proCane Pro Day Results/Stats


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Miami Pro Day results: Brandon McGee impresses, Kendall Thompkins steals show

There was a large turnout of NFL scouts and bigwigs for Miami Pro Day on Thursday. Only three pro teams were absent, and Chief among those in attendance, Bill Belichick reportedly went down to do some scouting for the Patriots. The Pats are in need of secondary help, and Hurricanes cornerback Brandon McGee could be of a lot of interest. McGee did not disappoint.

McGee measured in at 5'11, 191 pounds and he had a 34" vertical with a broad jump of 9'11". Those numbers were very similar to what he showed at the Combine. McGee ran a 3.40 40-yard dash at the Combine and had 14 reps on the bench, so he did not perform those tasks again at Pro Day:

The fastest 40 of the day came from wide receiver Kendal Thompkins, who posted an official 4.37, blowing away the competition. That time would have placed him fourth among wide receivers at the Combine. Thompkins also had the second-highest vertical leap, reaching 35 inches, just behind safety Vaughn Telemaque at 36 inches.

Also performing at the event was running back Mike James, but he didn't do much. After measuring in at 5'10", 217 pounds, James ran the L Drill in 6.98 seconds. He took the rest of his numbers from the Combine, where he ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds.

One of the biggest surprise performers was perhaps linebacker Ray Buchanan. According to one scout in attendance, Buchanan ran an unofficial 4.53 in the 40, after putting up a 34-inch vertical and jumping 10', 8" in the broad jump. Buchanan ended up with an official time of 4.55.

Defensive lineman Darius Smith had an impressive 33 reps on the bench. Was it enough to impress Belichick though, is the important question.

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Report: Eagles, Texans reach out to Eric Winston

Andy Reid’s new team said goodbye to right tackle Eric Winston on Wednesday, a move that piqued the interest of Reid’s old team.

Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News reports that the Eagles were one of the first two teams to reach out to Winston after his announcement of his departure from the Chiefs hit the wires. Winston’s durability is likely part of the reason for the team’s interest. Winston has started all 96 games over the last six seasons while the Eagles were playing a season-long game of musical chairs in 2012 thanks to a slew of serious injuries to their projected starting offensive linemen.

Bowen reports that the other team to show interest in speaking to Winston was the Texans, who drafted him in 2006 and employed him until his release last March. Derek Newton started at right tackle for Houston in 2012.

When Winston was released last year, he was out of work for less than a week before landing in Kansas City. Given the early interest in his services, it may be another short spell on the unemployment line for Winston again this year.

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Kenny Phillips ready to test free-agent market

The Giants made an offer to safety Kenny Phillips in the hopes of keeping him off the open market. But it wasn’t nearly enough, according to an NFL source, and any chance of Phillips re-signing in the next few days appear gone.

Phillips, according to the source, will become an unrestricted free agent when the market opens on March 12, barring a last-ditch effort from the Giants. He would still prefer to re-sign with the Giants, the source said, and it appears the Giants would like to keep him.

But the price, so far, has not been right.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Phillips is looking for in a new contract, but the Giants are apparently being cautious with the 26-year-old who missed nine games last season with a sprained right MCL. He also had major surgery on his left knee back in 2009 and hasn’t really been the same player since.

Still, the Giants value the player they took in the first round of the 2009 draft and believe he’s young enough that he can still fulfill his potential. They hoped he’d return and join veteran Antrel Rolle and restricted free agent Stevie Brown as part of a strong, three-safety rotation.

With Phillips now likely heading elsewhere, that explains why the Giants have reportedly reached out to veteran defensive back Charles Woodson, a 36-year-old who was recently cut by the Packers and now plays safety. According to ESPN, the Giants are one of four teams that have called to express an interest in him – joining the Seahawks, Dolphins and Jets.

The Giants likely wouldn’t be interested in Woodson for much more than a minimum-salaried deal. He would add depth and experience to a defensive backfield that is young and struggled often last season.

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proCanes return for Pro Day

The annual Miami Hurricanes Pro Timing Day reunion commenced Thursday morning at a chilly Greentree Field and ran well into the afternoon, when the sun beat down on the bare-chested players trying to impress dozens of NFL scouts or coaches.

Former Hurricanes linebacker Sean Spence, now with the Steelers, was there to watch. Former quarterback Jacory Harris helped out by tossing passes to receivers. Defensive end Olivier Vernon, now with the Dolphins, arrived in the afternoon, along with offensive lineman Brandon Washington, Browns receiver Travis Benjamin and Texans linebacker Darryl Sharpton.

They all came to support the former players who ran 40-yard dashes, lifted weights and partook in drills for NFL personnel — which included Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland — representing 30 of 32 teams.

“Overall, it went well,” said 5-10, 184-pound receiver Kendal Thompkins. “I just want to make a team.”

Thompkins improved his status with the best 40 time: 4.37 seconds. He also had the second-highest vertical leap (35 inches) and second-longest broad jump (10-4).

The Miami native said he misses college already. “It’s kind of different now that I’m in the real world,” said Thompkins, who earned his degree in liberal arts last May.

Ray-Ray Armstrong, who missed the 2012 season after being dismissed from Miami in July as the result of a number of missteps, returned to participate. Armstrong, who eventually earned his UM degree in sports administration, said he “could have handled” himself “a lot differently.”

“It was frustrating for the first couple months,” the 6-4, 215-pound safety said, “but I kind of put that behind me and am working on the next step of my life.
“I still have a lot of friends here. We have a tight bond. I feel it’s home still.”

Armstrong’s best 40 time was 4.65. He had a 34.5-inch vertical leap and benched 225 pounds 18 times.

“Football is what I do,” Armstrong said. “I wanted to show them how fluent I was in drills and that I run pretty good times. I’ve been working out a good three, four months preparing for this.”

Fellow safety Vaughn Telemaque, 6-2 and 202 pounds, was his usual cheerful, optimistic self. Though a knee injury limited his playing time this season, Telemaque said he felt great. He led the field with a 36-inch vertical jump, ran a 4.70 40 and only could muster 11 reps on the bench press.

When asked what he could offer to any team that gets him, Telemaque said, “I’m an all-around player, a team player, rangy safety, good stand-up guy trying to do the right things and trying to make sure everyone around me is in a positive attitude because it just brings out the best in everybody, including myself.”

Added Telemaque, refusing to focus on his injury and senior season: “I’m over that. It’s not about this one season. It’s not about who’s here now. It’s about Miami. It’s always going to be a part of me. Miami was the best place for me, and I had a great career here.”

Running back Mike James, who competed at the recent Combine in Indianapolis with Brandon McGee, said he “ran the ball well” and just wanted “to show the teams that I’m versatile and can play ball.”

And, like the others, he said how much it meant to have been a Miami Hurricane.

“It brought me up, helped me become a man,” James said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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Javarris James arrested

Former Immokalee High School football standout Javarris James was arrested Thursday afternoon by Lee County sheriff’s deputies for failure to appear in court.

This comes a month after NFL suspended the running back for four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

In June 2011, James, 25, was been arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession at a routine traffic stop in Fort Myers.

James is currently a member of the Arizona Cardinals’ organization. He injured a knee ligament in the preseason finale last year and missed the entire season. He played with the Indianapolis Colts as a rookie in 2010, but was out of the league in 2011.

As junior in high school, James rushed for 1,656 yards and 25 touchdowns in leading the Indians to the 2004 state title. He was named Naples Daily News Offensive Player of the Year in both 2004 and 2005.

For his high school career, James scored 65 touchdowns and rushed for 4,778 yards.

James followed in the footsteps of his cousin Edgerrin, playing for Immokalee, the University of Miami, and the Colts.

At Miami, James rushed for 2,162 yards and 18 touchdowns, though his best season came as a freshman with 802 yards. He went undrafted in the 2010 NFL draft.

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Aubrey Huff to the Yankees? Not happening

When Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira went down with with a sprained wrist, Aubrey Huff’s name was tossed about as a possible fill-in, but that is not going to happen.

“I’m pretty much retired,” Huff just said by phone. He had hoped to get a spring-training invite but got no calls over the winter. He is 36 and coming off two poor seasons, a knee injury, back issues and a battle with depression.

Huff said he “absolutely” was fine with not playing.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “I love it. I’m having a great time with my wife and kids. I don’t even have an itch to pick up a baseball bat. I wondered if I’d feel that desire when everybody reported to spring training, but I didn’t.”

Huff is due a second Giants World Series ring. He said he has not been invited to the April 7 ring ceremony, but he would be just as happy to get his jewelry in the mail if the Giants do not call.

“It’s just one more flight I don’t have to take,” he said.

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proCanes Support Men's Basketball Team vs GT


Thank you to Harry Rothwell @mrallcanes for sending us this photo of proCanes: Lamar Miller Dolphins, DeMarcus Van Dyke Steelers, Allen Bailey Chiefs, Sean Spence Steelers, Travis Benjamin Browns, Brandon Harris Texans.

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2013 proCane Pro Day Roster


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Chiefs release Eric Winston

When Chiefs right tackle Eric Winston recently lamented the looming departure of quarterback Matt Cassel, we suggested that Winston could still suffer the same fate.

And now he is.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Chiefs are releasing Winston.  He’ll hit the free agent market immediately, a few days before it opens.
Winston was due to earn a base salary of $4.9 million in 2013.  He signed with the Chiefs after being cut last year by the Texans.

Because he received an $8.4 million signing bonus, the acceleration results in a $6.3 million cap charge.  That’s still $700,000 lower than it would have been if Winston had stayed — and also $4.9 million cheaper.

With an $8.4 million signing bonus and a $900,000 salary in 2012, Winston earned $9.3 million in one year with the Chiefs.

The move gives the Chiefs the flexibility to take Luke Joeckel with the first pick in the 2013 draft, and then to move Joeckel or Branden Albert to the right side.

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Ravens need to play it smart with Ed Reed

The Baltimore Ravens say they want Ed Reed back, and the nine-time Pro Bowl safety wants to return. Sounds like everyone should expect Reed to pick off passes for the Baltimore defense next season. But it's not that simple. In fact, it's rarely that simple when an aging all-time great reaches free agency.

The last time the Ravens faced a situation like this was 2009 with linebacker Ray Lewis. Baltimore let Lewis test the free-agent market, and he returned to the Ravens 20 days later. It was a smart move with Lewis, and it would be a smart move with Reed.

Given the Ravens' salary cap situation, which is about $11 million under, Baltimore has to take this calculated risk with Reed. Yes, he could end up in Indianapolis or New England, where he could wear matching hoodies with Bill Belichick. The Ravens can only make their best offer to Reed before free agency begins Tuesday and hopes he either accepts the deal or doesn't get a significantly better offer later. Baltimore was justified to overspend on Joe Flacco, a quarterback entering the prime of his career. The Ravens just can't do it with a 34-year-old safety, which would result in losing cap room to sign someone like linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.

This is a delicate situation. The key for the Ravens is not letting it become an emotional one. Reed is the third-best player in Ravens history behind Lewis and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and is one of the best to ever play safety in the NFL. The Ravens value Reed's leadership, perhaps even more since Lewis' retirement. Some teammates say Reed is a more influential leader than Lewis in recent years. The Ravens also respect how much Reed's presence alters an offense's game plan.

General manager Ozzie Newsome clearly would like to keep Reed. Based on his history, Newsome doesn't want a future Hall of Fame player to end his career elsewhere. Just look at Ogden and Lewis, who were both Ravens for life.

Newsome, though, is the architect of two Super Bowl champion teams because he usually makes the right choice on the tough calls. The Ravens can't invest a big signing bonus to a player who is no longer a consistent playmaker, struggles at tackling and contemplates retirement nearly every offseason (except his free-agent one, of course) because of a nerve impingement in his neck. There's a good chance that Reed isn't the Ravens' top priority in free agency, and that's even after signing Flacco. Baltimore has a bigger need at inside linebacker, which makes Ellerbe more valuable.

So far, the Ravens haven't shown any urgency with Reed. They decided against using the franchise tag on Reed, which would've kept him around one more year for $8.64 million. Team officials said they planned on talking to Reed a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl, but Reed told The NFL Network on Monday that he has yet to hear from the Ravens.

"Hopefully that call comes soon," Reed said.

This is what the Ravens are banking on. Newsome said a few days after the Super Bowl that "if you watched his body language over the course of the last eight to 10 days that he loves being here in Baltimore and I think we can use that to help make that relationship last a little bit longer."

Reed maintains his intention is to remain in Baltimore, telling the NFL Network this week, "I am a Raven, plan on being a Raven. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. But if it happens, I am a football player. I can adapt to any situation.”

This sounds like if things are close contract-wise, Reed prefers to remain in Baltimore. The problem for the Ravens is they won't be able to match a sizable offer made to Reed. The Patriots are $25 million under the salary cap and the Colts have $44 million in cap space.

Why are those two teams most heavily linked to Reed? Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano recruited Reed to play college football at Miami, and Belichick has made his fondness for Reed so well-known that Tom Brady joked the coach was going to adopt him and call him "Ed Belichick."

The length of the contract shouldn't be an issue. Reed is looking for a two- to three-year deal. The question is how much are teams willing to spend on him. Reed leads all active players with 61 interceptions, but he only has a total of seven the past two seasons. He is one of the most respected leaders in the locker room, but he's been far from a perfect teammate. He called out Flacco during the playoffs last season and skipped the mandatory minicamp last year. Reed is also a liability on running plays and runs after catches, missing 15 tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

If the Ravens lose Reed, they can try to find a safety late in the first round just like they did with Reed in 2002. The top free safety prospect, Florida's Matt Elam, should be available at the No. 32 pick.

The Ravens' preference, however, is to bring back Reed. Baltimore watched Lewis have a storybook ending to his career, and the team would like to see Reed retire as a Raven as well. But, when it comes to one of the shrewdest football players of his generation, the Ravens have to be equally wise in dealing with him this offseason.

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D.J. Williams unlikely to return to Broncos next season

Q: Plenty of people chime in about which free agents or draft picks the Broncos might sign, but ... which Broncos players do you see leaving this season, from retirement, free agency, trades or cuts?

A: Jim, certainly when you talk about familiar faces who are expected to play elsewhere in the coming season, linebacker D.J. Williams comes to mind for the Broncos.

Williams is headed into his 10th season. He has had some off-the-field troubles. His playing time has diminished. And he has had knee and shoulder injuries along the way. Williams is also headed into the last year of the five-year, $32 million deal the team signed him to in 2009.

A look at the figures shows his contract also has an $8.08 million salary-cap hit that includes a $6 million base salary. Those figures are far too big for a player who was on the field for spot duty only last season after he returned from back-to-back suspensions that kept him out of nine games.

If Williams is released — the Broncos will try to see if there is a trade market for him first — there would be some "dead" money from the contract on their salary cap for this season (charges that count when the player is no longer on the roster). Williams would still count $2.0825 million against the cap if he were released, but they would still pick up $6 million in salary-cap room along the way.

The Broncos aren't in a position to release anyone they see as a key contributor because they have managed their cap situation well, even with a signing like Peyton Manning last season.

They have very little dead money on the books for 2013 — just under $1 million worth of dead-money charges.

All of that means the Broncos can make football decisions when looking at their roster instead of being forced to make only salary-cap decisions. They can re-sign the free agents they'd like to keep.

At some point they would approach veterans like Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil about re-configuring their contracts if they feel like they need some additional salary-cap relief in some way. The Broncos have already talked to Dumervil's representatives. Dumervil ($13.623 million) and Bailey ($10.5 million) have the second- and third-highest cap figures on the team, respectively, after Manning.

Bailey's deal runs through 2014 and includes a roster bonus this year for $500,000. Dumervil's deal runs through 2015.

Overall, they have 12 unrestricted free agents. Among that list not expected to be back is defensive tackle Ty Warren. Warren played just five plays with most of two seasons spent on injured reserve.

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proCane Donnell Bennett resigns as Northeast football coach

Northeast will begin its search for a new football coach this week because on Wednesday Donnell Bennett officially resigned.

Hurricanes athletic director Dawn Conrad-Booth confirmed Wednesday that Bennett had met with his players and told them he was stepping down as coach.

"We wish him well in his future endeavors," she said. "We'll interview applicants and we're going to hire the best person out there for Northeast High School."

Bennett, 40, who coached the Hurricanes for four seasons, said "it was time to move on."

"It was a family decision," Bennett said. "It is time to take a break. I still want to coach, but I'll wait and see what's out there."

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Jemile Weeks: Dealing With Bone Bruise in Shoulder

Update: Weeks is dealing with a bone bruise in his right shoulder, the A's official site reports.

Recommendation: Weeks, who was off to an impressively hot start this spring, hasn't played since hurting the shoulder in Friday's game against the Giants. The injury is minor, however, and manager Bob Melvin believes Weeks should be able to return within the next few days.

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Ryan Braun is trying to win back fans at World Baseball Classic

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Ryan Braun understands why many people are skeptical of him, given the way his name has twice been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

He refuses to let it bother him.

On a sun-splashed field in Arizona, the Brewers slugger said that getting back to spring training has helped him deal with the swirling controversy, and that playing for the U.S. team in the World Baseball Classic could help to convince some fans to give him a clean slate.

“Obviously, there’s been a lot of things I’ve dealt with over the last year and a half,” he said, “but I’m just trying to focus on the things I can control.”

After his MVP season in 2011, Braun tested positive for steroids during the playoffs. But he fought the case and eventually had his 50-game suspension overturned by an arbiter who discovered chain-of-custody issues in the handling of Braun’s test sample.

Then this past off-season, Braun’s name surfaced in records from the now-defunct Biogenesis of America LLC clinic that allegedly provided substances to several players.

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Jimmy Graham 2012-2013 Highlights

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Vinny Testaverde highlights college HOF ballot

Four Heisman Trophy winners highlight the 77 candidates and five coaches on this year’s College Football Hall of Fame Ballot released Tuesday afternoon.

Former Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde and former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel joined former Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne and former Nebraska quarterback Eric Couch as past winners of the Heisman Trophy who are up for selection into the HOF.

Some other notable names on the ballot are former Miami defensive tackle Jerome Brown, former UNLV punter Randall Cunningham, former SMU running back Eric Dickerson and former Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth.

On the coaching side, Jim Carlen (WVU, Texas Tech, South Carolina); Wayne Hardin (Navy, Temple); Bill McCartney (Colorado); Billy Jack Murphy (Memphis) and Darryl Rogers (Cal State Hayward, Fresno State, San Jose State, Michigan State and Arizona State).

The Hall of Fame class will be announced live in New York City during a noon press conference on May 7. The group will be inducted at an awards dinner on Dec. 10, 2013 in New York City.

To qualify for the HOF ballot, players must have been named a First Team All-America and played their last season of college football at least 10 years prior and cannot currently be playing professional football. For coaches, candidates must have coached a minimum of 10 years and 100 games as a head coach.
They must have also won at least 60 percent of their games and retired within at least three years prior to making the list.

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Cooler heads prevail in Devin Hester saga?

When we last heard from Chicago Bears returner/receiver Devin Hester, he had backed off his threat to retire but was still suggesting he might benefit from a fresh start with another franchise. Tuesday, Hester used a post on his Instagram account to imply he has had a change of heart.

The post read: "For all my Bears fan #yes. I'm a bear 4 life.# Beardown!!!!!

(For those wondering, Hester verified this Instagram via Twitter in January.)

So what exactly does it mean that Hester is a "bear 4 life?" At this point, all we can say is that Hester expects to play for the Bears in 2013. Update: Many of you are wondering if Hester is saying he will be a "bear 4 life" even though he plans to move on to another team. I don't think that's the case, but I guess I should acknowledge that possibility. My understanding is that the Bears have plans for him in 2013 and don't want him to move on.

Entering this week, Hester had one year remaining on the contract extension he signed in 2008. It called for a $1.857 million base salary, a $250,000 workout bonus and a cap figure of $2.940 million. The Bears could lower that cap number a bit through either a reduction of that base salary or a contract extension, but as of Tuesday evening I've not confirmed that Hester has a new deal.

In the end, of course, it's difficult to predict the futures of most NFL players beyond the upcoming season, regardless of their contract status. What we can reasonably say is that, after a predictable emotional reaction to the Bears' coaching staff and his own stalled career as a receiver, cooler heads have prevailed. (At least, that's my take on it.)

It's not hard to imagine that new Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis would prefer Hester, the greatest returner in NFL history, on his team rather than elsewhere. It's not clear if the Bears have any plans for Hester on offense -- Bears general manager Phil Emery said last month at the NFL scouting combine that Hester will "compete to be our returner" -- but Hester might well be satisfied with that role.

The Bears have an established three-receiver set of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett and could add to it through the draft. I would back a decision to de-emphasize Hester from the Bears' offense to focus him as a returner. Using him in both roles always felt like burning the proverbial candle at both ends. As he approaches his 31st birthday, it's best for Hester and the Bears to understand what he is -- and isn't.

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Jonathan Vilma, Saints vets will be back, at right price

Statistically speaking, the New Orleans Saints had the worst defense in NFL history last season.

That reality cost defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo his job, but coach Sean Payton would like to retain some of the noted veterans of that depressing unit. Defensive end Will Smith, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and safety Roman Harper are high-priced talents Payton wants back. He knows that might not be possible, however.

"First off, I do envision those guys in a Saints uniform, and yet I'm also realistic and understand that every year since the beginning of free agency the percentage of players on your roster that turns over is different than it used to be," Payton said Tuesday on WWL-AM, via The Times-Picayune. "There was a time where you had your draft. What two or three rookies were going to beat out the veterans on a roster?"

The Saints have restructured multiple contracts on their roster in an effort to get below the salary cap. They're still over, meaning more work must be done by the start of a new league year on March 12.

"It's different now. There's an economic factor to it. It's as simple as a household budget," Payton said. "If you're going to have cable and you're going to have heat, you might not be able to have something else. So you've really got to look closely at your production, you've got to look closely at your cap."

Payton is keeping it simple, and so will we. Smith, Vilma and Harper will all be asked to take major pay cuts. If they refuse, goodbye and good luck.

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Gaby Sanchez homers among 3 hits, leads Pirates to 10-0 win over Spain

BRADENTON, Fla. — Gaby Sanchez went 3 for 3 with a double, home run and two RBIs on Tuesday, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 10-0 rout of Spain’s World Baseball Classic team.

Rhiner Cruz, a Houston Astros reliever and one of just two players with major league experience on the Spanish roster, allowed three runs in one inning.

The right-handed hitting Sanchez will likely platoon at first base with Garrett Jones this season but played third base against Spain.

Gerrit Cole, the first overall selection in the 2011 draft, started and struck out six in three innings as he combined with four relievers on a five-hitter. He allowed two hits and one walk.

Darren Ford and Anderson Hernandez had two hits each for Pittsburgh.

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Jemile Weeks’ Injury Halts Oakland Athletics Second Base Competition

The Oakland Athletics second base job for 2013 was supposed to be decided by a competitionlb_icon1 between Scott Sizmore, Adam Rosales and Jemile Weeks, with Jed Lowrie in the mix getting playing time all over the field.

Now, the team is just hoping that injuries don’t take them from having excess depth in the infield to not having enough players.

At the very least, they can put the competition on hold. As Jane Lee of reports, the team has been holding out Weeks as a result of a shoulder injury he suffered during the middle of a double-play attempt in the team’s Cactus League game on Friday against the San Francisco Giants.

The team is calling it a “bone bruise” right now, and A’s manager Bob Melvin has said that Weeks’ ailing shouldn’t isn’t serious, and despite not having played since then, the 26-year old should be ready to go soon enough.

Weeks has been the primary second baseman for the Oakland A’s over the last couple of seasons, and is naturally the guy the team gave the inside track to over Sizemore this spring.

Even before Sizemore was hit by a pitch and taken out of game action, Weeks seemed to be well on his way to hanging onto that job anyway. The switch-hitter had been excellent over his four games in spring, racking up six hits over eleven at-bats, including a pair of doubles and a homer.

Given that Weeks’ value to the team comes mostly from his plate discipline and speed, the early doubles power that he’s showing is a good sign. Because he doesn’t really have home run power (four HRs in 948 PA), Weeks really needs to have the ability to hit the ball to the wall in order to really make use of his running skills on the basepaths.

The fact that he hit 26 doubles in 437 PA in 2011 was a big reason why he was a 1.9 fWAR rookie that year, and that the number dropped to 15 over 511 PA in 2012 was why he was barely replacement level in 2012.

He’ll still be the front-runner for the second base job when he returns, but Weeks now finds himself in another race with Sizemore – the one to come back from an injury as quickly as possible so they can continue to show their stuff on the field.

Considering that they represent most of the Oakland A’s depth at the position, though, the team is hoping that neither of them will end up rushing this one.

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Gaby Sanchez turning on power with strong start for Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When the 2012 season ended, Gaby Sanchez gave himself only one week off. Then, he went to work.

If sweating hard and lifting weights is a luxury, it is one he couldn't afford the previous offseason as he had arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a damaged patella tendon.

"Last year I couldn't lift my legs," he said. "I couldn't really do anything power-wise because I had the knee surgery, so I really didn't start working out. And when I did, it wasn't heavyweight. It was lightweight, just trying to get the leg not hurting again."

Sanchez's power numbers dived last season, when his combined OPS (on-base plus slugging) between stops in Miami and Pittsburgh was .620 -- the lowest of his career.

"I wasn't strong anywhere on my lower half," he said. "That's where I hit from -- I hit from my lower half. When that's not feeling right, nothing seems to go into place."

The Pirates acquired Sanchez at the trade deadline from the Miami Marlins. At the time, Sanchez was hitting .202. After joining the Pirates, his fortunes hadn't changed much.

He started his tenure in Pittsburgh going 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position before finally converting Sept. 2 -- more than a month after the trade.

"He played from behind last year," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had a late-November surgery on a knee, played catch-up for most of the year. I don't think he got in real good baseball shape until about a month in with us."

Now, it appears Sanchez has his sea legs under him.

Sanchez has had one of the strongest starts of any Pirate in spring training. He is hitting .417 and crushed two home runs in a Grapefruit League game over the weekend, two no-doubters that reminded Hurdle of the success Sanchez had in Miami -- where he was fourth in rookie of the year voting in 2010 and an All-Star in 2011.

Sanchez will platoon at first base with Garrett Jones, but he also has spent time this spring workout out at third base. But if Sanchez plays well enough, he will play on a consistent basis; Hurdle has been creative in the past to find ways to keep a hot bat on the field.

He credits his offseason conditioning plan that aggressively targeted his legs -- a source of power for any baseball player -- for fueling his hot start. He spent nearly two months lifting weights before picking up a bat for the first time this offseason.

"Sometimes you have to just forget about everything and basically reboot," Sanchez said.

Sanchez and Jay Bell, hired as Pirates hitting coach this offseason, connected in December around the same time Sanchez was in Pittsburgh for the Pirates Caravan. Bell stressed Sanchez's mentality -- an approach he took with most players when he first met them.

"The guys that end up having a degree of success are the guys that understand how to beat that guy on the mound mentally," Bell said.

Sanchez said he and Bell have a good working relationship because they embrace the same approach at the plate -- look for a fastball and drive it toward right-center field.

He also worked this offseason with University of Miami assistant baseball coach Lou Palmisano.

But even though Sanchez took a few months before he picked up a bat for the first time this offseason, he said he felt comfortable swinging all season long.

So far this spring, he has made opposing pitchers equally uncomfortable.

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PHOTO: Kayne Farquharson Celebrates After Scoring First TD of Day


The Nebraska Danger’s Kayne Farquharson celebrates with fans after scoring a touchdown during his team’s game Saturday against the Sioux Falls Storm at the Heartland Event Center. Nebraska won 30-21 to end the Storm’s 21-game winning streak. Farquharson finished with six receptions for 73 yards.

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Lamar Miller not expected to face competition

The Miami Dolphins are not considering having RB Daniel Thomas compete with RB Lamar Miller for the starting running back job next season and are not expected to sign a veteran running back to compete with Miller. The team likes Miller's ability to make jump-cut moves, which allows him to get to the second level in the team's zone-blocking scheme.

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VIDEO: proCane James Jones Stars In Miami Heat Harlem Shake as Clown

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About those Ed Reed Pats stories ...

Remember back at the Super Bowl when Ravens safety Ed Reed created a little Patriots-based buzz by saying any player would love to suit up for a coach like Bill Belichick? He even mentioned that he wears his sweatshirt the same way as Belichick, with cut sleeves.

The trickle-down effect of those remarks was a frenzy of speculation that Reed -- scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 12 -- could wind up in New England.

Reed extinguished the likelihood of that possibility during an appearance on NFL Network's "NFL AM" show Monday, saying the following:

"At the Super Bowl, I was asked if I would play for Coach Belichick and my answer was: ‘What player wouldn’t play for Coach Belichick?’ He is a good football coach, has a great mind for football. I met Coach Belichick at a Pro Bowl. He is a great guy, great competitor and seems to understand his players. I was just asked the question at the time [but] I am a Raven, plan on being a Raven. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else, but if it happens, I am a football player, I can adapt to any situation."

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: This is a situation where context is important, as Reed was led into a discussion on the Patriots at the Super Bowl. It sounds like if things are close contract-wise, Reed prefers to remain in Baltimore. Because of that, and the Ravens' desire for Reed to return, the possibility of Reed to the Patriots appears to be one with longer odds than one might have thought a month ago. Furthermore, by signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a contract extension, the Ravens picked up more salary cap space this year to bring back players such as Reed.

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D.J. Williams isn’t expected back with Broncos

Linebacker D.J. Williams has had a long run with the Broncos, but it appears to be coming to an end after nine seasons.

Mike Klis of the Denver Post expects that Williams will be a starting linebacker in 2013, but that there’s no chance that he’ll be filling that role on the Broncos defense. Williams is set to make $6 million (and count the same against the salary cap) in the 2013 season, a number Klis believes is too big for a Broncos team that moved on without Williams while missed nine games in 2012 serving two different suspensions.

It’s expected that the Broncos will try to trade Williams when the league opens for business on March 12, although the $6 million salary probably doesn’t look any better to other teams than it does to the Broncos. If they can’t swing a trade, the Broncos are expected to cut Williams loose before they start their offseason program in mid-April.

Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard and Nate Irving are the projected starters at linebacker for Denver in 2013.

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Orlando Franklin has shoulder scope

Ryan Clady isn't the only Denver Broncos offensive lineman recovering from shoulder surgery.

Right tackle Orlando Franklin had a scope on his right shoulder Thursday and is expected to be ready in time to participate in the Broncos' offseason workout program, according to a person familiar with the surgery. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the procedure.

Franklin has started every game at right tackle since the Broncos drafted him in the second round in 2011.

Broncos head coach John Fox confirmed last week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that Franklin had an offseason surgery to repair an injured toe.
Clady, who received the Broncos' non-exclusive franchise tag on Friday, had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He is expected to miss the Broncos' offseason program while he recovers and in absence of a new long-term contract.

Denver right guard Chris Kuper and center J.D. Walton are also recovering from ankle surgeries and will likely miss offseason workouts.

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Ed Reed hasn’t heard from Ravens, can’t see himself elsewhere

Now that Joe Flacco’s contract is done, the Ravens are free to start talking to other free agents they would like to keep around for a Super Bowl defense.

Safety Ed Reed might be on that list, but the team hasn’t reached him yet. Reed told the NFL Network Monday that he’s yet to hear from the Ravens about a contract for the 2013 season, but said that he hopes they call soon because he’d like to remain in Baltimore.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone. Hopefully that call comes soon,” Reed said. “I’m a Raven. I plan on being a Raven. I couldn’t see me anywhere else right now.”

Reed might not be able to envision himself in another uniform, but he didn’t sound totally closed off to the possibility that he’ll continue his career with another team. He said he thinks he should be paid a salary based on both what he’s done in the past and his current ability, a nebulous price that could push him out of the range that the Ravens are willing to pay. If that happens, Reed said he’ll “adapt” and move along.

Reed should have other suitors, so that plain to remain a Raven may need to be revisited at some point in the next few weeks.

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Giants working on keeping Kenny Phillips

The Giants are "continuing to see" if they can work out a new contract with free agent FS Kenny Phillips.
Per reporter Jason La Canfora, Phillips is unlikely to be franchise tagged ahead of Monday's deadline. With Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown to fall back on at safety, the Giants will likely only bring Phillips back at their price.

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Phillip Buchanon Going Hollywood, Learning from ‘Dark Knight’ Producer

LANHAM, Md. (CBSDC) — A pair of former Washington Redskins are going Hollywood… or at least they’re taking some steps toward it by learning the business from some heavy hitters including the producer of The Dark Knight series.

Shaun Alexander and Phillip Buchanon, both of whom had brief stints in DC, are among 20 current and former players participating in the second annual “NFL Pro Hollywood Boot Camp.”

From March 11-15, the athletes will learn all facets of the industry, including screen writing, directing, producing, and film financing.

The players will be under the tutelage of actor/director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Chicago Hope), producer Thomas Tull (The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) and writer/actor/director Robert Townsend (The Five Heartbeats, Hollywood Shuffle). Tull is also a part-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Among the group of players participating is former Oakland Raiders running back Justin Fargas whose father portrayed the iconic jive-talking pimp Huggy Bear on the cult television classic Starsky and Hutch. The character was later played by rapper Snoop Dogg in the 2004 film revival starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.

Alexander, 35, had a cup of coffee with the Redskins in 2008, but has not played in the NFL since. In 2005, the first-round pick from Alabama was named NFL MVP after rushing for a staggering 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Buchanon, 32, also ended his 10-year NFL career in Washington where he played in 2010 and briefly in 2011.

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Greg Olsen restructures contract with Panthers

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is the latest player to restructure his contract to help his team free up some cap space.

A league source tells PFT that Olsen, who was initially owed a $3.75 million base salary, will now get a $3 million option bonus and a $750,000 base salary. The option bonus will be due between the first and 10th day of the league year, which begins March 12.

The move will save the Panthers $2.4 million on this year’s salary cap.

Olsen, who also restructured his contract to save the Panthers some cap room last year, is coming off a 2012 season in which he started all 16 games and had a career-high 69 catches for a career-high 843 receiving yards.

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John Salmons on his role: 'No, it's not cool'

These days, John Salmons would prefer to talk about his Miami Hurricanes than his role with the Kings. [Salmons] closed the 2009-10 season by averaging 19.9 points in 30 games after being acquired by the Milwaukee Bucks. That got him a five-year, $39 million contract from the Bucks. Salmons is in the third year of that deal and second with the Kings. But he's hardly scoring the way he once did. Salmons is averaging just 9.1 points entering Sacramento's game Wednesday at Orlando. The forward was asked if he's cool with the role he now plays for Sacramento. "No, it's not cool," Salmons said [Tuesday]. "But I'm just trying to help the team win. I'm not going to be a distraction or complain about it."

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VIDEO: DeQuan Jones High Flyer

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VIDEO: John Salmons 21 Points/5 Assists/1 Dunk Full Highlights

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Hurricanes, Heat share unique colleges-pro bond in Miami

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Behind University of Miami assistant coach Chris Caputo's desk in his office, a photo of the Miami Heat's big three is tacked up against the wall. In the lobby of the Miami men's basketball office, a copy of ESPN the Magazine's music issue, featuring LeBron James on the cover.

Those are just some of the more subtle reminders of the superstars who live next door.

There are the other photos, the ones of James, Dwyane Wade and Miami alum James Jones sitting courtside when Miami played North Carolina in early February. There are the stories of James and Wade copy-catting dunk moves from the Hurricanes, and of Chris Bosh's call-to-arms speech two summers ago.

Coming off a loss in the NBA Finals and heading into the uncertainty of a lockout, Bosh was in an unusual mental state when he joined Hurricanes players for pickup games.

"I didn't know if I was going to play basketball again," Bosh said Tuesday night. "I just kept thinking, 'What if I had done this? What if I had done that?' I just told them to work harder so they wouldn't have any regrets."

Bosh lectured the players, telling them winning — and the chance to play in the NBA — doesn't come easily. They had to be more competitive, work harder off the court.

Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga has called it the best five-minute speech he's ever heard and has not been shy about praising Bosh for igniting the fire in his players. "The message was clear: You've got to work very hard," Larranaga said.

"He gives me way more credit than I deserve," Bosh said, laughing. "He's the coach. He motivates those guys daily. Those guys do their job daily. They deserve the credit."

The ties between the pro and college programs go deeper than one brief speech that kickstarted a program revival. Heat players work out at the Hurricanes' facilities in the summer. Larranaga has worked Wade's fantasy camp. Both coaching staffs get along well, invite one another to their games and see the benefit of a mutual partnership.

Larranaga hopes the glamorous ties will help recruiting; Heat coach Eric Spoelstra hopes it helps encourage more and more kids in Miami to get into the sport of basketball.

"I'd love to see this town become a basketball town," Spoelstra said this week. "I've probably gotten to know Coach Larranaga better than any of the previous coaches. I've been over there at their facilities, talking shop with them. They've been over here. I've gotten to know his entire staff. I think it's great."

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Closer Chris Perez Injured

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cleveland All-Star closer Chris Perez hopes to recover from a shoulder injury in time for the Indians' April 2 opener at Toronto.

Perez was diagnosed Friday with a strained muscle in his right shoulder, an injury that could sideline him for a month.

"The way it feels, just moving around, it gets better every day," Perez said Saturday.

Perez pitched an inning Tuesday during a 4-1 loss to Kansas City and felt pain in the shoulder Thursday. The right-hander said the injury is not as serious as the strain he suffered last spring to a muscle on his left side in his first bullpen session on Feb 23.

He made it back for the opener, when he allowed three runs in the ninth against Toronto in a game the Blue Jays won in 16 innings.

"I was more concerned last year," said Perez, a 2011 and 2012 All-Star who saved 39 games in 43 chances last season. "I think that if this was regular season, I could have managed it. But this is spring training. It's early. We're playing this a lot slower than we would if it was July and we were in the middle of the race."

Indians manager Terry Francona didn't want to set a timetable for Perez's return.

"Is it on Opening Day? We'll see," Francona said. "If he's a week late, he's a week late. That's the way it goes."

Perez, who has 98 saves during the last three seasons, is frustrated he had to withdraw from the U.S. team headed to the World Baseball Classic.

"The WBC is important. To this point, it's the biggest honor in my career," he said. "Yeah, it's disappointing, but it would have been a lot worse if I had pitched and then been out for three or four months."

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Gaby Sanchez's two homers not enough for Bucs

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles continued their hot spring start Friday afternoon, edging a split-squad Pirates club, 6-5, to improve to 6-1 in the Grapefruit League season.

Gaby Sanchez homered twice for Pittsburgh, both leadoff home runs, in the fourth and sixth innings off Mike Wright and Mark Hendrickson.

Orioles leadoff man Brian Roberts went 3-for-3, including a solo homer to start the game, in an encouraging sign for the injury-plagued second baseman.

Left fielder Nolan Reimold also hit his first spring homer, the first of a pair of long balls for the Orioles in the second inning. Reimold, who had last season cut short with neck surgery, only played two innings with his two-run, second-inning shot clearing the picnic area in left field. Wilson Betemit followed with a solo knock of his own, with all four of the runs charged to Pirates starter James McDonald.

Orioles starter Jason Hammel tossed two scoreless innings in his spring start, allowing one hit and striking out three.

"I made a goal for me in the offseason to be able to come out and pitch without a brace," said Hammel, who had a right knee injury that hampered him nearly all of last season. "So, check that one off the list.

"I can feel my lower half, it's not more of just trying to build momentum to get towards the plate because I didn't have the backside push. I felt outstanding."

Wright became the first Oriole to throw three innings this spring, and was charged with three runs, while Bucs righty Chris Leroux pitched two innings and allowed one unearned run after McDonald.

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Eddy Rodriguez brings value to organization

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Signed by San Diego in 2011 after two independent league seasons, catcher Eddy Rodriguez broke into the big leagues for a short, but sweet nine days last year after Yasmani Grandal went on the disabled list. Now back alongside Major Leaguers as a non-roster invitee in camp, Rodriguez is showing what kind of value he brings to the organization, even though he will all but certainly begin the season in the Minors.

"Where Eddy is in his career, he gives us a lot of protection at where he is," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He's a good fundamentally sound catcher, he can throw and he's got a great attitude. He understands the pitcher-catcher relationship and you need guys like Eddy. He still has a desire to be a Major League player."

The 27-year-old Rodriguez was catching with Class A Lake Elsinore on July 31 when he got the call to San Diego. In his first Major League at-bat, he smacked a home run off Reds ace Johnny Cueto, becoming the second Padres player to hit a homer in his first at-bat. Pitcher Dave Eiland also did so in 1992.

"You don't see that often," said Black about Rodriguez being promoted from Class A. "It takes a player with a lot of self-confidence to not be bothered at being in A ball at 27. We know wherever Eddy is, if something happens, he can come to the big leagues and handle himself."

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Phillies, Giants expressed interest in Chris Perez

The San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies expressed interest in Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez this offseason, according to Paul Hoynes of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Hoynes notes the Phillies were interested in Perez, while the Giants also "kicked the tires." Philadelphia ultimately ended up signing free agent Mike Adams, while San Francisco re-signed Jeremy Affeldt and reacquired Ramon Ramirez.

The Indians were reportedly willing to entertain offers for Perez considering his sizeable salary and outspoken criticism toward the team. Perez is set to make $7.3 million in 2013 and is under team control for two more years.

Perez understands that there are no guarantees as a reliever, even when you're an established major league closer. He told reporters he realizes relievers often don't receive the long-term contracts starting pitchers do. The right-hander termed bullpen arms as "easy commodities to trade," and he tries not to pay attention to the rumors in hopes of retaining his sanity.

Perez has already been dealt once in his career, as he came to Cleveland from the St. Louis Cardinals in the summer of 2009 in exchange for Mark DeRosa.
Since joining the Indians, Perez has compiled 98 saves over the past three seasons. He maintained an ERA of 3.59 last year, and the 27-year-old owns a career mark of 3.23 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.26 over five seasons in the majors.

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Brian Barton Signs Contract

Outfielder Brian Barton, Infielder Renny Osuna and Infielder Kody Hightower Are Newest Additions to 2013 Roster

Southern Maryland Blue Crabs manager Patrick Osborn continued to fill-in the 2013 roster, as he announced three more additions to the team today. Outfielder Brian Barton will rejoin the team this season, while infielders Renny Osuna and Kody Hightower will play their first season with Southern Maryland in 2013.

Barton, 30, will return to the Blue Crabs for a second straight year after finishing third on the team and 12th in the Atlantic League in batting average (.309) during the 2012 season. The six-foot-three, 190-pound Barton also finished among the top three for Southern Maryland in games played (130), runs (66), hits (153), triples (6), RBIs (60) and stolen bases (23), as well as owning the highest batting average (.375) for the Blue Crabs during their 2012 playoff run.

Before coming to Southern Maryland, Barton spent a majority of his career playing Triple-A ball as part of the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta braves farm organizations. Barton also appeared in 83 games for the Cardinals and Braves as a utility outfielder with a .268 average, 23 runs, 41 hits, 13 extra-base hits and 13 RBIs from 2008-09.

The Los Angeles, Calif. native was originally signed by Cleveland as an amateur free agent in 2005 and made his major league debut on April 1, 2008 for the Cardinals. Barton last appeared in a major league uniform for Atlanta on June 3, 2009.

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Ryan Braun Knee Is Non-Issue

Update: Braun is not expected to miss any of the World Baseball Classic, despite bruising his knee recently, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Recommendation: Apparently, Braun is dealing with some pain after fouling a ball off his knee, but this should clear up completely by Opening Day. As for the WBC, Team USA does not play until March 8, which should give Braun plenty of time to return.

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Washington Nationals sign Jason Michaels

The Washington Nationals have signed outfielder Jason Michaels as a player and hitting coach for the team's minor league system, according to William Ladson of

Michaels is likely looking for an opportunity to transition from playing professionally to coaching, and his contract with the Nationals should allow him to begin that switch. Presumably he will help coach his teammates while he continues playing until he takes on a more permanent coaching role.

Michaels spent the 2012 season with the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate. Totaling 113 plate appearances in 35 games, the 36-year-old hit .202/.265/.288 with three doubles and two home runs.

Michael last appeared in the majors in 2011 as a member of the Houston Astros. That season he hit .199/.256/.295 with nine doubles and two home runs over 169 plate appearances.

Prior to his disappointing 2011 campaign, Michaels had been a relatively productive reserve player for the Astros. He hit .246/.315/.452 as a backup outfielder and pinch hitter from 2009-10.

Michaels only totaled north of 500 plate appearances in a season once over his 11 years in the majors. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies and did well after debuting with them in 2001, hitting .292/.382/.444 from 2002-05.

Michaels played in the majors as a member of the Phillies, Astros, Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates. He owns a career batting line of .263/.335/.407.

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Ryan Braun aims to help Team USA win Classic

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Baseball was invented in the United States, but the World Baseball Classic has been dominated by Japan.

U.S. manager Joe Torre has taken a different approach in the WBC's third edition this year. Rather than stock his entire roster with high-profile stars, he's got a basic starting nine with utility players, three catchers and 15 pitchers filling out the 28-man group.

"I think it's advantageous. I think you need role players," said Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun, who was part of the 2009 team that made it to the semifinals. "You look at regular teams throughout the course of the season, those role players are instrumental in teams finding a way to win games. It's certainly important to have versatility."

The Americans went through their only pre-tournament workout Monday, a light, two-hour session at Salt River Fields, the spring training home of Arizona and Colorado.

They have exhibition against the Chicago White Sox and Rockies before their opener Friday against Mexico at Chase Field, which could draw an enthusiastic and not necessarily pro-U.S. crowd.

Although the team includes Braun, New York Mets third baseman David Wright and New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Torre chose only one player at each infield position.

Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins is at shortstop and Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips will play second. Their backups are Arizona's Willie Bloomquist and Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist with Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer expected to fill in some at first base as well as a designated hitter. The outfielders are Braun, Baltimore's Adam Jones and Miami's Giancarlo Stanton of Miami, with Boston's Shane Victorino another option.

The other catchers are Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy and Toronto's J.P. Arencibia, who gets to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey — his new teammate on the Blue Jays — in Friday night's opener.

Under pitch-count rules, starters can't throw more than 65 pitches in opening round games.

The Americans' group also includes Canada and Italy. After round-robin play concludes with the Canada-U.S. game on Sunday, the top two nations advance to the second round in Florida. The semifinals and finals will be held the following week in San Francisco.

Texiera called the competition "an exhibition."

"While we want to win. The important thing is to put on a great tournament for everyone to enjoy it, for the fans to enjoy it," he said. "It doesn't mean we don't want to win it."

Japan has won the first two WBC titles. While American fans may not be watching intensely, Braun said players should expect heated competition.

"It's certainly challenging," he said. "I know the last time I played just the atmosphere, the environment, felt like the intensity of a playoff game."

Torre, an MLB executive vice president, wouldn't announce starting pitchers other than Dickey, although he pointed out Texas' Derek Holland is starting Tuesday's exhibition against the White Sox. That puts Holland in line to start Sunday.

Wright said that players went through their offseason preparation with the knowledge they would need to be in shape for the WBC.

"The four or five games I've been in, I've tried to play into the sixth or seventh inning each time," he said. "Just kind of speeding up the process, playing a few more innings earlier in the spring than I normally would and obviously getting those extra at-bats is important to get ready."

Several players mentioned their motivation is to become the first U.S. squad to gain the title.

"We're all here to win it, and we all have gotten ourselves to the point where we can go out there as if it's Game 7 of the World Series," Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel said. "We're out there to win. We're going to put it all on the line. That's what we're here to do. We're not here to show up and just play and say we played for Team USA. We're here to say 'We played for Team USA and we won.' I had that feeling in the clubhouse that that's what we're all here to do."

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