February, 25, 2009
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Ken Griffey Jr. did not play in the Mariners' 4-3 exhibition loss in 10 innings against the Padres on Wednesday, four days after he signed with the Mariners.

Manager Don Wakamatsu said he is being cautious with the 39-year-old slugger who had arthroscopic knee surgery in October.

"He's ready to go," Wakamatsu said. "It will be my fault if he isn't in there the next couple of days."

Wakamatsu told the veteran outfielder is penciled in to be the designated hitter in next Wednesday's game against Australia's World Baseball Classic team.

The only problem Kris Benson had in his Texas debut was waiting 20 minutes between innings as his new teammates circled the bases.

Benson allowed one run and two hits in two crisp innings, and the Rangers backed him with nine early runs Wednesday in a 12-7 exhibition victory over the Kansas City Royals.

"That little break got me out of my groove a little bit, but I'll take it any day," Benson said.

Signed to a minor league contract Saturday, Benson, who is coming off rotator cuff surgery, hasn't pitched in the majors since 2006. He needed only seven pitches to end the first inning, but allowed a long home run to designated hitter Billy Butler in the second before inducing a double play to end his outing.

Benson has been throwing for two months and acknowledged he's ahead of the other pitchers.

"I'm not looking at this as a done deal by any means," he said. "I have to go out there and perform every time."

Hall of Famer Bob Feller threw out the ceremonial first pitch, four F-16 fighter jets screamed by in a fly-over and snakes stayed out of the press box.

Under brilliant sunshine and an infinite blue sky, the Cleveland Indians began a new era of spring baseball on Wednesday.

After training for 16 years in Florida, the Indians returned to Arizona and christened glistening Goodyear Ballpark with a 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

The 90-year-old Feller was dazzled.

"If the ballclub is as good as the facility, they ought to win the World Series in four games," he said.

Third baseman Mark DeRosa, acquired by the Indians in a trade with the Chicago Cubs this winter, hit a three-run homer and Stephen Head and Michael Aubrey added solo shots for Cleveland.

But the star of day was the ballpark, which sits on former cotton fields located more than 1,700 miles from Cleveland and a world away from the Indians' former spring home in Winter Haven, Fla.

Unable to find a new home in Florida, the Indians picked up and returned to Arizona, where they previously trained from 1946-92.

Mike Napoli has been unable to throw this spring following offseason surgery on his right shoulder. His swing looks just fine, though.

Napoli's two-run double highlighted a three-run third inning and helped the Los Angeles Angels beat the Chicago White Sox 12-3 in the exhibition opener for both teams Wednesday.

Napoli split time with Jeff Mathis at catcher last season, when he had 20 homers in 227 at-bats. Napoli is expected to begin throwing drills later this week.

Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski drove in two runs with a single off starter Matt Palmer in the second. Palmer replaced scheduled starter Nick Adenhart, scratched Monday with flulike symptoms.

Mike Hampton had to wait a few extra minutes to make his first start for the Houston Astros in a decade.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Houston's spring training opener against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday, and the pause for photos caused about a 15-minute delay.

Hampton feigned annoyance.

"I mean, I might wait for the president, but come on," he said.

When the 36-year-old lefty finally threw his first pitch, the rust showed. The first three Washington hitters reached on two walks and a hit batter, but Hampton quickly found his form in Houston's 6-3 victory before 1,973 fans at 5,300-seat Osceola County Stadium.

Hampton, a 22-game winner for the Astros in 1999 before they traded him, escaped that bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and a double play en route to two scoreless innings on 33 pitches.

Houston hopes that Hampton, who has made only 25 starts over the past four years due to various injuries, can pair with ace Roy Oswalt to give the Astros the potent one-two punch their rotation has lacked the past few seasons.

RAMIREZ HAPPY TO BE NO. 3 (6:32 p.m. ET)
The Florida Marlins like their new No. 3 hitter.

Their defense? Not so much.

Hanley Ramirez embraced his move to the third spot in the order, hitting a two-run homer against the St. Louis Cardinals in the spring training opener for both teams Wednesday. But the Marlins committed four errors in the game, which ended in a 5-all tie after 10 innings.

All the Marlins want from Ramirez offensively is more of the same, but in a new role. After unveiling the lineup for the first spring game, manager Fredi Gonzalez confirmed Ramirez will bat third this season.

"That's where I think it makes sense in our lineup," Gonzalez said. "We're a better club with him in that spot."

With Ramirez dropping in the order, rookie center fielder Cameron Maybin becomes the top candidate for the leadoff spot. He began the game with a single and finished 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Ramirez has spent most of his career batting leadoff, where his on base-plus-slugging percentage is .941. Batting third, it's .777.

But as Gonzalez noted, in the past two years the Marlins have a better record with Ramirez batting third (31-24) than leadoff (116-131). Dan Uggla, who went 0-for-3 batting fifth, said he likes Ramirez hitting third.

Justin Verlander staked an early claim to regaining his role as the Detroit Tigers' ace, throwing two shutout innings Wednesday in a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves in each team's spring training opener.

Verlander struggled to an 11-17 record and 4.84 ERA last season. Rookie Armando Galarraga, called up in mid-April when Dontrelle Willis went on the disabled list, went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA and proved to be a pleasant surprise in an otherwise disappointing season in Detroit.

"I felt strong," Verlander said. "Spring training got the best of me last year because I tried to do too much to be the ace. This year I just want to let the batters make contact. I am not going to make too much of anything, but if I can just get a good mix of pitches I can get it done."

Manager Jim Leyland said that, despite Verlander's troubles in 2008, he has him penciled in as the Opening Day starter.

"He got hyped up last year," Leyland said. "I talked to him and he won't let that happen to him this year. There's nothing wrong with him."

Detroit veteran Gary Sheffield was kept out of the lineup after being hit in the left elbow during batting practice on Tuesday. Leyland said Sheffield could have played Wednesday, but he decided to give him two days off before he suits up on Friday against Toronto in Dunedin.

Carlos Hernandez faced major league hitters for the first time in three years Wednesday when he pitched the first two innings of the Tampa Bay Rays' 7-0 loss to the visiting Cincinnati Reds at Charlotte Sports Park.

After moving their spring training headquarters downstate from St. Petersburg, the defending American League champions opened their new park in front of 6,028 fans, many of whom sat in traffic for hours as cars and trucks backed up for 2 miles along State Road 776, the only road that runs past the stadium.

Those caught in traffic missed Hernandez's two hitless innings. The 28-year-old lefty struck out one and didn't walk a batter.

"Feels good to be back," said Hernandez, a non-roster invitee who last faced big league hitters during spring training in 2006. "I know it's just the first game, but I'm looking forward to getting more outings and [doing] my job. Just be able to pitch, be able to throw strikes, be able to do my job, which is to get guys out, that's the main thing."

Hernandez, who was 9-8 with a 4.54 ERA in 35 games (33 starts) for the Astros from 2001 to '04, could push his way into the competition for the fifth starter's spot with Tampa Bay, joining rookie David Price, Mitch Talbot, Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel.

The blue-and-gray uniform Mike Piazza wore looked like a holdover from his days with the Los Angeles Dodgers, except the name across the chest said "Italia."

Piazza is the hitting coach for the Italian team, which played a practice game against the Florida Marlins on a back field Wednesday morning in preparation for the World Baseball Classic.

"I'm excited to get back on the field a little bit," Piazza said. "They're very serious about trying to grow the game in Italy, and I played for the World Classic team in '06, so I'm thrilled about it."

He said his new job is a chance to see how he likes coaching. He may also do some broadcasting this season.

The 40-year-old Piazza and his wife, former Playboy centerfold Alicia Rickter, live in Miami and are expecting their second child. He said he has no regrets about retirement.

"I knew it was time to move on," Piazza said. "I've got a baby now. I'm excited to be home and enjoy moments with my kid."

Jamie Moyer had a bus to catch Wednesday after he pitched two scoreless innings in the Philadelphia Phillies' 8-2 exhibition loss against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And it wasn't the team bus back to the Phillies' complex in Clearwater, Fla.

"In about 40 minutes, my kids will be getting home from school," Moyer said in the visiting clubhouse at McKechnie Field. "I can leave here and get them off the school bus."

Moyer and his family make their offseason home in Bradenton. Every day, he gets up at 5 a.m., drives to Clearwater for the Phillies' workout, and usually is home again in time for dinner.

"I get to put my kids to bed at night," Moyer said. "I see them every day. Family is what's important."

After piling up 246 career victories, Moyer isn't ready to call it quits. Sipping a protein shake, he smiled when someone asked if he thinks about the Hall of Fame.

"Not as much as you guys bring it up," Moyer said.

Moyer allowed one hit and two walks against the Pirates. He struck out two.

Luis Castillo looked more like a cleanup hitter than a leadoff man Wednesday.

In his new role atop the Mets' lineup, Castillo drove in four runs with a single and a double, and New York got three RBIs from Ryan Church to beat the Baltimore Orioles 9-3 in the exhibition opener for both teams.

Jose Reyes was New York's leadoff hitter the past few years, but manager Jerry Manuel is considering a shake-up with Castillo at the top of the lineup. Castillo struggled in 2008 with injuries and batted only .245, but he sure looked good against the Orioles.

"I've got to get off to a good start," Castillo said. "I know they want me to get off to a good start."

The second baseman hit a two-run single in the second inning and a two-run double in the fourth. Church had a run-scoring double in the third and a two-run single in the fourth.

Josh Beckett pitched two perfect innings in his first outing since struggling in the playoffs with a strained side muscle, and a Boston Red Sox split squad beat Boston College 7-1 Wednesday.

The right-hander struck out two and didn't allow a ball out of the infield in the Red Sox's first spring training game. They had another split-squad game scheduled against Minnesota on Wednesday night.

Beckett's first playoff start last year was pushed back four days to give his injury extra time to heal. Then he had the worst outing of his 10 career postseason starts as Boston lost 5-4 to the Los Angeles Angels in 12 innings.

He also hurt his back in last year's spring training camp and had elbow problems during the season.

In Wednesday's 6-inning game, Beckett threw 22 pitches, 15 for strikes, before BC, which is 0-19 in the series, took a rare lead when Mike Belfiore singled in a run in the fourth inning off Kris Johnson.

Aramis Ramirez played 149 games at third base for the Cubs last season. Now that Mark DeRosa has been traded to Cleveland, Chicago doesn't have much of a Plan B in the event that Ramirez goes down with an injury.

Second basemen Aaron Miles and Mike Fontenot, who've played a combined 15 games at third base in the majors (all by Miles), are the current backups at the position. The Cubs are also taking a look at former Minnesota Twin Luis Rivas and career minor leaguer Bobby Scales, who hit .320 for Triple-A Iowa last season.

Manager Lou Piniella, who concedes it's not an optimal situation, won't be surprised if the Cubs make a move before the end of spring training to add depth at the position. The Cubs were briefly linked to veteran Rich Aurilia before he re-signed with San Francisco on a minor league deal.

"If our scouts are looking for anything at all this spring, that's the one thing that they're looking for,'' Piniella said.

-- Jerry Crasnick,

Houston Astros first baseman Lance Berkman missed Wednesday's spring training opener against Washington because of a sore left shoulder.

Berkman said the soreness didn't worry him, but he walked around the clubhouse before morning workouts with an ice pack taped around the shoulder.

He said the pain was most severe when he threw and that he didn't feel any tenderness when batting. Berkman attributed the pain to normal aches of early spring training.

Houston manager Cecil Cooper said he believed it was a result of Berkman's offseason conditioning.

"He's a little sore so we're just doing it as a precautionary measure," Cooper said.

Alex Rodriguez homered in his second at-bat of his first 2009 spring training game and received a standing ovation from the Yankees fans in attendance.

Rodriguez didn't swing until the ninth pitch he saw, fouling it off. On the next pitch, Rodriguez homered off Ricky Romero.

-- Jayson Stark,

Alex Rodriguez received boos from two-thirds of the crowd in Dunedin in his first at-bat as the Yankees faced the Blue Jays.

The Yankees slugger, playing his first game since admitting to using performance enhancing drugs from 2001 until 2003, never swung his bat and walked on five pitches.

-- Jayson Stark,

Left-hander Ryan Feierabend is seeing a doctor and may have surgery on his pitching elbow, thinning the candidates for the Mariners' staff.

Manager Don Wakamatsu said Wednesday that Feierabend reported to camp with a tender elbow that did not get better. Wakamatsu says an MRI showed damage that wasn't a complete ligament tear, but it will be awhile before the 23-year-old can pitch again.

Feierabend finished last season by going 1-4 with a 7.71 ERA in eight starts for Seattle. He has pitched in 25 games for the Mariners in the past three seasons. He had been a candidate for the long-relief role this season.

Wakamatsu also says non-roster outfielder Freddy Guzman will have surgery next week to fix a broken hamate bone in his right hand.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.



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