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Monday, February 22, 2010
Spring Training Blog: Feb. 22


REDS' CHAPMAN ADJUSTING TO FOOD, LANGUAGE (6:54 p.m. ET)
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman says his toughest adjustment since defecting from Cuba has been getting used to the food and the language.

The Reds signed the hard-throwing lefty to a six-year, $30.25 million deal last month. He's getting a chance to make the starting rotation in spring training, though the Reds say they're going to be patient and not rush the 21-year-old.

The Reds will give Chapman a chance to win a spot in the rotation during spring training, but aren't pushing him. They're giving him as much time as he needs to get acclimated to the new culture and the major leagues.

"We really don't have a timetable, and I don't think it's good to have a timetable," Jocketty said. "I think we'll find out as we go along."

"We're just going to let him develop. You don't really know what he's capable of yet. You watch him on the mound and you can see the ability, but we don't know until he gets into a game and faces hitters if he's ready now or it's going to take some time."

Chapman said it was very difficult to leave his wife, daughter and the rest of his family behind when he defected.

"It was a very hard decision," Chapman said through translator and pitching coach Tony Fossas. "But in Cuba, they told me I had to be brave and make the move."

-- The Associated Press

ROMERO, MARCUM COMPETING FOR JAYS' ACE (6:13 p.m. ET)
The Toronto Blue Jays brought 37 pitchers to spring training, including 10 non-roster players invited to camp and two on the disabled list.

"We've got so many pitchers here we need names on their back," Jays manager Cito Gaston said Monday as the team began its first official spring training workout.

But the impact player may be the one who isn't here: Roy Halladay.

Toronto's former ace was traded to Philadelphia after last season for three minor leaguers -- catcher Travis d'Arnaud, first baseman Brett Wallace and pitcher Kyle Drabek, son of 13-year veteran pitcher and 1990 National League Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek. None is expected to make the Blue Jays' roster this season.

The principal candidates for the No. 1 spot in the rotation are left-hander Ricky Romero, 13-9 as a rookie last year, and right-hander Shaun Marcum, 24-17 in four seasons before sitting out 2009 following shoulder surgery.

"Who's my No. 1? Who's my No. 2?" Gaston said. "You talk about two guys. We hope their arms are OK but you don't know until they start pitching in competition."

-- The Associated Press

CRAWFORD'S FUTURE UP IN AIR (5:10 p.m. ET)

Carl Crawford wants to win -- and be paid.

Tampa Bay's three-time All-Star left fielder reported to spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., and says he's focused on helping the Rays get back to the playoffs, not the prospect of becoming a free agent after the season.

Crawford is set to earn $10 million in the final season of a $33.5 million, six-year contract.

"I'm hoping for the best, like always. But right now, I really don't know," Crawford said, adding the "best" would reaching a deal that'll keep him in Tampa Bay. "I wish something good will come out of it, but at this point we really haven't done too much [negotiating] and I don't know when we will."

If the 28-year-old winds up on the open market, he's likely to command a much larger salary than the budget-conscious Rays can afford to pay.

The team's career leader in hits, runs, stolen bases, RBIs and games played says the situation could go either way.

-- The Associated Press

ROBERTS HAS BACK PROBLEM (4:43 p.m. ET)
Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts has a back problem, but expects to be OK for Opening Day.

Roberts has been diagnosed with a small herniated disk. He says he's on the right track in his preparation for the start of the season.

Roberts intends to do some light hitting Tuesday when the Orioles hold their first full-squad workout. He worked out in the weight room Monday after taking his physical.

He says he won't need surgery to repair the disk.

-- The Associated Press

PETTITTE SAYS HE CONSIDERED RETIREMENT (3:22 p.m. ET)
Andy Pettitte gave some serious thought to going out as a champion last year.

It turns out the 37-year-old left-hander wasn't quite ready to retire, even after the New York Yankees won the World Series.

Pettitte opted to return this season after talking with his family, and he signed an $11.75 million, one-year contract in December.

Pettitte went 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA last season, throwing 194 2/3 innings, to help the Yankees win their first championship since 2000.

This year, he's part of a strong rotation that includes CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez.

Pettitte has 192 wins with the Yankees, third on the franchise list. He is scheduled for his first spring training bullpen session on Tuesday.

-- The Associated Press

PUDGE MAKES INTRODUCTION TO NEW NATS TEAMMATES (2:53 p.m. ET)
Ivan Rodriguez worked the Washington Nationals clubhouse like a savvy D.C. politician glad-handing at a fundraiser. He paused at every locker, shaking hands with new teammates, paying particular attention to the pitchers who will soon be throwing to him.

He warmly greeted veterans and rookies alike, some youngsters awed that a future Hall of Famer was introducing himself to them.

"Years ago, I was watching that guy on TV and now I'm playing on the same team," beamed fellow catcher Jesus Flores.

Rodriguez has been through this getting-to-know-you process before, and quickly bonding is an important part of assimilating into a new team culture. The 38-year-old might not be the offensive threat he once was, but the player known as "Pudge" wasn't really brought to Washington for his offense.

"My main job is defense behind the plate, to make the pitcher feel comfortable with me. ... That's my game," said Rodriguez, who signed a two-year, $6 million free-agent deal with the Nationals in December.

-- The Associated Press

MARLINS THANKFUL TO HAVE ACE JOHNSON LOCKED UP (2:27 p.m. ET)
There was a palpable feeling of relief in Marlins camp with ace Josh Johnson signed to a four-year deal, meaning there will be no negotiating during the season, and absolutely no chance that he will be traded should the team somehow be out of the race at the end of July.

"Huge," said Marlins catcher John Baker. "I would put him up against anyone."

Baker said that last year, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano told him during a game, "I'm so glad he's not in our league."

Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco, who has terrific stuff, shook his head in amazement at a guy "who can throw 98 mph with that kind of control. Pitchers just can't do that."

Marlins coach Carlos Tosca, a former Blue Jays manager, said "even though their stuff is different, he reminds me in every way of Roy Halladay."

Johnson, despite his new contract, came to camp as the same guy he has always been: playful but serious, a leader in every way. The only difference is a new, really short haircut.

"[Pitcher] Rick VandenHurk cut it," Johnson said. "He wanted to do it. I don't care. A teammate cut my hair last year, also."

As for haircuts, Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan, who made a trip to Iraq with a Marlins contingent in the offseason, allowed American soldiers there to cut his hair. They gave him a mohawk.

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

MIJARES LATE FOR CAMP; GARDENHIRE WANTS ACCOUNTABILITY (2:21 p.m. ET)
Minnesota Twins reliever Jose Mijares will be late to spring training.

Mijares was absent from Monday's first official workout for pitchers and catchers because of an unspecified issue at home in Venezuela. Disappointed manager Ron Gardenhire said Mijares is expected to arrive in Fort Myers on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The Twins didn't learn of the delay until Monday morning. Gardenhire says Mijares needs to be more accountable.

Mijares also missed the team's annual fan festival last month because of a visa problem. The 25-year-old left-hander had a 2.34 ERA in 71 appearances last season. The Twins have been concerned about his conditioning in the past.

"He knows the days you're supposed to be here. Everybody's here, except one guy. That should tell him a little bit about himself," Gardenhire said. "He's got to figure it out and do a better job. We've got plenty of people who want to pitch."

-- The Associated Press

BRADLEY JUST WANTS TO HAVE FUN, BE LEFT ALONE IN SEATTLE (2:16 p.m. ET)
Milton Bradley arrived at the Seattle Mariners' spring training complex Monday morning for his physical, proclaiming that he primarily wants to have fun playing.

Bradley, slated to play left field and share designated hitter duties with Ken Griffey, Jr., was thrilled to meet his new teammate. Griffey was the first Mariner to greet Bradley -- the pair's locker stalls are near each other -- and they briefly embraced.

The Mariners picked up Bradley in a December trade with the Chicago Cubs in search of a bat to insert into the middle of the lineup. They also assumed the character risks with Bradley, who is with his eighth team and has been at the center of several controversial incidents involving fans, the media and his own fits of frustration.

"It's all the same things," Bradley said of his conversations with every new team he joins before he arrives. "'Are you looking forward to this,' or 'it's a fresh start,' all that cliche stuff. But I don't believe in all that. I'm just, 'You go about your business.' I believe if people allow you to be you and don't steer you in any certain direction or don't steer people's thoughts in a certain direction, then things will work out the way they're supposed to."

-- The Associated Press

LIDGE THROWS FIRST BULLPEN SESSION SINCE SURGERIES (2:11 p.m. ET)
Brad Lidge has thrown 20 pitches off a mound, his first bullpen session since offseason surgeries on his elbow and knee.

Lidge says he felt no pain Monday and is concentrating on building up arm strength. It's far too early to know whether the closer will be ready when the NL champion Philadelphia Phillies open the season at Washington on April 5.

Lidge said last week he was two weeks behind schedule, but he's making progress.

"I'd say I'm right about the same," he said. "I feel I'm right ahead of that two weeks. With the bullpen today, I kind of stayed right there. I didn't come out and feel 100 percent. That being said, nothing hurts and I was able to use my body in the way I was hoping to this year without having any pain or side effects. It's all about building arm strength now and I'm going to have to do a lot of work to get that."

Pitching coach Rich Dubee says Lidge threw only fastballs and was encouraged by his first step.

-- The Associated Press

MILLWOOD EMBRACES LEADERSHIP ROLE WITH ORIOLES (11:51 a.m. ET)
The Orioles traded for 35-year-old Kevin Millwood during the winter meetings because they wanted an experienced arm at the top of their rotation and a clubhouse leader who could lead the team's young pitching staff by example.

The role of mentor is a comfortable fit for Millwood, who went 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA in 2009, the last of his four seasons with the Texas Rangers, and has won 155 games in a 13-year major league career.

"I'm having a good time," he said. "These guys seem like they're willing to learn and want to get better. The most fun for me would be seeing these guys succeed."

Millwood can be vocal, but he's more likely to lead by example. Perhaps it comes from his exposure to star pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz after breaking into the majors with the Atlanta Braves in 1997.

"It's just kind of the way that I am," he said. "I had a lot of guys who kind of showed me the way when I was young. I've just done that my whole career. I think that's the right way to do it."

-- The Associated Press

'OPERATION PANDA' NOT YET A GIANT SUCCESS (10:39 a.m. ET)
The San Francisco Giants had hoped infielder Pablo Sandoval -- also known as "Kung Fu Panda" for his generous physique -- would make strides along with his teammates in slimming down this offseason.

"Operation Panda," the diet and exercise regimen put in place by head trainer Dave Groeschner, has resulted in several slightly smaller Giants. But Sandoval, the project's namesake, has not yet reached his desired weight, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

"He's still a work in progress," Groeschner said of Sandoval on Sunday, according to the report. "He's working hard, and he's still working to slim down. We're trying to stay on top of this because he's not where we wanted him yet."

Sandoval, who's reportedly aiming at 250 pounds as his target weight, dropped 12 pounds during offseason workouts at the team's spring training facility in Arizona. But that progress stalled while he was playing winter ball in Venezuela.

"He didn't have a huge setback [in Venezuela], but he didn't have an advancement," Groeschner said, according to the report.

-- ESPN.com news services