Major League players pledged nearly $2 million to help struggling members of the baseball family during the Baseball Assistance Team's annual tour of Spring Training sites.

The Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) helps support people who were once affiliated with Major League Baseball but who are currently struggling with financial, psychological or physical burdens.

In a press release, B.A.T. acknowledged that more than 1,100 players committed $1.85 million in donations this spring, a 27 percent increase from last year. More than $9 million has been pledged over the eight years of the program.

"The B.A.T. organization is overwhelmed by the incredible generosity of the players and is extremely grateful for their commitments," B.A.T. executive director Joseph Grippo said.

The assistance typically goes to former Major League players, managers, coaches, scouts, umpires, athletic trainers and front office personnel, as well as Minor League players, Negro League players, their widows and children and players from the Women's Professional Baseball League.

All aid from B.A.T. is strictly confidential, allowing those in need to receive help discreetly. Forms of assistance include financial grants, healthcare programs and rehabilitative counseling.

For more information about B.A.T. or to make a donation, please visit the Baseball Assistance Team Web site.

Jamie Garcia secures final starting spot: Jamie Garcia, a 23-year-old left-hander has won the fifth starter's job in St. Louis.

"It's something you hope for your whole life. You keep fighting and keep fighting and try not to worry about what's going on," Garcia told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Whenever it happens -- this year, a couple months or tomorrow -- I'll be really excited."

Lidge making progress after surgeries: Brad Lidge, who had elbow surgery in November and knee surgery in January, says he's not frustrated that he might not be ready for Opening Day. Throwing every other day has moved him ahead of his original schedule.

"Coming into Spring Training, [the team's medical staff] told me two weeks into the season is where you want to be," Lidge told MLB.com. "I'm optimistic, so I was hoping it would be quicker. They said the other day, 'Listen, you wanted to be ahead of schedule. That's fine, but the schedule we had you on was two weeks into the season.' So, if that's what happens, then that's the right schedule. ... It's frustrating, because I want to be in control of things, but sometimes you have to realize you're not in control of everything."

Headley leading in RBIs this spring: Chase Headley leads all players with 21 RBIs so far this Spring Training.

"I've done my part, but it seems like I've had a million opportunities this spring," Headley, who is hitting .293 over 58 at-bats, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "It's more a credit to how guys have gotten on and how we've run the bases. I like the way the lineup shapes up, top to bottom."

Experience a key for Tracy's pinch-hitting success: Chad Tracy, a .302 career pinch-hitter, is bringing his skills to the Cubs' bench.

"I'm not going to act like I know the secrets to pinch-hitting," Tracy told MLB.com. "There is something to having the experience and to have seen some of the guys coming out of the bullpen in the National League.

"I've said it all along, it's one of the toughest jobs in the big leagues. The biggest thing is being prepared and knowing what these guys do. The key is being aggressive and going up there and finding your pitch early enough to where he can't get to his stuff where he can get you out. You have to battle. You try not to let him get you before you get him."

Wellemeyer sees offseason work pay off: Todd Wellemeyer believes that hiring a trainer for the offseason helped him win the fifth starter's job with the Giants.

"Last year, I thought I was done," Wellemeyer told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I was lost. I was used to my velocity going up every year, and I was throwing 88 to 90. It was a signal that I was done. My body was throwing in the towel."

"I couldn't really have asked for much better results," Wellemeyer said of his work this spring. "I just felt a little more clear-headed, and having my arm strength back has given me that extra confidence."

Liriano solidifies spot in rotation: Francisco Liriano, happy with securing the Twins' fifth-starter role, tossed six shutout innings against Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

"I was very happy with it," Liriano told MLB.com. "I want to be a starter, and they give me the chance. I just can't wait to go out there and do my job."

Pineiro rides sinker to five no-hit innings: Joel Pineiro threw five no-hit innings en route to a 6 2/3-inning outing against the Royals.

"That was impressive," Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. "He accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish. He went deep into the game, got up seven times and had a good sinker going. He got ground ball after ground ball, and we played good defense behind him. That's the way J.P. can pitch."

Penn ready to put his best on display: Hayden Penn, who was acquired by the Pirates earlier this week, is trying to make a quick impression.

"I'm just really excited to have an opportunity to make the team," Penn told MLB.com. "If I'm on my game, then I'll show them what I need to show them. If I don't, then I won't. It's as simple as that. The little window I don't think matters. Throwing in three games, I'll show them everything I've got."

McClellan brings value as a righty to bullpen: Despite an outstanding effort this spring, Kyle McClellan will start the season in the Cardinals bullpen.

McClellan has worked out of the bullpen with solid results in his first two Major League seasons and provides right-handed depth, which had become one of the club's recent concerns.

"I think it's easier to know I didn't lose the job," McClellan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You're just needed somewhere else, and it's nice to know they value you in that role. It's a valuable role, so I don't think it's harder to take. It's easier."

Towles likely to receive Opening Day start: J.R. Towles, hitting .359 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 36 at-bats this spring, will likely be the starting catcher in Houston's opener Monday against San Francisco.

"What I've seen on film and from talking to people, he seemed to improve," new Astros manager Brad Mills told MLB.com of Towles. "The way he's gone about his business has been successful. He's got experience at the Major League level, and I think the way he's handled himself this spring has been very good. We're looking forward to the things he has to offer and bring to the ballclub."

Rodrigo Lopez inching closer to No. 4 spot: Rodrigo Lopez vying for the No. 4 spot in the Arizona rotation, threw 5 1/3 shutout innings against Milwaukee to lower his spring ERA to 2.35.

Lopez, who has started on Opening Day three times while a member of the Orioles, had Tommy John surgery in 2007 and has made only a few appearances in the Majors since.

"I feel really, really good about it," he told the The Arizona Republic. "I think I accomplished my goal from when I first signed with the Diamondbacks. It was the team I really wanted to sign with. I wanted to stay home because this is where I live [Chandler, Ariz.].

"The plan I had when I signed with the team, I feel like I executed it. I feel good about myself physically. I feel like I've still got some time left in the big leagues in the future if I'm feeling this well."

Morrow not worried about shoulder: Brandon Morrow said he expects to be ready for Opening Day despite a recent sore shoulder. Morrow threw a 52-pitch simulated game on Monday and came away feeling fine.

"It's just a sore shoulder," Morrow told MLB.com. "If you look in the paper, there's 20 guys with it. Most of those guys will probably be on their club to start Opening Day. They're just conservative during spring, and that's what we were."

Gallardo to start on Opening Day: Yovani Gallardo will be Milwaukee's Opening Day starter.

"I think he's ready for it," manager Ken Macha told MLB.com.

Gallardo had already left the training complex when Macha made his announcement, but had said earlier, "It would be great. I would be very excited, honored, a little bit of everything. Getting a chance to start Opening Day, that's a big deal."

Robertson returns to old stomping grounds: The Marlins dipped into their past when they reacquired Nate Robertson from the Tigers. Robertson was Florida's fifth-round pick in the 1999 draft. He made his Major League debut for the Marlins in 2002 and was dealt to the Tigers prior to the 2003 season.

"Up until last year [Robertson] was almost 200 innings a year," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "One of the things going for this deal is we do know Nate and know the type of person he is. He's a great guy and will fit well on this team. He is left-handed, something we didn't have here in the rotation. He brings experience, which is something we were a little light on also."

Kinsler could start season on DL: It appears Ian Kinsler will start the season on the disabled list due to a sprained right ankle.

"I don't know yet, but whatever way we go will be in the best interests of Ian," Texas manager Ron Washington told MLB.com. "We're not going to rush him back, but we're not ready to make that announcement."

Beimel impressive with slider in debut: Joe Beimel may force Colorado manager Jim Tracy to rethink his bullpen for Opening Day.

Beimel mowed down the Rangers in order on Monday in his debut with the Rockies, needing only nine pitches to get his three outs. Beimel's fastball was being clocked at 89 mph and his re-tooled slider was also effective.

"I'd always thrown a slider, and for some reason last year it kind of morphed into a curveball," Beimel told the The Denver Post. "I wasn't comfortable throwing it at all last year. So, what I worked on this winter was getting back to more of a slider break on it."

Pennington vying for starting shortstop role: Cliff Pennington is trying to earn the A's starting shortstop role.

"I don't want to announce anything at this point, because I don't have to," Manager Bob Geren told the Oakland Tribune. "But, if you're asking if I'm pleased with the way [Pennington] has played, I'd say yes. He's done everything well."

Pennington is batting .333.

-- Red Line Editorial