Riding the Pine… Daily Update 03/01/2007

Scores:
Grapefruit League
Florida 3
St. Louis « 6

Detroit « 5
N.Y. Mets 4

Minnesota 4
Boston 4
10 Innings

Cactus League
Colorado « 12
Chi. White Sox 4

Player Movement:
None

Around the Web:
Game summaries.
Card sells for $2.35 million.
Bonds gets death threats.

Prospect of the Day:
Cole Hamels Crystal Ball by John Sickels.
Prospect of the Day will return as normal next week.

Rumors:
Source: BenMaller.com

Owner Artie Moreno told reporters that the Angels told Gary Matthews that they would not ask him questions until he was ready to answer them, but that he also needed to be honest with them. Moreno said the Angels did not ask Matthews if he used performance enhancers. “I don’t think it’s our position to do that right now,” Moreno said. “We did not address it that way”…If Gary Matthews stays at the top of the Angels order, it will suit the free-agent acquisition adorning No. 24 — the number graced by Willie Mays and Rickey Henderson — just fine. “It’s wherever Scioscia wants me to hit,” Matthews said. “It’s leadoff right now, and I enjoy hitting leadoff. “There’s a lot of responsibility in it, and it’s something I take a lot of pride in. I feel like that challenge brings out the best in me. Every player wants to be in a position where you have the spotlight, where you’re successful”…

It has a major place in A’s history, Rickey Henderson’s No. 24. So infielder Lou Merloni was happy to relinquish it when Shannon Stewart requested it this week. “It’s Rickey, man,” Merloni said. “I’d rather slide in there unnoticed.” Stewart wanted No. 24 because he’d had it in Toronto, but when asked about the change, the outfielder quickly said, “I ain’t going to be no Rickey.” Stewart said that he and Henderson are friends, so he doesn’t feel too strange wearing the number. “I’m sure it will be retired pretty soon, so I’ve got to wear it while I can,” he said…Brad Halsey will start Thursday against the Brewers, with fellow lefty Joe Kennedy, the frontrunner to be named the No. 5 starter, getting the ball Friday. Asked if Halsey would start the year as a starter at Triple-A Sacramento if he doesn’t make the A’s rotation, Geren said: “Anything’s possible, but that’s not the way I see it right now”…

The Jays continue to nurse middle reliever Brandon League (sore lateral muscle), who looked on yesterday as his teammates did some long tossing. “Getting League back is our biggest concern,” said manager John Gibbons. “Hopefully, he’ll be ready. If not, it might not be too long after the start of the season”…Even though Blue Jays DH Frank Thomas will miss at least the first week of games, he’ll still be significantly ahead of the schedule he was on last spring. In 2006, Thomas was still recovering from surgery on his foot and he didn’t begin running until late March. He only had 12 at-bats in six spring games with the A’s. “Last year was a little different. It was wait and see,” Thomas said. “I really didn’t start running until the last two weeks of Spring Training. This year, I’m looking forward to getting everything going and getting a lot of at-bats, so when the season starts, I’ll be ready to go”…

Gabe Gross, who was the fourth outfielder on the Brewers’ roster last season, suffered a mild strain of his right hamstring Wednesday running the 60-yard dash for time. Gross will be evaluated today by team physician William Raasch to get a better idea of how long he will be sidelined. Gross pulled up about 10 yards from the finish line during the second of two 60-yard sprints run by each position player. The Brewers were timing players for the first time to provide a base line for future reference…

Roger Clemens told Houston reporters Wednesday that he has interest in playing for only three teams, if he pitches this season at all, and none of those teams is the Cardinals. Clemens’ agent, Randy Hendricks, wrote in an e-mail to the Post-Dispatch, “I’ve said this publicly several times: only Houston, Boston or the New York Yankees, if he plays”…Cards OF Rick Ankiel, a former pitcher, has attracted the most attention of any young hitter in training camp. That doesn’t mean he has a shot to make the team. “Nobody has been more impressive in our pitching practice sessions than him,” La Russa said. “He’ll go down (to Class AAA Memphis), and hopefully it’s one of those situations where you have to keep forcing yourself to keep him down there”…

The Cubs are not about to become Cuban’s, contrary to an Internet report. Mark Cuban, the billionaire blogger, entrepreneur and owner of pro basketball’s Dallas Mavericks, on Wednesday shot down a Radar Online report that said he is “is set to offer $625 million to buy the Chicago Cubs from Tribune Co.” “Not true,” Cuban said by e-mail…

Indians GM Mark Shapiro would prefer to sign Jake Westbrook before he can make himself available to other teams and has said he will try to negotiate a new deal this spring. Westbrook hasn’t heard that talks between his agent and the Tribe front office have begun. “I’d like to get something done this spring, if possible,” he said. “But I understand that it’s business. “I’m very comfortable here. This is the longest I’ve been with any one team. It’s nice to be able to fit in and have that comfortable feeling”…

Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said one of the impressions from the early part of camp is that new right fielder Jose Guillen takes a back seat to no one with his batting stroke. “Guillen probably has the most pure swing of anyone in camp,” the manager said. “He seems to be a man on a mission this spring.” Hargrove doesn’t seem put out by Guillen’s bad-boy reputation. “He was fine (the last) two years in Washington,” Hargrove said. “All you ever heard about was what happened in Anaheim”…

A sore throwing shoulder is likely to prevent left-handed reliever Taylor Tankersley, one of the few reliable arms in a potentially combustible Marlins bullpen, from starting the season with the team. Tankersley said Wednesday that he doubts he’ll be available at the start of the season because of inflammation in his left shoulder, which has troubled him since the start of spring training. ”It stinks,” Tankersley said. “I just have to be patient, get my arm healthy. I mean, if I don’t get back to April 15th or April 20th, that’s fine as long as I stay healthy the rest of the year. If that happens, nobody’s going to even know I was gone”…With some of their lobbyists in Tallahassee pushing for state assistance in financing a new stadium, Miami-Dade County officials unveiled specifics of a $490 million retractable-roof building for the Marlins in downtown Miami. The ballpark would encompass nine acres and would seat 37,000, while having 60 suites. The proposed site would be a few blocks southwest of the Miami Arena, east of Interstate 95. The Marlins, according to reports, would contribute $207 million, including $45 million up front and the rest in future rent payments to the county, which will issue the bonds. The team also would pay off cost overruns…

Billy Wagner also unveiled a new pitch, something he calls a “split change.” He bounced it in the dirt the only time he threw it, but that was okay with the Mets closer. “I was giddy all day waiting to throw it,” said Wagner, who said he has been experimenting with different grips and pitches for years. “This (grip) just felt good in my hand.” Wagner said once he gets more comfortable throwing it, the pitch — which fades away rather than drops like a conventional splitter — will make his job easier. “Instead of grinding it out slider, fastball, slider, fastball, I can mix things up,” he said. “I can get an out on three pitches rather than six…Did You Know? The Mets are the only major-league team that has never played at Comerica Park, but they’re on the Tigers’ home schedule this year. The Mets, who visited Tiger Stadium in 1997 (for a three-game Tiger sweep), play at Comerica June 8-10…

Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman remains the team’s only unsigned player. Because Zimmerman has less than three years of service time, the club could renew his contract, which paid him the major league minimum of $327,000 in 2006, if a new deal isn’t struck before March 11, per terms of the collective bargaining agreement. That, however, is unlikely, and there are signs the two sides are considering a multi-year deal for Zimmerman that would solidify his status as the face of the franchise — a significant statement for a player who isn’t eligible for arbitration until after 2008…Pitchers Jerome Williams and Tim Redding both have 10-win seasons on their resumes and are possible front runners to earn spots in the Nationals’ rotation…

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo is trying to determine whether Jay Gibbons is an option at first base during the regular season. “I want to play as much as I can,” Gibbons said. “I’d like to play there everyday. Hopefully, I’ll get some more time in there and I’ll feel more comfortable. I feel good taking ground balls, so the next step is getting into games.” Two seasons ago, then-manager Lee Mazzilli said he wanted to play Gibbons at first base but then rarely used him during the exhibition season. It appears Perlozzo will take a closer look…Kevin Millar is expected to make most of his starts at first again this season, especially after the Orioles signed Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton over the winter. But he’s open to change. “I think we’ll keep working out there,” he said. “I played a lot of outfield with the Red Sox, and not an inning last year. But this gives [Perlozzo] a lot of flexibility. And I’ve never had a problem with the outfield. “I don’t bring blazing speed and blazing arm strength, but I’ll catch the ball and hit the cutoff man and throw to the right bases”…

If Brett Myers is ever asked to close, he said yesterday, he would do it. The Phillies begin their Grapefruit League schedule with six starting pitchers on their roster. They are expected to trade one of them – righthander Jon Lieber remains the likely candidate – to fortify a bullpen that remains a concern for the front office. But if the Phils can’t find a fair trade, they have kicked around an intriguing possibility to solve their six-man conundrum: Keep all six and make Myers a closer. Don’t jump to any conclusions. This is only a hypothetical discussed in one of many brainstorming sessions this off-season. It may never come to pass. “I’ll do whatever helps the team,” Myers said. “I wouldn’t mind it. I wouldn’t mind doing either one. Either way, the game is on the line”…Don’t trade Aaron Rowand. Watch Rowand closely for a few days, and his contribution to the makeup of this Phillies team is obvious. For a franchise with a long history of treating baseball like some kind of grim task performed by equally grim men, it is vital to have a free radical like Rowand around to keep things loose…

Pirates starter Zach Duke has a goal that will remain in place all spring and into the season: Fewer hits. No National League pitcher gave up more than his 255 last season, a total that contributed mightily to a 10-15 record. And the stage for that was set with an awful spring in which he was 0-4 with a 7.62 ERA. “The year before, I was 8-2 and, every time they hit the ball, hard or soft, it was straight at somebody. If that can just balance out, I’d be happy.” The statistics back Duke’s case about fluky hits: He gave up 0.71 home runs per nine innings, third-lowest in the league and a clear sign that he was not getting hit hard. He also saw 33.6 percent of the balls put in play against him result in hits, seventh-highest in Major League Baseball…

A byproduct of the competition for the No. 5 starter is that if nonroster pitchers Jamey Wright and Bruce Chen do not make the team, they are likely to be released and could sign with another team. If the Rangers misjudge the two, and one or both are successful with other teams, it could be a regrettable decision for the Rangers. But Ron Washington, ever the baseball philosopher, said the team will not second-guess itself. “Sometimes you hit, and sometimes you miss,” he said. “There is no perfection in baseball”…The Rangers have projected Nelson Cruz to be their everyday right fielder, and so far they are encouraged by what they see. Cruz and Sammy Sosa were hitting in the same group Wednesday and were launching home runs in each at-bat. “When you’re filling out reports they call that projected power,” Ron Washington said. “You sit around and watch him take BP, you can project some power.” Cruz had 20 home runs in Triple A last season and six in 130 at-bats with the Rangers…

News that Manny Ramirez is now so content with being a member of the Red Sox that he hopes to retire in a Boston uniform was met with mild skepticism by his teammates, who wonder if the enigmatic slugger can maintain that disposition. Ramirez has declined to meet with the media since arriving in camp Monday, one week after the rest of the position players, but two days prior to the March 1 arrival date OK’d by the team. The left fielder immediately jumped into workouts and has been upbeat ever since. Even so, some teammates wonder if Ramirez, who has requested to be traded at least once every season during the first six years of his eight-year contract, will continue to be so happy with things…John Kiera, the promoter of last weekend’s classic car auction in Atlantic City, said he had been told “many times” by Tony Averso, the man who was putting Manny Ramírez’s 1967 customized convertible Lincoln Continental up for bid, that Ramírez and his car would be coming to the event. Kiera said he asked repeatedly if Ramírez was coming. “[Averso] sent us photographs of both Manny and the car, and told us Manny and the car were both coming,” he said. Kiera said that’s why they advertised Ramírez’s appearance at the event. A contract was not signed, he said, and Ramírez wasn’t going to get an appearance fee. “We didn’t want to put out any false claims, and when we were told he wasn’t coming, we put out a statement and posted it at our box office,” Kiera said. “I think at this point, we’re going to be the villains,” Kiera said good-naturedly…Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that he plans to take the best 11 or 12 pitchers with the team, regardless of their ability to go multiple innings on short notice. “The one thing I’m not looking for out of the bullpen is the so-called ‘long guy,’ that when a guy gets knocked out, he can eat up innings,” Francona said. “That happens every couple of weeks. I’d rather have a bullpen that can try to get outs, and if we run into that disaster, we’ll piece it together, and, if we have to call somebody up, we will. “I hate to have somebody sit down there for games when we’re getting our asses kicked. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.” Francona said that rubber-armed Julian Tavarez, who has the ability to pitch extended innings, if needed, can ably take over in early innings…

Just a couple of days after Reds star Ken Griffey Jr., took a cortisone shot in his troublesome left hand – the one he broke playing with his kids in December – he was in the outfield Wednesday during infield practice. And he was making throws from right field – right field! – to third base and home plate prior to the team’s intrasquad game, in which he didn’t participate…The Reds are minus a proven closer and outfielder Josh Hamilton said, only half-kidding, “I’ll come in close some games for them.” Hamilton, who in high school pitched, played shortstop and outfield, said, “When Tampa Bay drafted me, they asked me if I want to pitch or play outfield. I chose the outfield to get to play every day and hit. I figured if that didn’t work, it would be easy to go back to pitching than do it the other way around”…

Seeking more power, Todd Helton switched to a slightly heavier bat this spring. It should come in handy in his new role as the Rockies’ cleanup hitter. Manager Clint Hurdle has flip-flopped Helton with Matt Holliday, leaving the all-star outfielder in the fifth spot. “The advantage is obvious for me, having Holliday behind me,” Helton said. “Clint came to me (earlier this week) and said, ‘Will you hit here?’ I said, ‘I will hit anywhere.”‘ Holliday insisted he wasn’t disappointed, even though he hit .334 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs in a team-high 121 games in the fourth spot last season…

Today’s game marks the start to Royals slugger Mark Teahen’s transition from third base to right field. He has never played any defensive position other than third base in his five previous professional seasons. “I’m still anxious to see that,” Bell said. “The only way you’re going to get better is to experience it. Mark is going to have some issues out in the outfield. In Arizona, it’s a high sky. With the glare, it’s not easy to pick the ball up. “So if he can get it done down here, he shouldn’t really have any problem in any ballpark in the American League or the National League”…Jorge De La Rosa has a “90 percent shot” of opening the season as the Royals No. 4 starter, Buddy Bell said. “He still has to compete for that spot,” Bell added, “but we saw enough from him last year that we would really like for him to be in the rotation”…

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski on Carlos Guillen: “We still like Carlos, but you also have to do what is right for your organization. We’ll see what happens.” No one within the Tigers camp is publicly talking about the situation. There is no point in doing so. The Tigers know Guillen is their most valuable player, primarily because of the position he plays so capably. Is Guillen worth $15 million a year, presuming that Michael Young’s contract numbers have some validity? Probably. The greater issue is length of contract. You can bet Greenberg and Guillen will want to make Guillen’s last big shot at a long and rich contract a biggie — something beyond three seasons. If that’s the case, figure on Guillen and the Tigers shaking hands and wishing each other well at this year’s free-agent filing date. It is difficult to conceive of the Tigers signing Guillen for more than three seasons, if they are in fact inclined to go three…

With Hennepin County commissioners unable to negotiate a price with landowners on the selected site for the new ballpark behind Target Center, Twins officials have gotten involved for the first time in trying to solve the problem by holding discussions with both sides to try to settle on a sale price. The commissioners have been at a stalemate with the landowners and have refused to go along with a plan in which the price of the land would be determined under future condemnation and would allow the project to go ahead. There was danger of the ballpark not being built until Twins officials got involved. And there is the possibility of the park not being ready for the 2010 season unless work starts in the near future…

Bobby Jenks felt no pain and shouldn’t miss any time, but White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said he would work his closer carefully back into a game situation. “It was a combination of two things,” said Jenks, who agreed to a $450,000 contract Tuesday. “Coming into camp I was a little tight back there so I’ve been working all spring on loosening the back of my shoulder because I had no internal rotation. The combination of that and just using bad mechanics, leaking a little bit and dropping my elbow. Those two things together are not good. It just caught the back of my shoulder and tightened it up a little bit.” Jenks said bullpen coach Art Kusnyer watched his mechanics carefully while he was warming up but that Jenks “pretty much forgot everything” when he took the mound….Assuming his body doesn’t fail him, Darin Erstad seems likely to get 400-plus at-bats for the Sox, either anchored in center field or moving between center and left (where he could open with Scott Podsednik uncertain for Opening Day). Guillen pictures him batting second, which would allow Tadahito Iguchi to slide into the sixth or seventh spot, or possibly even leadoff when Podsednik is not in the lineup…New White Sox left fielder Darin Erstad admitted Wednesday that he was interested in signing with Colorado mainly because of his admiration for former manager Marcel Lachemann. “He was my first manager in the big leagues and the first spring training that I went to set the tone for what it’s like to be a professional,” said Erstad, who joined the Angels in 1996. “He’s a no-nonsense guy and taught the way the game is supposed to be played from the get-go. I was fortunate to have him as a manager and some veterans who taught me the right things”…

With nobody watching but The Post, A-Rod looked as if he never wanted to leave the cage, and Mr. October (Reggie Jackson) sounded as if he could have talked forever. On the eve of the exhibition-season opener, the Yankees held a scaled-back workout. Yet, A-Rod and Hideki Matsui used the extra time for additional hitting. When the private session ended, Jackson and A-Rod talked intensely. At one point, A-Rod took Jackson’s hand, put it where an imaginary ball would be, and showed Mr. October how he attacks a pitch on the outer half of the plate. Then it was about weight transfer and staying back long enough not to roll over. A-Rod’s eyes never left Jackson’s lips as he absorbed what Reggie was saying. “Reggie speaks a language about hitting that I can relate to and exudes such confidence and passion for the game that it motivates you,” A-Rod said…Yanks 1B Doug Mientkiewicz and rookie Brett Gardner were the victims of a practical joke yesterday, as Joe Torre held a “run the bases” drill in which the two started at home and raced to second base, with one rounding first base and the other going up third. The problem? As they headed to second, they looked home and saw all of their teammates heading into the clubhouse, laughing all the way. “Somebody’s got to bite the bullet,” Torre said…Who Knew? Scott Proctor led the American League in appearances, with 83, and led the majors in relief innings, with 102 1/3. No Yankee reliever had reached 100 innings since 1996, when Mariano Rivera did it as a setup man. No major leaguer had done it since the Angels’ Scot Shields in 2004, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Proctor, who had a 5.81 career earned run average entering last season, went 6-4 with a 3.52 ERA…Is this the year Yanks closer Mariano Rivera starts using a changeup? Rivera, who threw a side session yesterday, will not make his spring debut until Monday at the earliest because the Yankees want him to throw at least one more bullpen session. It is certain that Rivera won’t make his first appearance on Sunday or Tuesday, since he doesn’t make road spring games…

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