Leyland sees Jones as triple threat
Tigers manager impressed by new outfielder's stature
Jacque Jones probably won't match the 23 triples Curtis Granderson hit last season, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland thinks Jones has the tools to take advantage of Comerica Park's big power alleys.
"He hit a lot of doubles [31 in 2006 and 33 in 2007], but he played at Wrigley Field," Leyland told The Detroit News. "Some of the doubles he hit there will become triples in our ballpark."
Doubles or triples -- whichever Jones is hitting -- Leyland thinks he's going to be a big asset for the 2008 Tigers.
"I think Jacque Jones is going to have a big year for us," said Leyland. "He's quietly going to be a tremendous addition. I like what I've seen so far. I think he's going to hit some triples.
"I didn't know him. I thought he was a skinny guy, but he's strong. I know we haven't played a game yet, but I like him. I think he's going to be a huge help."
Jones struggled in the first half last season, then batted .332 in the second half.
Ross ready to compete: A left hamstring injury was the only thing that kept 2007 from being a breakout year for Cody Ross.
He batted .335 with a .411 on-base percentage and a .653 slugging mark in 173 at-bats for the Marlins last season, but the hamstring injury cost him nearly three months.
"I felt like I played really well when I was in there and I let the team down when I was hurt," Ross told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Ross is healthy now but faces competition for the starting center field job from recently acquired Cameron Maybin, the centerpiece of the deal that sent stars Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers.
"I think they know exactly what I can do," Ross said. "It's pretty much on [Maybin], whether they think he's ready or not. It doesn't bother me one bit. I don't lose sleep over it. Obviously I want to be the everyday guy to play center field. I know that I can do it and I feel that I'm ready to do it.
"Then again, when you make a big blockbuster trade like that, [the Marlins may] feel like they have to push the guy and try to get him ready. He's a smart kid -- young, very talented. I just hope he doesn't put too much pressure on himself to feel like he has to be the guy. ... If [the Marlins] don't feel like I can play center field every day, so be it. In my heart I know I can and maybe one day I'll get the opportunity."
Berkman to sit out with muscle strain: Lance Berkman will be held out of the team's intrasquad scrimmage Monday and its exhibition opener Thursday with a right oblique muscle strain. Berkman, a switch-hitter, can hit from the right side of the plate but feels pain from the left side of the plate.
"I can hit right-handed," he told The Houston Chronicle. "I can throw. I'm not going to hit left-handed for a couple days and let it calm down."
Berkman hurt his side during the first full-squad practice and then aggravated the injury the next day. Berkman said he wouldn't push himself to return to action any sooner than he has to.
Cameron showing his work ethic to Brewers: It hasn't taken long for Mike Cameron to make a strong impression with his new team, the Milwaukee Brewers.
"He's already setting the tone," 25-year-old outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
What Gwynn has noticed from Cameron is his work ethic. The center fielder had to skip one workout due to an ailing left leg. A veteran, Cameron probably could have taken a few more days off if he asked to. Instead, he was back on the field the next day.
"You push each other to work hard," manager Ned Yost said. "That's what he always does."
Giles rehabbing with goal of March return: Heading into the 2008 season, Brian Giles is full of optimism. That may be because he believes he is on target from a full recovery from microfracture surgery performed last October.
"I've been doing sprints, running since the end of January, and I feel good," Giles told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Even if Giles isn't fully healthy, it is doubtful he would tell anyone. A former football player and wrestler, Giles received numerous injections of painkillers to get through the 2007 season.
"Every time I ask him how he's feeling, he says two words -- 'I'm fine,'" manager Bud Black said. "He said that every day last year."
Hawkins impresses by keeping pitches down: After a few days of Spring Training, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been impressed with what he has seen from reliever LaTroy Hawkins.
"I thought Hawkins threw great," Girardi told Newsday after a batting-practice session. "The thing that I've seen in all his bullpens is everything is down. He's a different guy than we saw a couple of years ago."
Earlier in his career, Hawkins relied on a 95-mph fastball and didn't worry about keeping the ball down too much, but he has now developed a sinker on which he also relies.
Asked where he sees Hawkins fitting, Girardi said, "The back end of games -- the seventh, eighth innings, wherever you need him."
Hawkins has shown he is consistent enough to be handed the ball in the late innings. Last season he had a 3.42 ERA in 62 games for the Rockies and only once in the last six seasons has his ERA been more than 4.00.
Ankiel hitting alongside Gonzalez, Pujols: Rick Ankiel seems comfortable now that he's settled into a role with the Cardinals.
"He's coming in with more confidence," manager Tony La Russa told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He's coming in with a lot different expectations from all of us."
When Ankiel was recalled by St. Louis last August, nobody was quite sure what to expect. But after he hit a home run in his first game after the callup, Ankiel went on a tear and finished the season with 43 home runs and 128 RBIs between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis.
"They're looking at me as somebody who hopefully can contribute every day," said Ankiel.
A healthy Ward in Cubs' outfield plans: Daryle Ward knows playing time in the Cubs' crowded outfield will be at a premium this season but hopes to get more than the 130 at-bats he had in 2007.
"They're going to do the best they can to give me more," Ward told The Chicago Sun-Times, referring to conversations between him, his agent and general manager Jim Hendry. "Because it's hard to survive off 130 at-bats. I had some injuries, so it's up to me to stay healthy. And I believe if I stay healthy, it almost forces them to give you a little bit more time because they don't have to worry about you getting hurt."
Manager Lou Piniella says if Ward can stay healthy, he should see more playing time.
"We are going to be getting him some more at-bats," Piniella said. "But he's got to stay healthy. That's part of the equation."
Doumit plans to make a race of Pirates' catching job: Ryan Doumit knows the starting catching job belongs to Ronny Paulino right now. That doesn't mean he's not going to try to change that, though.
"It's a great opportunity, and I'm going to take the bull by the horns. I know what the situation is," Doumit told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I know how Paulino is the starter. He deserves to be. He's earned it. But I'm not going to make it easy on him -- it's going to be a competition."
Doumit and Paulino have benefited from the tutelage of former Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen, who was part of both of the Pittsburgh's World Series teams in the '70s.
"It's really exciting to have Manny here," Paulino said. "Having a guy his age trying to explain to us how to do something right there in the field -- that means a lot."
After solid debut, Baker ready to take next step: A year ago, Scott Baker started the season in the Minor Leagues but found his way to the Twins in time to make 23 starts and pick up nine victories.
He even took a no-hitter into the ninth against Kansas City on Aug. 31. For 2008, Baker says he can do much more.
"Good is great's worst enemy," he told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I could have had a good season and just have gone about my business, but that's not what I want to do. I don't want be just an average pitcher. I want to be a top-of-the-rotation guy. I want to be the very best I can. I feel that my best is being one of those top guys."
Manager Ron Gardenhire has seen growth in Baker in the past year and likes the change in Baker's approach.
"It's always a process with the young guys -- pace of the game, situations like that," said Gardenhire. "Letting one bad pitch stick with you, get in your head, rather than move past it. I think he's learned all those things. We saw it last year. He got the ball and got back up on the mound rather than walking around and taking 10 hours between pitches."
Braves players, staff impressed Escobar: In his Major League debut last season, Yunel Escobar batted .326 with 30 extra-base hits in 319 at-bats. It was such an impressive performance by the youngster it convinced the Braves to trade incumbent shortstop Edgar Renteria to open up a spot for Escobar to play full-time in 2008.
"For me, he could make the All-Star team," manager Bobby Cox told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He has tremendous hands, range, and a tremendous arm. He's not going to steal a lot of bases, probably, but he can run.
"He can hit for average, and if he wants to, he can hit for power."
"Escobar is one of the best players I've ever seen," catcher Brian McCann said. "What he did last year was phenomenal. That wasn't a fluke. He's the real deal.
"He can make every play on the field. I think next year at this time, everybody will be talking about putting him in the class of [Florida shortstop] Hanley Ramirez and those guys."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.