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February 27, 2003

Breaking Balls

Your Spring Training Update

by Derek Zumsteg

No Job is Safe in Camp This Year, Manger Declares

As players trickle in to camp, the manager has a message for them: There are no guarantees this season.

"We're going to try everyone out in spring training, experiment with lineups, and we'll see what we have," the manager said. "I'm going to play a team that wins, even if that means some kid from the minors takes over for someone who started last year and may have a contract already."

"The best thing a team can do is relax," the manager added. "Every spring training is a competition, and competition is good. I don't know who's going to be cut and who will make the team, but we've got a good bunch of kids and I look forward to seeing what happens."

Team Focusing on Fundamentals

In spring training this year players are finding themselves spending more time in the batting cage not swinging, but laying down bunts, often with other players watching from first and second base.

"We had men on and didn't drive them in," the manager said. "Plain and simple, we need to execute. It's the mental side of the game. You can know you're better off moving a runner over every time even if it costs you an out, but you still have to do it. We have to focus on approach in pressure situations. We're going to do a lot better scoring runs this year. We have to."

"We need to stay aggressive in those situations," the hitting coach said. "I don't want to see our hitters watching a two-strike pitch. Foul it off, put it in play, you've got to take what the pitcher gives you and work with it. Look at the Angels, that's a team that stressed situational hitting from the first day of spring training through the World Series. It keeps pressure on the pitcher and the defense, and forces them to make mistakes."

Players are also spending more time doing basic drills that go back to T-ball. Outfielders took four sessions of fly ball practice yesterday, in different lighting conditions and with and without sunglasses, and infielders took ground balls from both left-and-right handed hitters on three of the team's practice fields.

"We're going to execute in every part of our game," the manager said. "You're going to make errors, but it's important to make the right kind of errors. If you drop a pop-up once in a while, we're all human, I know there's a sun. It's about concentrating, making the play the right way every time you make it. Look at the teams that win, they win by executing on defense and not giving up extra outs."

"My hands hurt," the second baseman joked. "But I understand what the skip is saying. There were a lot of games that could have gone either way, and the difference ended up being one play that went for us or the other guys. We have to make those plays."

Injured Pitcher Throwing Well

The manager stood on the first base line and smiled as an injured pitcher threw a strike to a backup catcher. The pitching coach called out a velocity, and the manager nodded. It was just as he'd remembered it.

"We're happy to see the injured pitcher back on the mound," the manager said. "After all he's been through, it's a wonder he's able to move his arm at all, and to see him get the break back on that curve, that's just a miracle. He's definitely in the mix, we're going to give him every opportunity to win a job."

The injured pitcher, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in 1998 and has re-injured the shoulder in spring training in each of the last four years, is recovering from a seventh exploratory surgery by Dr. Andrews, where the doctor also attempted to fix an impingement.

"I feel great," the injured pitcher said. "This is the best I've felt in years. I'm throwing pain-free for the first time, and I'm looking forward to contributing this season."

"His stuff looks great," a backup catcher said. "I haven't seen his fastball pop like this since before I joined the team."

Bad Player Looks Good

A bad player, who has suffered from nagging injuries, weight and attitude problems, including his vocal demand to be traded to a city where dancers are allowed to touch patrons, has reported early, and seemingly has left his problems at home.

"It's a new season," the bad player said. "Every season's a fresh start. We had some problems, but that's behind us. I'm going to have a great year."

The bad player spent the off-season in an intense workout program with a personal trainer and nutritionist, and has added 15 pounds of muscle.

"I look nice, don't I?" bad player asked with a grin. "I wasn't in good shape last year, and part of that was my fault, and I wore down as the season went on. That's not going to happen again."

"We had our fights," the manager said. "It's too bad they were physical, yeah, and sure, I wish one of them hadn't been in front of those Cub Scouts, but that's part of life. We made up, we're fine. We understand each other. He's fought through a lot of hamstring injuries and back problems, and he's frustrated, and maybe he didn't deal with all that as well as he could have. If he can produce, all's forgiven. That's baseball."

Still, trade rumors circle, including an intriguing offer of a much better player and a good player for bad player, though the team would have to pick up much of bad player's contract.

"We're not currently in discussions to trade bad player," the general manager said. "I fully expect that bad player will be in our starting lineup, even if another team were to approach me with the left-handed corner outfielder we've been looking for, and was willing to split bad player's contract for next year."

Manager Impressed by Minor Leaguer

One of the surprises this spring has been minor leaguer. Minor leaguer, who hit well in Double-A last year, has caught the manager's eye.

"He's a good strong kid," the manager said. "He works hard and appreciates the game. I'm impressed. He's got power and can play both ways."

"I hope I get a chance," minor leaguer said. "If they say I'm not ready yet, I'll understand. But being here in camp with these guys, you can't help but think about playing with them."

"He's the kind of guy you try and find a spot for," the manager said. "If he keeps this up, he'll make his own opportunity. And if he has to start the year in Triple-A, he's got the makeup to be able to see that as a challenge. He'll be up, sooner or later."

Related Content:  The Who,  Bad Season,  Manager Of The Year

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