Category archive: Charlie Morton


February, 24, 2009
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Mets starter John Maine cleared a hurdle Tuesday, pitching in a game for the first time since September surgery to shave a bone spur in his right shoulder.

Maine, whose 2008 season ended Aug. 23, started an intrasquad scrimmage and came out of it pain-free. He allowed one hit with two strikeouts and a walk in two scoreless innings, throwing 16 of 25 pitches for strikes.

"My arm feels great. My body feels great," Maine said. "I just feel like it's been such a long time. The mechanics are a little off and I was rusty a little bit, but other than that, and more importantly, my arm feels good."

Mets manager Jerry Manuel was glad to see Maine's progress. The right-hander is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut Sunday.

"John Maine was throwing strikes," Manuel said. "He hadn't been out there in a while, and he let the ball go. He pitched, so it's definitely for him, and for us obviously, a big step in the right direction."

Edgar Gonzalez threw himself into the competition for a spot in the Oakland Athletics' rotation with a solid performance in an intrasquad game Tuesday.

Spring Training Video: The Astros

Gonzalez, who spent the past six years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, tossed three innings against a group of hitters that included Jason Giambi, Matt Holliday, Travis Buck, Ryan Sweeney and Bobby Crosby.

"I just wanted to go pitch by pitch today," said Gonzalez, who pitched for Hermosillo in the Caribbean playoffs two weeks ago. "My curveball was a little flat and I made a couple of mistakes."

Buck had two of the three hits against Gonzalez.

"He looked sharp," Buck said. "He's around the zone and he knows how to pitch. Those are the kind of pitchers you like to face as a hitter."

Meanwhile, first baseman Daric Barton will be held out of the first weekend of Cactus League games as he continues a conditioning program. Barton underwent hip surgery during the offseason.

R.A. Dickey is one of only a handful of knuckleballers in the game. Minnesota signed the bearded right-hander to a minor league contract, bringing him to spring training for an opportunity to earn a spot as a long reliever. Dickey still hasn't mastered this skill, but that isn't exactly a problem for the Twins because they haven't had a knuckleballer in decades.

Spring Training Video: The Tigers

"I'm trying to pick his brain, when it's right and when it's wrong," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "You're kind of looking where his arm is when he's right, and I'm kind of learning the whole thing as we're going. When to use it, when not to use it."

Tim Wakefield has been a fixture in Boston's rotation for years, but he's the only knuckleballer currently on a major league roster. Dickey, like Charlie Zink with the Red Sox and Charlie Haeger with the Los Angeles Dodgers, is in camp without a guarantee of making the team.

But Dickey has a decent chance with Minnesota, which learned Tuesday that right-hander Boof Bonser will have exploratory surgery on his pitching shoulder. Thus, the Twins need someone to fill a long relief role.

"He knows how to pitch," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's had some really good years, most of them in the minor leagues, but some really good years."

Andruw Jones homered and doubled in his only at-bats of the Texas Rangers' intrasquad game Tuesday afternoon, the team's final tuneup before Wednesday's Cactus League opener.

"We've been working on things to get the bad habits out of my swing and getting on a good pace," said Jones, who is trying to find a spot in an already crowded Texas outfield.

Jones, who hit .158 with three homers in an injury-riddled 2008 season, is with the Rangers on a $500,000 minor league contract that includes a chance to earn an additional $1 million in performance bonuses.

Meanwhile, the Rangers said Kris Benson, signed to a minor league contract on Saturday, will start against the Royals instead of left-hander Matt Harrison.

The 34-year-old Benson has not pitched in the major leagues since 2006 and was 1-4 in 11 starts for the Phillies' Triple-A team in Lehigh Valley last season before he was released in August.

After two seasons of splitting time in center field, Jacoby Ellsbury came to camp knowing the starting job is his after Coco Crisp was traded to Kansas City in November for reliever Ramon Ramirez.

Ellsbury has already responded to his new role as an everyday starter by reporting to spring training in the best shape of his young career.

"He looks stronger and thicker through the chest," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "He's always been very fast and we've seen that on the bases but just by looking at him, he's added strength. It's pretty exciting to see."

The 25-year-old played in 145 games in 2008, appearing 66 times in center field, 58 times in left and 36 in right. Now, with Crisp in Kansas City, Ellsbury knows he'll be in center every time he takes the field.

"The biggest thing for me was just preparing to play every day," he said. "Playing my first full season last year, I just wanted to be ready this year to be out there every day, doing all this work to be out there."

John Lannan will start the Nationals' first spring training game when the team travels to Kissimmee to play the Astros on Wednesday.

Lannan, who was 9-15 with a 3.91 ERA last year in his first full season in the big leagues, is expected to go two innings.

"I'm not going to try to do too much," Lannan said Tuesday. "I'm still working on my breaking ball. I'm locating my pitches pretty well right now, which is good. I'm just trying to keep the ball down and throw as many strikes as I can."

Also slated to pitch for the Nationals are Shairon Martis, Garrett Mock, Gary Glover and Steven Shell.

Right-hander Boof Bonser will have exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his ailing pitching shoulder, which has kept him off the mound since the start of spring training.

Bonser was experiencing persistent soreness in the joint and sought a second opinion. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday the doctor's recommendation after the latest MRI exam was to "go in there and clean up."

There won't be a timetable for Bonser's recovery until the results of the surgery are assessed.

After getting bumped from the rotation last year, Bonser struggled in the bullpen for most of the summer before getting back on track in August. He finished 3-7 with a 5.93 ERA in 118 1/3 innings, but the hard-throwing Bonser was in line for a long relief role this season.

After toying with the idea of dropping Alfonso Soriano down in the batting order, Cubs manager Lou Piniella plans to keep his left fielder in the leadoff spot. And now he's looking for Soriano to be more aggressive on the base paths.

Piniella told reporters Tuesday that he thinks "30-something" stolen bases is a "reasonable" goal for Soriano this season. After recording 41 steals with Washington in 2006, Soriano has been bothered by nagging leg injuries in his first two seasons as a Cub. He stole only 19 bases in both 2007 and 2008.

"He's really running well," Piniella said. "He's in great shape. I think this is the first time he's actually worked hard before coming to camp, and it shows. I told him that today."
-- Jerry Crasnick,

Right-hander Kenshin Kawakami showed the Atlanta Braves a little more of his arsenal on Monday, throwing cutters and curveballs as he faced hitters for the second time this spring. He is scheduled to start Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton.

"He signaled curveball, and I still had to re-trigger my swing," Matt Diaz said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "His cutter was moving nice and easy, and his four-seam [fastball] had surprising late life."

Kawakami, signed to a three-year contract in January, was considered one of the top free-agent pitchers from Japan available this offseason. "I can see why he was a star over there [in Japan]," manager Bobby Cox told the newspaper.

As for pitcher Charlie Morton, there's good news, and not-so-good news. The good: Morton had a sharp bullpen session on Monday. The flip side: Morton strained a side muscle throwing in batting practice.

The injury, diagnosed as a left oblique strain, will prevent Morton from throwing for a week. "If it's gonna happen, better to have it happen now, I guess," Morton said in the Journal-Constitution.

With the exception of first baseman Prince Fielder, Milwaukee's starting lineup is overwhelmingly right-handed. Fielder will be surrounded in the order this year by Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Mike Cameron, Bill Hall and Jason Kendall -- righty hitters all.

It's a different story on the bench, where manager Ken Macha doesn't have a right-handed threat after Gabe Kapler departed for Tampa Bay through free agency.

At the moment, it appears that lefty hitters Craig Counsell and Mike Lamb will be the infield backups, while Trot Nixon, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Chris Duffy are competing for two outfield bench spots.

Gwynn is out of options; Duffy is coming off shoulder surgery and is in camp as a minor league invite. They're similar players -- speedy, defense-oriented singles hitters -- so chances are Macha will carry Nixon and have to choose between Gwynn and Duffy for the final outfield spot.
-- Jerry Crasnick,

Relief pitcher Carlos Marmol announced he will not be playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

Marmol, in competition with Kevin Gregg for the closer's role with the Cubs, said he spent a restless night Sunday, trying to decide what to do. In the end, Marmol believed he should stay and work with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

"I know what I have to do to keep my body ready for the season, and my arm and my mind, what I need to do," Marmol said. "It was a hard decision."

Manager Lou Piniella told the Chicago Tribune: "I told him it was his decision and we would support him either way. He's thought about it a long time. It really is a difficult decision. I told him it's an honor representing your country. ... My posture, basically, is to stay out of that situation as much as possible."

In his locker stall at Scottsdale Stadium, Giants catcher Bengie Molina hangs a black, long-sleeved shirt with a picture of his father's face on the front. He has the same picture in a large frame, with four smaller photos at each corner.

The message, "We always remember you," in Spanish, is on the shirt and photo. But in reality, Molina doesn't need these tokens; his father is never far from his thoughts.

Molina's father, Benjamin, died suddenly last October, suffering a stroke between games of a youth league doubleheader on the field he built from scratch near his home in Puerto Rico. It is the same field where baseball and life lessons were imparted to Bengie and his brothers, Jose of the New York Yankees and Yadier of the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I talk to him sometimes when I am a little stressed about the game or when I am worried about my girls," said Bengie Molina, who has two daughters. "Little things like that. I want to make sure he knows he is always missed. The worst thing is remembering when you were a kid and when he took your hand and said, 'Watch out for the cars' when he crossed the street with you, or when he hit you ground balls. Those are the little things that get in your head."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.