Hope springs eternal in March   

Updated: March 11, 2008, 1:21 PM ET

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The voices of spring ...

Off Base

1. "Yes, our team lost 90-something games last year and hasn't had a winning season since Jim Leyland smoked only a pack a day. And yes, we traded our best player over the winter for prospects so obscure "Baseball America" didn't spell their names correctly. And yes, our best pitcher can't fit into even our fattest coach's pants. ... But you have to like our chances. We're going to surprise some people if we can stay healthy."

2. "We're not worried about the free-agent pitcher we signed for $40 million who gave up 10 runs in three innings because hitters are ahead of pitchers this time of spring."

3. "Our slugger, who has averaged 40 home runs the past five seasons, dropped 25 pounds over the winter thanks to a new diet and conditioning program. We're not worried about his lack of power or all his strikeouts, because pitchers are ahead of hitters this time of spring."

4. "Fans back home need to be patient about this 20-year-old outfielder whom we've been building up ever since we drafted him and who was on the cover of "Sports Illustrated," "ESPN the Magazine" and "GQ." Yes, he's hitting .640 with six home runs and 13 RBIs, but he still has to show us he's ready to take over right field from our 36-year-old veteran who hit .234 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs last year. Remember, you have to discount spring stats because the ball carries so much better in the dry, desert air."

5. "We think our No. 3 starter, who went 5-14 last season, is going to have a big year because he hired a personal trainer and came into camp 20 pounds lighter. He has been working on a changeup and a new grip on his two-seamer, and we noticed he was tipping his pitches and dropping his elbow. He's also stopped drinking."

6. "Our top prospect is pitching in a B-squad game because we had a couple of rainouts, and we have so many starting candidates that we need to find a way to get them all some innings. It has nothing to do with his 12.63 ERA this spring."

7. "We're still not worried about the free-agent pitcher we signed for $40 million who gave up 12 hits and eight runs in four innings because he's just getting his work in."

8. "The No. 2 starter who has yet to pitch an inning this spring has a little soreness, so we're just being cautious with him. We fully expect him to be ready by Opening Day."

9. "This year we're going to be more aggressive on the bases even though our team is so slow that we don't have grass stains -- we have moss on our north side. We're also going to be more selective at the plate, even though we our lineup averaged 100 strikeouts and 35 walks last season. We're also going to stress defense and fundamentals (unlike every other team in the majors that doesn't care about fundamentals at all and will be content to give opponents four or five outs an inning)."

10. "We don't really think about our guys in terms of a No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 starter. It doesn't matter after the first week of the season anyway."

11. "We're still not worried about the free-agent pitcher we signed for $40 million who, in his third start, gave up 11 runs, eight hits and four walks in three innings. He's just going through that dead arm stage."

12. "We're here to get ready for the regular season, so we're not at all bothered about being 2-11 or by those five consecutive 10-run losses. No one remembers what your Cactus League record is."

13. "The No. 2 starter who has yet to pitch an inning is still a little tender, but he's right on track and will be ready to pitch by Opening Day. But we may need to keep him in extended spring training to build up some arm strength."

14. "We're not worried about our slugger who can't get the ball out of the infield because he's never hit well in spring training. He'll be fine as usual once we break camp and get back up north."

15. "Yeah, we dropped some fly balls today, but it's a high sky down here."

16. "Spring training lasts about two weeks too long." (By which I mean, by the end of six weeks here it will be obvious to everyone that: the $40 million free agent we signed can't get anyone out; our slugger dropped those 25 pounds because he's off the juice; our No. 2 starter will miss the entire season with a torn labrum; our No. 3 starter looks great in the weight room but awful on the mound; we can't catch the ball and can't be aggressive on the bases, either, because we strike out so much and walk so little we never have any baserunners; it doesn't matter what number you place on our starters because they all stink; and, worst of all, it turns our fans back home WILL have to be patient with that 20-year-old outfield prospect because the desert air did inflate his stats, and he hasn't gotten a hit in three weeks and will start the season in AAA.

("But you still have to like our chances.")

BOXSCORE LINE OF THE WEEK

The bad news for the Giants was that Barry Zito gave up eight runs and didn't get out of the first inning the weekend before last in a 23-5 loss to Oakland. But that's not such a big deal because giving up a lot of hits and runs in spring training is hardly a rarity. No, the discouraging news was the outings by Noah Lowry. San Francisco's top winner last season, Lowry walked three batters, hit another and threw a wild pitch in 1 1/3 innings his first game, which was nothing compared to his second last Monday. Lowry walked nine batters  he threw 24 pitches before anyone took a swing -- and fired three pitches to the backstop in one inning for this mind-blowing line:

1 IP, 0 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 9 BB, 0 K, 2 WP, 1 error

How bad was it? The Rangers batted around against Lowry without getting an official at-bat (seven walks and two sacrifice flies).

A couple of days later, the Giants announced that Lowry will undergo surgery to correct a rare muscle condition in his left forearm and will miss at least a month. Which, compared to having Steve Blass Disease, must be considered a favorable prognosis. Here's hoping that the surgery fixes what was ailing Lowry.

TELL YOUR STATISTCS TO SHUT UP

Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn is from Wisconsin, so it was understandable Brett Favre's retirement shook him up a bit. "I didn't shed any tears, but I was really shocked," he said. "I thought for sure with the way the season had gone that he would play another year. I was pretty sad at the news. I called back home and my friends were saying that people left work when they heard. And no one got mad they left. It was like they just couldn't take it and had to go home." Given the media coverage, it was a little confusing whether Favre had retired or died. "That's what he said," Washburn said. "'Now I know what it's like to die.'" So will Wisconsin react the same way when Washburn hangs up his spikes? "No, I think they already think I'm retired." ...

This doesn't have anything to do with baseball, but in between your required spring readings of "Ball Four" and "The Boys of Summer," grab the new biography on cartoonist Bill Mauldin by Todd DePastino titled, "Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front." Richly illustrated with some of Mauldin's best cartoons, this engaging book focuses on the artist's upbringing and World War II days (the final 40 years of his life receive a scant 40 pages) and delivers the honors this great American so richly deserves.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site, jimcaple.net, has more installments of "24 College Avenue." His book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.


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