All Canes Radio With Damien Berry

Every Thursday Night joins All Canes Radio to bring the latest news on not only current Hurricane football but also proCane news and exclusive interviews with current and former proCanes live from the All Canes Store in Coral Gables. Click here to listen to this week’s show and hear our exclusive interview with rookie proCane Damien Berry of the Baltimore Ravens. Berry was the starting running back for the Canes in 2010 and signed as an undrafted free-agent rookie with the Baltimore Ravens. Berry was on the Ravens’ practice squad last year and looks to make the active roster this season. Listen to Berry talk about his days at Miami, being in the same locker room as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Bryant McKinnie in Baltimore and also hear Berry’s impassioned speech about what the Hurricanes need to do this season to get back to their winning ways.

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Todd McShay Project NINE proCane Rookies To Get Drafted 2012

In his latest rankings, ESPN's Todd McShay projects the following proCane rookies to get drafted:

2nd Round: RB Lamar Miller

3rd Round: WR Tommy Streeter, LB Sean Spence, DE/LB Olivier Vernon,

5th Round: OG Brandon Washington, DT Marcus Forston, TE Chase Ford

6th Round: WR Travis Benjamin, DE Adewale Ojomo

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Jeremy Shockey: Sapp Needs To Retract Snitch Statement & Apologize

Jeremy Shockey, an NFL free agent, isn’t letting Warren Sapp forget that he works for the NFL and his comments aren’t helping his case to find an employer for the 2012 season. In a phone conversation this afternoon, Shockey tells BC that Sapp “needs to retract and apologize” for saying the NFL vet was the Saints bounty whistleblower. We also have texts that add context to the Sean Payton-Shockey relationship. 

“It was just a stupid move on his part,” Shockey said about Sapp’s snitch allegation that has caused extra drama in the Saints story.”This came out of nowhere and now I can’t even enjoy my offseason. I have a huge fan base in New Orleans. We won a Super Bowl. And now my name is being dragged through the mud.”

Shockey says that he’s not sure what punishment he’d like to see for Sapp. “I don’t know what he has against me, but in the end I have bigger things in my life than Warren Sapp.”

Fox Sports is reporting that Sapp could face severe consequences for naming Shockey as a whistleblower. Federal labor law “protects employees against retribution as result of complaining about unsafe work environments.”

The fact that Sapp might have outed a whistle-blower could pose a problem for the analyst and the NFL, according to Los Angeles-based employment lawyer Arthur Whang, the principal of Whang Law Firm.

“Sapp is technically a league employee,” Whang said. “If Shockey is the whistle-blower, he is protected. So, by outing him, Sapp may have opened Shockey up to retaliation, such as someone not signing him.“

Shockey provided us with earlier texts between himself and Payton that took place December 31 as the Carolina Panthers were flying to New Orleans for a New Year’s Day game against the Saints. Shockey, who had three catches for 18 yards, tells us the ‘her’ Payton is referencing is his mother.

“He’s very close with my family,” Shockey says about his former coach. “My mom is a huge Sean Payton and Saints fan.”

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Punter: Ban Jonathan Vilma for life

Forget the feud between Warren Sapp and Jeremy Shockey. That’s old news.

It’s time for a new chapter in the sad saga that is the fallout from the New Orleans Saints bounty program. Now, it’s Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe telling a Minnesota radio station he believes New Orleans middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma should be banned from the NFL.

"My position has always been that I think Vilma and [former New Orleans defensive coordinator] Gregg Williams should be banned for life and then [coach Sean] Payton should get a year, their GM [Mickey Loomis] should get a year and anyone who knowingly took money after a hit that injured someone should get a year as well,’’ Kluwe said.

Vilma was specifically named in the NFL’s report for putting up $10,000 of his own money to anyone who injured Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in a Jan. 24, 2010 playoff game in New Orleans. Kluwe recalled it was obvious something out of the ordinary was going on.

"Me and [kicker] Ryan [Longwell] were kind of looking at each other on the bench going, 'Are they really going after Brett?'" Kluwe said. "Like, 'Is this really what they're doing?' But you don't want to believe that something like that is happening because you think better of the other players.

"You don't want to think that they're doing something like that. I think that was part of the thing that the league was looking at [in its investigation] was like, 'OK, we've really got to make sure that this is true because otherwise it's going to make the sport look really bad.'"

Payton has been suspended for a year and Williams has been suspended indefinitely. There has been no disciplinary action taken against Vilma yet. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to first meet with representatives from the NFL Players Association before issuing any punishment for players involved.

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Jeremy Shockey uses Sean Payton texts to deny Warren Sapp’s accusation

The New Orleans Saints’ bounty system — the one for which the team was so sternly punished Wedneday — came to light in part because someone inside the organization blew the whistle on it.

On Wednesday, Warren Sapp, former Saints player and now an NFL Network analyst, strongly pointed toward former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey as one of the whistleblowers on Gregg Williams’s bounty system.

Sapp tweeted: “Just heard who the snitch was.” When a follower replied, “Shockey?” Sapp tweeted, “BINGO!”

Shockey has responded by trying to clear his name and enlisted Coach Sean Payton, who soon will begin serving his one-year suspension in the matter. On Twitter, Shockey tweeted, “The truth shall set u free!! Read the text” and shared this seemingly exculpatory exchange of texts with Payton:

Payton: “... hug!!!!!”

Shockey: “Thx coach”

Shockey: “Coach sux to hear the news u know I love u and that [stuff] is unfair! Sapp is saying I was the rat ... u know me and u know this is media [stuff]”

Payton: “Shock your my guy and always will be!! I know you had nothing to do with that stuff [that Sapp] said!! Hell you were in the offensive [meetings] with me!!! Love ya. Sean”

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Ed Reed on Saints’ Bountygate punishment: “Since Roger Goodell has been our commissioner it’s been about discipline. It’s been about character.”

The suspensions have been handed out to Sean Payton, Greg Williams and Mickey Loomis for their roles in the Saints bounty scandal. Roger Goodell sure didn’t take it easy on New Orleans. The NFL Commissioner sent a message to the Saints and the rest of the NFL by suspending Payton for the season, Williams indefinitely and Loomis for eight games. The punishment is quite severe and an appeal is not going to do much for the Saints at this point.

Ed Reed wasn’t too shocked with the decision. The Ravens safety gives his take on bounty hunting from the defensive perspective.

Ed Reed joined 790 The Ticket in Miami with The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz and Hochman to discuss the suspensions put down on the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, not liking the fact that Roger Goodell is going out of his way to keep the players safe, playing through injures in the NFL and not playing for bounties during his time at the University of Miami.

Does this bounty situation and suspensions in New Orleans surprise you at all?
“Not really. The whole time since Roger Goodell has been our commissioner it’s been about discipline. It’s been about character, even for organizations. I know the Saints probably are hurt. Sean Payton is hurt that he is suspended and away from the game, but that’s been the mentality of the league for the last couple of years since Mr.Goodell has taken over.”

As a player do you like the idea that Goodell is trying to keep you guys safe or do you think it’s a little over the top sometimes?
“I think it can be over the top sometimes, especially with the fining of it sometimes. Guys not making the amount of money or close to the amount of money that are being taken away from them. The players are taxed a little bit on the fines. I guess because they think we make a substantial amount of money, but in all reality for being the best sport in the world we are not. It’s good pay, but don’t take what you are giving guys who are free agents and what not a hit in their pocket because a hard hit that has been a part of this game since the game sure has evolved. “
It surprises me that you guys as players are always injured and you think Roger Goodell is going too far or it’s over the top in protecting the players.

How is your health? How is your neck injury?
“I mean my neck is…I have a nerve infringement, so it’s there. It’s something I chose to play with other than have a surgery just yet. I know I am going to have a surgery eventually. It so much as polices me. I’ve been a smart player and I know how to play. You are not going to get to the NFL by being a bad technician. That’s a huge part of it. The people who police the game have to look at how are they policing the game? Look at when a guy hits a guy? It’s always been that way. Yeah they got the bounty situation now and that’s why we do it because guys are taking shots at guys week in and week out. Well look at those guys and see if they can continue to do that on a continuous basis, on a repetitive basis throughout a season, even throughout their career. I never played like that. I know how to play the game. Yeah I’ve been hurt before. I’ve hurt the last couple of years and what not, but I’ve missed few games. I missed six games the year before last because I had surgery and I chose to make a smart decision on my career and came back and led the league in picks while still being effective on the field and what not even in past years with some of the injures and what not. It may have affected my game, but that’s part of it. You learn to play through it and when it’s your time, it’s your time.”

Did you ever collect a bounty while playing at Miami University?
“[Laughs] You know if it I did there would be no one to pay it. No man we were just a bunch of guys that came to play and loved football, when we came to school. My class with me, Reggie Wayne, Najeh Davenport, Santana Moss and these guys when we came in school we were under investigations in lack of scholarships. I believe there was 14 or 15 of us total and scholarships weren’t given to us and we were earning our work back then. We went through some tough times in the University of Miami even without the situations we have going on in the past couple of months. We was raised differently. We knew about the tradition and we took time to understand it with what those guys did. I know with myself defensively and some defensive guys the way we looked at those pictures in the Recreation Center with those 13-0 scores and giving up less than 11 points in a game and stuff like that man meant something to us. To lose to Florida State in my first game as a red shirt freshmen to Florida State, 49-0 man and knowing how we lost that game it made we want to do and be something different at the University of Miami and without that tradition that I saw guys play with and have fun with. Just play football man.”

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NFL identified Jon Vilma only during sanctions

The only player identified by name in the NFL's Wednesday sanctions against the Saints was MLB Jonathan Vilma.

Vilma allegedly offered teammates $10,000 for anyone who knocked Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game. "While I will not address player conduct at this time," Roger Goodell said Wednesday, "I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players - including leaders among the defensive players - embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players." Expect Vilma to get a multi-game suspension, if not a full year.

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Sean Taylor trial set to begin next month

SeanTaylor copy
The long-delayed trial of four men in the slaying of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor is set to begin April 16.

Attorneys for several of the defendants appeared in Miami-Dade state court briefly Thursday morning to request the move of a pre-trial hearing from April 5 to April 12, which Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Murphy granted. Barring a delay that day, the trial would begin the following Monday.

Taylor was killed on November 27, 2007, at the peak of his career, when he was shot in the leg while confronting intruders in the South Miami home where he had been asleep with his girlfriend and their daughter.

Four men from Fort Myers, Fla. --  Eric Rivera, Jason Scott Mitchell, Charles K. Wardlow, and Timmy Lee Brown -- face first-degree murder and armed burglary charges in connection with Taylor’s death. Another defendant, Venjah Hunte, pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against the others.

None of the defendants appeared in court Thursday. Murphy has issued a gag order on people involved in the case that bars attorneys and Taylor’s family from commenting on the upcoming trial.

More than 40 subpoenas have been issued for the start of the trial.

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D.J. Williams' suspension blow to Broncos

On the day the Denver Broncos try to convince Peyton Manning that they are ready to win now, the team is dealing with the news that three players have been suspended by the NFL.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter and John Clayton are reporting that the suspended players are linebacker D.J. Williams, defensive lineman Ryan McBean and tight end Virgil Green. Williams and McBean were suspended for six games, while Green was suspended for four games.

Williams and McBean were allegedly found to have "non-human" urine in their system, a source told Clayton.

They are expected to file a lawsuit. And with the recent success baseball star Ryan Braun had in a similar case, the two players may have some hope to win theirs.

Losing Williams for six games would be a blow for Denver. He is a solid tackler and a savvy veteran for what was an improved Denver defense in 2011. McBean is a free agent, one the Broncos have some interest in upgrading from.

Green is a promising second-year player, who the Broncos would like to see take the next step in the offense. But there’s no doubt the biggest news here is Williams’ suspension. Denver would have to find a way to account for his loss for nearly half the season.

On a hopeful day in Denver, the Broncos had no comment on this situation. You have to wonder if this news affects Manning's desire to go to Denver. I wouldn't think it would, but it won’t help the Broncos' cause to land Manning, either.

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Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson set for WWE return

PHILADELPHIA -- Dwayne Johnson's latest movie just topped $300 million in worldwide grosses. He's laid the smack down on Hollywood and become an in-demand action star for hire.

But the next time someone barks, "Action!" Johnson will slip back into his most famous role yet: The trash-talking, trail-blazing, jabroni-beating wrestler known simply as The Rock.

Think an established superstar actor like Brad Pitt would risk getting his teeth knocked out for a run in sports entertainment?

The Rock, who rose to stardom in the wrestling business, says there's nowhere else he'd rather drop The People's Elbow than in the ring. The Rock returns to the WWE for his first WrestleMania match since 2004 when he headlines the April 1 card against former champion John Cena at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.

For a company once home to Hulk Hogan and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, this bout is as close as it gets to a dream match. Catchphrase-chanting, die-hard pro wrestling lovers are revved up about the return of The Great One. Casual fans, too.

"I came back to put on the biggest match of all time," Johnson said. "That's all I want to do. There's no one I can do that with right now other than John. He's far and above everyone else in terms of popularity. He's the guy. Is he Stone Cold? No. Is he Hogan? No. But he is John Cena and he's been on top for a long time now."

Johnson reigned in that top spot at the end of the 1990s and the early part of the last decade before embarking on an impressive run in Hollywood. His current film, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," grossed $95 million in its first six weeks domestically and reached $300 million worldwide. His previous movie, "Fast Five," made more than $210 million in domestic grosses, proving that Johnson knows how to rock the box office.

All that big-ticket drawing power is why the WWE believes he can attract more than a million pay-per-view buys (at $54.95 a pop) in his return singles match.

"They know that I'm back, not for money, not because I like being on the road, but because I love the business," Johnson said. "The energy level is different this time around, the connection is more emotional this time around."

Sitting in the Wells Fargo Center seats hours before 18,088 fans packed the place for Monday's live "Raw," Johnson reflected on a career that took him from $40 paydays and Waffle House meals to his choice of top movie roles and a lavish $3.4 million pad in South Florida.

His stories are interrupted by visits from today's WWE crew. Sheamus, a rising WWE star, had a brief chat with The Rock.

"Great match on Friday," Rock says. "I texted Chris (Jericho) on Friday. You guys killed it. That boot at the end, that was awesome."
Sheamus smiles and appreciates the feedback.

"Thank you, Rock."

The Rock says, if the boys in the back are resentful he slid into the main event without toiling 200-plus days last year on the road, he hasn't noticed.

"The best part of me coming back is hearing them say, 'You've inspired me, thank you,'" Johnson said. "That's the greatest compliment that I can get. It's so cool man. They don't talk about movies. They don't talk about other matches. It's just, 'You've inspired me.'"

On screen, Cena has a contrasting take.

"I was a fan in '99. I'm not a fan now," Cena said. "I don't know what he's got going on upstairs."

The Rock returned to Vince McMahon's empire last year as WrestleMania's guest host, but couldn't help but get physical in the main event. He dropped his finishing move, The Rock Bottom, on Cena which allowed WWE champion The Miz to get the pin and retain his title. The next night on "Raw," Cena and Rock agreed to a bout for this year's signature event, a bold and risky yearlong push for a company where real injuries often fracture fantasy storylines.

Johnson's return boosted Wrestlemania's buy rate to 1,042,000 worldwide -- the first time it topped a million in three years and seventh time overall.

The Rock wrestled for the first time in 71/2 years when he teamed with Cena at November's Survivor Series pay-per-view against Miz and R-Truth.
The temporary alliance disintegrated and the duo have engaged in verbal battles for most of the last two months. Cena tweaked Rock's catchphrases in a rap song. Rock strummed the guitar and sang his own tune about where he wants to stick his boots at Wrestlemania. The two have gone back-and-forth on Twitter. It's a unique twist on hype -- far removed from the ferociousness of Roddy Piper bashing Jimmy Snuka's head with a coconut.

"We've been griping like two little kids now for about a year," Cena said. "Now, everybody wants to see us fight."

Cena and Rock top a card that includes WWE champion CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho, "Triple H" Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. the Undertaker in a steel cage, and Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres vs. Kelly Kelly and "Extra" co-host and current "Dancing With the Stars" contestant Maria Menounos.

Like Johnson, Jericho has found mainstream success as an author, lead singer of the band "Fozzy," and reality TV and awards show host. Jericho said few people have Johnson's oversized personality to transition into all forms of entertainment.

"I know just how much firepower Rock has," Jericho said. "I think people forget sometimes how good he is."

Fans have tuned in, though not quite in the monster numbers of Johnson's "Attitude Era" heyday. The March 12 "Raw," averaged 4.82 million viewers (4.97 million watched the second hour of the show) which bested the highest-rated NCAA tournament cable game, Kansas vs. Purdue (4.43 million viewers).

Johnson has committed to appearing at next year's WrestleMania at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. In what role, he hasn't said.

It's clear if the WWE wants to squeeze another potential blockbuster buy rate out of the Rock, the last man standing to get the headline match would be the return of former WWE and UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.

How about it: Brock vs. Rock at WrestleMania 29?

"I'm not saying a thing," said a laughing, grinning Rock, eyebrow raised. "I didn't say anything."

The Rock silenced. That's a first.

Before Johnson can map out a storyline for next year's WrestleMania, there are more movies to shoot. He just wrapped, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," and begins filming Michael Bay's "Pain & Gain," with Mark Wahlberg on April 3. He also has starring roles lined up for "Fast Six," and "Hercules."

Johnson would like to shed the invincible hero role for once and grapple with a meatier, dramatic role.

"A role like that will come," he said. "I can't wait for that to come, by the way. We'll develop things. I'm patient."

He won't have to wait much longer for WrestleMania.

"He wants to be No. 1, so do I," Cena said "So go at it boys, and see what happens."

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Chris Perez on the road back

Goodyear, AZ, United States (AHN Sports) – Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez took a positive step toward returning to the mound Wednesday.

Perez threw 20 pitches in a bullpen session under the watchful eye of Indians manager Manny Acta and the All Star looks like he is on the road to recovery.

“He looked really good, man,” Acta said. “He was able to throw all his pitches. His slider was really good. I was very impressed. I’m looking forward to seeing him out there. I think we’ve got plenty of time to get him ready for Opening Day.”

Perez is coming back form an oblique injury that occurred on Feb. 23 during his first bullpen session of the spring. The initial timetable for recovery was projected as four to six weeks.

With Wednesday’s session a success, Perez will look to start pitching in Cactus League games, which could happen as early as Friday or Saturday. Perez could make as many as six appearances before Opening Day.

“I felt great,” said Perez. “For the first time out there, I don’t think it could’ve gone any better. I didn’t feel it at all. I wasn’t apprehensive like the last couple [bullpen sessions]. I warmed up good, threw all my pitches and it was fun facing hitters.”

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Yasmani Grandal wonders where he fits in Padres’ plans after Nick Hundley extension

In writing about Nick Hundley‘s contract extension earlier this week I noted that the move blocks top catching prospect Yasmani Grandal’s path to the majors, as he looks likely to be MLB-ready by 2013 at the latest and now Hundley is signed through 2015.

Dan Hayes of the North County Times took it one step further, asking Grandal for his reaction to the Hundley signing:

I’m happy for Hundo. He has worked his butt off to get that deal. I’m looking for the same thing. It doesn’t matter if somebody got a deal or not. You never know what could happen. They could get traded or you could get traded. I’m not only playing for one organization. I’m playing for the 29 others that are out there. That’s one way I see it, and if it’s not meant to be it’s not meant to be. If I don’t make it to the big leagues with this club I can make it with any other team.

Certainly a reasonable response, although it does indicate that Grandal indeed feels somewhat blocked by Hundley now. Of course, he knows all about being traded because Grandal was sent from Cincinnati to San Diego as part of the Mat Latos deal.

My guess is that Grandal spends most of this season at Triple-A and then splits time with Hundley in 2013, at which point the Padres will look to make a trade and will probably be shopping Hundley.

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Danny Valencia can bring offense home

Danny Valencia, .246 BA, 15 HRs, 72 RBIs in 2011

After an impressive rookie campaign in which Valencia batted .311 with 40 RBIs in 85 games in 2010, his offensive numbers regressed last season. His batting average dropped nearly 70 points, and his on-base percentage fell more than 50 points from the previous year. Still, some of Valencia's offensive numbers in 2011 were impressive.

His 15 homers were second on the Twins, behind only Michael Cuddyer's 20. Valencia's 154 games played led an injury-plagued Minnesota team. He was one of just a few every-day position players to avoid the disabled list last season, something Valencia took pride in.

Offensively, Valencia has been working on driving the ball to the opposite field. According to, just 12 of Valencia's 139 hits in 2011 were to the opposite field. Fifty of his hits were pulled to left, while 77 were up the middle.

"Danny has been working at it. He's been on the extra field taking extra swings, doing things in the cages," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He's told himself he's going to use the whole field and drive the ball. When he starts looking around and tries to hit the ball where they ain't is when he starts to get in trouble. But when he gets the barrel out on the ball he can drive it with anybody."

So far this spring, Valencia has a team-high three home runs through Wednesday, along with seven RBIs in 13 games. He's batting .308 (12-for-39) and slugging .615. He has also improved his ability to hit to the opposite field.

"It makes it all the more worthwhile, that's for sure," Valencia said of his success driving the ball this spring. "It makes you feel like you're not out there taking 100 swings and getting blisters all over your hands for nothing. It's not so much the results I'm looking for, but the comfort in the batter's box and the feeling of my swing being short and direct to the ball."

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Scott Maine working on new ways to retire lefties

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- One matter still to be resolved in the final two weeks of spring camp is finalizing the Cubs' bullpen. Scott Maine is eager to see what happens.

Maine is one of three left-handed relievers in camp along with James Russell and Trever Miller. So far, it's been a good spring for Maine.

"Numbers-wise, yes," Maine said. "If you look beyond the numbers, no, but it's Spring Training. I'm not going to come in here and hit my spots. It takes some time for me to do that. As far as throwing strikes and getting outs early in the counts, I'm doing that well. I just need to get my feel for my offspeed stuff better and I'll be fine."

Is the problem Arizona? A lot of pitchers say the dry air makes it tough for them to get breaking pitches to break.

"I don't make excuses," Maine said. "I've played all over the country. I can throw my same curve that I throw in Florida. You have to concentrate more on what you're doing. You really have to get on top of the curve here for it to work. If you're somewhere else, you can be on the side of it, and it'll still curve."

Cubs manager Dale Sveum has said he wants a left-hander who can get right-handers out. So far, Maine has done that. In six Cactus League games, he's held right-handed hitters to a .182 average while lefties are batting .429. But that's not really enough of a sample size. Maine has faced seven or eight lefties.

"They say lefties would have trouble against me, but they focus on that first- or second-pitch fastball and let it rip," Maine said. "I've just got to figure out a different game plan for a lefty. A righty, I have three pitches to work with and with a lefty, I only have two. And if I can't throw my curve over the plate, what do you think they look for? In the Dominican this year, I didn't give up a hit to a lefty."

Maine appeared in seven games for the Cubs last season, and held lefties to one hit in eight at-bats, while right-handers were 10-for-24. He spent most of the year at Triple-A Iowa, and there, held right-handers to a .197 average (23-for-117) and lefties to .214 (15-for-70).

He'll throw a fastball, slider and change to right-handers and just his fastball and slider to left-handers.

"When I throw the change to lefties, it gets hit pretty hard," he said.

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Yasmani Grandal knocks in five runs for Padres in win

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Yasmani Grandal hit a three-run homer and a pair of RBI singles as the Padres defeated the Rockies, 11-6, in a Cactus League split-squad game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium on Thursday.

The Padres' catcher, one of four players obtained from the Reds this past offseason in the Mat Latos trade, singled in the first and fifth innings. His three-run shot and first of the spring came during a four-run Padres fourth and was struck on the 10th pitch of a full-count at bat against Rockies reliever Carlos Torres.

"It was a fastball right down the pike," said Grandal, who went 3-for-3 with five RBIs in the game. "I've still got a long way to go, but I'm almost there. You can throw me as many fastballs as you want on a 3-2 count, and I'm going to keep fouling them off until I hit one."

Eric Young Jr. led off the game for the Rockies with a homer, his first of the spring, off Padres starter Casey Kelly. Kelly pitched four innings, allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts.

Guillermo Moscoso, still vying for a spot in the Colorado rotation, worked the first three innings for the Rockies, allowing five runs on seven hits with three walks and three whiffs. Torres allowed six runs and six hits in his two innings of work.

Kelly and Grandal could very well be a battery combination for the Triple-A Tucson Padres when camp breaks in two weeks.

"I didn't know I could hit the ball that far," said Grandal, whose homer was launched over the 32-foot green batting eye in dead center, a mammoth blast even by Kino Stadium standards. "I'm beginning to like this park already."

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Blake Tekotte should return to the majors in 2012

The Padres drafted outfielder Blake Tekotte out of high school in the third round of the 2008 draft.

The flychaser got a taste of Class AA in San Antonio in 2010 and returned to the Missions to start 2011. After posting .285-19-67 numbers in 106 games, he was promoted to Petco, where the 24-year old went .176-0-1 over 19 games.

The Padres have some good things going within their system, and Tekotte will likely be back and part of the festivities before 2012 is done.

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Warren Sapp fingers Jeremy Shockey as the Saints’ bounty snitch

With the Saints' bounty scandal coming to its conclusion on Wednesday (at least, the beginning of the conclusion), it makes sense to look back at how it started. At some point along the way, obviously, someone in the Saints organization said something to someone that maybe should've stayed in house.

Who's the rat? According to Warren Sapp, it's former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey. Here's how their Twitter conversation unfolded, complete with denial from Shock-J.


Sapp later defended his stance on NFL Network, saying his source was very close to the situation and he trusted what his source told him. Here's the full conversation with Rich Eisen:

Warren Sapp: I was sitting in the production meeting getting ready for the day and my source that was close to the situation informed me that Jeremy Shockey was the snitch initially. So I went with that. I trust my source unequivocally because he is right on top of the situation. I understand what this is. Shockey comes out and says that he's not.  We just found out who 'Deep Throat' was and he almost died. I understand. Whenever you inform something of this caliber, your identity should be protected, but I was given that information and I went with it by a reliable source that I know.

Rich Eisen: Does it matter? Is that what players in that locker room are thinking about right now?

Sapp: No. They should be ducking making sure that they are not in the wake of these punishments that are coming out because as we see, the Commissioner is dead serious about the integrity of our game and the safety of the players. Rightfully so, and so on with the punishments. And if you are in that line, you'd better duck.

Eisen: The league also says that it did not speak with Jeremy Shockey.

Sapp: I did not call anybody at the league and ask them a thing and did not receive any information from them.

Eisen: But you believe from your source that Jeremy Shockey was the individual?

Sapp: That's the information I got and I trust my source.

Put as much stock in that as you'd like. Warren Sapp "heard" something, and Jeremy Shockey denied something he'd probably deny either way. I don't know if it's true, but it is a fun little theory and it certainly didn't make the NFL look good.

Shockey was most recently in the headlines for reportedly wanting to rejoin the New York Giants, or any team, really. Being labeled a clubhouse snitch, whether it's reality or fiction, isn't going to help his cause (at the very least, it's a bad idea to put him in the same city as Carmelo Anthony). And if Sapp is tweeting about it, then there are certainly people within the league bouncing about the same idea.'s Jeff Darlington spoke to Shockey, who said he never had any knowledge of the "bounty" program when he played in New Orleans in 2009 and 2010.

"I don't even play defense," Shockey said. "I don't understand how he can say that. But there's nothing I can say that will take people's opinion away. The credible people like (Jonathan) Vilma or (Drew) Brees will let you know what kind of teammate I am. I don't have to defend myself."

An NFL spokesman said Shockey wasn't part of the league's investigation.

If Shockey does get back in the league, and it's on a team that plays the Saints, imagine the bounty on that guy.

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Ray Lewis’ son follows in father’s footsteps, commits to Miami

Ray Lewis III has already stoked plenty of excitement with his blend of power and agility in his first three seasons as a running back at Lake Mary (Fla.) Preparatory School. Now he's officially following in his father's footsteps, committing to play college football for the University of Miami.

As first reported by University of Miami affiliate, Lewis III agreed to join the University of Miami's Class of 2013 on Monday, giving Hurricanes coach Al Golden his commitment in person alongside his more famous father. The younger Lewis committed as soon as he received the offer during an on campus visit on Monday, which the Lewis family made together, then announced the decision publicly on Twitter Tuesday.

Lewis III has made his name in Florida football circuits primarily as a running back, but that doesn't ensure he won't move to the defensive side in college. The junior has also been a significant contributor (albeit a less high profile one) as a safety.

"Ever since I was born, it has always been Miami," Lewis III told CaneSport. "My mom and dad both went to Miami and so much has gone on through the years. But I took a tour today and I just felt like this was home. The way the players practiced, talking to the players and the coaching staff. I just felt like I was home. This is a great day."

Given his father's reputation, it may be even more difficult for Miami coaching staff to overlook Lewis III's defensive talents than his offensive explosiveness.

Regardless of where he's played, Lewis III said he was happy to be a part of the Miami program, which has been as much a part of his DNA as the teen's leadership qualities on the field.

His father, for one, is already getting goosebumps about how his son could contribute at 'The U'.

"It's hard as a father," Ray Lewis told CaneSport. "It's hard. It's so hard. I was sitting in the office and I didn't want to show my emotions in front of [Miami head coach Al] Golden. But I had butterflies. Once he started to get older and started to understand, and I saw what he was turning into, I said 'Oh my God.' I used to say can you imagine if you went to UM? Can you can you imagine if you followed that up.

"I dreamed about this from the time he came out. The first thing I said when I saw I had a son was, wow, my son is going to go to UM. Now it's almost like looking in a mirror. The way that he talks, the way that he walks. It's one of the most awesome things I have ever seen. And now he is a Hurricane."

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Devin Hester isn't going anywhere

When the Bears signed Pro Bowl special teamer Eric Weems, some speculated that perennial Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester could be in trouble.

That's absurd.

The Bears value special teams as much as any other team, and they saw an opportunity to add a player who is versatile. Besides, new general manager Phil Emery knew Weems well, having served as the college scouting director in Atlanta, when the Falcons added him as an undrafted free agent out of Bethune-Cookman.

Weems can be a gunner, he can return punts and kickoffs. He can also serve as a backup slot receiver.

So how will this affect Hester?

In reality, the Bears didn't get as much out of their kickoff return unit as they are accustomed to. Johnny Knox was solid, but Hester mostly handled the role and had modest results. A drop off from what Danieal Manning had done before leaving via free agency.

With Johnny Knox's status still unclear, Weems provides another proven, capable player, who can ease the burden on Hester. The Bears will probably give Hester a chance to get snaps at receiver and -- ever mindful of his snap count -- they'll have him focus on punt returns and perhaps have Weems be the primary kickoff returner.

Weems didn't excel last season, but he averaged 27 1/2 yards per kickoff in 2010, when he also returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. That season, he had five returns of 40 or more yards.

There was a mix-up last week, because of a escalator Hester had in his contract. But that $10 million escalator was only triggered IF he reached certain marks as a receiver. He obviously did not.

Hester was brilliant for most of last season, but he staggered to the finish because of a few injuries. There's no reason to think he won't be a difference maker in 2012, which is why Hester will remain in a Bears jersey.

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Saints looking at free agents who could replace Vilma

As the only Saints player named specifically in the NFL’s news release announcing the punishments of Saints personnel involved in the team’s “bounty” program, LB Jonathan Vilma is likely in line for steep discipline, prompting the team to look at free agents who could fill in for the eight-year veteran.

Vilma’s contract and health have been something of a concern. If he ends up missing considerable time, then that’s all the more reason for the team to seek reinforcements.

The Saints have been looking for linebackers. They have been interested in Curtis Lofton in for a visit, and they also brought in David Hawthorne, an outside linebacker.

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John Salmons received his third-straight start Tuesday despite Tyreke

John Salmons received his third-straight start Tuesday for the Sacramento Kings despite Tyreke Evans (ankle) making his return to the court. Salmons finished with seven points, six boards, two assists, and a trey in 31 minutes.

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Jemile Weeks Undervalued Fantasy Value for 2012

Second base is a tough position this year for drafting, per usual. Outside of Cano, Pedroia and Kinsler, there are no elite-level fantasy players. While Weeks may be just outside of that fringe, he's a solid player and will get you some great value in the right round.

In just 406 at-bats last season, Weeks batted .303 with 50 runs scored and 22 stolen bases. While his .350 BABIP indicates his average will not be quite as high moving forward, we expect close to 40 steals from Weeks, which is great value at 2B. Weeks is going near the 17th round in most drafts, however, and would be a steal taken a few rounds earlier. In fact, we believe he may outperform is older brother, Rickie. What he lacks in power, he makes up for in speed and batting average.

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Jon Jay's hit in 9th wins for Cards

Righthander Jake Westbrook continued his spotless spring pitching record today, knocking off six shutout innings as the Cardinals beat the New York Mets, 2-1, in an exhibition game.

Westbrook gave up only three singles, walking none, to a lineup which was minus a few regulars. But for the spring he has worked 12 scoreless innings, permitting just six hits and no runs.

In becoming the first Cardinals starter to work six innings this spring, Westbrook threw 53 strikes out of 74 pitches. His strong effort was followed by perfect relief in the seventh and eighth, respectively, by Mitchell Boggs and Kyle McClellan. 

But, facing Fernando Salas in he ninth, Mets second baseman Jordany Valdespin lofted an opposite-field homer to left to tie the game at 1-1.
Jon Jay then won the game for the Cardinals in the home half with a one-out single to left off Mets lefthander Garrett Olson, who had brought in to face the lefthanded-batting Jay.

Jay's hit scored pinch runner Adron Chambers, who ran for Matt Adams after the latter singled with one out off former Cardinal Miguel Batista. Chambers then went to third on a hit-and-run single by right by Tony Cruz.

The Cardinals did little with New York starter Johan Santana either. They had only three hits and no runs through five innings but finally broke through in the sixth.

Tyler Greene and Carlos Beltran opened with singles and after Santana retired Matt Holliday and David Freese, Lance Berkman singled up the middle for the first run of the game.

The Cardinals, winning their fourth straight, are 10-6-1 for the spring. Lefthander Jaime Garcia will face Washington here on Thursday.

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Giants set to play Aubrey Huff in back-to-back games

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Aubrey Huff was back in the Giants' lineup Tuesday after missing two days with a balky back. He was 1-for-3, hitting the ball to center in each of his at-bats.

"I feel fine," Huff said Wednesday. "It was just a one-day thing."

Manager Bruce Bochy gave him a day of rest when the team traveled to Goodyear on Wednesday and plans to use him in a pair of night games Thursday and Friday.

"With that back, I want to give him [Wednesday] off, then he'll go back-to-back," Bochy said.

Huff is in a three-way battle with Brandon Belt and Brett Pill for the starting job at first base. Huff is hitting .290 (9-for-31) with two homers and three RBIs entering play Wednesday. Belt was hitting .359 (14-for-39) with three homers and six RBIs and Pill was at .268 (11-for-41) with a homer and six RBIs.

"They're all doing a good job this spring," Bochy said. "I can't say there's any kind of separation. Belt's probably had the best spring up to this point swinging the bat, but Aubrey I think has been swinging it well, as has Pill."

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Chris Perez on pace for opener after throwing live BP

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians closer Chris Perez could not help himself in the heat of the moment.

As the ball shot off Trevor Crowe's bat and headed back toward the mound on Wednesday morning, Perez thrust his right hand -- his pitching hand -- out to his side in an effort to make a catch. The baseball glanced off the closer's hand and bounced into shallow left field.

"What are you doing?" Crowe yelled from the batter's box.

Trying to catch a sharply struck baseball with a bare hand is a major faux pas for pitchers. Doing so in a live batting-practice session while trying to come back from a strained left oblique -- as was the case for Perez on Wednesday -- is frowned upon even further. Fortunately for Perez and the Indians, it was a minor blip in an otherwise encouraging outing.

"I was just reacting, honestly," Perez said. "I wasn't expecting the first time facing hitters to have the third one hit right back at me. Luckily, we escaped some damage."

Indians manager Manny Acta, who stood behind the batting cage to get a close look at Perez's progress, walked away impressed with what he witnessed on one of the backfields at the team's player development complex. Perez threw with authority and has put himself on a great pace to be ready in time for the start of the regular season.

"He looked really good, man," Acta said. "He was able to throw all his pitches. His slider was really good. I was very impressed. I'm looking forward to seeing him out there. I think we've got plenty of time to get him ready for Opening Day."

Likewise, Perez was in a great mood following his 20-pitch session, during which teammates Crowe and Chad Huffman stepped to the plate to offer the closer a couple of hitters. Crowe hit from the left side and Huffman from the right, allowing Perez to work on his location to both sides of the plate with his fastball and slider.

When the smoke cleared, Perez felt no lingering issues from the oblique injury that flared up on Feb. 23 during his first bullpen session of the spring. The initial timetable for recovery was projected as four to six weeks, and Cleveland's high-energy closer plans on doing everything in his power to be ready in time for Opening Day.

Getting through Wednesday's workout unscathed was a major step.

"Without a doubt," Perez said. "It's the biggest one so far -- the biggest hurdle."

With the live BP workout behind him, Perez can finally turn his focus toward pitching in Cactus League contests. His first official game outing will likely fall on Friday or Saturday, and the closer would likely pitch on an every-other-day basis down the stretch. Under that scenario, Perez could make as many as six appearances before Opening Day.

Perez -- a first-time All-Star for the American League last season -- said the most important aspect of Wednesday's session was the fact that he did not hold anything back. After firing his first pitch, the right-hander did not feel any tightness, allowing him to loosen up and throw with more conviction for the rest of the program.

"I felt great," said Perez, who saved 36 games in 40 chances for the Indians in 2011. "For the first time out there, I don't think it could've gone any better. I didn't feel it at all. I wasn't apprehensive like the last couple [bullpen sessions]. I warmed up good, threw all my pitches and it was fun facing hitters.

"That was another thing I was worried about, is not letting it go. I didn't feel anything. The first pitch I let it go and it felt good. I think that's what made it work today. I didn't feel anything at all from the onset. I just worked into it and let it go."

Joining the closer on Cleveland's comeback trail Wednesday were fellow relievers Rafael Perez and Robinson Tejeda.

Perez and Tejeda each logged one shutout inning in Wednesday's 5-3 loss to the Giants at Goodyear Ballpark. The left-handed Perez -- a lock to make the Opening Day bullpen, barring a setback -- struck out two in his lone frame. Tejeda, who is competing for one of the two available relief roles, gave up one walk and a hit, but escaped without allowing a run.

"He was around the strike zone," said Acta, referring to Rafael Perez. "He had a good slider. He was able to face some lefties and was able to retire them with no problem. It was good to see him get out there and have no traffic whatsoever on the bases."

Acta added that he still thinks there is time for Tejeda to make a run at a bullpen job.

"Hopefully we can get him enough innings," Acta said. "It's kind of tough at the end of camp, because the starters are getting stretched out and we need to see the relievers, too. But I think there's enough time to see what he's got."

Acta could do without seeing any more of his pitchers reach for hard-hit grounders with their bare pitching hand, though.
"Hey, it's instincts," Acta said with a shrug. "It was just reaction."

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Ray Lewis’ son commits to Canes

Ray Lewis III wants to make his mark with the Miami Hurricanes.

His father Ray Lewis, a probable future NFL Football Hall of Famer as a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, is already in the UM Sports Hall of Fame.

Lewis, a 5-9, 175-pound running back/safety at Lake Mary Prep, gave his oral commitment to UM coach Al Golden on Tuesday. Lewis rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his junior year. He would arrive for the 2013 season.

“Just committed to Miami Baby!!!!!’’ Lewis III posted on Twitter on Tuesday night.

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proCanes Attend Canes Spring Practice

Former Hurricane stars WR Reggie Wayne, LB Ray Lewis, LB D.J. Williams, LB Jonathan Vilma and TE Jimmy Graham watched the team pracitce on Tuesday. While Williams, Vilma, and Graham are regulars at practice, Wayne, and, especially, Lewis, are rare visitors to the Greentree practice fields.

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Texans Trade DeMeco Ryans, Opens The Door For Darryl Sharpton

By trading linebacker DeMeco Ryans to Philadelphia, the Texans will receive a fourth-round pick from the Eagles and exchange third-round selections in next month’s draft.

The Texans get the fourth pick in the fourth round. Philadelphia got it in a trade with Tampa Bay.

By switching positions in the third round, the Texans move up 12 spots and have the 77th overall pick and the Eagles’ the 89th.

It’s a win-win situation. Ryans gets to play middle linebacker in the Eagles’ 4-3. And the Eagles are a Super Bowl contender.

Ryans, a seven-year veteran, was not suited to be a one-down player in the Texans’ 3-4. His role was diminished. He was removed every time the Texans went to their nickel defense.

Ryans will be replaced by Darryl Sharpton. who is expected to take his spot next to Brian Cushing in Houston’s starting lineup.

He rotated with Ryans until he suffered a season-ending torn quad tendon. Sharpton was a fourth-round pick in 2010.

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Vince Wilfork Highlights from the []_[] & Patriots

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Saints have no plans to release MLB Jonathan Vilma, according

The Saints have no plans to release MLB Jonathan Vilma, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Those plans could change with Vilma due $5.5 million. The Saints have brought a trio of free agent middle linebackers for visits, though they could have insurance in mind with Vilma potentially facing a lengthy suspension for his role in the bounty program.

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Chris Myers: “Utmost confidence” in Rashad Butler

Center Chris Myers re-signed on Saturday morning, but the Texans will have two new starting offensive linemen in 2012. Right guard Mike Brisiel signed with the Oakland Raiders on Friday, and right tackle Eric Winston was released on Tuesday.

Waiting to step in are Antoine Caldwell at right guard and Rashad Butler at right tackle. Caldwell, a third-round draft pick in 2009, has started 13 games at right guard in three seasons. Butler, who has been with the Texans since 2007, started four games for suspended left tackle Duane Brown in 2010.

“I think they’ve both played tremendous when they get in, and I think that they’re ready for the challenge,” Myers said on Saturday. “I’m anxious to see how it’s going to pan out. I’ve got the utmost faith and confidence in ‘em.”

Myers thinks Caldwell and Butler could make a smooth transition into the starting lineup, although, as  he pointed out, “you’ll never know until it gets down into the season time, when they’re playing week in and week out.” How quickly they establish chemistry with the rest of the line will be critical — Brisiel started 47 games with the Texans, Winston 87.

“Obviously, they’ve got big shoes to fill, and I think Antoine and Rashad know that,” Myers said. “They have plenty of playing experience, so it’s going to be something they’re un-familiar to. They’re very familiar with the system and they’re very familiar with the offense and the guys around them. So it’s going to be kind of an easy stepping-stone.

“I don’t think it’s [like] a situation when we have someone brand new coming in here. It’s going to be a lot easier for them to get the transition going to be the starters week in and week out than it would be to have a free agent coming in here or a rookie coming in here and learning everything.”

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Warren Sapp Piles on Jeff Ireland

As the Dolphins continue to try and fail to attract players to South Florida, more and more attention is being placed on G.M. Jeff Ireland as the reason for the current state of the roster.

On Monday, NFL Network’s Warren Sapp and guest analyst Joey Porter threw some more jet fuel onto the fire on the TV operation owned by the Dolphins and the 31 other NFL teams.

“Jeff Ireland has a big part to do with it,” Porter said.  ”I don’t think when you come in and you’re being recruited by him you really believe the things that are coming out of his mouth.  He’s just a guy that is not trustworthy.  He really doesn’t hold up to what a G.M. is supposed to be.  You think that he has the right tools to lead that franchise in the right direction but obviously nobody is buying into it.”

“Ever since he made that comment to Dez Bryant about his mother,” Sapp said, “we’ve always questioned [Ireland]; like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me?’ [Asking that question] doesn’t happen in football environments.”

“When you look at a guy that hasn’t even been a G.M. for a long time and here he is asking this type of question to [Dez Bryant] who is looking to be a top-five, top-ten pick, and this is the question you are going to ask me about my mom in front of everybody?” Porter said.  ”Who wants to go up there and play for a guy that thinks like that?”

While lingering disdain for Ireland based on a pre-draft interview with Dez Bryant from two years ago may be a factor, the problems in Miami originate a level higher in the organization.  Owner Stephen Ross, in an effort to legitimize his ownership, continues to create a sense of desperation when pursuing coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher, and quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn.  Going 0-4 creates the perception, right or wrong, that anyone with options won’t opt to join the team.

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Could Scott Maine Beat Out Veteran Trever Miller For Roster Spot

Chicago Cub Scott Maine also had a much needed 1-2-3 inning to lower his spring ERA to 1.59.  He has been out pitching veteran Trever Miller of late.

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Padres sign Nick Hundley long term, block prospect Yasmani Grandal’s path to the majors

Nick Hundley and the Padres have agreed to a multi-year contract that covers 2013 and 2014 while including a team option for 2015.

Hundley was already signed for $2 million this season and under team control through 2014 via the arbitration process, so the Padres will pre-pay for two seasons of arbitration eligibility in exchange for some cost certainty and the option of buying out his first year of free agency.

Hundley has had trouble staying healthy, playing fewer than 90 games in each of his four seasons, but the 28-year-old hit .288 with a .347 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage in 82 games last season and has thrown out 28 percent of steal attempts for his career.

Prior to last season’s .824 OPS his career mark was just .699, so committing to Hundley rather than going year-to-year via arbitration is certainly a risk. However, he’s a rare player who actually thrives in the majors’ most pitcher-friendly ballpark, as Hundley has hit .271 with an .818 OPS at Petco Park compared to .240 with a .657 OPS on the road. Those splits are tough to explain and probably aren’t sustainable, but either way he’s a solid-hitting catcher with decent defensive chops and the Padres now have him locked up through age 31.

Now that Hundley is signed long term it’ll be interesting to see what the Padres do with catching prospect Yasmani Grandal, who was acquired from the Reds in the Mat Latos trade and ranks as the No. 53 prospect in the majors according Baseball America. Grandal is 23 years old and figures to begin this season at Triple-A, so he’ll be MLB-ready long before Hundley’s deal expires.

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Ryan Braun scratched due to groin tightness

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun was supposed to play back-to-back games for the first time this spring. Instead he was scratched about an hour before Tuesday's game against the Dodgers because of groin tightness.

The injury has quietly bothered Braun for weeks, manager Ron Roenicke said.

"He's had it, but he's been able to play with it," Roenicke said. "He hasn't been running, and that's why. It's something that's aggravated him. ... Hopefully, we can get rid of it."

Braun will sit again on Wednesday, when the Brewers face the D-backs, and the entire team is off on Thursday. That means Braun won't play before Friday's home game against the Angels, two weeks before the Brewers' regular-season opener.

Braun is 1-for-17 so far this spring with a home run.

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Coras enjoy opportunity to reunite in spring

JUPITER, Fla. — At 36, Alex Cora [stats] isn’t sure how much time he has left in his playing career.

The Cardinals signed the utility infielder and former University of Miami shortstop last month really for one thing — to help mentor the team’s less-experienced infielders.

But if signing with the defending World Series champions in his 15th major-league season has provided Cora with anything of real value, it has been allowing him the chance to reunite with his older brother, Marlins bench coach Joey Cora.

With the Marlins and Cardinals sharing Roger Dean Stadium and its facilities, the Coras have been living together in Jupiter since arriving for spring training.

"It’s been great being able to sit down together and just have dinner," said Alex, who is 10 years younger than Joey, a former first-round pick out of Vanderbilt who made his major-league debut with the Padres in 1987 at age 22.

"Our father died in 1988. When you lose your dad when you’re a young kid, your big brother becomes everything for you. This is the most time we’ve been able to spend together since we were kids in (Caguas,) Puerto Rico. He doesn’t know how much it means to me. Hopefully, his dream of becoming a big-league manager will come true soon."

Every manager has a right-hand man. For Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, Joey Cora has been that guy.

Friends since their playing days when they were the double-play tandem for the White Sox from 1991 to ’94, Guillen gave Cora his first big-league coaching job in 2003 after a short stint as a manager in the Mets’ minor-league system.

Except for when Cora has been called away to interview for other managerial jobs with the Mariners (2008) and Brewers (2011), Guillen has always had him by his side to provide a calming effect for his own volatile personality .

"Great coach. Very organized. A great baseball man," Guillen said of Cora, his bench coach since 2006.

"Surprises me this kid is not managing in this level right now. Very, very surprised. Very disappointed. I think he has a lot of potential to be a pretty good manager. Maybe I’ve hurt him. Maybe they say ’We don’t want to hire somebody like Ozzie.’

"But, he’s my right-hand man for a reason. When you have a guy like Joey Cora, it makes the manager’s job very easy. I don’t have (stuff) to worry about. He’s a good one. The day he’s a manager I’ll be very proud, very happy. But I’ll also be very sad."

Cora handles a lot of duties for Guillen. He coordinates spring training and "takes care of all the little things," so the manager can concentrate on evaluation. When Guillen wants to see a hitter face a right-hander or a left-hander, Cora said, "my job is to try and accommodate that."

"During the season, it’s a matter of getting all the information we have and trying to present it to him as simple as possible so he can make a decision as easy as possible," Cora said. "I’ll break down the matchups, give him on-base percentage, all kinds of stats so he can make the best decision possible."

As passionate as Guillen is about the game, he said Cora "might love it even more."

"What I remember of Joey when I was in middle school was his work ethic. He never rested," Alex Cora said. "He was running early, taking ground balls, hitting. He would carry his pitching machine with him in the trunk of his car everywhere he went so he could put it up and get batting in when he needed it. He worked on his craft.

"As a player, he maximized everything he had. He was 5-7, 100-whatever pounds and became an All-Star in Seattle. As a baseball player, it was amazing to see him work. As a coach, it’s the same thing. That camp the Marlins are running? He had that set up in December. He’s very passionate about work."

Alex Cora said his brother learned that from their father, who served as a scout in Puerto Rico and also started their neighborhood’s Little League chapter in 1969.

"What we learned from him is you have to be passionate about whatever you do and I think Joey is a perfect example of that," Alex Cora [stats] said.

"I think people around baseball know how important he is for Ozzie and Ozzie is for him. He gets the respect. It was tough last year with everything that happened (in Chicago) and the way it ended (Cora received a text message from White Sox management telling him he had been fired). But everything happens for a reason and he’s at home now. He lives down there in Miami and can see his two kids every day while he enjoys his passion."

And what Joey Cora is passionate about now is winning another ring.

"We’ve got a pretty good team here," he said. "All we want to do is win."

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Willis McGahee on Manning: 'We were missing that general'

Even though now-deposed QB Tim Tebow led the Broncos to the AFC West crown in 2011, Denver RB Willis McGahee admitted something was missing Monday in light of the team's pending acquisition of QB Peyton Manning.

"It's music to my ears, Basically, he can really take us to another level," McGahee said of Manning on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

"We were young and I think those guys got the jitters out of them last year, even though we did go to the playoffs and represented the AFC West. It was a certain something that we were missing. We were missing that general to take charge in tough situations and I think he brings that to the table.

"And once those guys see him out there I think they're going to rise to the occasion and just have a breakout year."

McGahee wasn't done making the media rounds.

"He can take our team to another level," he told NFL Network on Monday afternoon.

"I think he's gonna take us to the promised land."

McGahee also did a bit of tweeting:

To all my free agents across the nfl, I think u know what time it is. It's about to go down...

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Eric Winston says his ankle is fine

Newly signed offensive tackle Eric Winston pronounced his ankle healthy, and he'll be on the practice field when off-season activities begin.
Houston released Winston, a six-year starter, in part because of salary cap issues and also because the Texans were concerned about his ankle.
But Winston, who has made 87 starts in his six years, said he had an ankle scope that cleaned up any problems.

"The problem is I didn’t have it until the end of the year," said Winston, who signed a contract for four years worth up to $21 million "I kind of waited to see what it was going to do … I had the typical sprained ankles from a youth playing basketball … and football and all kinds of other sports.
"Just got a little clean out, and now I’m fine. I just hasve to get my final release from the doctor, and we’ll be good to go.”

Winston, 28, had not considered signing with the Chiefs after his released, but he appreciated the fullcourt press put on by Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli, coach Romeo Crennel and others on the staff.

"Kansas City was a place I wasn’t familiar with, I came in with open eyes …" Winston said. "To tell you the truth, I thought it was more of a rust-belt city … when you get there, you learn it’s far from it, it’s a beautiful city, a beautiful place, I was blown away with the overlall atmosphere of Kansas City."

Winston, part of an offensive line that helped the Texans finish second in the NFL in rushing yards and paved the way for the first postseason appearance and win in franchise history last year as disappointed to have to leave Houston.

"When you’re part of a building project, I got here in '06, same time coach (Gary) Kubiak did. We were 6-10 that first year, 8-8 a bunch of years, and last year we broke through. Of course it’s frustrating, you establish a base and a lot of friends and you want to see it through.

"I wanted to see it through from the sense of how much work I put into it, and from the sense I feel like there’s some unfinished business. But that’s modern NFL, that’s salary cap, and that’s the way things go."

But he saw some parallels to the Chiefs.

"I’ll be in a similar situation with a team that is on the brink of breaking through, so I feel like I’m going to a really good situation where it’s not that much different," Winston said of Kansas City.

"It’s a city that wants to win and wants to win badly. And it’s a team that is on the brink of doing it. I wouldn’t have come to Kansas City for any other reason than to win … and looking at the roster, and looking at the moves that have been made, we’re going to have the pieces.

"I looked at their season last year, an d it reminded me of the Texans season in 2010, that there were some high hopes going into the season, you thought you had all the pieces in place, and things happened … we had several injuries and lost a lot of close games, and you look at that and you look at what happened in Kansas City … where Matt Cassel was hurt, and Eric Berry … Jamaal Charles, who I think might be one of the most explosive backs in the league … you look at everything that happened, and they’re still a play away from being in the playoffs.

"That says something about the resiliency of the team that is already there. I know how tough that is, and looking at that, and saying, maybe I can be a big part of a come back and getting over the hump.”

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Rocky McIntosh Should Be On Raiders' Radar

The Raiders need to replace linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and they may have to wait a little bit longer for the market price on second-tier guys (that fit their budget) to be set.

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch (along with Peyton Manning and DT Brodrick Bunkley the only three left from my overall top 20 free agents) looks like he might re-sign with the Lions. Curtis Lofton and Wimbley would then be the biggest names available, but there are plenty of other cheaper linebackers who could step in and start.

Free agent Jo-Lonn Dunbar played strong-side and middle linebacker for the Saints, just turned 27 and the Raiders could use what some scouts say is his nose for the ball. The 6-foot, 226-pound Dunbar had a career-high 79 tackles last year and told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he has a few teams interested and may take his first visit this week.

Rocky McIntosh is another interesting name at OLB. A bad fit in the Redskins’ 3-4, the 6-2, 242-pound McIntosh, 29, is a good athlete and open-field tackler. I have no idea if he is on the Raiders radar but he should be. Scouts Inc. says “McIntosh reads and reacts well to route progressions as a zone coverage defender” and that skill has been lacking in Oakland.

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Ryan Braun on hearing boos: “I don’t think anything of it”

For the most part the Brewers have limited Ryan Braun‘s exposure to unfriendly spring training crowds by playing him almost exclusively at their home ballpark, but he’s still been booed at times there and got a harsh reaction Saturday when he played a rare road game against the Angels.

In addition to downplaying the worries about his 1-for-15 performance at the plate Braun also downplayed the booing, telling Adam McCalvy of “I don’t think anything of it. That’s a story for you guys.”

Braun certainly isn’t the first superstar player to get booed regularly on the road, but it’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts and whether there will be any booing in Milwaukee as well. Maybe if the booing gets loud enough Braun will just decide to pull a Hulk Hogan, add “Hollywood” to his name, and turn heel.

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Reggie Wayne chose Colts return over signing with Patriots

Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, in an entry on his website after re-signing with the Colts for a three-year, $17.5 million deal, offered a suggestion on his website that he considered crossing enemy lines to sign with the Patriots:

"It came down to [three] teams actually. Well..... kinda four teams at first. Then three and then two. And you Colts fans don't wanna know who other team was. I'll let you figure that one out. Ha!" Wayne wrote. "But like I said, I'm thrilled about my decision. [Now] I can continue and hopefully retire a Colt. I'm ready to start playing right now. The more I think about it, my decision to stay gets better as each hour goes by. GO COLTS!!!"

The Boston Globe subsequently confirmed via a league source that the Patriots were the runner-up in the Wayne derby, though the terms of New England's offer to Wayne were not available.

Wayne, in a 2011 season spent without Peyton Manning under center, caught 75 passes for 960 yards and four touchdowns, his lowest totals in each of those categories since 2003. In his career, the 33-year-old has hauled in 862 passes for 11,708 yards and 73 touchdowns, and he hasn't missed a game in the last 10 years.

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Man accused of fatally shooting Redskins safety Sean Taylor fires lawyer 1 month before trial

SeanTaylor copy
MIAMI — The man accused of fatally shooting Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor during a 2007 burglary has fired his lawyer one month before his murder trial.

Eric Rivera Jr. gave the Miami-Dade County, Fla., judge a letter Friday explaining his reasons for firing Quinton Pitts, an experienced defense lawyer. The judge ordered the letter sealed and said a new lawyer would be appointed. He warned the 21-year-old Rivera that his trial will still begin April 16.

Four men from the Fort Myers area are accused of killing Taylor during a robbery at the player’s Miami-Dade home. All have pleaded not guilty and face possible life sentences if convicted. They are being tried separately.

A fifth man previously pleaded guilty to murder and burglary and is likely to testify against the others.

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Emmitt Smith likes Lamar Miller at RB after Richardson

Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith boasts one of the most impressive resumes in NFL history: A three-time Super Bowl champion. Four-time NFL rushing leader with 18,355 career rushing yards.

So it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about the running back position.

With the 2012 NFL Draft around the corner, Smith agreed to spend a few hours to sit down and evaluate film of running backs prospects from this class. Actually, he insisted. His eyes lit up at the mention of breaking down some football tape. He might have bagged his cleats, but this is still a man who knows and loves the game.

The beauty of scouting: Each evaluator sees the game differently. So what does Emmitt Smith look for when assessing running backs?
"I'm looking for balance, quickness, low center of gravity, the ability to break tackles and get downhill in a hurry," he said. "Quickness, elusiveness. The position is much more than just being built or a good athlete."

We're in agreement that Alabama's Trent Richardson is the top back in this draft and didn't include the surefire first-round pick on our evaluation list.
"Trent is the best," Smith said. "I'm looking at his conference, his competition. Playing against the Auburns, the Floridas, the LSUs -- just on that alone. This kid can play football."

The ties are deeper than their SEC roots. Richardson and Smith are Florida natives and played football at Escambia High School in Pensacola. They developed a close friendship years ago and remain in touch to this day. Just last month, Smith delivered opening remarks during the Doak Walker Award ceremony where Richardson was recognized as the top running back in college football.

"He comes from a pro-style system," Smith added. "Trent is one of the most NFL-ready prospects in the draft. If I have a need for a running back in the top 10, I'm going to go get him."

However, the college running back who stood out most to Smith last season isn't even in this draft class.

"I think Montee Ball [Wisconsin] looked better than most of these guys," Smith said. "From what I saw, Ball looks like the real deal to me. There is something about him that has me convinced. He's a guy to watch for next year."

For this particular afternoon of film evaluation, we focused on four highly ranked very different prospects: Doug Martin (Boise State), Lamar Miller (Miami, Fla.), Robert Turbin (Utah State) and Bernard Pierce (Temple).

LAMAR MILLER, Miami (Fla.) Height: 5-10, 3/4 | Weight: 212 | 40 time: 4.36

2009: redshirted.
2010: (11 gp/1 st) 646 rush yards on 108 carries (6.0) and six touchdowns with 1 KR for a score.
2011: (12 gp/12 st) 1,272 rush yards on 227 rushes (5.6) and nine touchdowns with 17 catches for 85 yards and one score, earning Second Team All-ACC honors.

GAMES SCOUTED: vs. Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech

SMITH'S TAKE: He's a bigger Clinton Portis, a bigger Clinton Portis. And faster. Look at those moves. He sees the running lanes very well. He knows what to do with the ball once he has the ball in his hands. Miller puts his foot in the ground, cuts back and it's over with. This kid has some talent.

Great vision -- he sees the run lanes nicely. And he's in a pro-style offense. He's a bigger Clinton Portis, I'm telling you. He loves to put his foot in the ground and go get it. He doesn't need a whole lot of room to run, look at that cutback. He's a sprinter. He has that "it" thing plus speed. He's not missing many cuts.

I could see why some would say he's a Felix Jones type of guy. This kid sees it and knows how to go get it. He maneuvers through run lanes, makes himself small and gets big when he has to. Exceptional speed and home-run threat, without a doubt.


STRENGTHS: Balanced athlete with dynamic start-and-stop ability and smooth change-of-direction skills. Stays patient before burst upfield and accelerating to top speed quickly when he sees daylight. Nimble feet to make defenders miss and shows an extra gear to run away from them, too. Very good vision and cutback ability, finding the run lanes, following blocks and staying patient behind the line of scrimmage. Good body strength and stays coordinated through contact, running with a purpose. Very good at forcing defenders to take poor angles with his lateral quickness and natural explosiveness. Effective pass catcher with good ball skills and body control to make tough grabs. Good experience as a kick returner. Very good production in his two seasons on the field with the third-best season rushing total in school history last year. Nine career 100-plus-yard performances.

WEAKNESSES: Upright runner with a narrow frame. Doesn't break many tackles and goes down too easily, struggling to create in tight areas. Too patient at times and looks indecisive with a questionable feel between the tackles. Lacks the strength to power through contact and doesn't have the body type to withstand a heavy beating. Appears to freelance a lot and needs to allow the designed play to develop. Relies too much on the "big-time" play and needs to be content with simple positive gains. Suspect ball security and tends to wear down over the course of a game. Suspect durability playing most of 2011 with a shoulder issue. Part of a tandem backfield and lacks the size to be a bell-cow back. Started 2011 with five straight 100-yard rushing games but finished with just two in the final seven contests. Still growing at the position and there are some questions about whether or not he will put in the necessary work to reach his potential.

FINAL WORD It's easy to get excited about Miller's upside and potential, but there is also some below-average tape on him. He's a smooth, one-cut runner and talented athlete who can turn on the jets with big-play ability. It took about two plays before Smith made the Clinton Portis comparison and he didn't back down from that assessment.


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Brandon Harris Will Get Opportunity With Allen Gone

The loss of CB Jason Allen (Bengals) will open the door for a spirited clash to replace him at the nickel spot. CB Brice McCain made dramatic improvement in his third season, while injuries limited CB Sherrick McManis to nine games. Brandon Harris, who played sparingly his rookie season, will get an opportunity to justify why the Texans used a second-round pick on him last April.

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Texans confident Rashad Butler can replace Winston

The fact that former Texans OLB Mario Williams departed in free agency to become the highest-paid defensive player in the league was hardly a surprise to most league observers. The release of ORT Eric Winston by the club in a cap-savings move, however, qualified as a "stunner," according to one source close to the situation. Word is the release of Winston came down to the Texans valuing unrestricted free-agent C Chris Myers, whom they made a very generous offer and hope to re-sign, more than their former right tackle. Although Myers is three years older than Winston, the source said the Texans believe OT Rashad Butler, a six-year veteran who will step into Winston's spot in the starting lineup, is less of a drop-off from Winston than ORG Mike Brisiel, also an unrestricted free agent who could move on, would be in replacing Myers. Butler spent last season on injured reserve with a torn triceps, but played well enough in four starts in 2010 in place of OLT Duane Brown, who was suspended, to warrant the move.  

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Brandon Meriweather Brings New Face To Safeties

With both of last year’s starting safeties testing the waters of free agency, the Redskins have brought in a new face to the mix, signing former Patriots and Bears safety Brandon Meriweather.

Meriweather fills an area of need on the team, and brings the flexibility to play either strong or free safety.  For his career, he has played in 75 games, with 44 starts, and posted 293 tackles, two sacks, 12 interceptions, 29 passes defended and five forced fumbles.

At the University of Miami, he was a collegiate teammate of former Redskins safety Sean Taylor and linebacker Rocky McIntosh.

Prior to that, Meriweather was a three-sport athlete at Apopka High School in Florida, excelling in football, track, and basketball.  He attended the same school as NFL great Warren Sapp, and led his team to a 6A Florida State Championship in 2001.

Meriweather is coming off of a disappointing season, in which he was cut by the Patriots at the end of the preseason, and played in only 11 games in Chicago.  With an offseason to prepare for the Redskins’ defense, expect him to be put in the best position to succeed, and be motivated by the chip on his shoulder.

Watch highlights from his All-American years at ‘The U,’ that made him a first round pick to the Patriots:

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Chris Myers Contract Details

The Houston Texans have not had the best start during this free agency period, but they were able to keep the services of center Chris Myers. The Texans and Myers agreed to a four-year contract worth $25 million with $14 million being guaranteed.

Myers is a seven-year veteran and has been a key figure with the Texans since 2008 and this past season was his best as Myers was named to his first ever Pro Bowl. He also has started 66 straight games for the Texans.

Myers did say that he wanted to stay in Houston but he also wanted to test the open market. The Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers were reportedly interested in signing Myers, but the Packers never made an offer and the Titans were unable to reach a deal with Myers.

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Buccaneers Reconsidering Keeping Kellen Winslow?

There have been reports that the Buccaneers at least considered parting ways with TE Kellen Winslow this offseason. We heard the Bucs did take a look at what was available at tight end in free agency and were intrigued by Martellus Bennett, who ended up signing with the Giants. For now, we're told the Bucs don't think Luke Stocker, a fourth-round pick last year, is ready to be the No. 1 tight end, and Winslow may be their best option in the meantime.

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Frank Gore on San Francisco's QB soap opera: 'It's crazy'

These are anxious times for Frank Gore, who helplessly watches as his San Francisco 49ers play a dangerous game of chicken at quarterback.
Gore could have Peyton Manning as his new teammate in the next 24 hours. The 49ers just as easily could have no one behind center at all.

Alex Smith landed in South Florida on Sunday morning for a meeting with the Miami Dolphins. With Manning also considering the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans, it's feasible that the two free-agent quarterbacks could sign with teams other than San Francisco, leaving the 49ers in a serious lurch.

"It's crazy," Gore told The Associated Press on Sunday. "I'm waiting for whatever happens. I know coach Harbaugh and (general manager) Trent Baalke feel good about what they're doing."

Gore always has been vocal in his support of Smith during the quarterback's seven enigmatic seasons in San Francisco, but that didn't stop him from heaping praise on Manning.

"He's a Hall of Famer, first ballot, that's all I got to say," Gore said Sunday. "He's one of the best ever to play the game."

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Greg Olsen intertwined to Marshall deal

Greg Olsen turned into being part of the package that brought the Chicago Bears Brandon Marshall.

General manager Phil Emery cleared up questions about what specific picks the Bears shipped to the Miami Dolphins in the Tuesday trade for the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.

The Bears gave the Dolphins the 74th overall pick in the third round, the pick they received from the Carolina Panthers for Olsen, and their third-round pick in 2013.

The Bears still have seven picks in this draft. But their pick in the third round will come later.

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Santana Moss could lose his roster spot

The Washington Times suggests Santana Moss will have a "difficult" time fitting onto the Redskins after Wednesday's acquisitions of Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon, and flirtations with free agent Eddie Royal.
Beat writer Rich Campbell also notes that the Redskins would save $2.83 million under the salary cap if they released Moss and designated him as a post-June 1 cut. Moss no longer appears to have a spot in Washington's three-receiver sets, and he doesn't contribute on special teams. (Same goes for Jabar Gaffney.) Don't look for Moss to be on the Redskins' roster in 2012.

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Zach Railey & Paige take family sailing act to London Olympics

CLEARWATER, Fla. - When Zach Railey won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in China, his elation was tempered because his sister Paige, also a world-class sailor, had narrowly missed making the U.S. team.

But this time around, the seafaring siblings from Clearwater, Fla., have both scored a berth at the 2012 Olympic Games in England. They qualified in December during the International Sailing Federation's Sailing World Championships in Perth, Australia.

"We both understand how fortunate we are to have this opportunity -- and this responsibility," said Zach, 27.

He'll be sailing a Finn, a men's single-handed heavyweight dinghy, and she'll be competing in the lighter-weight Laser Radial class during the games, which will run from July 27 to Aug. 12. The 10 Olympic sailing events -- six for men, four for women -- feature a variety of craft from windsurfing boards to keelboats.

Although the event is billed as the London Olympics, the sailing races will take place in Weymouth and Portland, where the conditions could be blustery, rainy and cold.

"There are huge weather systems that come through there," Zach said.

Whatever challenges come, the pair say they're prepared, mentally and physically.

A typical day may include morning and afternoon workouts in a gym, several more hours of training on the water, sponsor obligations, interviews, fundraising activities and, often, travel.

It will cost Zach about $170,000 to get to the Olympics. Paige will require just more than $100,000 -- less because her boat and equipment aren't as expensive. The U.S. Sailing Team AlphaGraphics contributes about a third of their costs, and the sailors have to raise the balance on their own.
It's all not quite as glamorous as some might imagine, they say.

"This is a job with little time for anything else," said Paige, 24. "It consumes your entire life. People think we travel all over, but in reality, no matter what country you're in, you see the same scenery all the time: the gym and the yacht club."

"I've been to France 15 times, but I've never toured the Eiffel Tower," Zach said. "Wherever we go, we're there to race and compete."

At age 8, Zach learned to sail on tiny Optimist Prams at the Clearwater Yacht Club and the Clearwater Community Sailing Center. He loved horsing around out there, picking up crab pots and feeling free out on the sparkling Florida waters.

Paige and her twin sister, Brooke, soon followed suit.

By age 10, Zach had qualified for the Optimist World Championships in Finland. At 16, he made the U.S. Sailing Team.

Brooke opted for other sports, but Paige experienced a meteoric rise to the top and joined the U.S. team at 17. She's been a formidable competitor in the ISAF Sailing World Cup Series and was ranked No. 1 when she graduated from high school in 2005.

One might assume the duo grew up in a family of salts. But parents Ann and Dan Railey never learned how to sail.

During Zach's and Paige's years at Clearwater High School, there was no time for proms and parties. Competitive schedules meant hitting the gym before the crack of dawn, sailing in the afternoon, and doing homework late at night.

Then there were choices about which college trajectory to take.

"There comes a time when every serious sailor has to decide whether they want to take the collegiate track or the Olympic track," Paige said, "and we chose the Olympics, which meant lots and lots of training and picking a college that will work with you."

Paige selected the University of South Florida and Zach went to the University of Miami, where the U.S. Sailing Center Miami has an official Olympic training center.

Paige lost her Olympic bid in 2007 when her life jacket caught the boom, capsizing her boat during the qualifying medal race. Now Paige says she's older, wiser, more experienced and up for the challenge.

"When I was younger, I couldn't handle the pressure. Now I really enjoy it," she said.

And should they win the gold and be invited to appear on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," as some previous Olympians have, they're always up for new challenges.

"It would be awesome," said Zach.

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Danny Valencia keeps on swinging hot bat in victory over Miami

JUPITER, FLA. — Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, born and raised in Miami and a former University of Miami player, announced his return to the area with authority Saturday, clubbing a home run to left field on the first pitch he saw from righthander Ricky Nolasco in the first inning.

Valencia was 2-for-3 on the day as the Twins railed to beat the renamed Miami Marlins 5-2. He was solid in the field -- except for a grounder in the fifth he could have handled more cleanly. Instead, it made his throw to first a hair late, allowing Omar Infante to reach base.

The inning was extended, and Marlins star Hanley Ramirez -- the shortstop-turned-third baseman who is batting .474 this spring -- followed with a two-run homer off Carl Pavano.

Acting Twins manager Scott Ullger said Valencia could have taken a better angle to the ball to make things easier for him.

"He realized it,'' Ullger said.

Valencia leads the Twins in home runs (three), RBI (seven) and total bases (19) this spring. He led an injury-plagued Twins team last season with 15 home runs and 72 RBI and looks ready to build off that.

"He looks really in command at the plate," Pavano said.

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Yonder Alonso busts loose as Padres beat Royals

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Jedd Gyorko's eighth-inning RBI forceout broke a 5-5 tie and the Padres went on to beat the Royals, 8-5, on Saturday night in Peoria, Ariz.

The Padres jumped out to a five-run lead in the first frame, batting around the order with five hits and a hit batsman. Yonder Alonso belted a three-run double off the fence in right, and Jonathan Galvez drove a two-run homer onto the left-field berm to cap the early scoring.

The Royals got a pair back in the third, though the Padres nearly stifled the rally when Brayan Pena and Alcides Escobar were both heading to third base from different directions. Pena ended up being thrown out in a rundown between third and home. After a walk to load the bases with one out, the Padres tried to turn two on an Eric Hosmer grounder to second, but Hosmer was called safe in a close play and Escobar scored. Billy Butler followed with an RBI single up the middle to close the gap to 5-2.

Padres starter Cory Luebke pitched well in his third Cactus League outing, holding the Royals to a pair of runs on six hits and a walk over four innings. Luebke struck out four, throwing 63 pitches, 44 for strikes. He lost some command in the third inning, giving up three hits and a walk before retiring anyone, but he managed to lower his spring ERA to 2.00.

"The inning they got the runs, the 0-2 pitch to [Pena], I got to make a better pitch there," said Luebke. "He started things off. They battled, they put the ball in play, and some balls bounced in holes. The last inning, I got to work on some offspeed pitches."

Bruce Chen, the Royals' No. 2 starter, had another rough outing, allowing five runs on eight hits in three innings. He allowed no walks and struck out two, while throwing 66 pitches, 46 for strikes. His stuff wasn't fooling the Padres, as they teed off and pushed Chen's Cactus League ERA to 11.74 after three starts.

"I'm taking it one step at a time," Chen said. "Obviously, this is not the way I want to be pitching. After the first inning, I made some adjustments. I think I was a little more aggressive. I'm very happy with the way I threw the ball after the first inning."

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Ryan Braun not fazed by slow start

Tempe, Ariz. -- It was a change of scenery for Ryan Braun on Saturday afternoon, as he took part in his first Cactus League road game when the Milwaukee Brewers traveled to face the L.A. Angels in Tempe.

The results, though, were much the same as they have been for the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, as he went 0 for 2 with a walk before departing following his third plate appearance in the top of the fifth inning.

Braun is now hitting .067 (1 for 15), with a home run accounting for his lone hit and two runs batted in. He's also walked three times, been hit by a pitch and struck out five times.

Regardless of how ugly the numbers might seem, Braun insists he's not losing any sleep over his early struggles.

"There’s never a quantity of at-bats in spring training that would concern me, ever," he said. "Spring training’s never been result-oriented. It’s always been process-oriented. The process is certainly a little different this year, it’s an adjustment I’ll have to make.

"Beyond that, I’ve never put any value into stats in spring training."

Braun flied out to right in his first at-bat in the first inning off Jered Weaver, walked his next time up against Weaver and then fouled out to first base off Rich Thompson.

"If I go 0 for 50 in spring training, I’m 100 percent confident I’ll have success in the season," he said. "I’m serious. It’s just different. It’s a different intensity, it’s a different focus. It’s a different energy, enthusiam when you play regular-season games. It just is.

"Of course I want to have success. You always want to have success. But it’s just different. When the regular season starts, it’s different."
Manager Ron Roenicke seemed encouraged by Braun's plate appearances.

"I think he saw the ball better today," he said. "I thought a couple pitches were probably tough pitches for him to hit in the counts that he had, which he usually wouldn't do. But he usually also doesn't get to those counts because he doesn't miss the pitches that he gets.

"He's a little off, but I think he's seeing the ball better."

Braun also made a nice sliding catch in foul territory to end the fourth inning.

The boos were clearly amped up at Tempe Diablo Stadium each time Braun came to the plate, with a sellout crowd of 9,641 in attendance. It was nothing like he's going to experience once the regular season starts, but Braun said he isn't concerned about outside distractions.

"I don’t think anything of it. It’s a story for you guys," he said. "For me, my focus is just on preparing for the start of the season. That’s it."
Braun said he plans on taking Sunday off, then playing back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday. When asked about facing Texas' Yu Darvish in \

Surprise on Monday, Braun said that was the first he'd been informed Darvish was pitching.

"I don’t know," he said."I have no idea who we’re playing or where we’re playing."

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Closer Chris Perez feels 'good' after bullpen session

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians are one step closer to getting back their closer.

On Friday morning, Chris Perez had his first bullpen session since straining his left side in his first bullpen of the spring on Feb. 23, and the 10-minute workout was deemed a success.

Perez said he eased his way into it but turned his fastball loose late in the session and didn't experience any problems.

"It felt good," said Perez, who saved a career-high 36 games in 2011, his first season as the team's full-time ninth-inning man. "I'm not 100 percent yet. I wouldn't expect to be. I felt like it was the first bullpen of Spring Training -- you know, kind of rusty, not hitting all my spots.

"But the side felt amazing. It felt better than I thought it would."

The plan for Perez is to throw another bullpen session on Sunday, which will be followed by a live batting practice session and then, if all goes well, his 2011 Cactus League debut.

Indians manager Manny Acta said a healthy closer would ideally get between 10 and 12 innings in a spring, but that Perez could still be ready for the beginning of the regular season even with only six or seven frames under his belt. Acta added that he liked what he saw from Perez on Friday.

"He put good effort into it and threw the ball very good with good life on his fastball," Acta said. "It's very encouraging to see him do that."

When asked if he could be ready to close on Opening Day with a limited spring workload, Perez laughed.

"I'm going to have to be," Perez said. "No other choice. But I really can't tell you a set number of outings [to be ready]. It's always different. Last year I was ready halfway through Spring Training. ... Two years ago I probably wasn't ready even when Opening Day came, but I figured out a way to get outs when it started.

"Hopefully this year I can get it all done within six or seven outings and be ready for Opening Day."

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Yasmani Grandal is expected to begin the year at Double-A San Antonio

Grandal is expected to begin the year at Double-A San Antonio despite getting a taste of Triple-A Louisville at the end of 2011 in the Reds' organization, the North County Times reports.

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Roenicke: It's going to be 'a hard season' for Braun

PHOENIX -- I don't remember the last time I walked into the Brewers clubhouse and didn't get a warm greeting from Ryan Braun.

There was no greeting at all Sunday morning.

Braun, as I'm told he has been doing most of the spring, didn't appear in the clubhouse at all during the time the media was allowed in. On a rainy morning where the Brewers did all their work inside (and on a day where Braun didn't play in the game), I saw Braun only once, far away down a hallway.

People close to Braun say he's doing fine, that he will be fine, and that his slow start to the spring (he's 1-for-15) is of no real concern. Braun said as much on Saturday, when he spoke to Milwaukee writers after a game in Tempe.

But Brewers manager Ron Roenicke admitted Sunday morning that Braun is going through a spring unlike any he has ever had before, and that he's about to begin a season unlike any before.

"He had a tough winter," Roenicke said. "It's going to be a hard season to go through."

Roenicke expressed confidence that Braun will still be the player he has been, the player who won the National League's Most Valuable Player award and led the Brewers to a 96-win season in 2011.

"When he's taking [batting practice], there is no difference from last year," Roenicke said. "He hits balls where I'm amazed. Here in a week or so, I picture Ryan getting locked in, and being where he needs to be."

That could well happen. Fifteen at-bats wouldn't be enough to make a judgment during the regular season, let alone during spring training.

And Braun certainly doesn't need to talk to me or anyone else if he chooses not to.

You wonder, though, how much all that has happened is still weighing on him. You wonder when a guy who likes to talk and likes to smile feels such a need to stay away. You know -- and he has to know -- that if he does struggle during the season, some people will see the drug issue as the reason, in one way or another.

You get the idea that Roenicke is right, that this is going to be a difficult season for Braun.

And how will that affect how he plays? We'll just have to wait and see.

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Aubrey Huff scratched with lower back tightness

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- First baseman Aubrey Huff was a late scratch from Saturday afternoon's lineup against the A's because of lower back tightness, the Giants announced.

Huff took batting practice prior to the game but retired to the clubhouse ahead of the other players. The 35-year-old first baseman, who is trying to fend off Brandon Belt for a starting role, is hitting .286 (8 for 28) with two home runs in 10 games.

"I don't think it's serious," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He tried to get it loosened up and couldn't do it."

Bochy said he would be "shocked" if Huff were to play on Sunday, especially with wet weather in the forecast. The team has a scheduled day off Monday, so Huff wouldn't return until Tuesday at the earliest.

Huff has received 33 innings at first base and just five in left field, although Giants manager Bruce Bochy has vowed to give him more time in the outfield this spring. By contrast, Belt has played 36 innings at first base and 23 in the outfield (17 in right, six in left).

The Giants made one other lineup change, and it cost Brandon Crawford whatever he had planned for Saturday night. They shifted the shortstop to the other split-squad game -- a 7:05 p.m. contest against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Glendale.

It was a change the Giants were forced to make. The team fielded a complaint from the league office because the night lineup didn't have any forecasted starting position players, with the possible exception of Belt.

The league requires teams to have three anticipated starting position players in every exhibition lineup, and officials are enforcing it this spring. Teams get one warning and the Giants already burned theirs when they sent over a light lineup to Tempe earlier this spring.

Mike Fontenot replaced Crawford in the afternoon lineup and minor league third baseman Chris Dominguez replaced Huff at first base. Although Dominguez got confused in the second inning and didn't cover the bag on a grounder to the right side, he later redeemed himself by ranging to haul in two foul flies with over-the-shoulder catches.

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For Ryan Braun, the Road Awaits

PHOENIX – There were two roster sheets on the bulletin board in the Milwaukee Brewers’ clubhouse Thursday. One was the travel list for a charity game in Tucson, the other the travel list for a game in Surprise, Ariz. The players traveling were highlighted in yellow. Ryan Braun’s name was not highlighted at all.

Braun, who is 1 for 13 with a homer this spring, has not played a road game. That day will come, of course, and although spring crowds are generally tame, Braun will probably hear about his positive drug test – even though he won his appeal and was not suspended.

“I think it’ll be difficult for him,” catcher Jonathon Lucroy said. “If people knew the real story, what really happened, they wouldn’t be saying that or feeling that way. But that story might not ever come out; it’s not up to me.

“Honestly, I think he will get booed on the road because that’s just the way people are. They’re going to call him a cheater, even though he didn’t do anything. But knowing Braunie the way I do, he likes that challenge and he accepts it, and he’ll just get better from it.”

This is my column on Braun and the Brewers, but don’t look for insights from Braun. The home fans cheered him Thursday, but Braun had nothing to say, never appearing in the clubhouse when reporters were there and declining an interview request through a team spokesman.

Braun’s retreat, if it keeps up, will be unfortunate, because until now he has been one of the more engaging and accessible stars in baseball — not quite in the Torii Hunter/Johnny Damon class, but close.

Braun’s story changed drastically after the positive test, which, of course, never should have been leaked in the first place. Braun’s defense drama should have played out in private, and he has a right to feel betrayed by whoever broke that confidence.

But while Braun has talked about his problems with the collection process of his urine test, he has also chosen to hold back some details – to not share the “real story,” as Lucroy called it, in public. That is his right, of course, and Braun has his reasons.

Whatever Braun has told teammates and his inner circle apparently is more convincing of his innocence than what he has told the public. But without the knowledge of what really caused the positive test, the story feels incomplete, impossible to untangle. Maybe we never will.

The Brewers have moved on, and they retain a strong team, even without Prince Fielder. Having Braun for the full season gives them a chance to build on the momentum of their 2011 N.L. Central title, and leaves open their window as contenders. Given all the excitement in Milwaukee last season, when baseball’s smallest market set a franchise attendance record, that feels like a good thing.

“They’re definitely going to be excited, especially our opening day, playing against the Cardinals, they’re going to be tailgating pretty early,” closer John Axford said. “The vibe is always great in Milwaukee, and Braunie’s going to get a warm reception — so is everybody on the team. They thoroughly enjoyed last season, just like we did. Hopefully we can push a little bit farther this year.”

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