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Decision time is near

3/18/2010

After watching Ben Sheets get pounded by the Cincinnati Reds the other day, Oakland GM Billy Beane began fashioning an answer for reporters who might ask about Sheets' ugly line. Beane decided right away that he was not going to offer the timeworn mantra of "Hey, it's only spring training."

Sure, the numbers won't count for a while. But at some stage of March, as Beane said the other day, "it's time to start getting some outs."

This time in spring training, with about 2.5 weeks to go, seems to be about the time when spring training performance begins to harden evaluations and affect planning.

But performance isn't necessarily reflected in statistics, said Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. "If I see Brian Bruney's velocity going up a tick each time out, from the start of spring training to now, where he's at 93-94 mph, that's a positive result, regardless of the statistics. I see progress."

The Yankees see progress in Joba Chamberlain: "He had a great slider, right from the start [Wednesday]," said one evaluator -- "and he was throwing hard."

Huston Street suffered a setback, and the Rockies should have news soon on how extensive this injury is.

But Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd said over the phone Wednesday that while Street is likely to start the year on the DL, there is real hope that this is not a serious problem. "I saw him throw a simulated game the other day, and he threw great," O'Dowd said. "Hopefully, this is just a temporary thing."

And in any event, the Rockies will not be looking for help outside the organization, given that they have internal candidates to fill the closer's job, from Manny Corpas to Franklin Morales. And Taylor Buchholz, coming back from Tommy John surgery, appears as if he could lend help before the All-Star break. "He's already throwing in the mid-90s," said O'Dowd, "but we're not going to push that."

Rizzo on what he's learned about Stephen Strasburg this spring: "We all knew about the tools and the skills that he has. But as good as all that is, he's a better person and a better teammate. He's fit in so well in that major league clubhouse. He's all ears and no talk, and he has shown he's willing to learn."

For example: Strasburg's release of the ball is so quick from the stretch -- a Mach speed of 1.0 seconds -- that the Nationals are working with him on slowing down and loading up in his delivery with the lower half of his body, so he doesn't lose velocity.

"He just hasn't had a chance a lot in his career to work from the stretch," Rizzo said.

Heard this: The Cubs are actively seeking a reliever. But like a lot of teams that have reasons to look for bullpen help -- the Twins, for example -- the pickings are considered by evaluators to be slim. Jason Frasor of the Blue Jays is available, and so is Scott Downs, but while Downs has had success in recent years, some are leery of his $4 million salary, which is pricey for a set-up man in the current climate.

Also heard this, from many executives and scouts: Beyond the usual roster cuts and waiver claims, they don't think there will be a lot of deals made before the start of the season. "There just isn't a lot of money available for most teams," said one GM. "There might be a good player you could get or need, but the budget lines seem to be locked in more this year than in the past."

Washington

Ron Washington spoke to reporters about his positive test for cocaine, but his reprieve might not last for long, writes Tim Cowlishaw.

Some executives with other teams say that the handling of this kind of thing can be very touchy because of labor laws. But in a sport in which a team plays 162 games, there are plenty of opportunities to build a for-cause case to fire a manager, and friends of Nolan Ryan in the sport say that he is not the sort to have a lot of patience for this kind of situation. If he thinks the public disclosure has undermined Washington in the clubhouse, in the public's eye, friends say, then he'll do what he thinks is right. And sources indicated Wednesday that at least some players have been aware of Washington's positive test before it was reported.

The Texas players said this won't be an issue, writes Evan Grant. The Texas front office could see this PR disaster coming, writes Randy Galloway.

Here's Washington's statement.

Folks with the Athletics were stunned by the news, writes John Shea.

Chapman

The Reds prospect had a really good outing, again, John Fay writes.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Cardinals have dropped hints that if Albert Pujols wants to become the game's highest-paid player, they won't be able to afford him, writes Joe Strauss within this Q & A. That would be based on internal conversations.

The author notes, "Right now, I'd say there is more than a 20 percent chance Pujols remains. Ultimately I think he wants to play his entire career in St. Louis. But for the club to rely exclusively on that is extremely dangerous. It's been stated previously here that the Cardinals' best chance for signing Albert is before the 2010 season. That's not to say it can't happen later. But I expect it to become much more difficult."

2. The Nationals cut Elijah Dukes. It will be interesting to see what the level of interest is from other teams.

Mark Simon sent along this note that he, Jeremy Lundblad and Ryan McCrystal of ESPN Stats & Information put together: Elijah Dukes had three steals and was caught stealing 10 times in 2009. That was the first time a player had three or fewer steals, and 10-plus caught stealing since Jose Vizcaino of the legendary 1994 Mets.

3. Cliff Lee is appealing his suspension.

4. Bobby Jenks won't be pitching exclusively from the stretch, writes Mark Gonzalez.

5. Royals prospect Aaron Crow was assigned to Double-A.

6. Austin Jackson has been given the green light to steal bases, writes Lynn Henning.

Wednesday's games

1. Tommy Hanson continues to show an upgraded changeup, writes David O'Brien.

2. Fausto Carmona worked through trouble against the Reds, allowing one run and two walks in four innings. Progress.

3. Fernando Martinez is playing like a star this spring, writes Ken Belson.

4. Joba Chamberlain had a really good day, writes Tyler Kepner.

5. Everything is going right for Mike Pelfrey.

Dings and dents

1. Gordon Beckham says his shoulder pain is subsiding.

2. Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero are still making steady progress as each comes back from injury, writes Andy Martino.

3. Andrew Bailey was shut down because of an elbow issue.

4. Scot Shields took another positive step, writes Mike DiGiovanna.

The battle for jobs

1. Buster Posey feels comfortable playing first base, writes Henry Schulman. Look, the Giants need offense, and if they think he can help, this would make sense.

2. A Cardinals prospect is trying to finish his degree when he's not competing for a job with the Cardinals, writes Derrick Goold.

3. The Tigers are no closer to making decisions about their rotation, writes Lynn Henning.

4. Kevin Millar has had a great spring, Paul Sullivan writes.

5. Kevin Gregg is confident that he'll be the Jays' closer.

6. Brian Tallet is working on a two-seam fastball, writes Mike Rutsey.

7. Roman Colon could slide into the job of Royals set-up man, writes Bob Dutton.

8. Some Milwaukee catchers are battling for the job of backup catcher, writes Anthony Witrado.

9. A couple of young catchers are fighting it out for the job of Astros catcher, writes Zachary Levine.

10. Chris Volstad has really struggled this spring, Joe Capozzi writes. To this point, Florida is just waiting for somebody to jump up and grab the last spots in its rotation -- and Clay Hensley is throwing up zeroes.

11. The competition for the No. 5 spot in the Orioles' rotation is wide open, writes Dan Connelly.

12. The Pirates are standing by the struggling Kevin Hart, writes Dejan Kovacevic.

Other stuff

Joe Mauer is gambling that he won't get hurt, writes Sid Hartman.

Rafael Soriano, the Rays' new closer, is a man of many interests, Marc Topkin writes.

• The Mets shouldn't be swayed too much by what happens in March, writes Joel Sherman, as they handle an impressive young pitcher.

Jon Lester and John Lackey are no longer foes, writes John Tomase.

• Cleveland's pursuit of Tim Lincecum in 2005 did not please MLB officials, writes Paul Hoynes.

• The Twins are keeping Nick Punto on the move, writes Patrick Reusse.

Carlos Ruiz has become irreplaceable for the Phillies, writes Paul Hagen.

• The Phillies' starting staff this spring has been scary good, writes David Murphy.

Adam Loewen is still working on his transition from pitcher to hitter, John Lott writes.

• Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair is following some timeless advice from his uncle.

• Brian Tallet is working on a two-seam fastball, writes Mike Rutsey.

• Joe Torre thinks he's got plenty of arms for middle relief.

• The Jays trail the O's in the race to rebuild, writes Richard Griffin.

• It's all clicking for Matt Antonelli, writes Tim Sullivan.

Tony Gwynn Jr. spent the offseason shoring up weaknesses, writes John Maffei.

• Somebody tried to impersonate a Cubs prospect, but now Tyler Colvin is doing his own impersonation -- of a Cub, Gordon Wittenmyer writes.

• The Cubs are looking for approval for a sign at their ballpark, writes Fran Spielman.

And today will be better than yesterday.