Around the Grapefruit League

Updated: February 23, 2007, 5:43 PM ET
Associated Press

New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera sailed through his first batting practice session. The Yankees closer threw 35 pitches Friday to a hitting group that included Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano.

"Mariano was fine," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Rivera was sidelined from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22 last year because of a muscle strain near his right elbow. The 37-year-old right-hander finished 5-5 with 34 saves and an 1.80 ERA.

"No problems," Rivera said.

Rivera worked on throwing strikes, which meant Jeter and the others didn't have to face his cutter. Rivera is fourth on the career saves list with 413 and is first with 34 postseason saves.

"I've been pretty spoiled with him over the years," Torre said. "He's in great condition. He's got a great heart. I don't know what else I can say about it."

Rivera and his teammates earlier took part in a fly ball drill that included a new pitching machine that was a bit erratic. With a cloudless sky, the Yankees looked more like the Bad News Bears than the defending AL East champions.

Elsewhere in the Grapefruit League:

Los Angeles Dodgers: For veterans like Jeff Kent, spring training is usually a drag. Not this year.

"It says something when I say I'd rather be here than racing motorcycles. I love motorcycles," Kent said with a smile before Friday's workout at the Dodgers' spring training complex.

Kent, who turns 39 next month, was limited to 115 games last season -- his fewest since the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. That's one of the reasons he's pleased to get started. Another is he likes the assembled team at Dodgertown.

"I'm excited to be here. I'm healthy," he said. "Because I missed so many games last year, I'm anxious to start playing. I've been fortunate enough in my whole career to have been on the disabled list only once or twice [before last year]. It was twice last season. The times I played last year, I did what I normally do."

Doug Jarrow, the Dodgers' strength and conditioning coordinator, traveled to Kent's home in Texas during the offseason and spent a few days working with Kent to get him ready for this year.

"We weren't changing too much, just modifying his program, placing more emphasis on his exercises to deal with his oblique muscle, working with flexibility in his midsection his hips," Jarrow said. "I spoke with him periodically -- nothing but positives.

"He worked his tail off. He's ready to go. He said he worked harder than he ever has. He looks great coming in, with a great attitude and ready to go," Jarrow said.

St. Louis Cardinals: Until this winter, when Yadier Molina returned to his native Puerto Rico, he was just another talented ballplayer in a country filled with them. As he walked the streets this past offseason, after playing a pivotal role in the Cardinals' run to the championship, he was greeted with calls of "Yadi! Yadi!" And he admits, he liked it.

"It was special for me," the Cardinals catcher said. "This World Series changed my life because people recognize me wherever I go. I'm from a small island, and it feels good that everybody knows you."

At 24, Molina is already considered a team leader for his defensive skills and handling of pitchers, which the team believes more than make up for lackluster offensive showings that included a .216 regular-season average with six homers and 49 RBIs in 2006.

That changed in the postseason, when Molina was an offensive standout. His ninth-inning two-run homer in Game 7 of the NLCS beat the Mets, and he had several key hits in the five-game World Series win over Detroit.

This season, the Cardinals will need Molina's leadership skills more than ever in helping to guide a rebuilt starting rotation that will include at least three new starters after the free-agent losses of Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis.

Boston Red Sox: Brendan Donnelly's 10-year journey through the minor leagues included stops with seven organizations and 14 teams. The Red Sox reliever's major-league travels have been much smoother. He's with just his second big-league club -- another contender.

The Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2004, obtained Donnelly from the 2002 champion Angels on Dec. 15 for minor-league lefty Phil Seibel.

"Anaheim was the first team that gave me a shot," Donnelly said, "and it turned into a World Series run."

The Red Sox hope the 35-year-old right-hander can contribute to another title, maybe as their closer -- a job that became vacant when Jonathan Papelbon moved into the rotation for this season. Donnelly just wants to help upgrade a Boston bullpen that had a 4.51 ERA last year, despite having a closer at 0.92.

"We all know that the closer role is out there, but none of us is approaching it that way, I don't believe," Donnelly said. "I think everybody's game is going to get better with the competition."

Pitching coach John Farrell has said the potential closers are Donnelly, Joel Pineiro, Julian Tavarez and Mike Timlin. After throwing two bullpen sessions this week, following 11 days without pitching off a mound, Donnelly feels he's getting better but has to improve his mechanics, particularly his timing.

Toronto Blue Jays: Jo Matumoto, a 36-year-old left-hander who pitched for Brazil's national team, agreed to a minor-league contract with the Blue Jays and was invited to spring training.

The native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, was selected MVP of the 2005 South American Games, and the Blue Jays said he was considered to be the ace of Brazil's national team.

Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi watched Matumoto work out earlier this week.

"I'm very happy to be here, I am very emotional," Matumoto said through his wife, who translated. "It's like a dream."

Matumoto, who is of Japanese background, is represented by Randy and Alan Hendricks. He got to meet another of their clients, Roger Clemens, while in Houston.

"He invited us to a private dinner, and he wished me good luck and offered to help in any way," Matumoto said.

Randy Hendricks said Matumoto's best pitch is a screwball.

"He's very raw but showed decent velocity," said Toronto scout Sal Butera, who think Matumoto will most likely start the season at Double-A or Triple-A. "If he develops, it's worth taking the risk."

Pittsburgh Pirates: Two-time All-Star outfielder Jason Bay is recovering from a minor surgery in November on his left knee.

"No question in my mind, it's going to be stronger than before," Bay said. "It already feels better, probably good enough that I could get started if it wasn't so early in spring training."

Bay has been running on a treadmill and taking some batting practice, and his next step will be running the bases and fielding. That could start in the next week or so.

Bay began running two weeks ago and said he remains on a comfortable pace to be ready for Pittsburgh's April 2 opener in Houston.

"Not even an issue," Bay said.

Baltimore Orioles: Reliever Jamie Walker sustained a concussion Friday when he was hit in the back of the head by a Nick Markakis line drive during batting practice.

Walker never went down and walked off the field under his own power. He went to a hospital for X-rays and team spokesman Bill Stetka said he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. A CAT scan was negative and Walker is day-to-day.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press