Category archive: Atlanta Braves

PADRES PUSH BACK LATOS' SCHEDULED START (11:47 p.m. ET)

The Padres have pushed back right-hander Mat Latos' scheduled Saturday start because of a sore elbow.

Manager Bud Black says Latos, one of several pitchers battling for two spots in the rotation, will instead throw in the bullpen and that he's already improving.

Latos is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in four appearances this spring. In 14 innings, Latos has allowed nine hits and walked three while striking out 11 batters.

Last season, Latos was 4-5 with a 4.62 ERA in 10 starts until the Padres shut him down in early September to reduce the wear and tear on his arm. Latos had pitched a combined 123 innings between the major and minor leagues after throwing 56 combined innings in 2008.

The Padres have said Latos won't throw more than 150 innings this year.

-- The Associated Press

ROBERTS RETURNS FOR ORIOLES (9:59 p.m. ET)

Second baseman Brian Roberts tested his ailing back in a game Friday night for the first time this spring. Although he showed no sign of injury, his swing still apparently needs some work.

Roberts went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in Baltimore's 4-3 loss to the Twins. Roberts spent the previous six weeks at camp receiving treatment and doing exercises to ease the pain of a herniated disc in his lower back.

"My body, it felt pretty good," he said after his six-inning stint.

And his swing?

"Obviously not stellar," Roberts said. "My last at-bat, actually I started to finally feel a lot more comfortable in the box. My first two, I was pretty clueless."

-- The Associated Press

MOYER BOLSTERS BID FOR STARTING SPOT (9:56 p.m. ET)

Jamie Moyer bolstered his bid to win Philadelphia's fifth starter spot by giving up one hit over 6 2/3 innings in the Phillies' 3-0 victory over the Yankees.

The 47-year-old left-hander is competing with Kyle Kendrick, who has a 1.37 ERA in 19 2/3 innings over five games. Moyer struck out six and hit one batter with a pitch.

"Pretty good," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. "Threw good quality strikes down. Even when he missed, he was close. Got a little yo-yo on it every now and then. Back door. Up and down."

Moyer underwent two major offseason surgeries. He had a sports hernia operation in October and underwent another procedure on his left knee in January.

"I really didn't know what to expect because I haven't been through his kind of thing in the past," Moyer said. "So, go wing it and see what happens. Being in this clubhouse with this group of guys, it's a winning environment, it's a winning situation. It's really hard to walk away from."

-- The Associated Press

GRIFFEY HITS GRAND SLAM OFF FORMER TEAM (8:38 p.m. ET)

Junior's still got it. Ken Griffey Jr. hit a grand slam off Kip Wells in the bottom of the ninth inning to give his Mariners a 6-5 victory over his former team, the Reds.

Asked the last time he had hit a game-ending slam in any game -- spring training, during any of his 24 professional seasons, at Cincinnati Moeller High School -- Griffey said, "Never."

Griffey, who has hit 630 home runs in his career, had swung wildly and missed with the count 3-0, looking anxious. On 3-1, he again looked antsy chasing a low pitch.

Then he drove a belt-high fastball from Wells into right-center field. Griffey was grinning as he approached the plate. All the Mariners were waiting with high-fives and back slaps but spared him the joyous pummeling that he got a couple times last season for late-game hits.

"Just one of those things," Griffey said. "It's spring training. Everyone's working on something. I'm starting to be able to do some things [like wait on pitches]. And I happened to get a ball up into the wind tunnel."

-- The Associated Press

JACKSON HAS BEST OUTING OF SPRING TRAINING (8:36 p.m. ET)

After struggling in his last two starts, Diamondbacks right-hander Edwin Jackson had his best outing of spring training. Jackson threw six scoreless innings, allowing five hits with three walks and two strikeouts in Arizona's 10-1 victory over the White Sox.

"His delivery was significantly better," Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch said. "He wasn't jumpy or out of control like he had been his last couple of outings. He was very much in control of the game."

Jackson has worked on his mechanics after allowing seven runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Reds and four runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Giants.

He said he shook off few signs from catcher Chris Snyder.

"I was just finding a rhythm, going out there and keeping a nice tempo, making adjustments from pitch to pitch instead of waiting until the inning snowballed to make an adjustment," said Jackson, Arizona's No. 2 starter behind Dan Haren.

-- The Associated Press

MARMOL MELTS DOWN IN CUBS LOSS (8:33 p.m. ET)

It was a wonderful day of pitching for both the Cubs and Athletics -- until Carlos Marmol took the mound.

"You can't have a perfect day in spring training," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said after a ninth-inning meltdown by his closer helped an A's split squad to a 5-2 victory.

Oakland starter Dallas Braden was outstanding, Chicago's Carlos Zambrano was even better and several relievers excelled, too. Then Marmol, anointed the Cubs' bullpen ace after spending most of three seasons as the primary setup man, served up Travis Buck's tiebreaking homer on his third pitch.

He followed that by hitting Michael Taylor with a pitch and giving up Landon Powell's single. After Cliff Pennington's run-scoring grounder, Marmol yielded pinch-hitter Shane Peterson's RBI single.

In his previous game, Marmol blew a save by allowing a two-run homer. He has hit a batter in three straight outings.

"His mechanics are off," Piniella said. "He was really flat with his pitches and we were wondering why. I think we found something on the tape. He's coming almost sidearm ... and you lose that good snap. It's something to work on. That's why it's called spring training."

-- The Associated Press

LINCECUM LEAVES GAME EARLY (8:21 p.m. ET)

Tim Lincecum left early with a small cut on the middle finger of his pitching hand in the Giants' 5-3 win over the Angels.

The two-time defending NL Cy Young winner had hoped to pitch about six innings but lasted only four, leaving the game with the Giants trailing 1-0. Lincecum threw 84 pitches, giving up a run on six hits while walking two and striking out seven.

The right-hander didn't mention the cut to reporters afterward, but manager Bruce Bochy said it was a combination of the dry Arizona air with Lincecum's grip. Bochy said the same situation also surfaced last spring.

Bochy doesn't expect Lincecum to miss his final start of the spring on March 31, and his ace remains on target to start the season opener at Houston on April 5.

-- The Associated Press

EDMONDS HITS SECOND HOMER OF SPRING (7:53 p.m. ET)

Jim Edmonds hit a two-run homer and an RBI double in the Brewers' 9-4 loss to the Padres. Edmonds' drive off Jon Garland in the second inning was his second homer of the spring. The Gold Glove center fielder made the team Thursday when the Brewers purchased his minor league contract.

Garland pitched five innings, yielding two runs and three hits. He missed his last scheduled start with a balky right shoulder.

Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee's leading candidate to start on Opening Day, had a far less successful outing, allowing six runs and eight hits in three innings.

Gallardo had allowed four runs in 14 innings over his previous four spring appearances.

-- The Associated Press

WESTBROOK WALKS FIVE IN WIN (7:12 p.m. ET)

Opening Day starter Jake Westbrook walked five over four-plus innings during the Indians' 5-4 victory over the Rockies.

Westbrook was charged with two runs and seven hits. He left with a 3-1 lead and the bases loaded. Saul Rivera got out of the jam, allowing one run.

Westbrook is eagerly awaiting his Opening Day assignment -- which will be his first game for Cleveland since May 28, 2008. The right-hander spent all of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery.

-- The Associated Press

WRIGHT CONTINUES SOLID SPRING TRAINING (5:56 p.m. ET)

David Wright homered and drove in three runs, continuing his solid spring training for the Mets. Wright hit a solo drive in the third inning for his fourth homer as the Mets and Marlins played to an 8-8 tie, calling it off after neither team scored in the 10th.

Nelson Figueroa had his worst outing of the spring for New York, allowing seven runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Wright's shot made it 5-0 but Florida scored eight runs in the bottom half of the third.

-- The Associated Press

LESTER, RED SOX BULLPEN STRONG (5:03 p.m. ET)

Jon Lester pitched six strong innings in his fifth spring start, helping the Red Sox beat a Blue Jays split-squad 3-2.

Lester allowed two unearned runs and six hits, struck out five and walked two. Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez finished up with a scoreless inning apiece.

-- The Associated Press

MARCUM HIT HARD; OVERBAY LEAVES (4:57 p.m. ET)

Shaun Marcum, Toronto's scheduled Opening Day starter, was hit hard in the Blue Jays' 14-10 loss to the Rays. Marcum allowed nine runs and nine hits over five innings, raising his spring ERA to 8.10.

Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay departed with a left knee contusion in the top of the first inning after he made contact with Carl Crawford. He is day to day.

-- The Associated Press

LOWE OUTDUELS VERLANDER IN BATTLE OF OPENING DAY STARTERS (4:34 p.m. ET)

Derek Lowe pitched six effective innings to help the Braves beat the Tigers 5-3. Lowe allowed two runs, one earned, and eight hits. Atlanta's scheduled Opening Day starter struck out four and walked none.

Brian McCann raised his average to .500 by going 2-for-3 for the Braves. Nate McLouth had two hits and two RBIs and is 4-for-9 in his past three games after a 1-for-35 start.

Justin Verlander, scheduled to start on Opening Day for Detroit, gave up three runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Brandon Inge and Gerald Laird each had two hits for the Tigers.

-- The Associated Press

INDIANS' ROTATION BECOMING NIGHTMARE (2:46 p.m. ET)

Russell Branyan's dream has turned into an Indians nightmare.

Signed to a $2 million free-agent deal in February and immediately made the starting first baseman by new manager Manny Acta, the 34-year-old Branyan has yet to play this spring with less than two weeks until the season opens.

"It's frustrating," said Branyan, sidelined by a herniated disk in his back. "This was my dream come true, to come back to the Indians and play every day. I've never really had that -- maybe for half of last year. I was pretty excited. This wasn't in the plans."

Acta's lineup plans are on hold as he awaits word on Branyan's progress. Until then, two of the Indians' prized prospects, Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, also are in limbo. Both were acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia to Milwaukee in July 2008.

If Branyan is healthy enough to play first base, LaPorta will go to left field and Brantley most likely back to Triple-A Columbus. Right now, LaPorta, coming off left hip and big toe surgery in October, is playing first base.

-- The Associated Press

CALERO AIMING FOR PROBLEM-FREE SEASON (11:42 a.m. ET)

Kiko Calero is coming off what he calls the best year of his career. Now the Mets' right-handed reliever wants to improve on it by getting through a whole season without shoulder problems.

New York signed Calero to a minor league deal at the beginning of March despite concerns about a right shoulder that has given the 35-year-old trouble since he had shoulder surgery in 2007.

He was 2-2 with a 1.95 ERA for the Marlins last season, striking out 10.35 hitters per nine innings with the help of a biting, 80 mph slider, but he missed 18 games before the All-Star break with shoulder inflammation.

A candidate for the eighth-inning setup role, Calero said on Friday that he is healthy and expects to be ready for the season.

-- The Associated Press

KENNEDY CONTINUES TO IMPROVE (9:11 p.m. ET)

Right-hander Ian Kennedy is making a strong case to join the Arizona Diamondbacks' rotation.

Kennedy struck out eight in five scoreless innings and the Arizona Diamondbacks earned a 5-4 win in 10 innings over the San Diego Padres on Monday.

Kennedy lowered his ERA to 2.70. He allowed two hits -- a two-out double by Will Venable in the first inning, and a single by Chris Denorfia in the third inning. Kennedy then picked off Denorfia at first.

"I really don't go out for strikeouts from the get-go," said Kennedy, who could follow Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson in the rotation. "If they come, that's awesome. [Catcher Chris Snyder called a great game. We worked really well together."

Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said Kennedy threw one of the best outings of the spring by a Diamondbacks starter.

"Excellent. Ian was really, really good. He had good rhythm. He had good command," Hinch said. "He had swing-and-miss pitches."

Hinch said the Diamondbacks will likely begin the season with four starting pitchers, as Brandon Webb is expected to miss the start of the season. He has yet to pitch in a Cactus League game.

Arizona is allowing Webb to build his arm strength through long toss. No date is set for his next bullpen.

-- The Associated Press

DUCHSCHERER DECLARES HIMSELF READY FOR SEASON (8:58 p.m. ET)

Justin Duchscherer put up a string of zeros while facing another team for the first time in 19 months. He then declared himself ready for the start of the season -- and past all of his troubles in 2009.

Duchscherer allowed four hits over four innings to help the Oakland Athletics beat the Seattle Mariners 7-2 on Monday.

"I was nervous, very anxious anticipating getting out there for the first time against big league guys," he said. "It's been a while."

Duchscherer missed all of last season because of elbow surgery and depression. The 32-year-old right-hander last pitched in a big league game Aug. 18, 2008.

Even though he only threw about 50 pitches -- he went to the bullpen for 10 pitches after he was finished -- Duchscherer said he expects to be in Oakland's rotation at the beginning of the season.

"As long as I'm ready to go five or six innings, I think that's kind of the plan," he said. "As the season goes, my second, third, fourth start I can progress back up to the 100, 100-pitch count range and hopefully get in seven, eight, nine innings like I feel like I'm supposed to."

Manager Bob Geren said Duchscherer should be ready to start the season in the rotation if he progresses with each spring outing.

Duchscherer was an All-Star in 2005 and '08 before the problems with his back, elbow and depression. He's still on an amended training schedule designed to preserve his back.

-- The Associated Press

MECHE LEAVES GAME WITH SORE SHOULDER (8:41 p.m. ET)

Gil Meche pitched three innings Monday before leaving the Kansas City Royals' 9-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox with a sore right shoulder.

Meche allowed three runs and four hits, struck out one and walked one. He threw 31 of his 56 pitches for strikes.

"The reason I came out was because I felt some stiffness in my shoulder," Meche said. "I didn't want to push it with the season coming up. It's nothing serious. I did all the tests. They checked me out. The shoulder is strong, but the tightness is there."

"There's no pain going on, so I'm not worried about it. After the third, I told Mac [pitching coach Bob McClure], 'Look, I don't feel like I'm getting anywhere. I'm just going through the motions, let's just shut it down and save it for later."

Meche was limited to 23 starts and 129 innings because of shoulder and back problems in 2009.

"Last year I did push through things and I know where that got me," Meche said. "I want to make sure I feel 100 percent when the season starts. It's a matter of me being smart right now. If I have it now, it's OK, but I'm just going to make sure I do the right things, so it goes away."

"When you get stiff on the mound, the next thing you know your neck is bothering you because you're not throwing normal. I felt a little stiffness in my neck coming on, too," he said. "I was like it's not going to be worth it. I'm only going to make myself worse by staying out here trying to pitch."

Meche was scheduled to throw five innings or about 70-75 pitches with only two more starts left in spring training.

"If I go out there throwing two more innings and not being free and easy, who knows what could happen?" he said. "I know I need to get a pitch count up, but if you don't throw correctly that's when injuries happen. The trainers agreed it was a good idea to come out."

-- The Associated Press

CRISP SLATED TO PLAY OUTFIELD THIS WEEK (8:03 p.m. ET)

Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp homered as a designated hitter in his return to the Athletics' lineup against Seattle after being sidelined for nearly two weeks with a sore hamstring.

Crisp is scheduled to play the outfield for the first time this spring Wednesday.

He signed a $5.25 million, one-year contract with the A's in December, six months after undergoing operations on both shoulders. A tender hamstring sidelined the 30-year-old crisp for 12 days before his return Monday.

Batting leadoff, Crisp struck out in his first at-bat then hit a three-run homer in the second inning off Seattle starter Ian Snell.

-- The Associated Press

MCLOUTH LOOKING TO OVERCOME STRUGGLES (7:41 p.m. ET)

Wearing a new set of contact lenses, Nate McLouth has been able to see the ball better than ever this spring.

That doesn't mean, however, that the Atlanta center fielder has been able to hit it.

Mired in a 0 for 28 slump with 12 strikeouts, McLouth batted in every inning of a rain-shorted minor league game Sunday in hopes of getting on track with the start of the season two weeks away.

McLouth got three hits -- two more than he's had in real spring games. Maybe the move worked. Finally, he had something positive to build on.

"I just needed to step away," said McLouth, batting .029. "Hitting is a funny thing. It can wear on you, even in spring training when numbers don't matter -- because they do.

"Not necessarily numbers, but feeling well and making good contact matters. And when that's not happening, regardless of whether it's spring training or not, that's frustrating."

Frustrating for McLouth and worrisome for the Braves. They are counting on him to be their leadoff hitter.

How bad has McLouth been this spring? His one hit in 35 at-bats came on March 6 and he has 14 strikeouts and three walks, striking out twice in five of his past eight games.

-- The Associated Press

TALLET GETTING FEEL FOR CHANGEUP (6:27 p.m. ET)

Brian Tallet has been working on his changeup this spring, and he's still trying to get a feel for it.

Tallet decided to keep the pitch out of the dirt while facing Brandon Inge in the first inning of the Toronto Blue Jays' 8-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Monday, and the third baseman connected for a three-run homer.

"I just told myself, 'I'm not going to bounce them anymore. It's not going to get any better by bouncing it,'" Tallet said. "I've got to be able to get that pitch in the zone. So we were working on getting it up a little bit and got that one up just too much."

Tallet, expected to be Toronto's fifth starter, allowed five runs and eight hits in five innings.

"You take that one [changeup] away and it's a whole different ballgame," he said.

"I don't think he would've thrown it in a [regular-season] game, especially 1-1, kind of a contact situation," catcher John Buck said. "Probably the cutter or that good sinker, his go-to pitches in that situation, two runners on. But I wanted him to throw that in a pressure situation."

-- The Associated Press

GARCIA MAKES CASE FOR ROTATION SPOT (6:21 p.m. ET)

Jaime Garcia is making a strong bid for a spot in the St. Louis Cardinals' rotation.

Garcia threw four crisp innings, David Freese and Joe Mather hit their first spring homers and a Cardinals split-squad beat the Houston Astros 6-4 on Monday.

Garcia, who missed last season after undergoing reconstructive left elbow surgery, allowed one run and two hits in relief of Kyle Lohse. He has yielded two runs while striking out 15 in 12 2/3 innings over four outings this spring.

"My arm feels awesome," he said. "It feels better than it has ever felt. I did everything I could in the offseason. Finally now I feel like everything is paying off. It's feeling good and everything is going the way it's supposed to go."

Garcia is competing with non-roster invitee Rich Hill and Kyle McClellan for the final spot in the rotation behind Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Lohse and Brad Penny.

Garcia was thought to be a long shot for the spot because of the surgery, but his success has put him in a close race with McClellan while Hill has struggled.

-- The Associated Press

RAYS HIT SEVEN HOMERS OFF RED SOX (4:51 p.m. ET)

James Shields was solid for 5 2/3 innings and Evan Longoria hit two of Tampa Bay's seven home runs Monday in an 11-9 win over a split squad of Boston Red Sox.

Shields recently was picked by Rays manager Joe Maddon to start on Opening Day for the third straight year. The right-hander gave up one run and five hits.

Kelly Shoppach homered twice for Tampa Bay and drove in four runs. Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez and Hank Blalock also homered for the Rays.

Boof Bonser was hit hard in his first start for the Red Sox, giving up five runs and six hits in two-plus innings.

Mike Cameron had two hits for Boston and is batting .423 this spring.

-- The Associated Press

NATIONALS TEE OFF ON METS' PELFREY (4:23 p.m. ET)

Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham each hit two homers off Mets starter Mike Pelfrey, leading the Washington Nationals to a 7-5 victory over New York on Monday.

Zimmerman hit a towering, wind-aided solo drive in the first inning, and a two-run shot in the fifth. Willingham had a solo shot in the second and a two-run homer in the fourth.

Pelfrey was charged with six runs, five earned, and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Jason Marquis pitched 4 2/3 innings for the Nationals, yielding three runs and seven hits.

-- The Associated Press

HAFNER FEELING LIKE HIMSELF AGAIN (4:19 p.m. ET)

For the first time in two years, Travis Hafner, the Cleveland Indians' easygoing, hard-swinging designated hitter, is looking like himself again. Now almost 18 months removed from shoulder surgery, the man nicknamed "Pronk" -- part project, part donkey -- by teammates years ago, is driving the ball and turning on pitches the way he once did.

In the past week, Hafner has hit a pair of homers -- one a tape-measure shot to center field -- that has given the Indians hope he can anchor the middle of Cleveland's lineup the way he did in 2006, when he hit a career-high 42 homers with 117 RBIs.

"It's starting to get close to where it was," said Hafner, who has studied nuances of his swing on video. "You can notice a pretty big difference in my swing in '08 and '09. But this year, I've been able to do some things and hopefully get back to where I was."

Last season, he batted .272 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs in 94 games. He had opened the season feeling fine, but wound up on the disabled list in late April with shoulder soreness and didn't return until June. The statistics aside, what was more troubling was Hafner appeared lost at the plate.

Hafner isn't making excuses. "I didn't swing the bat the way I wanted to," he said. "I just didn't see the ball the same as I used to. I swung at bad pitches. Hitting is all about consistency."

-- The Associated Press

MARCUM GETS OPENING DAY START FOR BLUE JAYS (3:31 p.m. ET)

Right-hander Shaun Marcum will be Toronto's Opening Day starter.

It will be the first time in eight years that Roy Halladay won't take the mound to open the Blue Jays' season. Now that Halladay has been traded to Philadelphia, manager Cito Gaston said Monday it was an easy decision because of the way Marcum has pitched this spring. In two starts covering five shutout innings, he has allowed one hit and one walk while striking out four.

Gaston has not decided on the rest of the rotation for the opening series against Texas.

"I think he's earned it from what he's done in the past," Gaston said of Marcum, 12-9 in 2007, his first full season with the Blue Jays, and 9-7 in 2008 before a sore elbow ended his season.

Marcum missed half of the 2008 season and all of 2009 recovering from elbow surgery. He says "it never even crossed my mind that I'd be in this position."

-- The Associated Press

JOBA THROWS IN YANKEES INTRASQUAD GAME (2:12 p.m. ET)

Joba Chamberlain made a big start in an empty ballpark.

Bidding for the fifth spot in the New York Yankees' rotation, Chamberlain allowed two runs and six hits over five innings in an intrasquad game on Monday. The contest at Steinbrenner Field was not open to the public, which meant only a handful of people were in the 11,076-seat stadium.

"I felt like I was back in the Florida State League where it all started," said Chamberlain, who pitched for Single-A Tampa of the FSL in 2007. "That was kind of the mindset I took out of it and I think that was good for me. Why I got to where I'm at with the hard work and everything."

Chamberlain had one strikeout, one walk and induced three double plays.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi and other team officials will meet Wednesday to discuss the final rotation spot. The winner could be announced Thursday or Friday.

-- The Associated Press

NATIONALS SEND DUNCAN TO MINOR LEAGUE CAMP (9:22 a.m. ET)

The Nationals have reassigned outfielder Chris Duncan to minor league camp, the team announced Monday.

Duncan had been trying to make the Nationals as a non-roster invitee. He spent parts of five years with the St. Louis Cardinals, including the team's run to a World Series title in 2006. But injuries limited Duncan's effectiveness the past three seasons. He was traded to the Red Sox in July and released after he hit less than .200 in 92 minor-league at-bats.

The Nationals also reassigned infielder Pete Orr to minor league camp and optioned right-handed pitcher Shairon Martis to Triple-A Syracuse.

The moves trimmed the Nationals' big-league roster to 36 players.

-- ESPN.com news services

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

ROCKIES PITCHERS BATTERED AND BRUISED (9:21 p.m. ET)
All morning, Rockies reliever Randy Flores took part in a drill designed to improve the dexterity and reflexes of the pitchers.

Still, the exercise couldn't prepare him for the liner off the bat of Cleveland's Chris Gimenez. Before Flores even had time to flinch, the ball caught him squarely on the left forearm, leaving behind quite a bruise.

Following the Rockies' 6-3 win over the Indians on Wednesday, Flores walked out with his pitching arm wrapped in white gauze.

Just another member of Colorado's battered and bruised bullpen.

The knot on Flores' arm comes on the heels of the news concerning Huston Street, who could miss the season opener after experiencing tightness in his right shoulder during a recent throwing session. Street will find out the results of an MRI in the next day or so.

Should Flores' arm remain tender in the morning, he could be next in line for an MRI.

"When I came in, they did the test that would indicate if they thought it was broke -- if I shrieked or something," Flores said. "I passed. So, it basically feels like a monkey bump times 100. ... Looks like just a bruise."

Street and Flores aren't the only ones banged up in the bullpen. Set-up man Rafael Betancourt has an inflamed pitching shoulder -- although he had an encouraging pitching session Wednesday -- and Jimmy Gobble recently strained his groin.

The health of the bullpen remains a question mark with Opening Day in Milwaukee looming on April 5.

-- The Associated Press

ROYALS-PADRES SLUGFEST INCLUDES 30 RUNS, NO HOMERS (9:15 p.m. ET)
The Padres put together three five-run innings as they outslugged the Kansas City Royals 16-14 on Wednesday. Tony Gwynn and Lance Blanks each drove in three runs for the Padres.

The game included 31 hits, 10 doubles, three triples, 11 walks, a wild pitch, five errors, a passed ball and 12 unearned runs -- and lasted 3 hours and 27 minutes. The Padres led 16-4 entering the seventh, but the Royals scored 10 unanswered runs to make it interesting.

"I don't like the result," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "I was proud the way we came back."

San Diego left-hander Clayton Richard watched San Diego score five runs in the second and five in the fourth. In both innings, the Padres sent 10 men to the plate.

"You wish there was a way for your team to score a lot of runs and do it quick," Richard said. "I've been thinking of that for a long time on how to make that happen. You love to see the offense do well, but it's tough to sit for so long and go back out there. But you'd definitely rather have that than your team not scoring runs."

-- The Associated Press

FORMER ALL-STAR TURNBOW RELEASED (6:28 p.m. ET)
The Marlins released former All-Star closer Derrick Turnbow, who was set to have his troublesome right shoulder examined by a doctor in Miami later Wednesday. Turnbow said Tuesday he knew his chances of making the Marlins were "over" after he left Tuesday's game with severe shoulder pain.

Turnbow said he was sure he would "be shut down for a while." He exited Florida's 12-3 victory against the Nationals in the eighth inning.

Turnbow walked one batter and hit another before walking off the mound with the team trainer. He was set to undergo an MRI on Wednesday and said surgery was a possibility.

The hard-throwing right-hander had 39 saves in 2005 for the Brewers and pitched in the 2006 All-Star Game. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008.

-- ESPN.com news services

MARQUIS TRYING TO GET FEEL FOR PITCHES (4:57 p.m. ET)
Jason Marquis allowed eight runs on eight hits over 3 1/3 innings in his second start of the spring, and the Houston Astros beat the Washington Nationals 11-2 on Wednesday.

Marquis allowed the first four batters to reach base during a five-run first inning. He gave up eight total hits and struggled with his command, walking four. His ERA rose to 21.94.

"None of my pitches worked," he said. "I just didn't have a feel for anything."

Marquis, who signed a two-year, $15 million deal in December, went 15-13 with a 4.04 ERA with Colorado last season. He logged more than 200 innings for the third time in his career and appeared in his first All-Star Game.

The Nationals hope that either Marquis or John Lannan will anchor their rotation.

Marquis said he plans on throwing two bullpen sessions before his next outing. He is confident he can get himself right by the time the regular season rolls around.

Cristian Guzman started for the Nationals at shortstop for the first time this spring. He's recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and had missed some time earlier this spring after his wife gave birth to their daughter. He went 1-for-4 with a triple, showing off some blazing speed on the basepaths.

-- The Associated Press

HART STRUGGLING WITH CONTROL (4:43 p.m. ET)
Kevin Hart might be walking his way out of the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting rotation.

Hart walked six of the 12 batters he faced, failing to make it out of the second inning in the Pirates' 6-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday.

Hart came into spring training as the favorite to win the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but the right-hander has struggled with his control. He threw 53 pitches, only 19 for strikes, and reached three-ball counts on nine batters -- even hitting Ramon Santiago with a 3-0 pitch.

"My fastball had good life and my sinker had good movement," Hart said. "When I made pitches in the zone, I was able to get guys out. It's the 34 I threw out of the zone that got me into trouble."

In four outings this spring, Hart has pitched 4 2/3 innings and walked 13 of the 30 batters he's faced. His ERA is 15.43.

Hart has one minor league option remaining, so it's possible he could begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

"We're still in the evaluation process," manager John Russell said. "We still like what Kevin can bring, but at some point he's got to get it done."

-- The Associated Press

HANSON 'SHARP' OVER FIVE INNINGS (4:41 p.m. ET)
Tommy Hanson pitched like he was in midseason form Wednesday for the Atlanta Braves.

Hanson allowed one run on six hits in five innings in Atlanta's 4-2 win over the Marlins. It was the longest outing of the spring for Hanson, projected to be Atlanta's No. 3 starter.

"Really sharp. Best he's looked all spring," said manager Bobby Cox.

Hanson gave up a leadoff single in the first inning to Chris Coghlan, who was bunted to second before scoring on Hanley Ramirez's single. But the Marlins didn't do much else against Hanson, who effectively mixed in 10 changeups out of his 76 pitches.

"I think that's the best I've thrown my changeup, ever," said Hanson, who used the pitch to strike out Coghlan swinging in the third inning.

Hanson is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA -- two runs in 9 1/3 innings -- with one walk and 10 strikeouts in three games this spring.

-- The Associated Press

LIDGE TO THROW THURSDAY (3:37 p.m. ET)
The Phillies said Wednesday that closer Brad Lidge will pitch in a game for the first time Thursday. The team is off, but Lidge will start a minor league game at the Carpenter Complex and throw one inning.

Lidge is recovering from offseason elbow and knee surgery. The team hasn't ruled out the possibility that he could be ready Opening Day.

Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero, also recovering from elbow surgery, threw live batting practice for the first time Wednesday but is viewed as unlikely to be ready by Opening Day.

--ESPN.com senior MLB writer Jayson Stark

DIAMONDBACKS AGREE WITH BENSON (2:27 p.m. ET)
The Arizona Diamondbacks agreed to terms with pitcher Kris Benson on a minor league contract Wednesday.

The right-hander has compiled a 69-74 record with a 4.41 ERA in eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers. The Pirates selected him No. 1 overall in the 1996 first-year player draft.

Benson missed the entire 2007 season after having rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder. He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in February 2008 and went 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA in 11 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Benson was on the Rangers' 2009 opening day roster as a starter. After a short stint on the disabled list, he went to the bullpen and was 1-1 with an 8.46 ERA in eight games.

-- The Associated Press

REPORT: METS, MARLINS TO PLAY IN PUERTO RICO (2:32 p.m. ET)
A three-game series between the New York Mets and Florida Marlins in June has been moved from Miami to Puerto Rico, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The shift to San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium had been discussed for months pending an agreement between Major League Baseball and the players' association. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was scheduled for Thursday.

Florida will remain the home team, and the games will be played June 28-30.

Hiram Bithorn hosted 22 Montreal Expos home games in each of the 2003 and 2004 seasons before the franchise relocated to Washington. The ballpark also hosted the 2001 season opener between Texas and Toronto, and it was the site of games during the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009.

-- The Associated Press

CAPUANO SHUT DOWN WITH ELBOW FLARE-UP (7:55 a.m. ET)
Brewers starter Chris Capuano, attempting his second career comeback from Tommy John surgery, has been shut down for a few days with elbow inflammation.

The left-hander experienced lingering tightness in his elbow after pitching against the Reds last week.

"Rather than push through it, they just decided to shut it down for a few days and let it calm down," Capuano told reporters. "It's disappointing because I felt so good for the first few weeks of camp."

Capuano, 31, believes the amount of throwing he has done -- every day in spring training and four or five days a week in his offseason program -- finally caught up with him. But he's still aiming at returning to the team as a starter.

"I always knew I had to show the Brewers I could go take the ball every fifth day and throw seven or eight innings and be able to bounce back," he said. "If it gets pushed back a week or two weeks from wherever I start my season, it's not that big of a deal to me in the long run. I just hope it's that [and not more]."

-- ESPN.com news services

CHAPMAN PITCHES TWO SCORELESS INNINGS (6:20 p.m. ET)

Aroldis Chapman struck out two over two scoreless innings and the Cincinnati Reds beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 on Friday.

Chapman allowed just two infield singles. His strikeouts came on the last two batters he faced, overpowering Matt Kemp on a high fastball and getting Casey Blake looking.

Chapman defected from Cuba last year and agreed to a $30.25 million, six-year contract with the Reds in January. The left-hander has allowed three hits over four scoreless innings in two spring outings.

-- Associated Press

GIAMBI GETS DEFENSIVE IN DEBUT (6:03 p.m. ET)

Jason Giambi made his spring training debut Friday, flying out to center and taking a pitch off the forearm in the Colorado Rockies' 9-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

Giambi also made a diving stop at first base, a play he might have missed out on had he followed through with his original plan of being a designated hitter with an American League team this spring.

Instead, he opted to sign a one-year deal with Colorado as a fill-in at first for Todd Helton and a pinch hitter.

Todd Wellemeyer pitched four scoreless innings for the Giants, allowing just two hits. Nate Schierholtz and Buster Posey each drove in two runs.

Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa went four innings, giving up one earned run.

-- Associated Press

HARDY, HUDSON GETTING ACQUAINTED (5:37 p.m. ET)

Shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Orlando Hudson, the Minnesota Twins' new double-play combination, are getting acquainted.

The two are being paired during spring training so they can learn each other's tendencies around the middle of the infield. Even though they have yet to turn a double play in four exhibition games, both Hardy and Hudson said they expect their new working arrangement to go smoothly.

Hardy was acquired in a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers, while Hudson signed with the Twins as a free agent. Minnesota is Hudson's fourth major league team.

-- Associated Press

BRAVES' JURRJENS FINALLY MAKES DEBUT (5:26 p.m. ET)

Atlanta Braves right-hander Jair Jurrjens managed to make his spring debut, anyway.

Jurrjens threw two scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday before the game was called after three due to showers that washed away the exhibition slate in Florida.

Jurrjens had been struggling with inflammation around his right shoulder and manager Bobby Cox decided to be cautious. Jurrjens, who turned 24 in January, went 14-10 with a 2.60 ERA for the Braves last season.

Jurrjens was supposed to start Wednesday against the New York Yankees, but the game was called due to rain. He made the 90-mile bus ride to Tampa and said it was tough to get back into his rhythm for a second straight day, but he said his arm felt fine.

-- Associated Press

WEEKS PAINED TO PLAY WITHOUT HARDY (4:25 p.m. ET)

Rickie Weeks is eager to resume his career, but he's not exactly looking forward to Opening Day.

The Brewers second baseman hasn't played since tearing the sheath of a tendon in his left wrist in May. When he takes the field next month, his double-play partner at shortstop, J.J. Hardy, won't be there.

Hardy was traded in the offseason to the Twins for center fielder Carlos Gomez in a move that made way for Alcides Escobar. Weeks says he and the rookie Escobar will make a strong combination, too.

Weeks says he'll hurt a little because he and Hardy were close and that they've talked during spring training.

Brewers manager Ken Macha thinks Weeks looks the same despite injuries that have cost him parts of the last four years.

-- Associated Press

PETTITTE TOSSING STRIKES (3:06 p.m. ET)

Andy Pettitte peered over his raised black glove for a sign from the catcher, shook him off, nodded "OK," then froze Jimmy Rollins with a changeup for strike three.

Vintage Pettitte.

Too bad the sequence took place in a batting cage under the stands at Steinbrenner Field -- and Philadelphia's Rollins was nowhere to be found.

Torrential rains forced the New York Yankees' bus to turn around about an hour into the trip to Viera on Friday, and Pettitte's first scheduled start of spring training was turned into another simulated outing.

"I got my normal warm-up in, and then I got all my throws in and I'm tired," Pettitte said. "That's the biggest thing, I wanted to make sure I was good and fatigued. Obviously, I would've loved to face hitters but the way the weather's been I had to get my work in here today."

After a two-inning simulated outing on a back field Sunday, Pettitte went three innings Friday and threw 50 pitches, mixing in several breaking balls.

-- Associated Press

TIGERS' PITCHING WEATHERS RAIN (2:58 p.m. ET)

Tigers manager Jim Leyland might complain about the weather if he thought it would do any good.

"It's not OK, but it's OK," Leyland said after Friday's exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies was rained out. "You can't do anything about it so you just do the best you can.

"Obviously we've got a lot of work to do. I think the next 10 days or so are going to be critical for us in the pitching area. It's actually OK for some guys to get a little blow, but other guys it's not."

Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson, candidates for open spots in Detroit's pitching rotation, had been scheduled to pitch Friday. They will pitch instead in Saturday's split-squad game against the New York Yankees.

"The plan is to have Bonderman, Robertson and [Dontrelle] Willis, not necessarily in that order, pitch three innings apiece here, and [Max] Scherzer will pitch in the road," Leyland said. "So we'll have all four of those guys pitching and that's good." Scherzer and Ryan Perry will be among the pitchers traveling to Port St. Lucie to face the New York Mets.

-- Associated Press

RED SOX, CARDINALS JUGGLE ROTATION (2:55 p.m. ET)

The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox will adjust their pitching plans after rain forced the postponement of Friday's spring training game.

Boston and St. Louis will split their squads on March 22, adding a game in Jupiter and "B" games on Saturday against their minor leaguers.

Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz, scheduled to start Friday, will start Saturday's "A" game against the Pirates in Fort Myers. Michael Bowden follows Buchholz.

Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols is expected to return to the lineup Saturday after missing about a week to nurse an ailing lower back, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Cardinals right-hander Rich Hill, scheduled to start Friday, will start the "B" game on Saturday and right-hander Chris Carpenter will keep his regular scheduled start at 1:05 p.m. against Houston on the main field.

The Red Sox are playing Tampa Bay in Fort Myers on March 22 and the Cardinals have a game in Kissimmee against the Astros.

-- ESPN.com news services

ORIOLES' JOHNSON HOPES FOR REVIVAL IN EIGHTH (2:43 p.m. ET)

After struggling when given a chance to replace George Sherrill as closer during the second half of last season, Jim Johnson hopes for a revival now that he's back to a set-up role for the Baltimore Orioles.

"When I took over for George last season, I probably tried to overdo it," Johnson said. "That never really leads to success."

Johnson blew three of his 11 save chances in the ninth-inning role after Sherrill was traded to Los Angeles, and Baltimore signed Mike Gonzalez during the offseason to become its closer.

"We all understand what Mike was brought here for," Johnson said, "and that's fine."

A starter in the minor leagues, Johnson was converted to a reliever two years ago. He didn't allow a run in his first 10 appearances and he didn't allow a home run all season.

His finished 2-4 with a 2.23 ERA in 2008 but slumped to 4-6 with a 4.11 ERA last year, when he allowed eight homers and failed to convert six of 16 save chances.

"He will be himself. He will be effective as an eighth-inning guy as opposed to a closer," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "He did try to do a little more than he should have when he was the closer. I think he'll be better suited for the eighth inning."

-- The Associated Press

RAYS STILL SPRING'S WINNINGEST TEAM (2:28 p.m. ET)

The Phillies-Rays spring training game has been canceled because of rain.

Friday's cancellation means Tampa Bay's franchise-record streak of nine straight exhibition wins will remain intact at least another day. The Rays are scheduled to host the Florida Marlins in Port Charlotte on Saturday.

-- The Associated Press

K-ROD'S PITCHING SESSION ON HOLD (12:16 p.m. ET)

The cancellation of the Mets-Twins spring training game has forced New York closer Francisco Rodriguez to postpone pitching to live batters.

Rodriguez said Friday he expects to throw to live hitters Saturday in what should be the final step before pitching in a spring training game.

Rodriguez has yet to pitch to hitters this spring after dealing with a case of conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pinkeye. He plans to wear prescription goggles under doctors' orders, though he said he feels fine.

Rodriguez said he needs to get back on the mound so he can determine what he needs to improve before Opening Day.

-- The Associated Press

MARLINS-ORIOLES RAINED OUT (11:24 a.m. ET)

Rain has forced the cancellation of the Florida-Baltimore exhibition game.

The announcement Friday came two hours before the scheduled start. The game will not be made up.

The Marlins traveled from Jupiter for games Friday in Sarasota and Saturday in Port Charlotte against Tampa Bay. The Orioles were scheduled to start Jeremy Guthrie, and Florida was to start Andrew Miller.

To give pitchers extra work, Baltimore added a split-squad game Sunday at Pittsburgh's minor league complex, Pirate City in Bradenton.

-- The Associated Press

YANKEES-NATIONALS WASHED OUT (10:12 a.m. ET)

Heavy rains washed out Friday's scheduled exhibition game between New York and Washington.

A sellout crowd was expected at Space Coast Stadium for the defending World Series champions' only visit of the spring. The Yankees were already en route from Tampa when informed of the cancellation early Friday. Water had collected in some areas of the outfield before the decision was made to call the game.

It's the second consecutive rainout for the Nationals, who were planning to start right-hander Jason Marquis against Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte.

The Nationals reassigned catcher Devin Ivany and first baseman Josh Whitesell to their minor league camp.

-- The Associated Press

Spring Training Blog: Feb. 25

February, 25, 2010
02/25/10
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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

Spring Training Blog: Feb. 24

February, 24, 2010
02/24/10
11:50
AM ET
GIAMBI REPORTS TO ROCKIES SPRING TRAINING (8:30 p.m. ET)
In a perfect world, Jason Giambi would be reporting to spring training as a designated hitter for a contender in the American League. Instead, Giambi returned to the Rockies in Tucson on Wednesday, where he will be an occasional fill-in for Todd Helton at first base and a pinch-hitter.

Giambi signed a one-year deal for $1.75 million in January after not being able to secure a job as an everyday DH. Just because it was Plan B doesn't make it any less desirable, Giambi said.

"Trust me, in a perfect world, I'd love to say I could still go out there every day at first base and still play," Giambi said after reporting to camp Wednesday. "I would've loved that opportunity to see what I could do [as a] DH day-in and out with a team that had an opportunity [to win]. But I enjoy it here. I really had a great time, and I'm excited to be back."

The 36-year-old Helton admitted to wearing down at the end of last season. He told Tracy that he was amenable to more rest this season, which would open up at-bats for Giambi. And Giambi's presence bolsters the bench and gives Tracy another left-handed bat to go with outfielder Seth Smith.

Helton said Giambi, a lifetime .282 hitter with 409 home runs and .527 slugging percentage, brings "intimidation" at the plate and a "clubhouse presence" to the Rockies. One of Giambi's strengths, Helton said, is his ability to discuss hitting and do it with a calming influence.

-- The Associated Press

STRASBURG SLATED TO THROW MARCH 9 (6:58 p.m. ET)
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said RHP Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in June's draft, would make his first exhibition start on March 9 against Detroit at Space Coast Stadium and will pitch every fifth day, regardless of where the game was to be played.

Washington pitching coach Steve McCatty told MLB.com he is looking forward to watching Strasburg throw against big league hitters.

"This will be my first chance to see him face hitters. Everybody is really excited," McCatty told MLB.com. "We'll see how it goes. Who knows what's going to happen after that. We are just going to go and see how it's going to works out. We are going to have a rain day every once in a while, so everything is always done in pencil."

-- ESPN.com news services

TIGERS' ZUMAYA, FASTBALL BACK (5:38 p.m. ET)
Joel Zumaya's overpowering pitching sessions have attracted a lot of attention in the early days of spring training. Just six months ago, as he was preparing for a second major operation in less than two years on his aching right shoulder, he wondered whether his career might be over at the age of 24.

"I've asked myself plenty of times: When does this stop? It's come down plenty of times to: That's enough, my arm is shot," Zumaya said. "I've had so many surgeries already. I've seen plenty of guys' careers end. They're done; they just make the decision to go home. I know I have some left. I have a lot left."

He has so much left that manager Jim Leyland sometimes shakes his head in disbelief.

"I watched him throwing the other day and I remarked to one of the coaches: 'How does a human being hit that?'" Leyland said. "That blows my mind ... the ball is exploding up there, and it's impressive enough that he can throw it that way; it's more impressive that somebody can hit it."

The Tigers would like Zumaya to take back the eighth-inning role he had in his rookie season of 2006, when he struck out 97 in 83 1/3 innings and they won the pennant.

"It bothered me all last year," Zumaya said. "I kept my mouth shut, but it hurt all year. I tried to do as much as I could to help this team, and it's probably my fault that I did it but I'm a competitor. I don't want to sit on the bench and watch my teammates go out there and battle it off, and then the seventh and eighth inning come along and the game goes the other way."

-- The Associated Press

PHILS FEEL THEY HAVE 'UNFINISHED BUSINESS' (4:43 p.m. ET)
The Phillies say they have some "unfinished business" this year after falling two wins shy of repeating as World Series champions.

"Last year didn't go the way we wanted it to," Ryan Howard said. "Hopefully everyone comes in here with the mindset of unfinished business, everyone gets locked in and we have a good spring training and carry it out to the season."

The two-time defending NL champions are hoping for another long season that carries into late October and possibly early November. But they've got a long way to go before they get there. The team held its second full-squad workout Wednesday and live batting practice starts Thursday.

Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez are among the hitters scheduled to face new ace Roy Halladay.

-- The Associated Press

WELLS READY FOR LEADERSHIP ROLE WITH JAYS (3:31 p.m. ET)
Vernon Wells says he's finally prepared to assume the mantle of leadership for the youth-laden Toronto Blue Jays.

"It's a fun role to be in," he said. "Guys look at you to do the right things and how to be successful at this level. It's a role I'm looking forward to. For me, it's pretty easy. You expect guys to go out and play hard. That's my point to everybody. There's one thing you can control in this game and that's going out and playing the game the right way and respecting the game. Things will work out after that."

Manager Cito Gaston said Wells and second baseman/designated hitter Aaron Hill, starting his sixth season, "are probably going to be two guys who step up and do it. You've always got to remember you lead by example.

"You're going to have bad nights and you're going to have to handle them the right way. You're going to have good nights and you're going to have to handle them the right way," Gaston said. "Leadership is tough to do. Some people are leaders, some are not."

One thing Wells has going for him this spring is a pain-free left wrist. He fractured it making a sliding catch in Cleveland on May 10, 2008, underwent surgery and missed 26 games, and 25 more because of hamstring problems.

-- The Associated Press

DOTEL OFF TO SLOW START (2:28 p.m. ET)
Pirates reliever Octavio Dotel is off to a slower start than he expected at spring training.

Dotel strained a muscle on the left side of his upper body Sunday while throwing a bullpen session. The injury is not considered serious, but Dotel has been shut down for a few days as a precaution.

The 36-year-old Dotel has pitched a total of 160 innings over the past three years. The Pirates signed the oft-injured pitcher in the offseason.

"It's good that it wasn't a big pop or a snap or anything," manager John Russell said Wednesday. "It's better it happened now than later in camp. There are no concerns he won't be ready for the season."

The Pirates already had planned on taking it easy with their new closer. Like Dotel, right-hander Brendan Donnelly also will be eased into his spring workload.

-- The Associated Press

A'S ANDERSON WORKING ON CHANGEUP (1:36 p.m. ET)
Brett Anderson, who went 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA and finished sixth in American League Rookie of the Year balloting last season, is concentrating on improving his changeup. He went home to Stillwater, Okla., in the offseason and worked on the pitch with his father, Frank, the head baseball coach at Oklahoma State.

Anderson hopes the pitch will help him put more balls in play early in counts and allow him to go deeper in games. He threw 175 1/3 innings in his rookie season.

"I've thrown a change before, but it's never been a confidence pitch for me," Anderson said. "I've always had enough confidence in my slider and curveball to throw them whenever I wanted to. [The changeup] is getting better, but it's a process."

Anderson also plans to do a better job of moving the ball around in the strike zone. He recalls a confrontation with Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval last year, when he kept pounding the inside corner with fastballs before finally surrendering a three-run homer.

"No matter how good your stuff is, if big league hitters are looking for one pitch in one location, they're definitely going to hit it," Anderson said.

-- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com

SPLIT-FINGERED PITCH GIVES IGARASHI EDGE IN METS' PEN (1:18 p.m. ET)
This spring, Mets manager Jerry Manuel is looking for someone to pitch the eighth inning, and deliver the ball to closer Francisco Rodriguez. When asked which of the many candidates might have a slight edge, he pointed at 30-year-old right-hander Ryota Igarashi from Japan.

"He throws strikes, and he has this," Manuel said, putting his right hand in a split-fingered grip position. "He could give a different look to hitters the first month of the season."

Igarashi, 30, was 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 56 games last year for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, in Japan. Kelvim Escobar, Bobby Parnell and Sean Green are other likely candidates for the set-up role.

The Mets opened camp with a rotation that includes Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine. Jonathon Niese is perhaps the leader among several candidates for the fifth starter spot.

Finding a complement for Santana at the top of the rotation will be crucial to the Mets' chances to contend in the National League East. Perez, always erratic, came to camp in very good shape, several Mets said. He has worked with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in camp and has, from all reports, thrown the ball well in his bullpen sessions this spring.

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

INFIELD SWAP: LOPEZ, FIGGINS TRADE PLACES (12:15 p.m. ET)
When the Mariners trotted out for infield drills on Tuesday, second baseman Jose Lopez went to third base and newly acquired third baseman Chone Figgins headed over to second.

Was it spring training jitters? Or some clubhouse humor at the new guy's expense? No, and no. Lopez has been asked to give third base a try, while Figgins, who has big league experience at second, will move across the infield.

"I'll try to catch ground balls at third base and see what happens at spring training, play in a couple of games," Lopez said, according to The Seattle Times. "If I like it, I like it. I'll try."

Lopez said he had a hunch that he might be asked to make the shift when the Mariners signed Figgins, according to the report. And when Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu approached him with the idea, he agreed to give it a try.

"Figgins is a good guy and quick," Lopez said, according to the Times. "He's got better range. And we need it. I've got a better arm than Figgins at third base, especially with a diving catch. But it's no big deal. I'll wait for the games and see how I'm feeling in the games."

"We're going to look at it and see," Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said, according to the report. "There's nothing etched in stone right now. We're just looking to see what our different options are."

-- ESPN.com news services

GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR HEYWARD (11:56 a.m. ET)
The comparisons already are out of control for Atlanta Braves prospect Jason Heyward.

Chipper Jones says the 6-foot-5 Heyward looks like former Braves first baseman Fred McGriff, only bigger.

Eric Hinske says Heyward hits line drives like Cliff Floyd.

Leave it to manager Bobby Cox to trump those comparisons.

Cox says the ball sounds different coming off Heyward's bat. It's a sound Cox says he has heard before -- "kind of like ol' Hank Aaron's sound."

Heyward calls Cox's comparison to the Hall of Famer "awesome." Even more exciting to the 20-year-old is the word from Cox that Heyward can win a starting job in right field this spring.

-- The Associated Press

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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, 17, 2010
02/17/10
9:25
AM ET
REPORTS: ESCOBAR HAS SHOULDER DISCOMFORT (11:52 p.m. ET)
The Mets plan to proceed with caution as reliever Kelvim Escobar experiences discomfort in his right shoulder, according to multiple media reports.

Mets spokesman told The Star-Ledger Wednesday that the team had planned to move slowly all along with Escobar.

Escobar, an 18-game winner in 2007, missed nearly all of the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels because of shoulder trouble. Escobar signed a one-year deal with the Mets in late December. If healthy, he would likely work out of the bullpen for the Mets, who are looking for setup help for All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez.

The 33-year-old Escobar has extensive relief experience from his days in Toronto. He came up with the Blue Jays in 1997 and saved 38 games in 2002.

-- Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

RAYS ABANDON NAMING RIGHTS DEAL (9:13 p.m. ET)
The Tampa Bay Rays are reconsidering plans to change the name of their spring training stadium.

The team announced Wednesday that it has decided to "defer pursuit" of a deal for naming rights to Charlotte Sports Park.

Under a proposed 15-year partnership with The Mosaic Company, the ballpark would have been called Mosaic Field at Charlotte Sports Park.

The proposed arrangement drew opposition from some local residents.

-- The Associated Press

GREINKE MISSES WORKOUT FOR DENTIST TRIP (6:52 p.m. ET)
Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke has missed his first scheduled bullpen session for the Kansas City Royals because he had to get two teeth pulled.

Greinke left camp Wednesday with puffiness in his right jaw after he said he had a wisdom tooth and a broken tooth extracted.

Greinke said he would play catch Thursday and, if all goes well, resume throwing off the mound Friday. Greinke went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA last season and has been named the Opening Day starter.

Jose Guillen was among the few players who did not check into camp. General manager Drayton Moore says he expects the veteran outfielder to arrive by Monday, when all position players are scheduled to report.

-- The Associated Press

VILLONE AGREES TO MINOR LEAGUE DEAL (5:02 p.m. ET)
Left-hander Ron Villone is staying with the Washington Nationals, agreeing to a minor league contract.

The 40-year-old would get a $900,000, one-year contract if added to the 40-man roster and would have the chance to earn an additional $700,000 in performance bonuses.

Villone agreed to a minor league deal before the 2009 season and went 5-6 with one save and a 4.25 ERA in a team-leading 63 games. He has a 61-65 record with a 4.73 ERA in 15 big league seasons.

-- The Associated Press

COX ON HIS LAST SEASON: NO LOOKING BACK (2:38 p.m. ET)
Getting ready for Friday's start to his final spring training as a major league manager, Atlanta's Bobby Cox insists he will not attempt to savor this visit to Florida more than any other.

"I think I did it the right way. Now I've got to do it and there's no looking back," he said while relaxing in his office at Turner Field this month.

Cox is entering his 21st consecutive season as Braves manager -- the longest tenure of any active manager -- and 25th overall. During two stints with the Braves and four seasons with Toronto, Cox has won 15 division titles -- including 14 straight with Atlanta -- five pennants and one World Series.

Now, Cox says a return to the playoffs would be the best reason to celebrate in 2010.

"It's no different," he said. "We still have a job to do. Just because I'm retiring, you're expected to win and give everything you've got."

-- Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

NEW SPRING NEST, NEW ATTITUDE FOR ORIOLES (2:30 p.m. ET)
The Orioles begin 2010 with a new spring training home in Sarasota, Fla., and a commitment to ending 12 consecutive years of losing. Manager Dave Trembley and team president Andy MacPhail say they're done blaming youth and inexperience for results like last season's 64-98 finish.

"There needs to be improvement on a more consistent basis from everybody, and I think we have enough guys that we'll do that," Trembley said.

The additions include third baseman Miguel Tejada, first baseman Garrett Atkins, closer Mike Gonzalez and starting pitcher Kevin Millwood.

But the new additions come with questions. Can Tejada make the switch from shortstop to third? Can Atkins bounce back from an awful season that cost him a starting job in Colorado? And can young pitchers including Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Jason Berken, Chris Tillman and Dave Hernandez make progress?

"You're not going to win in any division without pitching. If you can build it through your own system, then you're a step ahead," Millwood said. "It's going to be a lot cheaper and you have control of your guys for a lot longer. Getting it done the way they're getting it done is definitely the way to go."

-- Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

PAPELBON USED BLOWN SAVE TO SPUR WORKOUTS (9:41 a.m. ET)
All the motivation Jonathan Papelbon needed in the weight room this offseason was on tape -- the footage of his blown save against the Los Angeles Angels in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. The loss ended the Boston Red Sox's 2009 season and his streak of 26 scoreless postseason innings pitched.

"I've got it on tape and I watched it 100 times in my weight room,'' Papelbon told reporters on Tuesday. "I used it as motivation when I was feeling tired and weak. I'd pop it on, and kind of go over and say, 'There's still work to be done.' ''

The footage has also reminded Papelbon to be more mindful of pitch selection. Last season, he came to rely heavily on his fastball, using his split-fingered fastball less. Sometimes that worked; sometimes, opposing hitters adjusted to the heat.

"I think when you're successful at one certain aspect of your game, and mine was being able to locate my fastball, towards the end of the season, I tended to really rely on that a lot," Papelbon told reporters. "And until I got hurt with it ... I went with it. Hindsight's 20/20 now, but obviously I'm going to take that in consideration and try to be a little bit more selective with my [pitches]."

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March, 30, 2009
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CHAVEZ SAYS HE'S READY (9:34 p.m. ET)
Eric Chavez says he's ready for Opening Day.

Chavez, who is rehabbing from shoulder surgery, started and played third in the Athletics' 9-5 victory over the Dodgers, his first back-to-back games in the field this spring.

Chavez was limited to designated hitter duties early in the spring, and then he had a setback that cost him about two weeks. On Monday, Chavez had a double and a walk in three trips to the plate. He is 3-for-17 this spring, but he's 2-for-6 since he returned to the lineup following his setback.

"Timing feels good," Chavez said. "I've just got to get used to getting in there every day and back-to-back days. It's always different playing in a game with the adrenaline. For some reason there are different parts that work when you have adrenaline versus when you don't."

Meanwhile, left-fielder Manny Ramirez dropped a fly ball on the warning track, then fell down while trying to make a running catch, drawing an error, during the A's four-run second inning. "My gold glove is in jeopardy," Ramirez said.

BENSON ON BOARD? (9:06 p.m. ET)
Kris Benson believes he has done enough to nail down the final spot in Texas' rotation, and manager Ron Washington agrees.

"He's one of mine," Washington said when asked if Benson is one of the Rangers' five best starters. "It's more than me making the decision."

Benson pitched six strong innings and the Rangers beat the Giants 7-5. He gave up three runs and six hits, struck out two and walked none.

Benson, who has a 4.76 ERA in 17 innings this spring, hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2006 after rotator cuff surgery.

"I feel like every time I step on the mound and face hitters it's an audition," said Benson, who missed the 2007 season, pitched 11 Triple-A games last year and signed a minor league deal with the Rangers in February.

HARDEN BACK ON MOUND (8:24 p.m. ET)
Rich Harden returned to the mound for the first time since March 15 because of food poisoning and gave up three homers and five runs in the Cubs' 8-8, 10-inning tie with the Royals.

"I'm feeling good and got my strength back," said Harden, who gave up four hits in 4 2/3 innings while walking two and striking out four. "I threw 80 pitches and was still feeling just as strong at the end of it, which is good. We'll extend it a little more next time. My body is as strong as it's going to be. I'm ready to go."

Harden lost seven pounds after eating tainted chicken salad.

"I'm starting to put some weight back on," he said. "I'm still down a couple of pounds, but that's it. I'm definitely feeling a whole lot stronger now and it's back to normal, back to where I was before. My shoulder is feeling really strong, which is good."

Harden's next start will be Saturday at the new Yankee Stadium in the Cubs' final exhibition game.

"It's going to be nice being in Yankee Stadium, a big game like that," Harden said. "It will be like regular season. It will be packed there."

BAEK SIDELINED (8:15 p.m. ET)
Cha Seung Baek will miss his final Cactus League start and possibly the start of the season for the Padres because of a strained right forearm.

Baek left a start Sunday after four innings, complaining of soreness. The Padres are uncertain if the right-hander will be put on the disabled list.

Baek is 2-4 with a 9.27 ERA in seven starts this spring. Kevin Correia, who started for San Diego on Monday, is likely to take Baek's rotation spot should the injury linger into the season.

YANKS WATCHING CHAMBERLAIN (7:52 p.m. ET)
Joba Chamberlain needs to show Yankees manager Joe Girardi two things in his next-to-last spring training start for it to be considered a success.

"Efficency and location," Girardi said before leaving for Monday's road game against Toronto in Dunedin. "I'd like to get six innings if we could."

Chamberlain, the Yankees' No. 5 starter, is 3-0 with a 3.68 ERA in five major league spring training starts. However, the right-hander has pitched just 14 2/3 innings during the stretch, with a long of 4 1/3 innings.

Girardi feels it is "fairly important" that Chamberlain have a longer outing before spring training ends. His last scheduled preseason start is in a minor league intrasquad game Sunday in Florida.

Chamberlain split time last season between the bullpen and a starting role.

"As a reliever, it doesn't matter if you throw 25 pitches in an inning," Girardi said. "You do that as a starter, and you're not going to be deep into games. That's what we want all our starters to do."

JAYS WORRIED ABOUT RYAN (6:55 p.m. ET)
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston expressed concern about closer B.J. Ryan after he pitched a shaky eighth inning in Toronto's 3-1 loss to the Yankees.

Ryan gave up one run and two hits, including Angel Berroa's RBI double to left-center. The left-hander, who skipped the World Baseball Classic to work on his mechanics, has a 9.00 ERA this spring.

Gaston said he might consider making Scott Downs the closer and putting Ryan "somewhere else for a while and go from there." He said he wants to see how Ryan does in his final two spring appearances.

Ryan said he's moving in the right direction.

"The runs are just [from] pitching behind," he said. "Pitch behind in counts and you get in predictable counts. Aside from that there were some good things that came out of today."

JACKSON EARNS SPOT WITH TRIBE (6:40 p.m. ET)
Zach Jackson will open the season as the final pitcher on the Indians' staff.

The left-hander was told by manager Eric Wedge that he will be with the team when Cleveland opens the season in Texas against the Rangers on April 6.

"I'm excited, actually close to speechless right now," said Jackson, who was one of four players acquired by Cleveland in the July trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers.

"We had discussions this morning and we're going with Zach," Wedge said, adding that veteran right-handers Matt Herges and Vinnie Chulk will be sent to Triple-A Columbus.

"Zach is a guy who is going to help us and I think sooner than later. He's had a very good camp."

Jackson began spring training in a competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but Wedge liked the way the 25-year-old worked in relief. In six outings over 18 1/3 innings, he had a 6.87 ERA, but had a good walks-to-strikeouts ratio of four to 11.

RAYS RELEASE ENSBERG (6:27 p.m. ET)
The Rays released former All-Star Morgan Ensberg.

The infielder agreed to a minor league deal with the Rays in February. He hit .227 with four RBIs this spring.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he appreciated Ensberg's efforts, but Tampa didn't have a place for him with the Triple-A club.

Ensberg, an All-Star with Houston in 2005, appeared in 28 games for the Yankees last season, batting .203 with one homer and four RBIs. He spent parts of the previous six seasons with the Astros and Padres, and is a career .263 hitter with 110 home runs.

DICE-K VS. KAWAKAMI (6:23 p.m. ET)
Kenshin Kawakami relished the opportunity to match up against fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Matsuzaka allowed two hits and an earned run over five innings in his return to the Red Sox from the World Baseball Classic. Kawakami gave up a two-run homer to Rocco Baldelli for his only runs, and the Braves rallied to beat the Red Sox 4-3 in 10 innings on Monday.

More than 30 Japanese media members in the press box made the game a bit more intense for the starters.

"With so many media, I guess I felt a little more excited," Kawakami, who signed with the Braves this winter after starring in Japan, said through an interpreter. "If I was in Japan, I'd probably enjoy [the matchup] also."

Matsuzaka, who was the MVP of the tournament, liked the timing of the pitching pairing as he adjusted from the pressure of the WBC to spring training.

"Luckily today, going up against Kenshin-san on the other side gave me a change to get revved up," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "When I'm going up against any Japanese player, whether pitcher or position player, I'm always keeping an eye out on what kind of game they're going to pitch or how they're doing in the batter's box."

MAUER LIKELY TO STAY BEHIND (6:18 p.m. ET)
Twins All-Star catcher Joe Mauer likely won't travel with his team when it heads north to Minnesota next week.

Mauer, who is battling lingering pain and inflammation in his lower back, will consult with doctors and Twins officials in the next few days to evaluate his progress.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said there is no timetable for Mauer's return but that he seemed to be improving.

"He's moving around really good," Gardenhire said. "That's kind of nice. He has a smile on his face, which he hasn't had in a long time."

Mauer told reporters Sunday: "I feel the best I've felt all spring." The catcher said he hopes to engage in baseball activity this week but he's unsure when that will be.

"This week, I'm going to try to do more baseball stuff," Mauer said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "When, I don't know. But it'll be good to get out there. I can't wait. It's been a long spring. But I'll put it all behind me when I get back on the field."

FULL DAY FOR SMOLTZ (5:36 p.m. ET)
John Smoltz was back in the Braves' clubhouse Monday, visiting his old team before heading off for a round of golf with Tiger Woods.

"It was good to see everybody," Smoltz, who ended his 20-year tenure with the Braves by signing with the Red Sox in January, said before Boston's spring game against Atlanta. "It was different. There are a lot of memories. ... You miss it. But it's time to move on."

Braves manager Bobby Cox said the clubhouse hasn't been nearly as loud this spring without Smoltz.

"You always heard him," Cox said. "[But] players move up."

During Smoltz's later years with the Braves, a golf date with Woods was always part of spring training. This round came a day after Woods' victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at nearby Bay Hill.

"I didn't see his [winning] putt, but I'll tell him I did," Smoltz said prior to leaving for Isleworth Country Club.

MOTTE THE MAIN MAN (5:26 p.m. ET)
The Cardinals reassigned Chris Perez to the minor leagues following their 2-1 victory over the Marlins on Monday, clearing the way for Jason Motte to get the bulk of the work as their closer.

Perez, a first round pick in 2006, experienced arm trouble earlier this spring. He entered Monday's game having made eight one-inning appearances and allowed only two earned runs.

"He's got 100 innings in minor league baseball," manager Tony La Russa said. "He's really such a young pitcher. He needs to work. He needs to work regularly. He can be the closer in Memphis and get valuable experience."

Perez's departure means Motte will get first crack at saving games, though La Russa will probably give opportunities to other relievers as well.

"We are going to use whoever is available but I would believe that Motte is going to get a chance to close games," La Russa said.

ROCKIES MAKE SOME MOVES (4:03 p.m. ET)
The Rockies have optioned outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Murton and left-handed pitcher Greg Smith to Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Colorado also reassigned catchers Edwin Bellorin and Paul Phillips and left-handed pitcher Randy Flores to their minor league camp.

The Rockies now have 34 players on their major league spring training roster, including eight non-roster invitees.

TIGERS DEAL FOR ANDERSON (3:31 p.m. ET)
The Detroit Tigers have acquired outfielder Josh Anderson in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

The Tigers sent minor league pitcher Rudy Darrow to Atlanta in Monday's deal.

Anderson hit three home runs and stole 10 bases in 40 games with the Braves last year.

Darrow played at Double-A Erie and Class A West Michigan last year. The 25-year-old right-hander finished 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA in 14 appearances at Erie and went 4-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 33 games with West Michigan.

The 26-year-old Anderson was a fourth-round draft pick in 2003.

DELLUCCI PLACED ON DL (3:23 p.m. ET)
The Cleveland Indians have placed outfielder Dave Dellucci on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left calf.

Dellucci hit .240 (6-for-25) with two homers and five RBIs in eight spring games for Cleveland. This is his sixth trip to the DL since reaching the majors in 1997 with the Baltimore Orioles.

The 35-year-old signed a three-year contract as a free agent before the 2007 season.

The Indians also recalled outfielder Trevor Crowe from Triple-A Columbus on Monday. Crowe, 25, batted .289 with one homer, three RBIs and went 6-for-6 in stolen-base attempts this spring before being optioned out on Saturday.

CARPAL TUNNEL LIMITS ARROYO (2:35 p.m. ET)
Bronson Arroyo is having a flare-up of the carpal tunnel syndrome that has bothered him from time to time over the last few years. This bout is especially nasty, along with the timing. The season starts in less than one week.

"I don't know what it's from, man," Arroyo said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I can't write. I can't do anything with my pointer finger and thumb without it being irritated. I had it back in '04 in the playoffs [with Boston] pitching against the Yankees. I've had it for years."

So far, Arroyo has been able to overcome the problem, which bothers him much more when he holds a pen or a guitar pick. It returned last May and gave him problems for about three months. Arroyo finished 15-11 with a 4.77 ERA last season, when he was the only Reds pitcher who didn't miss a start. He led the staff with 200 innings. The right-hander can pitch with the problem. He'd rather not have to try.

Arroyo hasn't done very well in his last two starts during spring training. He gave up 11 hits in five innings of a game against minor leaguers on March 24 and was pounded for 14 hits and 10 runs -- three earned -- in only 4 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Rays took advantage of his inability to throw a breaking ball, something he passed off as just a bad day. There's more to it, though.

Asked if the carpal tunnel bothers his hand when he's pitching, Arroyo said, "Yeah. It's almost like taking a 220 [volt] line of electricity and pinching it off and you're only getting about two-thirds of it. You feel like you don't have much power, and you don't have much command. So I've got about another week to try to get it out of there. We'll see."

BERKMAN HAS BICEPS TENDINITIS (2:18 p.m. ET)
Lance Berkman was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis Sunday after seeing the team's doctor.

The Astros slugger will sit out the next few days but he doesn't appear to be in jeopardy of missing Opening Day. He was scratched from the Astros' lineup Saturday.

"I don't think Lance feels it's anything of great significance," Astros GM Ed Wade said, according to the Houston Chronicle. "[Athletic trainer] Nate [Lucero] didn't want him to make the trip [Saturday] because if he went over there with orders to swing the bat X number of times he would have swung the X times one hundred times. We wanted to keep him from being tempted to do too much."

Berkman said his injury doesn't affect his swing. It only bothers him when he throws.

"I'm going to try to DH [Tuesday]," Berkman told MLB.com. "That's what I'd like to do, if they'll let me."

CUBS CUT BAKO, STANTON (2:14 p.m. ET)
The Cubs released veteran catcher Paul Bako and left-hander Mike Stanton. Bako, 36, was hitting .364 this spring after signing a free-agent contract with Chicago on Jan. 30. Stanton, 41, who was out of baseball last season after being released by the Reds on April, has a career record of 68-63 with a 3.92 ERA in 1,178 games.

The Cubs also announced that catcher Koyie Hill and first baseman Micah Hoffpauir have made the Opening Day roster. Hill, who spent most of last season at Triple-A Iowa while recovering from a hand injury sustained after the 2007 season, was batting .381 this spring. Hoffpauir was batting .295 this spring, with a team-high five home runs and major league-leading 22 RBIs.

ROMERO WINS ROTATION SPOT (11:56 a.m. ET)
Rookie Ricky Romero pitched himself into the Blue Jays' starting rotation, manager Cito Gaston said Monday.

The 24-year-old left-hander was in a competition with Brad Mills and Scott Richmond for the final two spots in Toronto's rotation. Mills and Richmond are still battling for the fifth spot.

The Blue Jays' rotation is led by right-handed ace Roy Halladay. Left-hander David Purcey occupies the No. 2 slot and righty Jesse Litsch will start out of the No. 3 hole.

PIRATES DEMOTE TOUTED PROSPECT (11:49 a.m. ET)
The Pittsburgh Pirates have sent center fielder Andrew McCutchen to minor league camp and optioned infielder Brian Bixler to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The 22-year-old McCutchen is one of the team's top prospects and was a first-round draft pick in 2005. This spring, he batted .318 with two home runs, seven RBIs, two stolen bases and a team-best 12 walks.

General manager Neal Huntington said he expects both McCutchen and Bixler will play for the Pirates at some point this season.

Bixler will be Indianapolis' starting shortstop, and will get some playing time at second base.

The Pirates have 35 players remaining in camp.

REDS' ROSTER DOWN TO 33 (11:47 a.m. ET)
The Cincinnati Reds got down to 33 players by sending outfielders Jacque Jones and Norris Hopper and right-hander Daryl Thompson to the minors.

The 33-year-old Jones signed with the Reds on Feb. 5, getting a chance to win a reserve spot. He went only 4-for-45 (.089) in spring training, and was reassigned to the minor league camp Monday.

The Reds optioned Hopper and Thompson to Triple-A Louisville. Hopper batted .132 this spring, costing him a shot at a reserve role. The 23-year-old Thompson jumped from Class A to Triple-A last season. The Reds want him to get more experience in the minors.

PHILLIES CUT INFIELDER GILES (10:25 a.m. ET)
The Phillies released veteran infielder Marcus Giles on Monday. Giles was in camp as a nonroster invitee.

They also informed reliever Gary Majewski, utility infielder Pablo Ozuna and outfielder John Mayberry Jr. they won't be making the team, but they will go north with the club and play in exhibition games in Philadelphia this weekend against Tampa Bay.

-- ESPN.com's Jayson Stark

MATTHEWS STEWS AFTER DEMOTION (9:34 a.m. ET)
Gary Matthews Jr., who is in the third year of a five-year, $50 million contract, was told Sunday in a meeting with club officials that he will start the season as the Angels' fifth outfielder. He didn't take the news well.

Matthews did not travel with the team Sunday to play the Rangers. Instead, he requested and was granted a day off to cool off. He wasn't in a talking mood when approached by reporters.

"Just give me a day, guys, OK?" Matthews told reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Thanks."

It is unclear if Matthews has requested a trade, but when asked by reporters if he was being dealt, he said "no."

Angels general manager Tony Reagins said that currently he has no plans to deal Matthews and wouldn't disclose details of the meeting.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.