Around the Cactus League

Updated: February 23, 2007, 8:48 PM ET
Associated Press

Arizona Diamondbacks: Left-hander Randy Johnson reported no problems after throwing off a mound Friday morning for the first time since October back surgery. Johnson said he felt "pretty free and easy" throwing 25 fastballs.

"I'm feeling a lot better than I did the last time I picked up a ball, let's put it that way," the 43-year-old Johnson said. "For the first step, off the mound today, I felt very pleased and I think I'm heading in the right direction. I'm very happy about that."

If his back responds well, Johnson said he expects to return to the mound on Monday, increasing his pitch count to 30 or 35. Johnson wouldn't set a timetable for pitching in an exhibition game.

"I'm not going to go that far," he said. "I'm not Nostradamus."

But Johnson said he might be only two weeks behind the rest of the staff if he continues to make progress.

"It's just going to be a gradual thing that we work through," he said. "As we take those appropriate steps, hopefully there will be no setbacks."

Johnson's private workout was viewed by Diamondbacks coaches on a field away from the media. Johnson said he wasn't trying to keep the workout a secret.

"Just in case I'm launching balls over in the White Sox's parking lot," Johnson said with a chuckle, referring to the Diamondbacks' spring training neighbors. "I was going to report to you guys regardless."

Elsewhere in the Cactus League:

Texas Rangers: Michael Young has a contract with Texas for two more seasons. Rangers owner Tom Hicks hopes the three-time All-Star shortstop is around a lot longer than that.

"Michael's the kind of guy that I think should be the face of this franchise," Hicks said Friday after arriving at spring training. "He has been and he should be, so we'll hopefully keep going in that direction."

The Rangers have talked to Young's agent about the possibility of a new deal and Hicks planned to chat with Young during this weekend visit to camp.

When asked what stood in the way of a new contract, Hicks responded, without elaborating, "Just the normal things like how much his agent thinks he should get paid versus how much we think we can afford to pay."

Still, Hicks said he was "pretty optimistic." Hicks doesn't expect contract talks to continue into the season.

"The way it works, we need to get it done shortly or wait and talk about it again at this time next year," Hicks said. "Mike will be here for the next two years for sure. We want him to finish his career here. We'll try to see if we can't get this worked out before too long."

Kansas City Royals: Zack Greinke was diagnosed by a psychologist last year with "social anxiety" and thought his baseball career was over. Greinke, a first-round draft pick in 2002 and in the Kansas City rotation at age 20, left the Royals' spring training camp unexpectedly on Feb. 25, 2006, and returned to his home in Florida for what the club said was personal reasons. He returned to the Royals in September and now says he's over his problems.

"When I left, I was leaving and never coming back," Greinke said during a news conference Friday. "It was one of the best moments of my life to get that off my shoulders."

Talking with a psychologist helped him realize that it wasn't baseball that he disliked.

"The toughest part is convincing people it's not a problem anymore," he said.

Greinke said the Royals should not have been shocked that he left.

"I gave pretty much signals in the minors that I didn't like baseball," he said. "Everyone knew. I told teammates I hated baseball. I didn't hide it."

Greinke said the Royals were supportive.

"I knew the organization would accept me back, but I didn't really know if the big-league team would," he said. "This spring training has been the best I could have imagined."

San Francisco Giants: Lance Niekro still reaches for the phone to dial his dad, nearly four months after former major-league pitcher Joe Niekro died of a brain aneurysm at age 61. It's so natural for him to do so. They were constantly in touch during spring training and the season, and his father would provide advice and show up for a few days early in camp to watch his son with the Giants.

"My dad was the guy I talked to pretty much every day," Niekro said Friday, sitting in the dugout before he had to take the field. "He was pretty much my best friend. It's good to get back on the field and be around the guys and get playing again, but it's also tough because my dad's the guy I would talk to."

It took Niekro more than a month to find the motivation to resume his offseason regimen, which was an important step for a first baseman who is out of options and will have a tough time making the Giants' roster this year.

While Niekro knows his immediate baseball future is uncertain, everything he went through this winter has changed his perspective on what is worth worrying about and what is out of his control.

It has been nice for Niekro to be near his older sister, Natalie Niekro-Woosley, who lives within walking distance of Scottsdale Stadium, where the Giants train. Their dad had been fitted for a tux for her Dec. 9 wedding only hours before the aneurysm Oct. 26. He died the following day in Florida.

"Lance knows Dad is going to be with him every step of the way," Natalie said. "He was nervous to get back on the field. He really worked hard this offseason. He's got confidence, and Dad will be right on his shoulder."

Seattle Mariners: Miguel Batista is seated alone and silent on a stool at his locker. He's reading inside a three-ring binder covered with the title "Human Cloning," researching for his second novel. The subtitle: "Jesus Cloning." Readings from Leo Tolstoy and the Bible are also handy. Not quite the standard literary fare of a baseball clubhouse.

Batista is voracious reader because he is a writer -- the first Latin American professional player to publish a book of poetry. This month he is researching his second novel, about scientists and specialists who have been called to Washington, D.C., and to the United Nations to repair a secret government project. The project has gone horribly wrong and is threatening to "bring Armageddon to the world behind the scenes," Batista said.

His first novel was published last year. "The Avenger of Blood" details a 14-year-old serial killer -- and the American legal system's struggle in defining the concept of temporary insanity. He wrote the book in Spanish, the language in which it was first published 13 months ago. The third edition was just published in the Dominican's native language and the English version debuted last September.

"It was to find out, what exactly is an 'insane' person? And, how can we quantify a criminal mind?" Batista said.

The book's original title, in Spanish, translates to "Through the Eyes of the Law." But when Trafford Publishing prepared to release the book for an English audience, the company changed the title to make it more horrific, less academic-sounding and thus presumably more marketable.

"'Avenger of Blood?' That's my kind of book," said manager Mike Hargrove.

Oakland Athletics: For the first time in his professional career, Chad Gaudin came into spring training knowing his role. He also knows it's just another adjustment.

Barring something crazy, Gaudin will make his first Opening Day roster although he's already pitched for three major-league teams.

Gaudin came to Oakland as a starter. He made his Athletics debut as a relief pitcher and his success in a career-best 55 appearances (4-2, 3.09 ERA) last season convinced A's manager Bob Geren to keep him in the bullpen.

"I'm here to do whatever," said Gaudin, who turns 24 on March 24. "If I go two or three innings, or just one, whatever it is; we're all on the same page here."

Los Angeles Angels: Utilityman Robb Quinlan always watches the offseason moves made by the Angels even though things seem to stay the same for him.

Quinlan is likely set for his fifth season in a reserve role with the Angels, even though he could seek out another team that might give him more at-bats.

Last season, he hit .321 in a career-high 234 at-bats -- 90 points higher than in 2005.

"Sure, you wonder what it would be like being a full-time player," said Quinlan, who turns 30 next month. "But I'm happy here. This is a great organization and we have a shot at winning it all."

Quinlan hit .344 in 160 at-bats in 2004, managing to stay sharp off the bench offensively as well as filling in at first base, third base and in the outfield.

"He's going to play outfield but we're also going to need his corner depth in the infield, too," manager Mike Scioscia said.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press