Expos back to baseball; Smoltz, Graves start anew

Saturday, February 16, 2002

The Montreal Expos happily took to the field after nearly being eliminated during the offseason. John Smoltz and Danny Graves are getting fresh starts, too.

The Expos didn't make a major player move this winter, but there were plenty of new faces when they opened camp in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday.

Frank Robinson was appointed manager of the team, which is now owned by the 29 other ballclubs. Jeffrey Loria, the former owner, took most of his staff to his new team, the Florida Marlins.

"There's a different feel to things from past years," pitcher Carl Pavano said. "But it's still the same thing. There are new people and things are different, but it doesn't affect how we have to do our jobs.

"Robinson was named an All-Star 12 or 13 times, so we'll definitely learn something from him. He'll be here to win."

A healthy John Smoltz took the field at Kissimmee, Fla., but he won't be working out with Atlanta's starters Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Smoltz will be getting used to his new role as the Braves' closer.

Smoltz missed the entire 2000 season after having elbow surgery in spring training. Then after spending much of the early part of last season on the disabled list, he returned in a relief role July 22. He went on to save 10 games in 11 opportunities with a 1.59 ERA.

"It's not going to be a point where I say I've embraced it and I'm going to enjoy it for the rest of my career," said Smoltz, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract in the offseason to stay with the Braves in the stopper role.

Graves could help stability

When pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., today, Danny Graves, who has made all 299 major league appearances out of the bullpen, will take the mound as a starter as the Cincinnati Reds look to get stability from their rotation, which had a 5.47 ERA last season, second-worst in the NL.

"Danny will get the opportunity to pitch a couple or three innings (as a starter) the first two or three times out, then we'll go from there," pitching coach Don Gullett said. "It depends upon what your needs are."

In Mesa, Ariz., three-time Cy Young winner Randy Johnson's highlight of the defending World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks' workout was seeing Todd Stottlemyre taking the mound.

"I'm excited to see him throw, excited that there's a very good possibility that he'll be in our rotation."

After missing all of last season and most of 1999 and 2000 with shoulder and elbow injuries, Stottlemyre said he purposely pushed himself physically over the last three months with a "make it or break it" mentality, throwing as many as 80 pitches at game speed after warming up.

In Bradenton, Fla., the painless pop of the catcher's mitt was almost as sweet sounding as the first cracks of the bat for Pirates catcher Jason Kendall, who had offseason thumb surgery.

"I wasn't sure what to expect, but it went well," said Kendall, who hit a career-low .266 last season. "I was a little nervous about hitting, but I'm excited with how everything went."

Todd Hundley reported to Mesa, Ariz., 12 pounds lighter and determined to improve upon a miserable first season in Chicago.

"There are a lot of things I want to prove to the baseball world," said Hundley, who hit just .187 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs for the Cubs.

He wants to show "that I can still play and I'm not a buck-80 hitter. I'm still a good solid baseball player."

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