February, 18, 2009
Greg Maddux knew it was time to quit pitching. He just wasn't ready to quit baseball altogether.

The four-time Cy Young Award winner rejoined the San Diego Padres on Wednesday as a spring training instructor. He pitched for the Padres from 2007 until he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August.

Though his position is only temporary, Maddux hopes it will lead to a permanent coaching job. Maddux, who is eighth all time with 355 career wins, retired in December after 23 big league seasons.

"I love baseball," said Maddux, who was 355-227 with a 3.16 ERA in a career with the Padres, Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs.

"It's what I've always done. It's really all I know. I knew it was time to stop playing a couple of years ago," he said. "I know I probably want to get into coaching, somehow, some way later. This happened a little quick. I'm down here trying to get a taste of it and see what the coaches do before the workouts and after workouts. ... There's a lot that goes into it."

Mets second baseman Luis Castillo is so driven to make up for a horrendous 2008 season he traveled two hours each day this winter to work out at the team's academy in the Dominican Republic.

"I'm a new man right now," Castillo said Wednesday, when he reported to the team's training camp 17 pounds lighter. "I feel so different than last year. That's why I know I can be better. I want to prove what kind of player I am. Last year was a bad year for me and I know I can play better."

Fresh off signing a $25 million, four-year contract, Castillo reported to spring training last year out of shape after offseason knee surgery, and it was downhill from there.

When he wasn't sidelined with sore knees or an injured quadriceps and hip, Castillo hit .245, the lowest average of his career since his second season. In 87 games, he had just 11 extra-base hits, drove in 28 runs and scored 46 times.

"Last year, that was tough for me," Castillo said. "I signed for four years and I tried to play too soon. That's the mistake I made. I wasn't prepared to start the season. I want to ... focus on this year and try to help the team to win."

When Chad Billingsley's feet went flying out from under him on the icy porch at his house in Pennsylvania three months ago, he got a lucky break.

"It was just a spiral fracture," he said.

"Just" is a relative term in this case. The Dodgers' young right-hander was left with a plate and screws in his left ankle and a 6-inch scar as souvenirs of his spill.

"After I saw the X-rays, talked to my doctor and surgeon, the good news was that there were no ligaments torn and that the muscles and everything were fine," Billingsley said. "I was kind of bummed that I broke my ankle, but at least there was no severe damage.

"That was a huge relief."

For the Dodgers as well, since Billingsley appears to be emerging as the ace.

Rapidly bouncing back from the injury, he already is throwing off the mound this spring and expects to be ready to go when the regular season begins.

The 24-year-old Billingsley was Los Angeles' winningest pitcher last year with a 16-10 record, including 7-1 over the last 12 of his 32 starts. His ERA of 3.14 ranked seventh in the NL, and his 201 strikeouts were fifth in the league.

The Tigers desperately needed to add a closer this winter to replace the retired Todd Jones.

Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, the relievers groomed to replace Jones, both failed to instill confidence because they were either hurt or ineffective last year.

So, how important was the signing of Brandon Lyon last month?

"We'll find out," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday.

Lyon had a career-high 26 saves for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, but a late slide led to him losing his job. He had a 2.43 ERA before the All-Star break and an 8.46 ERA after, ballooning with a 12.27 ERA in August.

The Tigers, though, viewed him as the good fit as a closer at the right price.

Lyon signed a $4.25 million, one-year contract -- with the potential to make $500,000 more in bonuses -- after turning down multiyear offers from other teams.

Carlos Lee is catching some heat from his Astros teammates for not showing up at spring training on time.

Lee explained that he missed the first day of camp because he was confused about the reporting date. But teammate Lance Berkman, asked what he would tell Lee, said "he should have been here today," according to the Houston Chronicle.

"But, I mean, what are you going to do? We're not going to hang the guy or anything. We need him on the team. The reality is no one needs as long as we have to get ready for the season," Berkman said, according to the report. "I don't blame him for not coming. But from the same token from the solidarity standpoint I'd love to see him here. Plus, I'd like to see him. I haven't seen him all offseason."

Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt was amused by Lee's explanation for missing the first day of camp, according to the report. "That's a good one. I ain't heard that one in a while," he said.

Twins pitcher Boof Bonser didn't throw a scheduled bullpen session on Tuesday as he continues to fight tendinitis in his right shoulder.

Bonser, penciled in as a potential set-up man for 2009 after losing his spot in the starting rotation last season, took a cortisone shot last week. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that another throwing session for Bonser has yet to be slated, according to The (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune.

"Day to day," Gardenhire said of Bonser, according to the report. "He's not throwing. He had an injection. He's doing all the other stuff. I have not gotten an update on when he will start his throwing program. All we have to do is calm down the inflammation in his shoulder. Which, through all the exercises and treatment that he's getting, is going to happen here pretty soon."

David Eckstein has spent much of his major league career at shortstop. But he's more than happy to play second base for the Padres, calling it his "natural position."

Eckstein, who signed with the Padres during the offseason, moved from second to shortstop in 2001 with the Angels, who were making room for Adam Kennedy at the time. He's played the position with two World Series champions -- the 2002 Angels and 2006 Cardinals. But he says he's happiest playing second, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

"Since I was 12, that was all I played, second base. It's something that comes very natural," he said, according to the report. "It felt really comfortable and I just enjoyed it. When I was talking with other clubs, that's all I really wanted to talk about was second base."

Ex-Dodgers starter Brad Penny and third base coach Larry Bowa might not be exchanging holiday cards next winter -- not after they took shots at each other through the media.

"There were a few people I didn't get along with on the coaching staff that don't respect people," Penny, now with the Red Sox, said of his last season with the Dodgers, according to Yahoo! Sports. "I mean, me and Joe [Torre] got along fine. I just feel like nobody had my back there. You're in the clubhouse and you have players coming up to you saying coaches are saying this to them about you."

Bowa, not one to shrink from a challenge, fired back.

"Is this the same [Brad] Penny that never went to meetings, that came late, left early, was never in shape, always had an excuse when things didn't go right, didn't help the young kids at all?" he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Coaches get on players when they're lazy and don't work. I think he should worry about getting hitters out in the American League East and not worry about me."



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