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Archive for Monday, February 12, 2007

Play ball!

It’s time: Pitchers, catchers to report this week

February 12, 2007

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Detroit pitchers will try to get those infield throws down, Dice-K will make the transition to American-style baseball, and Barry Zito will start justifying the $126 million that's become attached to his name.

That's right: It's time for pitchers and catchers.

Players start reporting to major-league camps Tuesday, with the first official workouts of the year two days later. None are likely to be observed more intently than pitcher's fielding practice at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla. Detroit pitchers made a record five errors in throwing away the World Series, sparking the mind of manager Jim Leyland.

"I know this sounds crazy, but I'm going to have the grounds crew sprinkle out in front of home plate and make it wet on a couple of occasions, and have them work it and pick up the ball and work in wet conditions," he said before St. Louis finished off the Tigers last October.

Given a little time to think it over, Leyland said he might hold off a little bit and not run the drill when the AL champions hold their opening workout Friday.

"I'm not going to do that the first day because I don't want to draw attention to everything," he said. "I don't want these guys paranoid about it. It's going to be pretty boring if the main attraction at spring training is watching PFP."

Seems like it was just a few minutes ago that Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge, ending one of the dullest World Series. After an offseason filled with the usual tumult of Barry Bonds, steroids, Yankees-Red Sox competition and free-agent switches, it's time for fun in the sun.

Perhaps Bonds and the Giants will finalize their $15.8 million, one-year contract by the time San Francisco's position players work out for the first time Feb. 20.

Boston's regulars are due to start workouts two days later, and maybe J.D. Drew will be added to the Red Sox roster by then - his $70 million, five-year deal still hasn't been completed, even though the team announced it two weeks ago.

Daisuke Matsuzaka will be joining Drew in Fort Myers, Fla., getting lots of attention as he reports to the Red Sox. Boston paid $51,111,111 to buy his rights, then signed him to a $52 million, six-year deal.

"One of the things I was most worried about in coming over here was obviously the food. But to my surprise, I found the vegetables are great, the fish tastes great," he said through a translator as spring training approached.

Out in Arizona, Zito will make the switch to Giants' camp in Scottsdale, a short drive from Oakland's complex in Phoenix. After receiving the largest contract for a pitcher, he'll provide a diversion from the daily scrutiny of Bonds.

"To play with Barry Bonds is something I think every guy would want to do," Zito said. "It gave me chills actually. It's great to be mentioned in the same sentence as Barry Bonds. I used to watch Barry growing up."

New York Yankees players take swings in the batting cage at the team's spring training complex in Tampa, Fla. Major-league pitchers and catchers report to camps starting Tuesday.

New York Yankees players take swings in the batting cage at the team's spring training complex in Tampa, Fla. Major-league pitchers and catchers report to camps starting Tuesday.

Bonds starts the year with 734 homers, 21 shy of Hank Aaron's record. If he doesn't get indicted in the federal investigation into illegal steroids distribution - the Giants inserted a clause in his contract giving them the right to terminate the deal if he is indicted - Bonds could break the record this year. That would put the spotlight on commissioner Bud Selig, whose enthusiasm for the 42-year-old's chase will be in focus if Bonds approaches the mark.

"You can't predict what's going to happen," Bonds said. "Pray to God my body holds up"

While Bonds stayed put, some big names moved. The New York Yankees sent Gary Sheffield to Detroit and Randy Johnson to Arizona, brought back Andy Pettitte from Houston and hope to add Roger Clemens - if he doesn't stay in Houston or return to the Red Sox, his original team.

"I'm failing at retirement," said the 44-year-old, seven-time Cy Young Award winner. "Let's just face it. I'm failing miserably at it."

Alfonso Soriano became a free agent and joined the Chicago Cubs, Jason Schmidt went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Carlos Lee signed with the Houston Astros, Frank Thomas with the Toronto Blue Jays and Greg Maddux with the San Diego Padres. After taking '06 off, Sammy Sosa agreed to a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers, hoping to add to his 588 home runs.

In Fort Myers, Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester will be back on the mound following offseason treatment for lymphoma.

"He's cancer-free," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He's had a traumatic winter and we have to be smart about how we handle him."

In Kissimmee, Atlanta will be trying to bounce back after the Mets ended the Braves' streak of consecutive division titles at 14.

"I find it shocking that we're being overlooked," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "I would love to be standing on the field in September as Eastern Division champs again, looking down at everybody."

After 45 days of spring training, the season starts April 1 when the Mets visit the Cardinals, who plan to have former stars Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Keith Hernandez and Bruce Sutter on hand to watch the championship flag get raised.

"We're not defending anything," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We're hunting the '07 championship."

Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander can't wait to get back.

"To be that close and not seal the deal, it's tough," he said.

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