FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/6

Updated: March 6, 2007, 12:03 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Mark Prior pitched Monday in his first game since August and struggled with his command for most of his 40-pitch outing. Pitching to nine batters, he surrendered four hits and two walks, which resulted in three earned runs. He was mostly up and over the plate, and his fastballs didn't have the requisite life on them. Still, he reported no soreness, and it's only spring training.

• Prior's former partner in the rotation, Kerry Wood, also made his first exhibition appearance, pitching a scoreless inning and striking out a batter. If Wood can prove he can throw on back-to-back days at some point over the season's first month, he may wind up the first alternative if/when Ryan Dempster loses the closer's role.

• The Denver Post reports that Colorado closer Brian Fuentes was scheduled to pitch Sunday night, but he was scratched because he'd suffered through back spasms the day before. However, he was scheduled to throw in a side session on Monday, which leads one to believe the problem isn't severe.

• The Rocky Mountain News reports that Todd Helton missed two games this weekend because of "inflammation in his right knee," but the move was mostly precautionary. Helton did start in Monday's game against Texas, and went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Of course, Helton has become a bit injury-prone over the past couple seasons, so stay on top of this if you plan on drafting him. Of if you're just super-into former University of Tennessee quarterbacks.

Rafael Furcal told the Dodgers' team web site that he injured his shoulder last week, and isn't sure when he'll be back. "It hurts to throw and to swing the bat a little," Furcal said. "They're giving me a few days off. ... I'll be ready for Opening Day."

Matt Garza had to come out of Minnesota's exhibition game against Tampa Bay in the first inning Monday because of a stiff neck. He first strained his neck throwing batting practice on February 24, and had an MRI as a result. This is bad news for a young pitcher with high expectations for '07, especially with possibly only one rotation spot up for grabs this spring.

• What is up, Adam Wainwright? The erstwhile heroic playoff closer threw four hitless innings Monday against a Houston lineup that included Chris Burke, Morgan Ensberg and Luke Scott (but not Lance Berkman or Carlos Lee), following up his three hitless innings last week. Dude. It appears the young man has found something. He's a starter, folks, but that doesn't mean you have to bump him down your draft list. He's going to be good.

• Also on the Cardinal front, Brad Thompson threw three perfect innings against the Marlins Sunday, getting six of his nine outs on ground balls. Thompson is probably destined for middle relief to begin the '07 season, but if Ryan Franklin and Braden Looper stumble (and would anyone be surprised?), Thompson could sneak into that fifth spot in the rotation.

Kei Igawa wasn't good on Monday against the Tigers, lasting just one inning and one batter, allowing two hits and three walks (including a bases-loaded walk in the first), and giving up two runs, both earned. He'll try again toward the end of the week.

Brad Eldred is primed to win the Karl (Tuffy) Rhodes Memorial Award for Unnecessarily Ridiculous Spring Training Production. The Pirates' first baseman cracked his third homer of the spring against Toronto on Monday, which is bound to get him drafted in some fantasy leagues, somewhere. Let's just not let you be the one who takes him, eh? Eldred is firmly entrenched behind Adam LaRoche in Pittsburgh, though he could make the team's bench if he keeps this up.

• Then again, maybe Brandon Phillips is the hottest hitter alive. He, too, hit his third homer in three games on Monday, evoking memories of the 22-RBI April he posted last year. Phillips is obviously a great stolen-base candidate (25 last year), and the fact that he popped 17 homers and 75 RBI in '06 makes him severely tempting. But remember: he's an unbelievably streaky hitter who last year had alternating OPS months of .970 (April), .675 (May), .871 (June), .564 (July), .981 (August), .457 (September). EKG anyone? If you can deal with the valleys, Phillips' peaks could be quite nice.

Adam Loewen struck out five Marlins on Monday in just two scoreless innings, and looked great. The lefty featured his usual good hard stuff, and a nasty curve reportedly taught him by Erik Bedard. It would be great to see both Loewen and Hayden Penn pitch well enough to make Steve Trachsel unnecessary, but that doesn't seem likely. Loewen will be with the big-league club, and will be a good matchup play (i.e., think about sitting him against the AL East behemoths), but Penn will probably begin the year at Triple-A.

Yhency Brazoban, the once-and-future Dodgers closer, is expected to return to the team in June, according to the L.A. Times. He's not going to be worth drafting this March, but keep him on your radar screen; if Takashi Saito's calf turns out to be a longer-term problem and some of the Dodgers' other potential closers struggle, Brazoban could come from as "out of nowhere" in '07 as Saito did in '06.

Bobby Jenks's shoulder appears to be fine. He pitched in a B-game on Monday, and reported no pain.

Ervin Santana pitched three innings against Oakland on Monday, allowing three hits without giving up a run. That makes it five scoreless innings so far for Santana, whose actual first name is "Johan." (Really.) He was disappointing last year, but he's only 23, and could still crank it up and turn into a frontline starter.

Jonny Gomes made a nice diving catch in right field on Monday, and told reporters afterwards, "Right now, I'm 100 percent. ... Last year, I couldn't even throw. I couldn't do anything over the head." After offseason shoulder surgery, Gomes could return to the 2005 form that saw him post a .906 OPS in 348 part-time ABs. Last year, he was just .757 in 385 ABs.

• The Newark Star-Ledger reports that Andy Phillips has returned to the Yankees' camp after attending to his mother, who was involved in a car accident last week. Phillips continues to be the favorite to win the right-handed-hitting portion of New York's first-base platoon, with Doug Mientkiewicz manning the left side of the plate. Rule 5 man Josh Phelps would be the alternative to Phillips, but one imagines manager Joe Torre likes the roster flexibility Phillips brings, considering he can play first, second or third.

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

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