With the addition of Tom Glavine, there is one less spot open in the Braves' rotation. But Jeff Bennett is hoping that his impressive September performance will earn him a longer look in Spring Training.
Bennett went 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA in September and continued his strong pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he continued a fitness program that helped him drop 50 pounds in six months.
"My wife said I was fat," Bennett told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of his motivation to lose weight.
Bennett said he's noticed how much easier it is to pitch with his improved physique but said he's glad he got plump for a period because the girth forced him to shorten his delivery.
"I was too long in my mechanics before when I was skinny," said the right-hander, who's maintained his new delivery while losing weight.
"I'm gonna try my best to get that starting spot," Bennett said. "But whatever Bobby [Cox] needs me to do, I'm gonna do it, without any questions. There's definitely a [rotation] spot open, though."
Fastball's pop is all positive for Patterson: It was during a workout in December that John Patterson discovered that he had his old fastball back. And after battling injuries during most of the past two seasons, that was great news for the Nationals' right-hander.
"The ball just had a little hop on it," Patterson told the Washington Post. "And I hadn't seen that in a couple years. ... When I started seeing that again, I said, 'Here we go. We're going in the right direction.'"
Right elbow problems limited Patterson to 15 starts over the past two seasons, after he went 9-7 with a 3.13 ERA in 2005. He had surgery both in July 2006 and September 2007 to relieve pressure on his radial nerve.
"The last time where I could say, 'Man, I feel great and I'm healthy,' was in '05," Patterson said. "I just haven't had fun the last couple years. Everything I did was just miserable. ... But since the [second] surgery, it's just been great. It really has. I had a great offseason and my throwing got better and better -- all the strength came back in my arm and my hand."
Molina shapes up with eye on Gold Glove: Toward the end of last season, Yadier Molina had to shut things down to undergo knee surgery. For him, that served as a wakeup call to make sure he doesn't have any more problems with his knees.
"I'm 25, and I need to be thinking about not only this season but in two more years, three more years, how is that knee going to be?" Molina told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I need to keep it in good shape, and that means I need to keep myself in good shape. I really feel good right now, and I think I can maintain this."
Over the winter, Molina lost 10-15 pounds, a move that he believes will help him to stay agile and keep his knees from getting damaged. He also believes it will help him earn the Gold Glove Award.
"It's my goal -- one of my goals," said Molina. "I won't stop, I'll keep working hard, because I want to get my first Gold Glove. ... It means you're one of the best at your position. That is important to me."
Zambrano redux -- Dempster predicts a Series win: Ryan Dempster, unfazed by the knowledge that just a year ago teammate Carlos Zambrano incorrectly predicted a World Series title for the Cubs, did the exact same thing earlier this week.
"I think we're going to win the World Series, I really do," Dempster told the Chicago Tribune. "I wouldn't show up here and have worked as hard as I did, and everyone worked as hard as they did, to not believe that. I think it's funny when people make predictions or they say things and people are like, 'Oh, how can you say that?'
"You believe it. You really do. Enough of all the ... curse this, the curse that, the goat, the black cat or the 100 years [without a championship]. ... Whatever it is, we're a better team than we were last year. And last year we made it to the playoffs, and it was a battle to make it, to have a rough April and be 10 [games] down and kind of grind our way to first place. I just feel like our chances are better."
Eaton putting worst year of his career behind him: Adam Eaton is fully aware that his 2007 results did not meet expectations -- his own, the fans' or the team's. But as the 2008 season nears, Eaton is confident he can turn things around.
"I know my character and abilities," Eaton told MLB.com. "I pitched poorly last season. At the same time, with that offense, I still had 10 wins. Like I said last year, if I pitched the way I'm able to, just my average, we would have been in first place for a long time. I still feel that way.
"Last year was my worst year as a baseball player, so I'd like to forget it and move on."
With Kris Benson, Travis Blackley, Chad Durbin and J.D. Durbin all in Phillies camp competing for jobs, Eaton knows he'll have to be at his best if he's going to be in the rotation.
"I think we're all pitching for a job, to some degree," said Eaton. "Last year, we had six starters and guys were worrying about how to pare it down. Well, we had an injury right at Spring Training. The more pitchers, the better."
Safari trek a whale of a success for Granderson: Fresh off of a four-day safari north of Johannesburg, South Africa, Curtis Granderson is back in the United States telling stories of his adventure. Most notably, he saw the "Big Five."
"They said we were extremely lucky to see all of them," Granderson told the Detroit Free Press. "The Big Five are the lion, elephant, rhino, leopard -- that's the hardest one to see -- and buffalo.
"They said people spend 15 or 20 years trying to see the leopard, and they never see it. We saw it in two of our four days."
The trip, part of a goodwill trip for Major League Baseball, was just part of a busy offseason for Granderson. But even with all he did this winter, Granderson still arrived at Tigers camp several days early.
"I can get a lot of baseball work done at home [in Chicago]," he said. "But at the end of the day, I go hang out with these friends or that family, or go to this meeting or that lunch, speak at this school -- all of which is great, and I love doing it.
"At the same time, I've got to focus now on my job, as funny as that is to say."
Gabes in the outfield: Milwaukee may have two Gabes as reserve outfielders. Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler are among the contenders for two backup outfield spots. Both players are veterans and can play all three positions.
The two also complement each other as hitters, as Gross is a left-handed hitter and Kapler is right-handed.
General manager Doug Melvin anticipates Gross will see plenty of playing time.
"Look at [the Phillies'] Shane Victorino," Melvin told MLB.com. "Until he was given a chance to become a regular, he was thought of as an 'extra player.' We could give [Gross] a chance, but when Cameron comes back, you've got Braun, Cameron and Hart, and all three are probably going to be playing a lot. All three are also right-handed, so there are going to be times that [Gross'] left-handedness is going to be needed."
Kapler is making a comeback from a brief retirement. He spent last season as the manager for the Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Kapler would take the role Kevin Mench filled last season as the right-handed hitter off the bench. Mench struggled in that role but Melvin believes Kapler will do well.
"[Kapler] can play all three outfield positions and he knows his role," Melvin said. "The difference here is that Mench was a regular player that was asked to be in a platoon situation. That doesn't always work. Kevin did a great job of at least making it try to work. I still believe that if someone gives Kevin a chance to play, that he's still a 20-home run, 75-RBI guy."
Burke's flexibility will get plenty of action: Chris Burke isn't listed as a starter for the Diamondbacks, but that doesn't mean the right-handed hitting utilityman won't play a lot for his new team. Acquired from the Astros this offseason, Burke can play all three outfield positions as well as second base and shortstop.
"He gives me tremendous flexibility, which is so important in the National League," manager Bob Melvin told dbacks.com. "There are guys that can play a lot of positions, but he's a guy that plays them all well. When you play a lot of positions, it's tough to play them all well, but he does that. He can play shortstop and center field, which are two of the toughest positions out there."
Burke figures to get most of his starts against left-handers since he is a right-handed hitter, but he is likely to see some action against right-handers as well.
Catalanotto targeted for leadoff DH spot: Frank Catalanotto can play both in the outfield and at first base, but the left-handed hitter will likely see most of his playing time at designated hitter this season.
Catalanotto hit a career-low .260 last year, but he hit .288 in the second half and had a .363 on-base percentage, making the Rangers believe he will hit this year the way he finished last season.
Unlike most designated hitters, however, Catalanotto is not expected to be a big run producer. In fact, he will likely hit at the top of the lineup. He has a career .374 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter, which ranks fourth among the 54 active players with at least 900 at-bats in the leadoff spot.
However, Catalanotto could hit second in the lineup. He handles the bat well and has a .359 on-base percentage as a No. 2 hitter.
"Cat's a good complement to some of the other guys in the lineup," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told texasrangers.com. "He's not going to strike out much, is a tough out, will see a lot of pitches and get on base."
Knee surgery has Matsui on the mend: As Spring Training is set to start for position players, Hideki Matsui will use the months of February and March to get himself into game shape. Conceding that consistent pain in his right knee over the final two months of the 2007 season affected his running ability, Matsui had arthroscopic surgery on the knee this offseason and hasn't been able to get into top shape.
"We still have about a month and a half until Opening Day," Matsui told yankees.com through an interpreter. "That's a lot of time. I'm sure that by then, I should be feeling pretty good."
One person who believes Matsui will be ready to go 100 percent by the start of the season is new manager Joe Girardi. But he will be watching Matsui closely. If he is able to run, then Matsui will start in left field, however, if he is unable to field his position, he will serve as the designated hitter. Matsui is doing all he can to make sure he can return to left field completely healthy.
"I've been working this offseason to get back to the outfield," Matsui said. "That's been my goal."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.