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Thome braces for the impact

Times staff writers, Associated Press
Published March 14, 2004

CLEARWATER - First baseman Jim Thome, a brace protecting his fractured right fingertip, was back on the field Saturday taking ground balls for the first time since he was injured March 5 in a similar fielding drill.

"They made me a little splint here, so if a ball hits it I should be fine," Thome said after fielding several buckets of baseballs hit by third-base coach John Vukovich.

Thome, who had been restricted to running the previous four days, is scheduled for a follow-up examination in Philadelphia March 22. If everything goes well, he hopes to start hitting again immediately and play in a few games the final week of spring training. "I guess it's healing, but I've been antsy," Thome said.

FIRST CUTS: The Phillies, who lost 6-5 to the Devil Rays Saturday, trimmed their roster to 45 by making their first nine cuts.

Outfielder Jorge Padilla, first baseman Ryan Howard and pitchers Keith Bucktrot, Franklin Perez, Elizardo Ramirez and Alfredo Simone were optioned to the minor-league complex. Pitcher Jeremy Wedel and catchers Jeremy Salazar and Trent Pratt, all of whom are not on the 40-man roster, were reassigned.

SQUASHED RUMOR: A trade rumor out of Pittsburgh named the Phillies as one of five teams interested in dealing for Pirates pitcher Kris Benson. Not true, GM Ed Wade said.

"We haven't had any trade discussions with anyone," Wade said. "The only discussions we've had with Pittsburgh are "Hi, how are you?' "

PHILLERS: RHP Kevin Millwood tested his bruised left shoulder by playing catch and is scheduled to start Monday. ... Catcher Todd Pratt, who had minor knee surgery on March 5, has thrown the past few days and hopes to be ready to play by March 25. ... Shortstop prospect Anderson Machado, who had an appendectomy last week, won't be able to participate in any baseball activities for at least another week. ... The Phillies travel to Sarasota to play Cincinnati in a 1:05 game today. Eric Milton (0-0, 4.76) is scheduled to start. Amaury Telemaco, David Coggin and Tim Worrell also are scheduled to pitch.

- RANDY MILLER

Towers upset at himself too late

DUNEDIN - Forget anger management. Josh Towers wants anger motivation.

The Blue Jays right-hander and No. 5 starter was upset with himself after a poor first inning that wound up costing him four runs on a grand slam by Brian Daubach, leading to a 7-1 loss to the Red Sox.

"I have a tendency to go out there kind of flat early in the game," said Towers, who had five strikeouts in three innings. "It always seems like it takes a run or a home run to get me (ticked) off and then I bear down more. Mark Wiley (Baltimore's pitching coach when Towers was there) used to say, "Let's act like somebody hit your mom or something, anything to (tick) you off before the game starts.' I wish I could."

MILLER TIME: It was only an inning, but there were plenty of smiles when Justin Miller walked off the mound, none bigger than his. "Today definitely felt good. I was happy with what I had. I'll take it," Miller said after a 1-2-3 inning, his first work against opposing hitters in more than 11/2 years.

"That's a real positive for us," manager Carlos Tosca said. "That really gives us a shot in the arm if he's back pitching healthy again." Miller injured his shoulder lifting weights last spring, requiring surgery.

ROSTER TRIMMED: Shortstop and 2003 first-round draft pick Aaron Hill was sent to minor-league training camp. The only other cut was nonroster catcher Tim Whittaker. The Jays have 47 players remaining in camp.

- MIKE GANTER

Catch 22, it's Lieber in debut

KISSIMMEE - Jon Lieber, sidelined since reconstructive surgery on his right elbow in August 2002, retired Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles and Chipper Jones in order, and left after two innings in a 6-5 loss to Atlanta.

Wearing Roger Clemens' old No. 22, Lieber gave up run-scoring singles to Eddie Perez and Eli Marrero in the second inning. Lieber allowed three hits, struck out two and walked none. He threw 30 pitches, exactly as planned. His fastball topped out at 92 mph.

QUICK HITS: Gary Sheffield had two singles and an RBI. ... Second baseman Enrique Wilson has hit safely in all eight games.

- ASSOCIATED PRESS

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