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Fernandez has 'awesome day'

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 1999


VIERA -- Alex Fernandez had a pack of ice on his shoulder, his 5-year-old son Alexander on his lap and a load off his mind.

Fernandez had never thrown more meaningful pitches in such a meaningless game. It was Florida's first game of the Grapefruit League season and Fernandez's first game in 17 months.

* * *

So when his two innings were up Friday afternoon, Fernandez appeared ready to celebrate.

"If this was just a regular spring training, this would be a good day," Fernandez said. "For my situation, it's an excellent day. An awesome day."

This story is not yet complete, but the fact that it's still ongoing is enough for Fernandez. His shoulder blew out during the 1997 post-season and, while the Marlins went on to win the World Series, he was left not knowing if his career was finished.

"I had doubts when it happened. I wouldn't be human if I didn't have doubts," Fernandez said. "It was such a severe injury, a tough injury to come back from. I can only thank the people who worked with me to get this day. I realize it's only spring training, but it's a day when I competed against another team, and that's what makes it special."

He missed the 1998 season and his rehabilitation still is in progress. He spends about an hour a day in therapy, doing various shoulder exercises and getting massaged to keep the muscles loose. His velocity still is not up to par, but Fernandez said he expects to be ready by Opening Day.

Ironically, Fernandez may find himself on the move now that he is back on a mound.

When the Marlins engaged in their infamous downsizing a year ago, Fernandez was spared because his future was so uncertain. Now he is potentially setting himself up for a trade with a successful comeback. A Miami native, Fernandez said he appreciated the chance to remain home an extra year but is ready to go wherever his career takes him.

"You don't know what you're missing until it's taken away," Fernandez said. "It's not that I didn't appreciate the game, because I've always said I'm very fortunate, very lucky, to be in this game."

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: While he had a first-hand view of history last season and was thrilled for his former teammate in St. Louis, Atlanta's Brian Jordan said he is glad to be away from the mania surrounding Mark McGwire. "Last year was a zoo. You had no privacy, and it was just about one player, not about the team and not about winning. As a player, that frustrates you," Jordan said. "That team we had last year should have gone a long way, there's no doubt in my mind. But the focus got away from winning."

ROLLING THE DICE: Apparently undeterred by the criticism he heard after signing Jose Offerman to a rich contract, Boston GM Dan Duquette is expected to sign injured pitcher Ramon Martinez. Indications are the Red Sox have agreed on a two-year deal with an option for the third year. The contract is laden with incentives, but reports say it includes as much as $8-million in guaranteed money. That's for a pitcher who had major shoulder surgery last year and is not expected back until midseason.

THREE-PEAT: The Dodgers once again will try to use Raul Mondesi as their No. 3 hitter. With Eric Young, Devon White and Mondesi at the top of the order, manager Davey Johnson said he will have plenty of speed in front of cleanup hitter Gary Sheffield. The problem is Mondesi does not walk as much as a typical No. 3 hitter. In last year's experiment, Mondesi had a .311 on-base percentage in that spot in the order; the NL average was .376. "He has the potential to be a great No. 3 hitter," first baseman Eric Karros said. "But that's always a dangerous word, "potential.' When you keep getting labeled as having potential, it means you're not doing the job."

UP IN SMOKE: Mariners manager Lou Piniella is making his annual spring pledge to give up smoking. But even he doesn't sound hopeful. "The first time the bullpen blows a lead, I find myself needing a smoke," he said. "I've got to stop."

LONG RANGE PLANNING: The Pirates insist they were not salary dumping when they sent Tony Womack to the Diamondbacks. It was more of a player dump. Pittsburgh officials are high on second base prospect Warren Morris, who hit a combined .331 with 19 home runs and 103 RBI in two Double-A spots last season, and they wanted to move Womack out of the way. The Pirates will start with veteran Mike Benjamin at second, but Morris could get a call up from Triple-A during the season. "We made this trade for the future," GM Cam Bonifay said. "We feel we have the opportunity to put the total package at second base in the future. We could be as sound at second base as we've ever been."

HERE AND THERE: The Orioles are going to give Brady Anderson another shot at hitting leadoff. He was moved down in the order after a horrible start in 1998. ... Tim Salmon's off-season foot surgery appears to have been a success. After being limited to DH duty last year, he has been playing RF this spring. ... The Padres feared 2B Quilvio Veras would be out until mid-May after off-season shoulder surgery, but he may be ready by Opening Day. ... The Giants have been shopping OF Stan Javier in the hope of finding a starting pitcher.

THE LAST WORD: "You guys better be careful. You can get in trouble for that betting stuff." Dodgers minor-leaguer Pete Rose Jr., after hearing a couple of teammates talking about a friendly wager.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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