FLB: Spring Training Notebook 3/8

Updated: March 8, 2007, 11:57 AM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

• The Providence Journal reports that Joel Pineiro has already been so bad this spring that he's all but lost the Boston closer's role. In three spring training outings, Pineiro has allowed six hits, three walks and four earned runs in 3.1 IP which is, like, really terrible. Now Mike Timlin will get next crack; Timlin has been sidelined with a strained oblique until now, and should make his spring debut some time this weekend. Incidentally, Brendan Donnelly and Hideki Okajima were awful on Wednesday trying to close out a game against the Mets, so don't expect those guys to rise up to the role any time soon, either.

• On a completely unrelated note, Jonathan Papelbon was excellent again for the Red Sox Wednesday, relieving Tim Wakefield (who was pretty good himself) to the tune of one hit and one walk with four strikeouts in three full innings. Papelbon is a valuable draftee no matter what his role, and Boston would probably much rather trade for a Chad Cordero or Akinori Otsuka before changing Papelbon's regimen from starter to reliever midseason. Still, the chances of him closing again remain.

• Mm, before we get too fired up listening to the Mets rhapsodize in three-part harmony about how much they love Ambiorix Burgos, witness the ninth inning on Wednesday. In a tie game, Burgos got one out, allowed a walk and two hits, then gave up a game-winning grand slam to the immortal Ed Rogers, a career minor-leaguer. Don't forget Burgos blew 12 saves for Kansas City last year; you want no part of him, no matter what the propaganda.

• Newsday reports that Pedro Martinez "took a baby step" in his road back from rotator cuff surgery on Wednesday, playing catch for the first time since his operation. The session lasted 10 minutes, and the Mets "remain hopeful" that Martinez can help the team in August. I put nothing past Pedro, but I wouldn't draft him unless I could stash him on a deep fantasy DL.

• The L.A. Times reports that Gary Matthews Jr. could be suspended for as many as 80 games for purchasing HGH, but only if he's convicted in the legal system. The interesting part of the report is that Matthews (or any other player) doesn't actually have to fail a drug test to be suspended under the terms of the league's supposedly toothless drug policy. If a player is convicted by a jury, he can be suspended. It's worth emphasizing, though, that Matthews hasn't even been charged with anything at this point.

• The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that John Smoltz was able to finish his three spring innings Wednesday despite getting drilled in the chest by a Carlos Guillen liner. "Hardest I've ever been hit," Smoltz told reporters. "It knocked me down. I got smoked." Fortunately, he was able to get up and continue a very solid outing, in which he threw three innings and allowed three hits, no walks and no runs.

• The saga of Matt Garza's neck continues. The team's web site reports that an MRI on Garza showed no serious damage, but that Garza will see a neurologist later this week. It seems fairly clear at this point that the fast-rising Garza has next to no chance to make Minnesota's rotation in April.

• Phew. Vive le Boof! Boof Bonser followed up a bad first spring start with some good work on Wednesday, giving up just two hits, walking no one and striking out three in his three innings. With Garza's injury and Sidney Ponson, Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva mysteriously locked into the Twins' rotation, Bonser has a clear path to Minnesota's fifth starting spot.

• The Royals announced on their team web site that they now expect Mark Grudzielanek to miss only the first two weeks of the season because of the scope he had on his knee. Oh, joy. Grudzy is a better baseball player than he is a fantasy entity, and while I'm sure Kansas City would be psyched to have a team leader back in the lineup every day, I selfishly would like to see what Esteban German could do with a full-time job. It's not going to happen, though.

• The New York Daily News reports Yankee GM Brian Cashman announced that super-prospect Philip Hughes will be sent to Triple-A Columbus at the end of spring training. There wasn't much drama on this point, and it would be a shock not to see Hughes in the bigs at some point this year. Still, now it's official.

• The Rich Aurilia-hitting-third-in-front-of-Barry Bonds train may have derailed already. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has told reporters he wants to try hitting Bonds third, and use Ray Durham in the cleanup spot. Lineups are malleable, of course, but Aurilia looks a lot less enticing hitting fifth or sixth in San Francisco's order.

• Slammin' Sammy Sosa hit a titanic homer Wednesday off Livan Hernandez, his second of the spring, and the Dallas Morning News says Sosa has done nothing to change the Rangers' mind about signing and starting him in 2007.

• Yo, shoulder strain. Adrian Beltre will miss as many as four games, the Associated Press reports, because of a minor shoulder problem, after being a late scratch from the Mariners' lineup on Wednesday. This is just fine news from a guy who takes two months to be able to lift his bat off his shoulder every year.

Geoff Jenkins continued a very hot start to spring Wednesday, going 3-for-4 with two doubles against Colorado. In 19 spring training at-bats, Jenkins is hitting .579, and driving the ball with power. He's already told reporters how upset the notion of platooning with Kevin Mench makes him, and with Mench suffering a weightlifting injury and Jenkins tearing the cover off the ball, Jenkins could emerge with his full-time job intact. We shall see.

• I was a Brad Penny owner last year, and fortunately sold high. Something always just seems to happen to the guy, whether it's another injury, an outing where he walks the ballpark, or mysteriously getting taken out of a game in the fifth inning when he's looked pretty good. Well, this spring, Penny hasn't looked pretty good. Wednesday he allowed six runs on seven hits and a walk in just two innings against the Cardinals. If you're a Penny enthusiast, don't panic. But I, myself, am not a Penny enthusiast.

Ken Griffey Jr. told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he "still has soreness in (his) hand" when he swings. That's just marvelous. The best thing the Reds could do is move Griffey to right, and let Ryan Freel play center until he fractures something. It won't happen, though.

• The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that Albert Pujols freaked out the fantasy world when he dove for a Nick Markakis liner and "landed heavily on his shoulder." Pujols stayed down for a few minutes talking to a trainer, but was okay, remained in the game, and later swung the bat fine.

• Milwaukee prospect Ryan Braun (that's right, I said Ryan Braun) told the Brewers' web site that the sore throwing elbow that's kept him sidelined for the better part of the last week is feeling better, and was the result of too much fielding practice early in the spring. The 23-year-old has impressed the Brewers, and considering the wealth of mediocrity the team features at the hot corner (Corey Koskie, Craig Counsell, Tony Graffanino), there's still an outside shot Braun starts at third this year. He's a big-time hitting prospect, for sure.

• Pittsburgh minor-leaguer Brad Eldred (that's right, I said Brad Eldred) told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he can play the outfield in addition to first base (where he's logjammed behind Adam LaRoche). The 26-year-old minor-leaguer whom I mistook for Ryan Braun during a podcast earlier this week (hey, public self-flagellation is good for the soul) now has four homers in just 12 spring training ABs, but has no real prospects of earning a significant role in the Pirates' lineup. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, though, Eldred isn't exactly someone to whom you personally want to break this news.

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