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Ex-Ray Flaherty nabs backup catcher spot for the Yankees

By Times wires and staff reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003

TAMPA -- Former Devil Ray John Flaherty found out in the sixth inning of the Yankees' 4-3 win over the Philles on Saturday he would make this season's roster as backup catcher. He will get a one-year, $750,000 deal.

"I'm relieved," he said. "I have to thank (Yankees GM) Brian (Cashman) for the opportunity. I was able to play well enough in a few games to show what I've got."

Last year's backup, Chris Widger, said he was "bitter" the Yankees waited so long to announce their decision. He said he thought the staff had decided on Flaherty earlier but was keeping him around as insurance against an injury.

"What bothers me is that they tried to play it off like it was still wide open," Widger said. "It's not fair. They forget that it's people's lives, too."

Because he has five years of service, the Yankees cannot force Widger to take a minor-league assignment. Cashman said he was "actively talking" to other clubs about a trade, but Widger likely would be released if none materialized.

NOT HOLDING BACK: Things got a little chippy in the seventh inning after Phillies reliever Carlos Silva hit Raul Mondesi with a pitch. They exchanged words as Mondesi went to first and had to be held back by teammates.

The next batter, Nick Johnson, hit a sharp line drive that went off Silva's foot. Then Silva hit Alfonso Soriano in the ribs. Mondesi and Soriano were pulled for pinch runners, but were not hurt. Silva was pulled after Todd Zeile hit a two-run single. In the top of the eighth, rookie Jason Anderson replaced David Wells, who pitched the fifth through seventh in relief of Jeff Weaver and got the win.

Anderson, who started last season at Class-A Tampa, learned Friday he made the team. He said no one told him to go after Phillies batters.

"I'm here for the team, and I'll do whatever they ask of me. But nobody approached me about it," Anderson said.

In the fifth inning, Bernie Williams hit his third home run of the spring, a two-run shot to rightfield off Vicente Padilla.

READY TO GO: Joe Torre said the team was ready for the season opener at Toronto on Monday. The Yankees finished the spring 16-13, winning the last five and 13 of 17.

"We pitched well. We finished well. We're ready to go," he said.

YANKEES MOVES: On Friday, left-hander Randy Choate was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Pitchers Steve Karsay, Jon Lieber and Mariano Rivera were placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Spring nets few positives for Bowa

TAMPA -- The Phillies left spring training with a 10-17-1 record, 5.17 team ERA,.255 batting average and a concerned manager.

"The only thing to be thankful for is that it's spring training," Larry Bowa said after the loss to the Yankees. "Over the last five or six games, we can't get everything going at once. If the starters pitch good, the relievers go bad. If the relievers pitch good, the starters don't. If both those go well, we don't hit."

Offense topped the list of concerns even after the Phillies ended a 22-inning scoreless streak with three runs off Jeff Weaver in the fourth.

"Three runs in 27 innings, that's not very good," Bowa said. "We obviously have a lot of work to be done on offense. Our ability to score runs would make it a lot easier on the pitching staff. Otherwise, it's very difficult for the pitchers. I don't think we're anywhere close to where we want to be offensively."

General manager Ed Wade seemed less concerned about the difficult spring. "It's nice for the fans back home and the marketing department when you have a good spring, but that's not the first priority here," he said. "The priority is to get guys ready for the season."

The Phillies open Monday in Miami against the Marlins.

HOUSTON READY: Reserve infielder Tyler Houston declared himself fit after taking live batting practice off teammate David Coggin. Three days earlier, he thought he was headed to the disabled list with an inflamed liver.

"I went to an internist the other day and he told me my liver was inflamed," Houston said. "I don't mind when they tell me something is wrong with my bones, but when they say something is wrong with my guts, that concerns me."

But a CAT scan was negative. His return sent outfielder Eric Valent back to the minor leagues.

GOING-AWAY GIFT: Bowa's nephew Nick Johnson, first baseman/DH for the Yankees, sent his uncle a signed bat before the game at Legends Field. The message: "If you need to hit something, use this."

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