FLB: Spring Training Notebook 2/20

Updated: February 26, 2007, 9:40 AM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

It's not cool to question someone about whether or not their mom is really sick. Manny Ramirez has claimed, through teammate Julian Tavarez, that his mother needs surgery, possibly for a tumor. Still, because this is Planet Manny, one has to wonder at least a little. I mean, Ramirez has missed the All-Star game because of like seven different sick grandmothers.

Anyway, because of all this hullabaloo, Ramirez won't report to Red Sox camp until March 1, a fact which will no doubt cause Boston talk radio to spin completely off its axis for the next two weeks. And then Daisuke Matsuzaka will break wind or something, and all will be forgotten.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Eric Gagne threw 37 pitches from a mound on Monday afternoon, and reported no discomfort from his various surgeries (back and elbow). The Rangers have said that Gagne is their undisputed closer, and that he won't make a spring training appearance until the last week or so of March. Still, just to be sure, you have to handcuff Akinori Otsuka. What's the worst thing that happens? Otsuka is in Boston by June?

Cristian Guzman told reporters that his shoulder isn't 100 percent after major surgery last summer. The Nationals still claim Guzman's going to be their starting shortstop, but they also announced the signing of Ronnie Belliard to a minor-league contract, just in case. If Guzman can't go, or if he hits like, well, Cristian Guzman, Belliard would probably play second, and Felipe Lopez would move back to short, rendering all the excited words I've written about him being eligible at 2B completely moot.

The signing of Shannon Stewart by Oakland has fantasy implications for both Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher. Swisher told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday that he lost a lot of strength in 2006 because he had mononucleosis, but is back to his regular playing weight now and feels strong. He also said he's ready to play any combination of first base and right field. That's significant because if Johnson can't get the job done for a second consecutive year, Stewart would play outfield and Swisher would move to first.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Dodgers are considering keeping Chad Billingsley around in the bullpen if he doesn't make the starting rotation. That intrepid handler of pitchers, Grady Little, told the paper, "I don't suspect we'll send many pitchers to Las Vegas who we think can help us in L.A." But that just has to be more nutty Grady talk, doesn't it? The 22-year-old Billingsley has the potential to be a No. 2 starter; getting him into 60-odd games as a reliever certainly wouldn't help the kid's development.

In response to criticism from 2006 that he was a selfish player most concerned with working his way out of Baltimore, Miguel Tejada told the Associated Press that he's going to be a "different Miguel" this year, and that he'll do whatever he can to help the Orioles win. Nice news, but one hopes that when Tejada says he's going to be a "different Miguel," he doesn't mean Miguel Cairo.

Mark Teahen told the Kansas City Star he's "ready for his likely shift from third base to right field to accommodate Alex Gordon." It's hard to say that the Star knows more than we all do about Gordon making the Royals, especially considering no one's played a single game yet this spring. Still, all systems appear to be go for Teahen in left (or perhaps right), and Gordon at third. Will Gordon be Hank Blalock circa 2003 (.300, 29 HR, 90 RBI, .872 OPS)? Or is it more likely he's Hank Blalock circa 2006 (.266, 16 HR, 89 RBI, .726 OPS)?

Juan Rivera, who badly broke his left tibia in December playing winter ball in Venezuela, won't report to camp for several weeks, and even then he'll be nowhere near ready to play. The Los Angeles Times indicates that the earliest Rivera is likely to play is around the All-Star break, but there's a chance he misses even more time than that. The implication here is more potential playing time for Casey Kotchman, Robb Quinlan and/or Kendry Morales.

The Associated Press reports that Carlos Beltran told reporters that he plans on being "more of a stolen base threat this season." The same report quotes Willie Randolph as saying, "He could steal 40 to 50 bases easy, and I say easy if he's feeling healthy." Insert drool here.

Thanks for playing, Carl Pavano. A couple days after Mike Mussina called out his erstwhile teammate for not being the most durable dude ever, Pavano told the New York Post that he "was sidelined due to heavy legs caused by three days of running on grass." Uh huh. Now, I'm quite sure ol' Carl is sincere about this, and word out of Yankees camp is that he did throw some on Monday. But still. Where's the damage control? Next thing we're going to hear the guy couldn't take batting practice because Venus is in Pisces and Mars is rising.

Chris Harris covers fantasy baseball, football and NASCAR for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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