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WSI News - News Watch

Longshot Rauch earns 5th spot

March 24th, from the Sporting News; Scot Gregor

Jon Rauch had little or no shot at making the 25-man roster when camp opened. But the 6-11 prospect pitched well enough to win the fifth starter's job.

Rauch is expected to make his first major-league start on April 9 at Detroit. Manager Jerry Manuel will try to get Rauch a bullpen appearance before that date.

Rauch, TSN's minor-league player of the year in 2000 after combining to go 16-4 (2.66 ERA) at Class A Winston-Salem and Class AA Birmingham, missed most of last season after having shoulder surgery.

Ironically, he won a starting spot this spring because Jim Parque's surgically-repaired shoulder was not up to par. . . .

It looks like a frustrated Parque will begin the season on a rehab assignment at Class AAA Charlotte. Parque insists he is ready to break camp with the team, but manager Jerry Manuel and the rest of the staff are worried about his velocity.

A week before opening day, Parque's fastball was 86-87 mph. The team wants him throwing 90 mph. If either Rauch, Dan Wright or Jon Garland struggle as starting pitchers, expect Parque to get a quick call. . . .

Bob Howry is yet another pitcher trying to make it all the way back from shoulder surgery. But Howry's regression has been the biggest mystery of spring training.

He had surgery following the 2000 season and appeared in 69 games last season. This spring, the velocity on Howry's fastball has dipped to 88-89 mph. He used to easily hit 95 mph before the surgery and was always around 91 mph last year.

Howry was hit hard this spring and he wound up losing his set-up job for closer Keith Foulke. Gary Glover and Antonio Osuna will share the role while Howry tries to get straightened out in middle relief. . . .

Mark Johnson has already made the team and there is a good chance he will be behind the plate when the season opens with an April 1 game at Seattle.

The team feels the lefthanded hitting Johnson is a better matchup against the Mariners' Freddy Garcia than Sandy Alomar Jr.

Always a steady defensive player, Johnson put on 15 pounds of muscle over the winter to improve his hitting strength. The extra work paid off in the Cactus League, where Johnson's batting average was hovering around .400. . . .

Magglio Ordonez has been pounding the ball all spring, but he was sidelined for a week with a sore left hand. Ordonez sustained the injury checking his swing, and he thought the hand might have been broken.

But a bone scan revealed only a bruise. Ordonez has small hands and they take a beating over the course of the season. He might try a padded pair of batting gloves. . . .

Kenny Lofton said he never tries to do too much in spring training, but he has opened a lot of eyes with his overall play. Lofton is showing he still knows how to get on base and be a disruptive force. He stole a league-high eight bases in nine tries this spring while batting close to .500.

Defensively, Lofton has covered a lot of ground and has made some spectacular catches. If he can stay healthy, Lofton could help the team score the most runs in the major leagues this season.


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