Notes: Slammin' Sammy stays humble
Resurgent slugger letting bat do the talking this spring
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It was hard to decide which was Wednesday's bigger eye-opener.Sammy Sosa's three-run detonation of a Livan Hernandez fastball, in the third inning of the Rangers' 9-8 Cactus League victory over the D-backs, or his humble opinion: "I think I can make this club." Humility and Sosa have not been life partners, but Texas manager Ron Washington understands the transformation in a recent icon attempting to resurrect his career after a year's absence. "When you've been a great player for a long time and have been out, then have an opportunity to get back in the game, baseball does that to you," Washington said. "If he continues to progress, I don't think you'll be able to hold the cocky Sammy down. But that will mean he's doing a lot to help the team, and that's the most important thing to me." Sosa's second homer of the spring left Surprise Stadium in a hurry, soaring 425 feet high above the left-field fence. It may have appeared to be his lustiest cut of the spring -- he is now 5-for-12 in "A" games, with a slugging average of .917 -- but Washington did not share that impression. "He's taken a lot of healthy swings," said Washington, who, if he wasn't a big Slammin' Sammy fan before Spring Training began, is now. Both of Sosa's home runs have come in the only two games in which he has been in right field. He would not be the first hitter to display split personalities whether playing a position or DHing. Although Nelson Cruz remains Texas' primary right fielder, making Sosa primarily a DH, Washington will make sure to give plenty of field time to all of his outfielders in a rotation similar to what he saw last season while coaching in Oakland (among Jay Payton, Milton Bradley, Mark Kotsay, Bobby Kielty and Nick Swisher). "The players make out the lineup, as [former A's manager] Ken Macha said," Washington said. "I like the team I have. They all pull for each other; that's the atmosphere we've created. I like the attitude they have, and the attitude they have toward each other."
Those in camp are heartened by every step taken by Sosa toward a possible comeback -- he is still in camp as a non-roster invite, and he is still ripping his way back from an idle 2006 -- because they have witnessed how hard he is working for it."People say he can't do this or can't do that, but he hasn't showed me any of that," Washington said. "He can do anything. It's his reward for working so hard." As for Sosa's handicap of his chances to crack the roster ... "He won't be in the first cut," Washington said with an ear-to-ear grin. Bottom line: The customary Spring Training attitude for pitchers is that results don't matter as much as working on specifics for the regular season. That rationale doesn't work in Texas camp. Not with candidates for the fifth spot in the starting rotation taking turns putting up zeros. On Wednesday, starter John Koronka and Kameron Loe added three innings each without an earned run to the string. The six rotation candidates have gone 16 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. "It's definitely in the back of your mind, that you're not guaranteed a spot and you can't just go out there to work on stuff but have to get people out," said Koronka, who held the D-backs hitless for three innings after having been rocked for six runs in his first spring outing. "It's very competitive, and it'll come down to the last day. "It'll be exciting. Everyone is throwing well. We'll see what happens." "B" line: The Rangers dropped a 3-1 decision to Kansas City in a seven-inning "B" game that featured a Main Street pitchers' duel between Gil Meche and Kevin Millwood. Millwood, focused on throwing more breaking balls, threw two shutout innings but admitted to fighting his control a bit. Jerry Hairston Jr. had two of the Rangers' five hits, while Victor Diaz's first-inning sacrifice fly accounted for their lone run. "B," "B" King: According to the official stats sheet, Millwood has yet to surface in Cactus League play. But the veteran right-hander has already logged more than three innings -- both came in "B" games, as might his next appearance as well. When deciding on assignments, pitching coach Mark Connor likes to "shun" to "B" games known commodities, thus saving pitchers who are "projects" for the main stage. And veterans such as Millwood like the flexible "B"-game atmosphere. In Wednesday morning's game, for instance, Millwood had a low-pitch second inning ended by a double-play grounder. So Connor simply yelled for the Rangers to remain in the field, and the Royals took another at-bat. "I like that part -- you can work on more things without being limited by a regular-game format," Millwood said. He said: "I hope it keeps going. Then when we have to make a decision, we can't be wrong." -- Washington, on the hot battle for a starting spot among six pitchers who have yet to blink Coming up: Washington will have what is expected to be an emotional reunion with the Athletics on Thursday, when the Rangers trek to Phoenix for their first Cactus League meeting with Oakland. Washington was an A's coach for 11 seasons before becoming the 17th manager in Texas club history. Vicente Padilla is set to make his second exhibition start in the 2:05 CT game.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.