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Around the area camps

By MARK DIDTLER, TONY MARASCHIELLO and PAUL HAGEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 2001


Opening day: Clemens likely

TAMPA -- There has been no official announcement, but Roger Clemens has become the front-runner to start the Yankee's regular-season opener April 2 against the visiting Royals.

Clemens is expected to start the spring training home opener on Friday against the Blue Jays, which would line him up to pitch the Yankees' first regular-season opener at home since 1995.

"It's not close enough to worry about it," Clemens said.

Manager Joe Torre is slated to announce his spring rotation today. New York opens the exhibition season Thursday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

STRIKE ZONE TEST: The Yankees will play an intrasquad game this afternoon at 1. Major League Baseball, at the team's request, will provide an umpire so players can see what the new higher strike zone is like.

"We'll see what happens," Torre said. "Everybody seems to be on the same page and they're not looking to fight each other as far as the umpires and Major League Baseball."

ETC.: Closer Mariano Rivera (food poisoning) threw batting practice for the first time and reported no problems. ... Reliever Ramiro Mendoza, who could stay behind when the Yankees break camp next month, is throwing in bullpen sessions only. ... Left-hander Sid Fernandez will throw batting practice today, the first time he has faced hitters in four years. ... Infielder Luis Sojo (back) likely will be sidelined the next few days. -- MARK DIDTLER

Loaiza pain not serious

DUNEDIN -- Esteban Loaiza's sore pitching shoulder isn't serious enough to force him to miss any throwing sessions.

The right-handed starter complained of stiffness in his shoulder after throwing batting practice Saturday, and the Jays said they would closely monitor it. But Loaiza said Sunday he will throw batting practice as scheduled today.

"Every pitcher goes through it (early in spring training)," Loaiza said. "But I'm fine and there's nothing to worry about."

MORE GOOD SIGNS: Among Jays pitchers who took part in batting practice were right-handed starters Chris Carpenter and Steve Parris, who will start for the Jays in their Thursday opener. Carpenter, 10-12 with a 6.26 ERA last season, was especially impressive throwing his changeup.

Backup catcher battle promising

CLEARWATER -- One of the hottest competitions this spring could be between Gary Bennett and Chris Turner for the role of backup catcher to All-Star Mike Lieberthal.

Bennett batted .306 at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season and also played in 31 games for the Phillies. Turner spent most of the year with the Yankees before coming to the Phillies on a minor-league contract.

"What I'm looking for is a guy who can handle the pitchers," manager Larry Bowa said. "Throw runners out and call a good game. Any offense is a plus."

NO ONE CRYING WOLF: Three batters into a simulated game at the Carpenter Complex, left-hander Randy Wolf had given up two singles and a home run to David Newhan.

Unlike last year, when his struggles in his first two exhibition starts caused some concern, nobody's worried this spring.

After he finished 11-9 while pitching 2061/3 innings, Wolf is being counted on to be part of the rotation this season.

"Every spring it takes me a little while to get into a groove," he said.

ETC.: Right-handers Robert Person (hamstring) and Jose Mesa (calf) are able to throw. ... Practice begins at 10 this morning, with an intrasquad game to start about an hour later. -- PAUL HAGEN

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