Nationals open 2nd camp


Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Church, who didn't have to report until this week, played catch in the warm sunshine at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla. The pitchers had telltale pieces of cotton on the arm, evidence that blood had been taken at the required physicals.

Yet, when manager Frank Robinson and general manager Jim Bowden sat side by side to launch spring training for the Washington Nationals, Topic A concerned a player who wasn't to be seen: Alfonso Soriano.

"My game plan is to sit down and talk with him when he gets here, and we'll make a decision which way to go," Robinson said.

Yesterday was the day for pitchers and catchers to arrive, with the rest of the roster expected Thursday.

A year ago, the newness of the franchise's relocation from Montreal and Washington was the one and only talking point. Now, even though the team's ownership and stadium issues remain unsettled, the focus is more on rudimentary baseball matters, such as what to do about the team's biggest offseason acquisition.

The Nationals traded outfielders Brad Wilkerson and Terrmel Sledge and pitcher Armando Galarraga to Texas for four-time All-Star Soriano, a deal that has been fraught with potential problems since the day it was made.

Washington wants to move Soriano to the outfield. He wants to remain a second baseman.

He's also not thrilled about playing in the National League for the first time. Negotiations on a new contract didn't work out, forcing an arbitration case in which Soriano lost.

Bowden also said yesterday that he wouldn't rule out more talks with former Orioles slugger Sammy Sosa, who turned down the Nationals' offer of a non-guaranteed contract and is contemplating retirement.

Cubs -- Greg Maddux won't say whether this season will be his last, he just wants to concentrate on the basics and enjoy the game. "It's my free-agent year," the 39-year-old pitcher said. "Hopefully, we'll win more games than last year. Hopefully, we'll get a shot at the postseason. That's always the goal. Go out there and try to throw 200-plus innings and see what happens after that." Maddux is beginning his 20th season in the major leagues.

White Sox -- Mark Buehrle will be the Opening Day starter April 2 when Chicago starts defense of its championship against Cleveland, the team revealed. It's the fifth straight season he has gotten that nod.

Red Sox -- Curt Schilling's ankle is in good shape and he's ready to throw his first bullpen session today during the first official workout for pitchers and catchers. "For the first time since April 2004, there really is no physical limit to getting ready for me," he said, "so that's a big difference and I'm excited about that."

Reds -- Josh Hancock was released by Cincinnati a day into spring training after the right-hander reported to camp overweight. Hancock, 27, missed most of last season with a groin injury suffered in spring training. Hancock and the rest of the Reds pitchers and catchers took physicals Friday.

World Baseball Classic -- Pedro Martinez acknowledged that his ailing toe might prevent him from pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. "It depends on my health and how comfortable I feel here and how quickly I can get on a mound," the Mets ace said after the team's first spring training workout.

Steinbrenner -- Yankees owner George Steinbrenner wants Ozzie Guillen to zip his lips. Steinbrenner didn't appreciate a shot the White Sox manager took at Alex Rodriguez, remarks Guillen later apologized for. "Shut it up," Steinbrenner said, moving his hands across his lips in a zipper move. "I like Ozzie Guillen as a manager, but I don't like him when he pops off like that," the Boss said, following with a profanity. Guillen criticized Rodriguez for saying he would play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, then switching to the United States. Rodriguez was born in the United States but his parents are Dominican.

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