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WSI News - News Watch

Johnson likely starter in opener

March 21, 2002

By Doug Padilla, Chicago Sun-Times

PHOENIX-- Mark Johnson not only appears to have won the battle at backup catcher with Josh Paul, it looks like he will start on Opening Day in Seattle.

White Sox manager Jerry Manuel was careful not to call Johnson his No. 1 catcher, though, leaving that honor to veteran Sandy Alomar Jr.

"Mark Johnson has had a real good spring, even though he injured his leg,'' said Man-uel, referring to Johnson's sore hamstring that slowed him for a few days. "He might be a better matchup for [Mariners Opening Day starter Freddy] Garcia than Alomar.''

Alomar also has been slowed by a bad hamstring. He is batting .438 but has played in just seven games with 16 at-bats. He hit his first home run Tuesday.

Manuel reasoned that Alomar wasn't going to play every day anyway. That makes sense, but what's the deal with resting the No. 1 catcher on Opening Day?

"We'll eventually have to take care of Sandy anyway,'' Manuel said. "He's an older guy that's had a number of operations. I can't really expect or anticipate him to carry the bulk of the catching load.''

DIRTY DOZEN: Manuel hinted that he might take three catchers to Seattle, saving a spot on the roster for Paul, though it's more likely he will take 12 pitchers.

"That's a strong possibility because of the fact of youth and the guys coming back from arm injuries, to protect them,'' Manuel said. "That would be the biggest thing. We don't know how some of them will respond to back-to-back days.''

WRIGHT WASH: Another day, another disastrous outing for a Sox starter. Wednesday's debacle came from projected No. 3 starter Dan Wright, who gave up 10 hits and nine runs in 42/3 innings. The Sox' spring ERA is 7.94, easily the worst in the American League.

"It was a rough day overall,'' said Wright, who gave up four runs in both the first and fifth innings. "I kind of got in a groove in the second, third and fourth innings. They were a little better, but I just made some mistakes in a row there.''

DECISION TIME: Manuel said he already has made up his mind on the team's pitching situation, including who his starters will be and what roles the relievers will have.

He won't give out any of the information, though. He will spend today, the team's only day off this spring, on the golf course and then meet with the players privately Friday morning to tell them his decisions.



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