03/09/2007 6:53 PM ET
B.J. Upton tours D-Ray practice field
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are not sure which position B.J. Upton can play the best.
B.J. Upton was one of several talented young Rays to get his first big-league action in 2006. (Chris O'Meara/AP)
So they are having him play all over the field this spring to find out. While Upton hopes to be a regular at shortstop at
some point, the Rays will have him play third base, shortstop, second base and center field this spring.
The constant moving around the field can be difficult, but it is something Upton is starting to get used to.
"Definitely," Upton told the St. Petersburg Times. "You're at a couple different positions and you've got different things
you're working on, they can maybe run into each other. I'm trying to do a good job of separating them and being able to play
all three [infield spots], plus the outfield maybe."
Upton has sought advice from Michael Cuddyer of the Minnesota Twins. The two are childhood friends from Virginia and Cuddyer
played several positions in the infield and outfield before finally becoming the Twins' right fielder last year.
Cuddyer said it could only help Upton to learn as many positions as possible.
"It's definitely not an easy thing to do, and I told him that, and to let me know if he needs to talk to someone," Cuddyer
said. "It's tough, but at the same time it gives you an opportunity to get in that starting nine and get plate appearances,
and he has to understand that as well. It's better to play five different positions than play one position in the Minor
Colon making huge strides: Bartolo Colon threw off a mound for the first time since last July, throwing a 35-pitch
bullpen session. It was a great sight for new Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher.
"It gave me goose bumps to watch him throw," Butcher told the Los Angeles Times. "There was no laboring ... he was in control, the ball came out of his hand
extremely well. He looks great. It's very encouraging."
Colon is currently two weeks ahead of a schedule that had him slated to pitch in the Majors in late May. He will throw
several more bullpen sessions before moving on to batting practice and simulated games. Colon may even get into a Cactus
League game at the end of Spring Training.
"He's making huge strides," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We want to keep him on this path."
Hard work in the outfield increases Jones' stock: His bat makes Adam Jones one of the Mariners' top prospects. But it
was a play with his glove that drew notice on Tuesday. Jones raced back to the wall, leaped and came up with the catch. It
was proof that offseason work he put in with coach Mike Goff had been productive.
"He was hitting balls over my head," Jones told the Seattle Times about
his workouts with Goff, "and I was just taking my eye off it, running to a spot and then picking it back up."
The play was not lost on manager Mike Hargrove.
"Adam made a couple of good plays going back on the ball," Hargrove said. "When we called him up in July or August, he
couldn't go back on the ball. His game had not developed to that point. And we worked real hard when he was here. Mike Goff
did a good job, as you can see by the way he played today."
Towers confidence grows after offseason work: Fighting for a spot in the starting rotation, Toronto pitcher Josh
Towers was pleased with his first start of the spring.
"It was probably the best I've felt in a long time," Towers, who in two innings struck out two and allowed one hit, a solo
homer to Brad Eldred, told the Toronto
Last season was a difficult one for Towers, as his struggles on the mound led to a battle with his own confidence.
"I just beat myself mentally," Towers said. "When I went to pitch I was thinking, Am I stepping right? Is my glove out? Am I
balanced? Am I staying back?' I'm thinking all this before I even throw the ball, and the ball just wasn't getting there.
"I saw [White Sox slugger] Jim Thome and his bat in the box. I didn't see location or what I wanted to do. I saw the fact
that, damn, if I make a mistake, he's gonna hit it."
Towers made sure he did all he could this offseason to get prepared for the 2007 campaign. He worked out with teammate Reed
Johnson while also giving up junk food. He also asked to have his locker next to staff ace Roy Halladay.
"He's the best in the game as far as I'm concerned. It seems like he does everything right," Towers said. "If you can't learn
from a guy like that, who can you learn from? Maybe he'll drop something and I'll pick it up."
Perhaps the best news for Towers is the fact manager John Gibbons still believes Towers can be an important member of the
"I told him: 'Last year's over. We know what you can do. You were big for this organization for two or three years when we were nothing. We haven't forgotten that, so don't you forget it,'" Gibbons said.
Beckett thinks he's found the source of blisters: Josh Beckett topped 200 innings last year for the first time. The
Boston Red Sox pitcher also avoided blister problems, something that has plagued him throughout his career.
Still, Beckett knows that blisters can return at any time, especially when he has outbreaks of eczema.
"It's something I still have to be careful with," Beckett, who uses a product called CoQ10 to treat his eczema, told the Boston Globe. "We've done a lot of testing and stuff like that, and the conclusion we've come up
with since I've been with the Boston Red Sox is whenever I have eczema outbreaks, that's usually when my finger gets sore.
"Last year, we were able to keep that stuff under wraps, and hopefully we can do the same this year."
This spring, Beckett is again throwing offspeed pitches, something he didn't do much of last year. During his first spring
outing, he mixed in some curveballs and was able to get some good results.
"I have things to iron out, but I threw some curveballs for strikes, threw a few changeups," said Beckett. "I had a
"It's early in Spring Training and I felt strong, and you almost have to hold yourself back a little bit. Today I was trying
to throw the ball too hard and too early. I threw some really good [curveballs] in that last inning that looked totally
different to me and my pitching coach."
Last spring's lessons help Rupe this year: Josh Rupe is one of a handful of pitchers competing for the fifth spot in
the Texas Rangers' starting rotation. Rupe, however, is showing that he could be a viable candidate after his impressive
outing against Colorado.
Rupe, who has made only one Major League start, held the Rockies scoreless in two innings of work. Thanks to his sharp
sinker, four of the six outs Rupe recorded came on ground balls. Both hits were also on the ground, one an infield single and
the other a roller through the hole at shortstop.
"The ball just doesn't go straight," manager Ron Washington told the Dallas Morning News. "Every time they took a swing, the ball was hitting the dirt. He was down in
the strike zone. It's a way above-average sinker."
Rupe was a candidate for a starter's role last season but he hurt his elbow during camp and was out of action until July. He
was then used as a reliever. Rupe said he may have tried too hard to make an impression during Spring Training, leading to
his elbow problem.
"I tried to blow it out right out of the chute," he said. "That experience helped me. ... and it hurt me. It hurt me,
obviously, because I was injured. But the experience helped me learn how to approach spring a little better. I'm trying to be
a little more steady, build things up a little more slowly."
Wood gives Piniella a good day: Kerry Wood made his spring debut for the Chicago Cubs on Monday, and in an inning of
scoreless relief he needed only 12 pitches. With his fastball hitting 95, his manager was happy with what he saw.
"That's 95 mph, nice and easy coming out of his hand," manager Lou Piniella told the Chicago Tribune. "When I saw him throw the first five or six pitches, I said, 'I've had a good day
Wood isn't worried about the expectations of the fans or the media, he's only worried about results.
"I don't care about that," he said. "I care about going out and getting guys out and being a teammate to the other 24 guy in
this clubhouse and going out and winning a championship. I can't worry about what people think or what they've written or
what they've said. I don't care."
One thing he does care about, though, is getting the Cubs to the World Series.
"My motivation is to stay on the field and help the team. That's pretty simple. Obviously, you want to win a championship and
win a World Series and have fun doing it. I think we're going to have a great team. It's going to be a great year, and I just
want to be a part of it."
Hafner gets more work at first: Cleveland first baseman/designated hitter Travis Hafner didn't spend much time playing
the infield in 2006. This year, though, that might change, with Hafner playing some first base this spring.
"We're going to try and play him there once or twice a week this spring," manager Eric Wedge told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Having Hafner play first base isn't a necessity for the Tribe, but it does give them more options.
"We've talked about me playing there once a week during the regular season," said Hafner. "But we'll see how much or how
little they need me once the season starts. We have three or four other guys who can play over there."
After two surgeries on his right elbow in his career, Hafner was bothered in 2006 when he played infield during interleague
play. This year his arm has improved.
"Throwing a few days in a row bothered me," Hafner said. "That's why we talked about playing once a week so when interleague
comes, my arm feels a little better."
Eldred's mechanics improve: Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Brad Eldred thinks he might have found a secret to being a
better hitter -- watch the ball, then hit it.
"If you see the ball better, you're going to put the bat on the ball," Eldred told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
"And when I put the bat on the ball, it has a good chance to be a home run."
Through his first nine at-bats this spring, Eldred smacked three home runs and credits fixing his mechanics at the plate for
his early success.
"I got everything mechanically right, and it's showing," he said. "I'm in the right position and seeing the ball better. I'm
getting in the ready position sooner and am not jumping out at pitches before they're over the plate.
"I'm consistently staying back a lot longer and just reacting, basically," he said.
After missing most of last season with a bad thumb, Eldred is anxious to show people that he's healthy and a legitimate power
"I wanted to show that the thumb is no issue and that the power is still there," he said. "I'm ready to go."
B-game work helps Thome get ready: Veteran White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome hasn't had a lot of April success in
his career. Until last year, that is.
In 2006 he batted .300 with 10 home runs in the season's opening month. The difference? Last year, the Sox got Thome into
consecutive "B" games, which let him start each inning at the plate. In such contests, which are not official, batting order
is an apparent non-issue.
So with that success in 2006, the team is doing the same thing this year.
"It helped me a lot," Thome told the Chicago
Sun-Times. "Is it safe to say that will happen again? I can't predict that. What it does is it helps you see pitches
better. Say you normally get 50 at-bats. Well, say you get 110, almost 50 or 60 more at-bats where you're seeing more
pitches, you're seeing more breaking balls, you're seeing more changeups.
"Over the course of my career, what has happened is I'm notoriously not a very good April player. I can attest that last year
really helped me. First of all, I needed the at-bats, and then it helped me get a feel for the game again."
Thome plans to stay back in Tuscon March 18-20 to get those extra at-bats while the rest of the Sox are playing in the
"I try to take it that you're getting something out of it, whether you're on the big-league field or you're down below," said
Thome. "You still have to try and approach the game like you would if you were into that game speed. I try to take it as
serious as I can and try to have good at-bats all the time."
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