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February, 23, 2009
02/23/09
8:33
AM ET
CHURCH READY TO HELP METS WIN (9:17 p.m. ET)
A day after manager Jerry Manuel said he might play Fernando Tatis in right field against left-handed pitching, Ryan Church said he's up to the challenge and will do whatever it takes to help the Mets win.

"He's the boss," Church said. "He's our general and I'll go to war with him any day. I take it as a challenge. Even if he didn't say anything about it, I would be like, hey, I'm here to win a championship. I just want to play and do my part."

Manuel suggested Sunday that he might go with left-handed hitting Daniel Murphy as the everyday left fielder while floating the possibility that the right-handed hitting Tatis could share time in right with Church, who bats from the left side. Manuel also said Tatis would be a good right-handed option off the bench and could fill in on occasion for third baseman David Wright and first baseman Carlos Delgado.

Church thrived as an everyday player last season, his first with the Mets, before he was sidelined in May by his second concussion. He also sustained one during spring training. Church said Manuel approached him on the field Monday and told him not to read into his recent comments.

"He came up to me and said, 'You're preparing to be the everyday right fielder for the Mets,'" Church said. "I wasn't paying much attention to it anyway. Every year you have to go out and prove yourself."

YOUNG HAS NEW SPOT IN BATTING ORDER (8:42 p.m. ET)
In the Rangers' first intrasquad game Monday, Michael Young batted cleanup, behind slugger Josh Hamilton, in a lineup that consisted of the likely Opening Day starters. A career .300 hitter, Young has been primarily a No. 2 or No. 3 batter the past six years and has never hit fourth in his eight-plus major league seasons.

"I don't care where I hit. I just want to hit," Young said. "They haven't said anything to me about [batting fourth]. I don't think it's something that is going to happen over the course of the year until they decide to tell me something."

Rangers manager Ron Washington, who didn't make out the batting order for either side Monday, cautioned about trying to read too much into Young hitting fourth. Washington said new third base coach Dave Anderson made the lineup for the likely starters.

"I don't plan on doing that, but we'll see," Washington said. "That's the way [Anderson] made it. It's not like Michael is going to shy away from swinging the bat if he hits fourth."

Washington said he would discuss it with Young before making any plans to use him regularly in the cleanup spot.

"If Michael would hit fourth, I wouldn't want him to change his style of hitting, thinking 'cause he's hitting fourth he's got to start to go deep," Washington said. "He's good at the way he hits. If that happens, I wouldn't want him to change it at all."

NO PAIN FOR DODGERS' SCHMIDT (8:21 p.m. ET)
Admittedly nervous, Jason Schmidt had modest expectations for his twice-repaired right shoulder in his return to the mound Monday.

"My biggest goal was to get out there and walk off in one piece," the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher said. "I wanted to be able to come out knowing I don't have to ice. I think I accomplished that, as long as I don't trip on the way to the clubhouse."

Things couldn't have gone much better for the 36-year-old veteran, who threw nine of his 11 pitches for strikes and retired three of the four batters he faced to begin a five-inning intrasquad game.

Schmidt has pitched in only six games, all in 2007, during the first two seasons of his three-year, $47 million deal with the Dodgers.

He looked sharp in his brief stint against teammates. Schmidt used only two of his four pitches, fastballs and changeups, to retire Juan Pierre, Mark Loretta and Matt Kemp while allowing only an infield single to Casey Blake.

There were no speed guns used Monday, but pitching coach Rick Honeycutt was very happy with what he saw from Schmidt, a candidate for the back end of the rotation if the positive trend continues.

"The whole key is he just feels good. He's been one of the regular guys, he hasn't missed any throwing or drills," Honeycutt said. "He wants everything to be perfect, but this was a very positive step."

PADRES LIMITING KOUZMANOFF'S THROWS (7:35 p.m. ET)
With third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff just more than three months removed from shoulder surgery on Nov. 15, the Padres have been limiting his throws. Kouzmanoff, who hit .260 with 23 home runs and 84 RBIs last season, is making a maximum of 20 tosses across the diamond from third base and another 20 to second base per day. That's a much different regimen than the one Kouzmanoff has followed in his previous two camps with San Diego.

"I'd be taking slow rollers and making off-balance throws," Kouzmanoff said. "I'd be getting ready to be game ready for Wednesday. Instead, we have a long spring so I can back off a little, or ease into it."

Kouzmanoff originally jammed his shoulder at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 23 when he fielded a swinging bunt, threw to first base and landed on his right elbow. He began his throwing program in mid-January, about two weeks later than he normally would start. But with an additional week of spring training this year because of the World Baseball Classic, Kouzmanoff has no concerns about being ready for Opening Day against Los Angeles on April 6.

"I'm going to be ready," Kouzmanoff said. "That's definitely been my goal. Opening Day is a long time from now."

CARDS' RYAN SLOWED BY TENDINITIS (5:09 p.m. ET)
Brendan Ryan's pursuit of a starting job with the St. Louis Cardinals is being slowed by tendinitis in his right wrist.

The 26-year-old infielder is among several players seeking the regular role at second base, but he could also see playing time this season at shortstop and third base. He fielded grounders Monday but doesn't expect to swing a bat until Friday at the earliest.

Ryan said the soreness he is experiencing is similar to what he felt at the end of last season, when he hit .244 in 80 major league games. He batted .289 in 2007.

"It's not like I'm worried about a tear or something," Ryan said. "I think it's just swollen, so I'm going to take it easy for a few days."

If the swelling doesn't subside in a week, Ryan said he will consider a cortisone shot.

THREE VIE FOR REDS ROTATION SPOT (4:19 p.m. ET)
Homer Bailey is one of three pitchers vying for the final spot in the Cincinnati Reds' rotation as they prepare to begin spring training games.

Fellow right-handers Micah Owings and Nick Masset also are among the leading candidates for the fifth starter's job that was a work in progress all last season. The Reds hoped that Bailey, a former first-round draft pick, would win the job in spring training a year ago, but he struggled and the spot was never settled.

"Let it play out," manager Dusty Baker said. "Certain people probably have a better chance than other people.

"A case like Micah Owings -- he's been a starter in the big leagues and a pretty good one. Masset was, and then went to long relief. He's trying to get a shot at what he's always wanted to do. Homer Bailey is trying to get over the hump to be a big league pitcher."

The first four rotation slots are set with Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. The final spot and the left field job are the two main openings the Reds are looking to fill when they open their exhibition season Wednesday against Tampa Bay.

HOFFMAN SAYS THANKS TO PADRES FANS (4:19 p.m. ET)
Padres fans came to love Trevor Hoffman during his run in San Diego, and baseball's career save leader returned the favor Sunday, taking out a full-page ad in the San Diego Union-Tribune to say goodbye.

"As I sat down and put pen to paper thinking about the best way to express my gratitude to the many people who have had a profound effect on my time here in San Diego, a recurring theme kept coming up. Just say THANKS!!'' Hoffman wrote.

Hoffman didn't miss anybody. He thanked his family and friends, teammates, managers, coaches, trainers, the Padres' clubhouse personnel, medical staff and front office, members of the media, Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park employees, and fans "young and old'' for their support during his 16 seasons with the franchise.

-- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com

FILLING SEATS WOULD FILL JUNIOR'S POCKETS EVEN MORE (3:39 p.m. ET)
According to a major league source, Ken Griffey Jr. will be paid $100,000 for each of these Mariners attendance figures:

2.65 million; 2.7 million; 2.75 million; 2.8 million; 2.85 million; 2.9 million; 2.95 million; and 3 million.

Griffey has to be on Seattle's major league roster for the entire season for those clauses to kick in. If he spends time on the disabled list, he'll have those bonuses prorated to reflect the percentage of the season when he was on the active roster, according to the source.

-- Jayson Stark, ESPN.com

REDS KEEP OUTFIELDER'S DREAM ALIVE (2:55 p.m. ET)
Four years ago Adam Greenberg, then a Cubs rookie, was hit in the head on the first pitch of his only at bat in the major leagues. Greenberg suffered a concussion and persistent vertigo after being hit by Marlins southpaw Valerio de los Santos and has since struggled to restore his career.

Dusty Baker was Chicago's manager back then. Now the Reds, Baker's current employer, have invited Greenberg to their minor league camp, a source told ESPN. The outfielder, who turned 28 on Saturday, has played for the Dodgers, Royals and Angels organizations the last three years since his release by the Cubs in June 2006. He has not made it beyond Double-A ball since the '05 accident.

Greenberg and Fred Van Dusen of the 1955 Phillies are the only two players in major league history to have been hit by a pitch without ever having another at bat or appearance in the field.

-- William Weinbaum, ESPN Enterprise Unit

PENNY OK AFTER THROWING BATTING PRACTICE (2:39 p.m. ET)
Red Sox right-hander Brad Penny is feeling fine after throwing batting practice for the first time in spring training.

Penny said Monday's session in which he threw 30 pitches answered a lot of questions for him, both mentally and physically. His 2008 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers was cut short by shoulder problems, and Boston signed him as a free agent.

Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said Penny would have two days off between batting practice sessions instead of the one day off for most pitchers. But he said that barring a setback, Penny will be ready for the start of the regular season.

He's scheduled for his first spring training start on March 5.

YANKEES GET DAY OFF TO PLAY POOL (1:09 p.m. ET)
The New York Yankees skipped baseball to play some eight-ball.

New York manager Joe Girardi decided to give his players a break Monday, and put together a team trip for a pool-shooting tournament.

"If I was a young man that's going on this trip, I think it's something you don't see often," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "You can hang out with the veterans. Being away from the field and being together. Hopefully we start some relationships here. Nothing bad can come out of this."

Girardi previously discussed the idea with several veteran players, including Posada and team captain Derek Jeter. The rest of the squad was informed at a team meeting the manager called Monday.

Jeter (minor right hamstring soreness) took grounders and batting practice in a cage before the team trip. "Everything is good," Jeter said.

MARINERS TO GO SLOW WITH GRIFFEY (8:55 a.m. ET)
Ken Griffey Jr., baseball's active home run leader, had his first practice on Sunday since signing a one-year contract with Seattle worth $2 million, plus incentives. He joked about his new Seattle teammates, his former teammates -- just about anyone near him.

"I feel like I'm on a darn high school recruiting trip," Griffey joked while a trainer, a doctor, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, other team personnel and a half-dozen photographers followed him from a popup drill on one field to batting practice on another.

Seattle has intrasquad games on Monday and Tuesday and opens exhibition play Wednesday against San Diego. Manager Don Wakamatsu said Griffey likely will not play in any of those games, and he's not sure how soon Griffey will be in the lineup.

When he does start playing, Griffey will initially be the designated hitter -- though he took part in outfielder drills Sunday and hopes to be Seattle's left fielder when the season begins April 6 at Minnesota.

"We're going to take it pretty slow," Wakamatsu said, adding he wants to see how Griffey reacts to "moving around" in these first weeks. "We're more concerned about him being ready for Opening Day."

HAMILTON QUITS CHEWING TOBACCO (8:44 a.m. ET)
After winning his personal war against drug addiction, Josh Hamilton has successfully kicked another habit -- chewing tobacco.

"I started doing it when I started doing everything else," Hamilton said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Hamilton said his 7-year-old daughter, Julia, and 3-year-old daughter, Sierra, were big motivations for him to quit.

"You know it's bad when your 3-year-old holds up a water bottle, and asks if Daddy spit in this before she drinks out of it," Hamilton said. "That's when you know it's a problem."

SAMARDZIJA TO BEGIN AUDITION FOR ROTATION SPOT (8:38 a.m. ET)
Jeff Samardzija and Mitch Atkins are slated to throw two innings each Wednesday in the Cubs' exhibition opener against the Dodgers at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz.

Samardzija is competing for the fifth spot in the Cubs' rotation.

"All I ever ask for is an opportunity to make it happen on the field," Samardzija said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "You can talk about what you want to do or what your plans are as much as you want. But until you go out and physically prove your point, it's all just talk."

Sean Marshall will start Thursday's game against the Brewers and Ted Lilly will go on Friday against Texas. Lilly is scheduled to pitch for the United States in the World Baseball Classic next month.

VERLANDER TO START TIGERS' SPRING OPENER (8:34 a.m. ET)
Right-hander Justin Verlander will start Detroit's spring opener Wednesday against Atlanta.

Manager Jim Leyland said Verlander will throw two innings regardless of how many pitches he tosses.

Verlander struggled to an 11-17 record and 4.84 ERA last season but is "delivering the ball extremely well" right now, Leyland said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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