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Rodriguez a big hit at 1st workout

By Wire services
Published February 22, 2004

TAMPA - Several swings into his first workout, Alex Rodriguez already had done damage - to a car parked too close behind the fence, that is.

Early into the session, New York's newest star launched a long drive that was followed by a loud bonk. The home run ball left a 2-inch dent and blue smear on the hood of a silver Mazda, a rental driven by a reporter from Japan.

"I didn't think Alex would be hitting today," Masanori Hirose said. "My mistake."

The shot was one of 10 balls Rodriguez hit over the fence in 65 swings. He took batting practice with two minor-league prospects - A-Rod was the one not wearing a helmet - while a few groundskeepers shagged flies. At one point, Rodriguez borrowed Eric Duncan's bat and promptly broke it, sending the shattered barrel flying down the third-base line.

"Eric, there's your wood," Rodriguez called out, smiling. "That's minor-league wood."

Duncan, the Yankees' No. 1 draft pick in June, didn't mind one bit. As he left the field, he was carrying both pieces of the broken bat.

"I'll be holding on to that one for a while," he said.

Rodriguez fielded about 50 grounders at third base, his new position, bobbling one and letting another skip under his glove. He did most of that work on his knees, drawn in close on the infield grass.

"I'm fine, but you can't really tell where you are until you get into a game," he said.

BRAVES: Coming off surgery to clear scar tissue from his elbow, closer John Smoltz did some running and light throwing during camp's second day. "That surgery was a little more complicated than I anticipated, but I'm very encouraged," he said. "I have healed up great." Smoltz spent more than a month on the disabled list before returning in time for the playoffs. He made two appearances, winning once, but had a 6.00 ERA.

METS: Reliever Scott Strickland threw 20 pitches off the lower part of the mound and hopes to return from elbow surgery in May. It takes most pitchers at least a year to come back from Tommy John surgery, but Strickland believes he's ahead of that pace. He had the operation June 17. "I'm just taking baby steps and that's what's frustrating," he said. "But that's what I have to do."

PADRES: David Wells, 40, promised not to do too much too soon. "You don't want to try to make the team the first day," he said. Wells is coming off back surgery. He won't throw off the mound until March 2.

PIRATES: Raul Mondesi said he's close to completing a deal. "The Pirates have given me a second chance in my career, and I should be grateful for that," the rightfielder said. "I'm going to give my heart and soul to have the best season." Mondesi, 32, hit .272 with 24 homers and 71 RBIs last season.

RANGERS: Second baseman Alfonso Soriano will consider playing shortstop but he won't try to replace Alex Rodriguez. "I haven't played shortstop for three years. I'm definitely more comfortable at second base," he said. "I'll keep open to changes."

RED SOX: Owner John Henry insists he and George Steinbrenner have a great relationship. They might even make a good comedy team. "I don't want to equate him with Don Rickles," Henry said, "but if Don Rickles insults you, it's funny. But I don't mean that in a negative way." There didn't seem to be much humor in statements Wednesday. That's when Steinbrenner told Henry to "forget the sour grapes" a few hours after Henry advocated a salary cap. Commissioner Bud Selig told both owners to cool the rhetoric. Henry said he didn't regret his e-mail to reporters in which he called for changes. "I wouldn't want to be known as a good loser," he said.

[Last modified February 22, 2004, 01:45:26]

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