San Francisco With two recent back surgeries behind him, Randy Johnson is refreshed and focused on being a baseball player again this winter — rather than a pitcher limited to rigorous rehabilitation work, his case the past two offseasons.
The 45-year-old Big Unit has been playing catch for three weeks already — and, now, is busy preparing to join his new San Francisco Giants teammates come the start of spring training in February.
Johnson and San Francisco agreed to an $8 million, one-year contract Friday, giving the Giants one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball with three Cy Young Award winners. Johnson has won five Cy Youngs and is five victories away from No. 300.
“I’m well ahead of schedule than I was the last two offseasons,” Johnson said Saturday during a conference call, noting he plans to be on the 2009 opening-day roster. “It will be really nice to be in that position this year. ... To some degree I have silenced the critics and shown that I’m healthy.”
The Giants are counting on that.
Johnson wanted to stay on the West Coast, and in the NL West if possible, to start his 22nd major-league season. The Giants will be his sixth big-league team.
“During this process, there was a great deal of interest in me, and that leads me to believe there are some people who still believe in me,” Johnson said. “San Francisco was at the top of my list. I pitched against them three or four times last year and saw the potential they have.”
Yankees, Pettitte apart
New York — The silence out of Houston has continued long enough. Christmas has come and gone without an answer from Andy Pettitte, and the Yankees are now prepared to fill out their starting rotation by other means.
According to a club official, it seems doubtful that Pettitte will accept the $10.5 million offer the Yankees put forth nearly two months ago. With a staggering $423.5 million committed in new free agent contracts, the Yankees are more content with the idea of going forward without Pettitte.
Reds, Taveras agree
Cincinnati — Willy Taveras and the Cincinnati Reds agreed to a two-year contract Saturday, plugging the team’s hole in center field.
The speedy Taveras is coming off a down season with Colorado. He batted .251 with a paltry .308 on-base percentage in 133 games, though he did lead the major leagues with 68 stolen bases.
“Willy Taveras fills two significant needs for our ballclub, a speed base-stealing threat at the top of the order and superior defense in center field,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said in a statement.
Taveras, who turned 27 on Christmas, became a free agent when the Rockies decided not to offer him a contract by the Dec. 12 deadline. He spent two injury-plagued seasons in Colorado after he was acquired from Houston in a December 2006 trade.
Bills shelve WR Hardy
Orchard Park, N.Y. — Buffalo put rookie receiver James Hardy on injured reserve Saturday, ending his season a day before the Bills close out their schedule against the Patriots at home. Hardy tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Buffalo’s 31-27 loss to the New York Jets two weeks ago.
Ex-Pats player arrested
Walpole, Mass. — Former New England Patriots player and high school football coach Danny Villa surrendered to police in his native Arizona on Saturday, one day after a court in Massachusetts issued a warrant for his arrest on charges that he raped a child.
Walpole Police Chief Richard Stillman said Villa surrendered to authorities in Tucson. He faces three counts of rape of a child over 14 and three counts of enticing a minor, he said.
The 44-year-old Villa had been working as a football coach at Walpole High School. He resigned Tuesday, hours after the school superintendent confronted him over allegations of criminal misconduct filed by a parent a day earlier.
OSU receiver arrives
San Diego — Starting receiver Damian Davis has joined his Oklahoma State teammates in San Diego after two days of flight delays. The No. 13 Cowboys (9-3) arrived on Christmas to start preparing for next week’s Holiday Bowl, but were without Davis and backup defensive lineman Ahmad Jones, who had travel problems.
The two finally joined Oklahoma State on Saturday, when the team practiced for one hour and 40 minutes before a visit to Sea World.
Towson taps UConn aide
Towson, Md. — Rob Ambrose was hired as the football coach at Towson on Saturday, signing a five-year contract with his alma mater after serving for seven seasons as an assistant at Connecticut.
Ambrose, a 1993 graduate of Towson, was offensive coordinator at UConn for the past four seasons. He becomes the fourth head coach in the 40-year history of Towson football.
Syracuse guard returning
Syracuse, N.Y. — Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf could be back on the court Tuesday after completing 40 hours of community service.
The university issued a statement Saturday announcing Devendorf’s return to the team. He was back practicing on Friday and Saturday and could return to the court for Tuesday’s Big East opener against Seton Hall.
The 21-year-old from Bay City, Mich., was suspended following an off-campus altercation on Nov. 1 in which he was accused of hitting a female student on the jaw with the heel of his hand. He was ordered to complete 40 hours of community service before becoming eligible to regain his status as a student and an athlete.
Bulls forward sidelined
Atlanta — Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng could miss up to a week with a sprained left ankle, although he did not appear to be limping when he was held out of Saturday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Deng hurt the ankle while attempting to grab a rebound Friday night at Miami.