February, 16, 2009
Angels catcher Mike Napoli has been working on everything this spring except throwing as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder.

"I'm doing everything but catching," Napoli, who got his shoulder fixed in October, said Monday. "I have someone throwing the ball back for me."

Los Angeles would love to have Napoli's bat in the lineup. Manager Mike Scioscia said he could be used in the already-crowded designated hitter role.

Scioscia said he also wants Napoli back behind the plate but his recovery is the top priority.

"It's very important for us that Mike gets physically where he needs to be to be able to catch," he said. "Right now, we're going to err on the side of caution.

"We're looking for Mike to catch not just this year but for a long time."

The Indians have a new address.

Unpacked but not completely moved in, they are settling into their new spring home.

After training from 1993 to 2008 in Winter Haven Fla., the Indians have returned to Arizona where they already are enjoying the amenities of the $108 million state-of-the-art training facility and adjacent 10,000-seat ballpark they'll share with the Reds, who will follow them west next spring.

"It's such an upgrade from Winter Haven, it's unbelievable," Indians slugger Travis Hafner said, looking around the spacious clubhouse. "It's got everything: training rooms, weight rooms, hot tubs, batting tunnels. Anything we need is right here. In some ways, this is even nicer than Progressive Field."

Mike Gonzalez feels 22 again. He's lost a few pounds. His left arm is strong and limber. And there's not a lick of pain to mess things up.

It's time to show the Atlanta Braves what they thought they were getting two years ago: one of baseball's most dominant relievers.

"Man, it's been a few years since I felt the way I do now," he said Monday, having just arrived at his locker for the second workout of spring training. "I feel crispy. I lost 10 or 12 pounds. I feel really good. I feel agile."

The Braves are mostly concerned with his left arm, which broke down not long after the Braves acquired him from Pittsburgh in the winter of 2007. The previous year, Gonzalez converted all 24 of his save chances in a breakout season for the lowly Pirates, with 64 strikeouts in 54 innings. But his elbow began hurting, so he shut it down for the final month.

Gonzalez got a clean bill of health before the trade to Atlanta, but it quickly became apparent he was still hurting. He pitched in only 18 games before doctors discovered a torn ligament in his elbow. He underwent the dreaded Tommy John operation, which generally requires at least a year to come back from.

"It's one of those things where you go out there and try to grind through," Gonzalez recalled. "Obviously, I went as far as I could. But you can't compete at 80 mph when you're used to being a guy who throws 90-plus."

Two days into spring training, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington says his rotation is set. That doesn't mean the starting pitchers won't be challenged.

The Rangers deviated from their norm by having pitchers throw to hitters during batting practice on the first day of workouts Sunday. A day later, Washington indicated he was ready to roll with Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, followed in no particular order by Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy.

"The only thing that can unseat it is if one of those guys come up with an injury or something unforeseen happens," Washington said Monday. "But that's where we want to go."

Facing batters so early couldn't have come as a surprise because new pitching coach Mike Maddux made it clear over the winter that his pitchers should arrive in shape and ready for a heavier workload. Last season, the Rangers had the fifth-highest ERA in club history at 5.37.

"Throwing live BP makes you concentrate a little bit more, and you get a little bit more out of it, so that's a good thing," said Millwood, who was 9-10 with a 5.07 ERA in 2008, his second straight year with a 5-plus ERA after 10 seasons without one.

Millwood, the likely Opening Day starter, and Padilla (41-8, 4.74 ERA a year ago) are the known quantities for Washington.

The 23-year-old Harrison posted a 9-3 mark in 15 starts as a rookie after a July callup, although his ERA was a somewhat bloated 5.49. McCarthy hasn't stayed healthy in Texas and made just five starts last season. Feldman was a career reliever before starting 25 times in 28 appearances last year.

In other news, Washington says Frank Francisco "is the guy" right now in a closer battle also featuring former All-Star Derrick Turnbow and C.J. Wilson, who saved 24 games in 28 tries for the Rangers last year before having season-ending elbow surgery.

Eric Chavez arrived at the Oakland Athletics' training camp a few days early hoping to get an answer to one big question: Can he field a ground ball and make the throw from third base without feeling pain in his right shoulder or back?

"I can do pretty much everything else," the six-time Gold Glove winner said Monday. "When you start the year, you start with a clean slate."

Chavez won't be ready to start playing games until March 1 at the earliest. But that's the least of his worries.

"The missing component is getting on the field," Chavez said. "Last year was unrealistic for me."

Chavez missed all but 113 games over the past two years with various ailments. He underwent four operations between September 2007 and August 2008, two of them to repair a torn right shoulder.

He also had surgery on his back and left shoulder.

"Historically we've always had a lot of players come early," Athletics manager Bob Geren said. "Chavez and [Mark] Ellis are on specific programs designed by the medical staff and they are sticking to it."

Kansas City Royals right fielder Jose Guillen is looking to have a better start to 2009 than he had last season.

So he lost 10-15 pounds this winter.

"I didn't show up with a big stomach like last year," Guillen said Monday. "My pants are falling down. Last year, they were really tight. I'm in a little bit better shape than last year. I just tried to eat better. I was just trying to control my mouth a little bit."

The Royals signed Guillen, who was a free agent, to a three-year $36 million contract before the 2008 season to provide some punch in the middle of the lineup. Instead, he hit just .165 with three home runs in the first 31 games.

"It was not a good first month," Guillen said. "Last year in April I was completely out of shape. It was not good when you are overweight and when you start swinging the bat you are not swinging the bat the way you are capable of swinging. I don't think its going to be an issue this year."

One of Cito Gaston's first tasks in his first Blue Jays' training camp as manager since 1997 is correcting the misconception that he's writing off this season.

At baseball's winter meetings in Las Vegas, Gaston said he saw 2009 as a rebuilding season for the Jays. But that's not what he meant.

"Maybe that didn't come out right," Gaston said. "It's kind of like regrouping. Nobody likes to use rebuilding. That's a bad word. We're not really rebuilding. We're getting ready for 2010."

Whatever the term, the Jays are hampered by several injuries from the outset.

Right-hander Dustin McGowan underwent shoulder surgery last July. He could rejoin the pitching rotation as early as May or as late as August, and fellow right-hander Shaun Marcum is out for the season following elbow surgery.

Among Cliff Lee's accomplishments this winter bringing down three deer. Lee said the average for him is one a winter, so clearly his luck has extended beyond last season.

"You kill them, you skin them, then you eat them," said Lee, who puts the prized antlers up in his trophy room.

Lee said his favorite dish is covering the deer meat -- which he butchers himself -- in flour and salt and pepper, and then frying it.

He's thrown two bullpens already, and admitted to wanting to face batters, but said he wants to take it slow -- which is what he did last year. He said he thinks as long as the team stays healthy, it has a shot, especially with a healthy Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner.

"It's like we just signed two free agents," he said. "As long as we stay healthy, we got the depth and talent to win the division."

-- Amy K. Nelson,

MAUER TO GO SLOW (4:13 p.m. ET)
While Twins pitchers and catchers finished their first official spring training workout outside, Joe Mauer finished his inside the team's weight room.

Mauer's goal is to be behind the plate when the regular season begins on April 6, but he said he won't be ready to play in the Twins' exhibition opener on Feb. 25. The catcher and reigning AL batting leader had surgery Dec. 22 to remove a blockage from one of his kidneys. He's been told not to run until his abdominal muscles heal.

"I'm on schedule to where I should be," Mauer said Monday. "So that's good. I just have to keep on doing what they're telling me, and I'll be out there soon enough."

Mauer said he wants to be playing by April 1, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he should be able to pick up his pace once the medical staff clears him to play.

"It's going to be a slow process," Gardenhire said. "Our goal is Opening Day, having him ready to go."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella dropped a bit of a surprise when he said he would experiment this spring moving Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff spot and into the middle of the Cubs' batting order.

"If I were to put a lineup out tomorrow to open up the season, he would be leading off," Piniella said. "But we'll take a look at him in a couple of the different spots and just see. As long as he is willing to go along with it and as long as he's comfortable with it, I don't see any problem with it."

Although Soriano has always preferred to lead off, he told Piniella at the team's winter convention last month, he'd be willing to try another spot in the order. The Cubs already have Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Milton Bradley in the heart of their order at 3-4-5.

Piniella said with such a long spring that includes 39 exhibition games, it would be worth a look, especially since Soriano doesn't run as much as he once did. He has 38 stolen bases and 62 homers combined in those two years, despite trips to the disabled list in both seasons.

Among other potential leadoff hitters are Aaron Miles, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot and perhaps Kosuke Fukudome.

Brewers third baseman Bill Hall said his return from a partial tear in his left calf will be sooner rather than later.

The initial prognosis was four to six weeks of recovery, but Hall, who reported to the first day of camp on Sunday for treatment and to do some throwing, said to cut that time in half, according to multiple media reports. Hall said that's because it was more blood vessel damage than muscle tear.

"Once the muscle released and stopped being tense, it was [much better]," Hall said, according to "I'm walking on my own now with no trouble. Two days ago, I felt like I needed crutches."

Milwaukee manager Ken Macha, however, isn't ready to rush Hall back.

"We've got a lot of guys to cover us there," Macha said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Hanley Ramirez worked harder this offseason and ate better. Five days a week, his routine included a 2½-hour gym workout, a one-hour swim in his pool at home and a nice dinner.

"I spend $100 a night in the restaurant," the Florida Marlins' All-Star shortstop says with a grin. "I used to spend $5 at Wendy's."

With a fat new contract, the 6-foot-3 Ramirez says he increased his weight 25 pounds to 225, but the calories didn't go to his waist. Instead he's thicker in the chest, shoulders and legs, which he expects to help his durability.

While Ramirez missed only 17 games the past two seasons, a left shoulder injury required surgery in October 2007 and bothered him again late last season.

"I went home and said, 'I'm tired of that,' " the Dominican says. "That was the first thing -- get my shoulder stronger."

Jensen Lewis grew up a huge Indians fan, wearing Omar Vizquel's jersey to school every day, and now is a reliever for the team. He said he remembers sitting in his basement on the couch with his entire family, as they sat stunned at the Indians' 1997 World Series loss to the Marlins.

"I was crying at the end of the game," Lewis said.

He was a junior in high school when Edgar Renteria hit the game-winning single and to this day can recall with total clarity each play of the series. On Monday in the clubhouse not only did he call every play but he was also even quoting the documentary on the Series he and some teammates were watching word for word.

Was he going to cry again?

"No," he said. "Because now I'm in a position to try and change it."

-- Amy K. Nelson,

Reds pitcher Micah Owings, hampered by a shoulder strain after he was acquired from Arizona last season in the Adam Dunn trade, is hoping his pinch-hitting skills and now pain-free delivery will secure him a roster spot.

Manager Dusty Baker said in Sarasota, Fla., that Owings has looked sharp in recent throwing sessions. Owings says he's healthy and able to throw hard.

The right-hander, who was 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA in 2007 but slipped to 6-9 with a 5.93 ERA last year, is a candidate for the fifth spot in Cincinnati's rotation.

Owings didn't make any appearances for the Reds last season because of the hurt shoulder. But as a pinch hitter, the career .319 hitter doubled in the deciding run for Cincinnati in a September win over the Diamondbacks.

We all know about the great young pitching in the Marlins' system. Now they have a bunch of young position players, from first baseman Logan Morrison to outfielders Scott Cousins and Michael Stanton, who hit 39 home runs last year in Class A ball at age 19.

Marlins coach Bo Porter said Stanton reminds him of Dave Winfield. Others say he's a hybrid of a young Jermaine Dye and a young Pat Burrell.

"The first time I saw him, I thought 'Whoa, we've got something here,' " said Tim Cossins, the minor league catching coordinator for the Marlins, and one of Stanton's former managers.

"I saw him hit balls that I couldn't believe. Then he went out and played center field."

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

Greg Maddux, who retired in December after winning 355 games and 18 Gold Gloves during a 23-year career, has agreed to become a spring training instructor for the San Diego Padres. He's scheduled to arrive in camp on Wednesday.

The four-time Cy Young Award winner, who is eighth on the career wins list, pitched for the Padres from 2007 until August, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maddux also played for the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves during his long career. He finished with a 355-227 record and a 3.16 ERA.

"Last year a lot of our conversations were about the future," Padres manager Bud Black said Monday. "I said, 'Greg, you have some freedom to explore. I'll tell you what I'm thinking about before, during and after the game.' "

Black said he and Padres general manager Kevin Towers kept in contact with Maddux over the winter about the possibility of returning as a coach. Black said the Cubs also inquired about Maddux returning as a coach.

"His role is undefined," Black said. "It gives me and Kevin and the other coaches a great resource."

Alex Rodriguez, who is scheduled to report with the rest of the Yankees' position players on Tuesday, will be addressing the media en masse for the first time since his admission of using steroids last week.

The team announced Monday that Tuesday's news conference will take place at 1:30 p.m. ET.

The past two seasons, pitcher Carlos Zambrano (2007) and Ryan Dempster (2008) both predicted championships for the Cubs. Manager Lou Piniella already cautioned his team not to repeat the mistake in 2009.

"I told the players: 'No predictions,' " Piniella said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "Let's just go play on the field. What we need is good performance. You don't have to be great. You have to be really good consistently at what you do, and that's going to be one of the themes of our camp this year.

"Last year we won 97 baseball games, so we don't have to get better from that standpoint. We just need to stay longer."

Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb and general manager Josh Byrnes agree on one thing, at least. They don't want to talk about Webb's hazy future with the club.

Webb joined the rest of the Diamondbacks' pitchers and catchers for their first spring workout on Sunday, then deflected questions about whether he will get a new contract.

"Basically I've got two more years here in Arizona and then we'll go from there," he said after participating in a long-toss session before making an early exit to attend the NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix. "Other than that, that's where we stand."

Webb, 29, is under contract through the end of this season, with the Diamondbacks holding a club option for 2010. He is set to make $6.5 million in 2009 and $8.5 million in 2010, assuming the team exercises its option for the extra year. That's a bargain for a pitcher who has been one of the best in the National League.

Byrnes said that while the poor economy will play a role in how teams approach business decisions in the near future, the organization is committed to trying to keep Webb at the front of their rotation beyond 2010.

BUEHRLE TO RETIRE AFTER 2011? (8:58 a.m. ET)
White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle misses his family so much that he's talking about retiring when his contract expires after the 2011 season.

"People may say I'm full of it," Buehrle said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "I don't know. Maybe I am. But as I look at it today, I don't think you're going to see me in a baseball uniform for too many more years. I miss my family too much when I'm away."

Buehrle has an 18-month-old son at home. He said he considers himself a family man and the long baseball season isn't conducive to raising a family. If he retires after the 2011 season, he would be only 32 years old.

"Some people say they want to pitch till they're 50," Buehrle said, according to the newspaper. "They say they want to be like Jesse Orosco, even if it is getting one out at a time. I won't be around until I'm 40. I can guarantee that."

John Smoltz is bitter how his departure from the Braves was portrayed by his former team.

The ace right-hander said he wanted to stay in Atlanta but the feeling wasn't mutual.

"In a perfect, magical world, I felt that if they wanted you, there would be no reason to ever be a free agent," Smoltz said, according to The New York Times. "And I was a free agent four times. And the fourth time led me to a uniform change."

Smoltz said he passed up more lucrative offers in the past to remain with manager Bobby Cox in Atlanta but this time around he took the biggest offer on the market with the Red Sox, the team he felt really wanted him.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.



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