This Week In The National League – March 8

Pete Khazen takes us on a quick tour through the NL Cactus and Grapefruit League camps.

The games have finally begun. Sure, it's not the regular season, but our Major League Baseball teams are playing games once again. Whether it's television, radio, or the Internet, you can catch live action and highlights of all your favorite players. And if you're one of the fortunate ones to enjoy the sun and take in a game in the stands or on a towel in the outfield, good for you. Baseball is being played, and despite all the negative news it can drum up, baseball is good. Here's the latest news from the first week of action across the Senior Circuit:

East Division

New York Mets - That old veteran on the Mets staff approaching win number 300, the one and only Tom Glavine, has started the spring off right by scattering five shutout innings. And one of his offensive sluggers, Carlos Delgado, was scratched from the club's game on Tuesday due to a sore neck. It doesn't appear to be anything serious, so rest assured that Delgado will be launching long balls before you know it.

Philadelphia Phillies - Fighting for a spot in what could be one of the tougher rotations in the league, Jon Lieber has knocked out two scoreless innings this spring. Sophomore pitcher Cole Hamels is looking to continue that second half run in 2006, and he's looking sharp with three scoreless innings of his own. But it hasn't been Ryan Howard showing off his big bat in the club's first few games; Greg Dobbs gets that honor. The third baseman is competing with Wes Helms who figures to earn the starting spot, but Dobbs has cranked out seven hits in 16 at-bats, including two home runs and seven RBI.

Florida Marlins - Josh Johnson's sore elbow turned out to be an "irritated nerve". There's no structural damage, and the injury is expected to heal itself, but the Marlins will be without their number two pitcher for a good two months this season. For those of you who enjoy speed on the basepaths, you'll have a blast watching Hanley Ramirez. The speedy shortstop swiped his first two bases of the spring, and there's no doubt more coming.

Atlanta Braves - John Smoltz keeps doing his thing. He pitched three scoreless innings of three-hit ball on Wednesday. Looking for a rebirth in the National League, new teammate Craig Wilson went yard for the first time in a Braves uniform and could be an interesting player to keep an eye on. He could fight for some time in the outfield, but if Scott Thorman doesn't follow through, Wilson is more likely to see some opportunities at first base.

Washington Nationals - With Nick Johnson out for a while still recovering from that broken leg, the first base position is wide open this spring. Travis Lee is one of those contenders, but he's dealing with a strained oblique muscle, which is, no pun intended, hurting his chances. That leaves Robert Fick and Larry Broadway to fight it out for now, at least until Lee heals. And take it for what it's worth, but Ryan Zimmerman and Brian Schneider have both started the spring season hot batting .500+ in their first handful of games.

Central Division

St. Louis Cardinals - The 2006 World Series Most Valuable Player David Eckstein is dealing with his own oblique, which just happens to be the same injury that sidelined him late in the season last year. Jason Isringhausen, who had hip surgery this offseason, is looking to get back into that closer role for the defending World Series champions. He pitched to live hitters at batting practice and reportedly felt fine during the session and afterwards, but the occasionally wild reliever had a tough time finding the strike zone in his first taste back. If Izzy can't go, the Cards might have to move Adam Wainwright back to the pen, which will throw a monkey wrench in the rotation.

Cincinnati Reds - There might be one great comeback story brewing in Cincy. We mentioned him last week, but Josh Hamilton has been a pleasant surprise so far for the Reds. He's making the best of his opportunities going 9-for-16 at the plate with a home run and three RBI in his first five games, which is sweet music to the ears of the Ken Griffey Jr. skeptics. Another player trying to make a bit of a comeback is Paul Wilson, who is trying to compete for a spot in the Reds rotation. It hasn't gone well so far, though. Wilson has started one game and made two total appearances for a total of 4.2 innings, but he's given up 11 hits and six earned runs in that time.

Houston Astros - Chris Burke figures to be the everyday starter in center field with Willy Taveras gone, but he is already struggling this spring having hit safely in just two of his first 20 at-bats. Craig Biggio has been lively, though. The veteran is perhaps nearing the end of a long journey and sparked by a little competition brought on by new teammate and fellow second baseman Mark Loretta. Biggio is batting .375 to start the spring and he's already knocked a solo shot over the fence.

Milwaukee Brewers - With some stiff competition in the Brewers outfield, veteran Geoff Jenkins is stepping up his game a bit this spring. In Wednesday's matchup, Jenkins ripped three hits, including two doubles and is 8-for-15 to kickstart the year. Big offseason acquisition Jeff Suppan made his first appearance for the Brewers. Soup tossed three solid innings giving up two hits and one run - regular, like clockwork.

Pittsburgh Pirates - Freddy Sanchez was the great feel-good story in Pittsburgh last season, taking home that batting crown as a rookie with that .344 batting average. But he ran into a bit of a sophomore jinx this week as he sprained his knee trying to turn a double play and is currently reported to be day-to-day. Big offseason acquisition Adam LaRoche is 2-for-5 in his first three games, but it's been fellow first baseman Brad Eldred lighting up the sky, knocking four home runs in his first five games of spring action.

Chicago Cubs - It's been a wild first week for the Cubbies. Perhaps it's the intense media coverage as the drought carries to 99 years this season. Regardless, when the always-colorful Carlos Zambrano makes bold predictions of a Cy Young Award and World Series Championship, how can you not draw attention? Is this a sign of the new regime and swagger under Lou Piniella? I guess we've got plenty of time to find out. Two players who are about running out of time, though, are Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Wood looked solid in his first opportunity tossing a nice scoreless inning. For Prior, not so much. His fastball didn't quite have the zip we remember from a few years ago, but maybe that we do remember from the end of last season, as he got roughed up for three runs in an inning and a third of work.

West Division

Los Angeles Dodgers - Wilson Betemit tore it up last season for both the Braves and Dodgers when given the chance. So far this spring, he's 0-for-9 with four punchouts, and he's committed a couple of errors in the field. Outfielder Andre Ethier, who impressed all in his rookie campaign with that .308 batting average, is 5-for-11 to start the spring. New Dodger Jason Schmidt has looked sharp in his first two starts. Schmidt has thrown four total innings giving up just one run, while striking out four.

San Diego Padres - In his first full season as a starter in the bigs, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez batted .304 with 24 home runs and 82 RBI. He's picked up where he left off last year, batting 4-for-8 in his first few games and launching his first home run of the year. We've also gotten our first sights of Greg Maddux and Jake Peavy this spring. Both have pitched in just one game, but with drastically different results. The Professor tossed two scoreless innings, while Peavy gave up two runs in just two frames.

San Francisco Giants - Ryan Klesko signed with the Giants this off-season and is expected to be a back up and role player off the bench, but he hurt his side this first week of workouts and is expected to miss about a week of spring action. And after missing a couple days with the flu, the Barry Bonds watch picked up again Wednesday. Despite the Giants scoring 20 combined runs in their split squad games, Bonds wasn't involved in any of the scoring. He did go 1-for-2 with a double, though.

Arizona Diamondbacks - Stephen Drew snagged a Michael Garciaparra line drive Sunday against the Seattle Mariners and turned a triple play, a rare feat regardless of spring training. Livan Hernandez was roughed up Wednesday, which is becoming a less rare feat. He tossed 3.1 innings giving up 10 hits and nine runs, seven of which were earned.

Colorado Rockies - Brad Hawpe, Matt Holliday, and Garrett Atkins were RBI machines last season, and they're showing no signs this spring that was a fluke. In their first week of action, Holliday and Atkins have driven in four, while Hawpe has knocked in five. Even an untraded and possibly disappointed Todd Helton has driven in two and gone 4-for-9 to start the spring. Likely number two starter Aaron Cook has also looked sharp. He's started in two games, pitched 5.0 innings, given up just 1 earned run, and struck out four.

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