40 pitches in 10 minutes.

Young was 4-6 with a 5.21 ERA in 14 starts last season and hasn't pitched since leaving early from a June 14 game against the Los Angeles Angels.

"It was a standard first day," Young said with a laugh. "Everybody was healthy. Nobody got lost. I think it's a good day."

"Being ready was the goal. The [doctors] had kind of gone over the rehab timetable and that was the goal. But you never know, one what they'd find once they got in there, or if you'd ever have any setbacks during the rehab. Fortunately I haven't had any."

Young began his rehab in November. Manager Bud Black has constantly been monitoring Young throughout the offseason at Petco Park. Prior to Friday's session, Young had thrown off a mound several times without incident.

-- Associated Press

BONDERMAN BACK TO BUSINESS WITH TIGERS (6:35 p.m. ET)
The Detroit Tigers appear content to go about business with Jeremy Bonderman as if the past two seasons never happened.

That'd be fine with him, too.

"My arm feels good, it's just a matter of building strength," said Bonderman, who didn't win a game last year after shoulder surgery in June 2008. "It's been two years and I need to work really hard in the next two weeks to get my mechanics back."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he has the 27-year-old right-hander penciled into the rotation. Bonderman has been throwing freely and without pain since early February.

"Bonderman, in my opinion, is back to a normal spring training and we're going to see what he looks like," Leyland said Friday. "I think he is OK. I mean we'll find out, you never know for sure."

The exhibition season starts March 2, and Bonderman is expected to take his turns in the rotation along with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.

-- Associated Press

GIANTS' RENTERIA PLAYED WITH BONE SPUR (6:20 p.m. ET)
San Francisco shortstop Edgar Renteria played all last season with a bone spur in his right elbow, about the size of a piece of pea gravel.

Such a seemingly minor problem to derail an entire season.

Renteria hit a career-low .250 with 19 doubles, five home runs and 48 RBIs in 124 games before the Giants turned to hot-hitting Juan Uribe as they fought for a playoff berth down the stretch. It was the fewest homers for Renteria since 1998 and resulted in a season that he called simply "embarrassing."

"I can play like Edgar Renteria again," he said after arriving in the Giants' camp Friday.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy had no trouble naming Renteria the starting shortstop this season.

-- Associated Press

GRIFFEY ARRIVES AT TRAINING CAMP (6:18 p.m. ET)
Sporting a bucket hat with sunglasses, Ken Griffey Jr. arrived at the Mariners' spring training complex Friday with the kind of reception reserved for a veteran and clubhouse leader.

Griffey embraced manager Don Wakamatsu and general manager Jack Zduriencik, and bellowed greetings to teammates from across the clubhouse.

Slated to be the Mariners' designated hitter, Griffey flew overnight from Florida after watching his daughter's basketball game. He took his physical Friday after proclaiming that he'd lost seven pounds through dieting and exercise.

Mike Sweeney, another team leader from last season, is expected Sunday after signing a minor league deal last week.

"When you get Griff in here, it kind of puts pressure on everyone else," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I just called [Sweeney]. I said 'Griff's here, where you at?' He said, 'I got a late invitation. It wasn't my fault."

-- Associated Press

DICE-K REPORTS IN BEST SHAPE OF CAREER (5:58 p.m. ET)
Friday was conditioning day for the Boston Red Sox, which unlike last year, was an easy day, a great day for Daisuke Matsuzaka. He's in his best shape in his four years with the Red Sox.

Matsuzaka has a different looking body than the one he had when he was placed on the disabled list last June, and sent to the minor leagues, to rehabilitate his weak right shoulder, and get himself into much better shape. And now, he has. Matsuzaka spent five weeks in the Athletes' Performance facility in Phoenix in December, January and February.

"He had a great attitude, he was a pleasure to work with," said Mike Roberts, the director of baseball for Athletes' Performance. "He pushed himself in all areas, in the power area and the cardio area. He came to us like a minor league guy who was coming to big league camp for the first time. He was excited. He was like a rookie who was trying to make the club."

After going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008, Matsuzaka dropped to 4-6 with a 5.76 ERA last year. When he was placed on the disabled list in late June, he was told by management that he had to get himself in better shape, as well as regain the strength in his shoulder. He came back in better shape in September, and pitched much better, but it was the off-season work with Athletes' Performance that prepared him for spring training.

Matsuzaka worked there for five weeks. For a two-week period, he did two workouts a day, which is rare for a pitcher given the workout regiment in that program. He didn't throw much off the mound, but threw a great deal during those five weeks. He displayed a great, tight spin on his breaking ball and, as always, tremendous balance over the rubber.

Matsuzaka had tightness in his back the first day of spring training, but it is nothing to worry about, several sources said. The Red Sox have Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey as their first three starters, leaving two spots for Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield. Most teams don't have five major league starters, the Red Sox have six. Matsuzaka, 29, is likely to be one of the five.

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

HARANG NOT ASSURED OF STARTING OPENER (5:11 p.m. ET)
Right-hander Aaron Harang isn't assured of making another opening day start for the Cincinnati Reds.

Manager Dusty Baker said Friday that he's open-minded about who will start the opener. Harang has started the past four, but has struggled to win the past two years, throwing the No. 1 spot open to competition.

"We're in a performance-based occupation, like most, but probably even more," Baker said. "It's a big responsibility to be a No. 1, you know?"

Harang's streak of four straight Opening Day starts is one shy of the club record. Harang has won six games each of the past two seasons, when injuries and an appendectomy held him back.

Bronson Arroyo led the staff in wins last season with 15.

-- The Associated Press

RANGERS' DOMINICAN PLAYERS JOIN CAMP (4:48 p.m. ET)
Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando's five-year wait to attend their first major league spring training is over.

Beltre and Ogando arrived in the Rangers' camp on Thursday and took to the practice fields in Surprise, Ariz., on Friday afternoon.

The two right-handers admittedly were involved in a human trafficking ring in the Dominican Republic and were prohibited from entering the United States for five years, a ban that finally ended this year.

Their baseball careers had been limited winter ball, the domestic Dominican League and international tournaments.

-- The Associated Press

NEW ROLE FOR UEHARA (4:45 p.m. ET)
The Baltimore Orioles still believe that right-hander Koji Uehara can be a valuable member of their pitching staff.

It just won't be in the starting rotation.

Uehara will work out of the bullpen this season after making 12 starts in 2009 as a rookie. He ended his career in Japan as the closer for the Yomiuri Giants, but most of his experience has come in the rotation.

Uehara, the first Japanese player to sign with the Orioles, went 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. He made two stops on the disabled list with hamstring and elbow injuries, and didn't pitch after June because of a slightly torn flexor tendon. He also struggled with his endurance and has hired a new personal trainer.

-- The Associated Press

HART HAS EDGE FOR ROTATION SPOT (3:58 p.m. ET)
Just two days into spring training, the Pittsburgh Pirates might already have settled one of their position battles.

Right-handers Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen were supposed to duel for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, and recent first-round draft pick Brad Lincoln was supposed to provide pressure while starting the season in Triple-A.

On Friday, all indications pointed to Hart as the frontrunner.

In discussing his pitching corps, manager John Russell mentioned Hart as one of the starters and McCutchen among the bullpen crew. But when pressed, Russell stopped short of confirming Hart has won the job.

-- The Associated Press

SANTO: CUBS WON'T MISS BRADLEY (3:44 p.m. ET)
The buzz in Chicago is that the Cubs' "team chemistry'' will be better now that disgruntled outfielder Milton Bradley has been traded to Seattle. Veteran broadcaster Ron Santo certainly didn't dispute that notion in a talk with reporters in Mesa on Friday.

Santo said the mood in the clubhouse changed for the better in September, when the Cubs suspended Bradley for comments critical of the team and its fan base. In December, the Cubs traded Bradley to Seattle for pitcher Carlos Silva.

"I'm a very strong believer in a good chemistry, and there's nobody better than Lou Piniella when it comes to chemistry,'' Santo said. "But this was a tough situation when you bring in [Bradley], who's hopefully going to change. I couldn't understand the way he is. He's just not a happy man.

"When you start talking about the fans and Wrigley Field and how you can't wait to get off [the field], it's not good. It wasn't like he'd get on anybody in the clubhouse. He was always just kind of mad. He'd walk right by you and not even look at you. But that's over with now.''

-- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com

CUBS HAVE SOME JOBS AVAILABLE (3:37 p.m. ET)
Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells and Ted Lilly -- who had offseason shoulder surgery and is taking things slowly because of some discomfort in his knee this spring -- are penciled in as the top four starters in the Cubs rotation. That leaves Sean Marshall, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Samardzija to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation in Mesa.

Manager Lou Piniella will also have to weed through a number of candidates to round out his bench. At the moment, it looks as if Xavier Nady will be the fourth outfielder, Koyie Hill will be the backup catcher and Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker will divvy up the at-bats at second base.

That leaves eight or nine players to compete for what might be two bench jobs. The list of candidates includes Micah Hoffpauir, Andres Blanco, Chad Tracy, Sam Fuld, Kevin Millar, Brad Snyder, Bryan LaHair, Tyler Colvin and Bobby Scales. The Cubs will also take a long look at shortstop Starlin Castro, the franchise's top prospect. But Castro is 19 years old and has only 111 at-bats above Class A, so he's likely to begin the season in the minors.

-- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com

HAMILTON'S BOLD PREDICTION (2:54 p.m. ET)

Outfielder Josh Hamilton arrived at Rangers camp Friday and said he learned from last year and is ready to put all of that behind him and have a strong 2010 season.

He also predicts the Rangers will have a big season, saying he believes the team will win 96 games in 2010.

For more, check out ESPNDallas.com's Rangers blog.

CHAMBERLAIN, HUGHES THROW OFF MOUND (2:46 p.m. ET)

Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, the front-runners for the Yankees' fifth starter spot, both threw 30 pitches during their first spring training bullpen sessions on Friday.

The pair had worked off a mound during early workouts last week.

Chamberlain loves the competition and said that pushing each other makes the team better

Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves are also under consideration for that role.

Manager Joe Girardi said the competition won't really begin until the start of spring training games next month.

-- The Associated Press

ESCOBAR SAYS SHOULDER IS WEAK (1:20 p.m. ET)
Reliever Kelvim Escobar said Friday that his shoulder is merely weak and any rumors that he is hurt are untrue.

The former starter signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Mets in late December, despite pitching in only one major league game since 2007 because of shoulder surgery. He's expected to contend for the eighth-inning setup role.

"I am in a program that I have to stick with," Escobar said. "It's not true I am not going to pick up a ball and the things I heard. You have to take it easy. I don't want to rush. There is plenty of time to get my arm in better shape, and it should be fine."

The 33-year-old Escobar pitched winter ball in Venezuela, then didn't pick up a ball for almost 5 weeks. Although he's been doing arm exercises and other workouts, Escobar acknowledged he's behind schedule and isn't sure when he'll be able to pitch.

-- The Associated Press