Riding the Pine… Daily Update 03/08/2007

Scores
Recaps:
Grapefruit
Cactus

Player Movement:
Blue Jays – reassigned LHP Jo Matumoto to minor league camp…

Around the Web:
College outfielder plays with brain tumor.
Longoria enjoys big league camp.

Prospect of the Day:
Mark Hamilton, 1B, Cardinals
Source and Scouting Report: Top Prospect Alert

Rumors:
Source: BenMaller.com

Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who is leading Major League Baseball’s steroid investigation, is trying to meet with the Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares to discuss distribution of illegal muscle-building substances over the Internet. Mitchell and Soares are trading messages trying to set up a meeting, district attorney spokeswoman Heather Streeter Orth said in an e-mail. Soares today met with officials from Major League Baseball and the National Football League in Albany, New York…Former Royals farmhand Tuffy Rhodes is back in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes, who are managed by Terry Collins, once a candidate for the Royals’ managerial job…

Los Angeles Angels officials may move ahead with plans to suspend Gary Matthews Jr. or void his five-year, $50 million contract if the outfielder doesn’t come clean on his alleged purchase of human growth hormone, according to a major league source who spoke to the Daily News about the standoff. Matthews, who retained top-flight attorney Robert Shapiro, has deflected questions since he was identified last week as having received drugs from a Mobile, Ala., pharmacy raided by law enforcement agents in August. Albany County district attorney David Soares has led a wide-ranging investigation into a nationwide prescription drug ring in which a dozen people have been indicted in an alleged scheme to traffic steroids and growth hormone over the Internet…Gary Matthews Sr. traveled to Tempe this week to provide moral support for his son, who, in addition to the drug allegations, is coping with a front office that has grown increasingly impatient with his reluctance to publicly address the issue. But like his son, the elder Matthews, a former big league outfielder who is now a Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster, shed little light on the allegations. “He’ll make a statement, but you have to go through the whole process, talk to the players association and MLB … let’s wait and see,” Matthews Sr. said. “It was the same thing when Roger [Clemens] came up. No one really rushed to judgment then”…

Astros slugger Carlos Lee was in the lineup as the designated hitter again Wednesday because of a sore right arm, but manager Phil Garner said the condition isn’t a cause for concern. Garner admitted he would prefer Craig Biggio to be in the lineup at DH and not at second base this early in the spring. “It doesn’t hurt him,” Garner said. “I planned on using Biggio the majority of the time to DH at home, but I don’t think him playing a few games out in the field will beat him up. I don’t start to focus on him until the last 10 days anyway”…Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, a special assistant to general manager Tim Purpura, arrived at spring training Tuesday and plans to spend about 10 days watching some of the Astros’ young pitchers. “It gives me an opportunity to see some of the younger kids I haven’t seen,” Ryan said. “There’s a few kids in (the minor league) camp over there that I think that I haven’t seen before that have good arms. “But I think the better arms are in the major league camp”…

Without Mark Kotsay, one of their most respected and best defensive players, the A’s will turn to Milton Bradley to play center field, probably flanked by Nick Swisher in right and Shannon Stewart in left. With Swisher in the outfield, Dan Johnson would be the favorite to play first base…

For more than a week now, whisperings have had the Jays and Phillies in trade discussions involving outfielder Alex Rios and a variety of Phillies, including pitcher Jon Lieber and outfielder Aaron Rowand. Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi has denied the Jays are considering trading Rios and, given what the Phils have to offer, that makes a great deal of sense. Rios is on the verge of becoming one of the premier outfielders in the American League, combining superior defence with 30-home run potential…Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas didn’t want to wait another day. The Big Hurt will get his first spring at-bats in a “B” game against the Phillies at 10 a.m. ET on Thursday at Knology Park. A “B” game has flexible rules and it doesn’t count toward the standings or statistics in the Grapefruit League. Thomas, who has spent the early portion of Spring Training building up the strength in his legs, isn’t scheduled to make his first official Grapefruit League appearance until Friday’s 1:05 p.m. ET home tilt against the Astros…

Brewers leftfielder Geoff Jenkins, who got himself in trouble with a pronounced front-leg lift in past seasons, has made adjustments with dramatic results. After going 3 for 4 Wednesday with two doubles and three RBI in an 8-2 split-squad victory over Colorado in Tucson, Jenkins is batting .579 (11 for 19) with nine RBI in six games. Coming off a sub-par season in which he batted .271 with 17 homers and 70 RBI, Jenkins worked hard over the winter on fine-tuning his hitting mechanics. He didn’t abandon the leg lift but did make it less pronounced, allowing him to be quicker and smoother to the ball…The Brewers are raising the prices of food at the ballpark: The price of a 16-ounce Miller Genuine Draft plastic bottle of beer will be $6.25, up 25 cents. A 20-ounce cup of soda will now go for $3.50, up 25 cents. Hot dogs will stay at $2.75 this season, as will the prices for brats, Polish and Italian (all $4 apiece). In all, 15 items increased in price. Except for the fry cup and nachos, each of which went up 50 cents, all of the other food and beverage items increased 25 cents…

When Chris Duncan invited him along for a session with a reclusive former ballplayer who knows a thing or two about hitting, Skip Schumaker wasn’t sure how slugger Mark McGwire was going to help. Schumaker’s spring shows he did. He has nine hits in his first 19 at-bats of spring, and as other candidates for the backup center field position are struggling early, Schumaker is making another spring push. “He’s got a better chance (at the plate) now. He’s got a better approach,” manager Tony La Russa said several days ago. He added after the homers Wednesday: “It’s more than just today. That’s the way he’s been. It’s all being noticed.” Working with new Class AAA hitting coach Rick Eckstein, Schumaker altered his approach at the plate. Encouraged by Duncan to join him, Schumaker spent several intensive days learning from McGwire. The former Cardinal and home run king suggested he move his hands up and back…The Cardinals will take a payroll of almost $96 million into its April 1 opener against the New York Mets . The figure makes it virtually certain the Cardinals this season will cross for the first time what chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. describes as the “significant threshold” of $100 million. “We feel we’re at a reasonable starting point,” DeWitt said. “Where it goes, we’ll see”…

Felix Pie is more comfortable with a new approach at the plate and believes he now has a realistic chance at surviving the Cubs’ final roster cut. “If I keep working hard, I can show [manager Lou Piniella] what I can do and take a job if he gives me the opportunity,” Pie said Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter where.” Center field is Pie’s natural position, but the Cubs appear set there for now. “The best possible scenario for us is [Alfonso] Soriano playing center field,” Piniella said. “If not, I’m going to have a lot of people coming into my office for playing time.” Whether Pie would get enough action as a backup to merit a roster spot is a question the organization must answer…

Rays rookie Evan Longoria would be the first to tell you he isn’t quite there yet. An invitation to major-league camp to begin his first full professional season was a contractual courtesy. It won’t be long before he returns to the Naimoli Complex for the rest of the spring, preparing to begin the season in the minors. As one of the first position players to report to camp, Longoria maximized his time in the big-league environment. His spring has been about instruction rather than results. He collected his first hit of the spring Wednesday, a small victory considering he admits he is still dealing with the transition from aluminum to wood bats. “My results obviously don’t show it, but at least I feel like I’m not being overmatched by anybody,” he said. “I just need to get a little more comfortable in the box. Just a couple more weeks and I think I’ll feel a lot better about my swing”…

Shortstop Rafael Furcal hasn’t played winter ball in his native Dominican Republic since signing with the Dodgers in 2005 and says that may have contributed to the arm problems that have plagued him the last two springs. “I think I’m taking too much rest,” he said. “I’m out of the action. [Before] I was ready coming into spring training because the season finishes over there in February”…

Barry Bonds new manager confessed he is concerned about Bonds hustling just a bit too much right now. For the second day in a row, in the first inning of the Giants’ 5-4, split-squad victory against Seattle, Bonds screeched around first base and stretched a single into a double. That might be wise April 3, when the Giants open the season against the Padres in San Francisco. But in a March 7 exhibition game in Peoria, Ariz., playing on knees that have been through so much? “He feels great, and he’s enjoying the fact he can run close to like he used to,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “At the same time, I’m not going to lie: There is some concern at times. But when he goes out for defense again, it’s certainly going to help him that he’s done all this running”…

M’s starter Felix Hernandez, 20, is starting to see the payoff from his offseason workout program, saying he’s well ahead of where he was at this time last year, when he was struggling to get into shape after coming in overweight. “It’s a lot different,” the right-hander said. “I’m more comfortable. I feel motivated”…

Veteran first baseman Wil Cordero, who did not appear in a major-league game last season, has been working out at the Mets minor-league complex this week and signed a minor-league deal yesterday…Paul Lo Duca — who enjoys a good relationship with the reporters who cover the Mets regularly — abruptly stopped talking to the press a day or two before the details of his private life were made public. And he stayed silent for a few weeks. “Things were obviously blown so far out of proportion,” he said. “Whatever you want to write about me you can write about me. I could care less. People know what the truth was. When you get my family involved, that upset me a lot. To me, they crossed the line when they went that far”…How did Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca handle going through tabloid hell? “I wouldn’t wish any of that on my worst enemy,” Lo Duca said quietly one recent morning at the Mets’ spring training complex. For a while, it seemed each new day would bring another sordid revelation — or at least an allegation — regarding Lo Duca, then in his first season with the Mets. The Brooklyn native’s dirty laundry was suddenly of infinitely more interest than the pennant he and his teammates chased all the way to the season’s final out. There were allegations of trysts with teenage girls, one of whom critiqued the 34-year-old’s skills as a Lothario the same way a professional scout might assess his chops behind the plate. Let’s just say the scouting reports were much more glowing. Through all the mess, which also included allegations of an investigation into his gambling habits, Lo Duca, who owns several thoroughbreds, somehow put together the best season of his nine-year career…

It appears Marcus Giles will be leading off for the Padres more often than manager Bud Black outlined earlier this winter, when Black cautioned that all projections were fluid. After hearing from Black yesterday, Giles said he would wager $5 that he ends up hitting leadoff regularly. Giles prefers to bat second, but he said he aims to please Black, whom the Brothers Giles call by his given first name, Harry. “I’ll be ‘Leadoff Larry for Harry,’” a grinning Giles said before heading out of the clubhouse yesterday…

Despite lowering his weight to 215 pounds from the neighborhood of 240 this winter, Brett Myers still reaches for some junk food now and then. The key to his weight loss, he says, was not eating after 8 p.m. Much to the chagrin of Philadelphia-area pizza parlors, he intends to keep the weight off this season. Myers has found, though, that his new body is taking some getting used to. “I feel so uncomfortable out there,” he said after allowing two runs in 22/3 innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday. “Right now I’m lucky to be getting people out. I feel like Ricky ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn out there.” The source of the discomfort, Myers believes, is his thinned-down frame…

The Pirates are open-minded about finding a way to get Brad Eldred on their 25-man roster if his performance warrants, manager Jim Tracy said yesterday. “I’m not ruling anything out,” Tracy said. “How it all plays itself out, we’re still working on that. We’re researching it. You’ve got a first baseman here who’s doing really well, and we’re aware of that. We have ruled out nothing.” Including, perhaps, trying him at another position to add to his defensive flexibility? Eldred played the outfield in college and said Tuesday he would be happy to do so again…If reliever Dan Kolb and utilityman Jose Hernandez make the 25-man roster, the Pirates’ opening day payroll will be $40.2 million. Ownership budgeted for the team to spend roughly $50 million…

Rangers slugger Sammy Sosa was 2-for-3 Wednesday and is now hitting .417 (5-for-12) with two home runs in four games this spring, not counting a “B” game. “I’m ahead of schedule, I guess,” Sosa said, later adding with a sly grin, “I think I have a chance to make the team.” Manager Ron Washington played along with Sosa’s conservative prediction. “I can tell you this, he won’t be in the first cut,” Washington said…

For Kyle Snyder has placed the Red Sox in a bind. Though he is one of several pitchers competing for the one remaining spot in the bullpen, he is out of minor league options. If the Sox don’t have a place for him on their 25-man roster for Opening Day, they won’t be able to stash him away at Triple-A Pawtucket. “You can’t be paying attention to scouts when you’re out there pitching,” said Snyder, 29. “Besides, this isn’t new to me. I’ve been a guy who’s cleared (waivers) and been claimed. I know how the process works.” The Red Sox claimed Snyder, who was pitching for Kansas City’s Triple-A Omaha club, off waivers on June 16. He appeared in 16 games for the Red Sox, 10 of them starts, going 4-5 with a 6.02 ERA. But something is new about Snyder this spring: He is healthy…

For the second straight night, Jerry Narron was wearing a regular-season Reds cap instead of the ugly hats designed for all the teams by Major League Baseball. Reds players have criticized the hats, calling them Jiffy Lube hats and NASCAR hats. Asked about his hat, Narron said, “I picked up the wrong hat … for the last two weeks. I’ll probably hear from MLB about it”…

Josh Fogg plans on breaking camp with the Rockies, but nothing is certain. His contract – $3.625 million – makes him hard to trade and the guaranteed portion of his contract (in excess of $600,000) hard to eat. “I plan on being here. I want to be,” he said. “But if for some reason I am not, I would hope it happens sooner rather than at the end of camp”…Josh Fogg and Byung-Hyun Kim are the incumbents in the battle for the final two spots in the Rockies rotation. But it doesn’t give them an advantage in their bids to retain the spots in 2007. A week into the exhibition season, it’s starting to look like it could come down to an either/or situation with the two veteran right-handers. There are deadlines that can push a decision. The first is March 15. While Kim’s $2.5 million salary is guaranteed, Fogg’s $3.625 million deal isn’t. If Fogg were to be released by March 15, the Rockies would be obligated for one-sixth of his salary ($604,000); the cost to release him later this spring would rise to one-fourth ($906,000)…The Rockies likely will keep five outfielders, although adding a sixth outfielder/infielder such as John Mabry, who could be a primary pinch hitter, is a possibility. Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Willy Taveras and Jeff Baker, who also plays first and third, appear to be roster locks. That leaves Cory Sullivan, Jeff Salazar, Ryan Spilborghs, Alexis Gomez and Steve Finley sitting on the bubble. Finley’s experience, combined with the Rockies’ win-now mantra, could help his chances…

The first thing that impresses former Royal Brian McRae about Alex Gordon isn’t necessarily his athleticism. “I like his demeanor more than anything,” McRae said by phone. “He seems to be very level-headed and calm about his situation and really understands where he fits in.” McRae, who will work about 35 games as a radio analyst on Royals games this season, has one thing in common with Gordon: McRae started his first full season with the Royals at the age of 23. Gordon will start his first season with the Royals at 23 as well…They are the reason Jorge De La Rosa is a near lock for the Royals’ rotation while Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke, no matter how well they pitch, are battling one another for the final spot. They are why relievers Joel Peralta and Joe Nelson, perhaps the two most dependable members of last year’s bullpen, could find themselves shuttled back to the minors when the season starts. They are options, and they serve as a crucial element in the fabric of professional baseball for their impact on personnel decisions for every big-league club. “Strategically, that’s how you manage the roster,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore admitted. “Options are always a factor.” Here are the basics: A team has complete control over any player for four years – five if the player was a high school senior when drafted – from the point of his first professional season…

The likelihood is that Detroit will pull a late spring training trade for a lefty reliever. Who gets traded? Marcus Thames remains the prime suspect…Who is the most improved player in Tigers camp through the first three weeks? Curtis Granderson. He looks super-good. His tweaked swing — hands lower, swing shorter — is exactly what the emerging star needed. Granderson is hitting everything hard and scarcely striking out…

A proposed parking ramp for players, coaches and upscale ticketholders next to the new Minnesota Twins stadium has emerged as a possible key to moving the stalled ballpark project forward. The dispute over the sale price for the stadium site has threatened to derail construction of the 40,000-seat ballpark, which is set to open in 2010. But Wednesday, Hennepin County officials and landowners indicated that they were pursuing creative ways to overcome the millions of dollars that separate them over an agreement on an 8-acre site in downtown Minneapolis. Details of the ramp proposals remain sketchy…

While both sides remain open to talks, Mark Buehrle will not accept a three-year deal unless it would be for huge money. And the White Sox appear unwilling to go more than three years for a pitcher or pay anything in the $16 million-per-year range…

Yanks pitcher Andy Pettitte, who has golfed with Roger Clemens this spring, said he still believed Clemens would come out of retirement and pitch somewhere this season. “When it comes down to it, that’s my guess,” Pettitte said. “Because I know he’s still working, he’s keeping himself in good shape. I think when it comes time, he’ll probably get the itch if he feels he can”…Doug Mientkiewicz comes to the Yankees with a new appreciation for winning and good health. He is more physically and mentally fit than any time in the past three years, including his one season with the Mets in 2005. “When you don’t play the game you love the way it’s supposed to be played, it took a toll on me,” he said. “I’ve made a point in my life now where I’m not going to worry about the past any more. You can’t change it. You just learn from it and move on. I can’t say enough how excited I am to be here and how I’m going to enjoy every minute of this, good or bad.” The Yankees signed Mientkiewicz (a high school teammate of Alex Rodriguez) to a one-year deal as a defensive upgrade at first base, where he is expected to platoon with Andy Phillips or Josh Phelps…

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