Eric Gagne Faces Hitters for First Time

Tuesday, March 13th 2007, 5:48 am

By: News On 6

Never mind the results. All Eric Gagne cared about was how he felt on the mound.

The oft-injured reliever faced hitters for the first time this year when he threw 11 pitches for the Texas Rangers in a ``B'' game Monday against Milwaukee minor leaguers.

After pitching in a nearly empty stadium in Phoenix, the former Los Angeles Dodgers closer said he felt no pain _ and that was the most important thing.

``It's just good to be out there, be free and not have to worry about anything but making your pitches. It's been a while since I felt that way,'' Gagne said. ``It's the best I've felt in two years. It's pretty positive.''

The 2003 NL Cy Young Award winner has had three operations (two elbow, one back) since his 2002-04 stretch with the Dodgers, when he converted a record 84 straight save chances. The right-hander was limited to 15 1-3 innings the last two seasons.

Gagne pitched to three Brewers minor leaguers, throwing five strikes and six balls with his fastball in the range of 88-91 mph. There were two groundouts before a four-pitch walk on which Gagne was trying to get his curveball over the plate.

He described himself as ``totally out of whack'' with his mechanics and said it felt weird throwing to batters again.

``A lot of stuff wasn't right, but overall I felt good,'' Gagne said. ``Right now, it's pretty much my health I'm worried about. I'm not worried about the results. ... The arm felt good, the elbow felt good and the back felt good. I'm petty excited, pretty encouraged.''

Gagne said it was the first time since late in the 2004 season that he pitched in a game without pain. He didn't even feel stiff afterward. He will pitch again Thursday or Friday, likely in a minor league game, and hopes to complete a full inning.

Greg Maddux didn't even make it to the mound. He was scratched from his scheduled start for San Diego against the Chicago White Sox in Tucson, Ariz., because of a a mild lower abdominal strain.

The four-time Cy Young Award winner felt a slight strain on the second-to-last pitch of his most recent start, on March 8 against the Chicago Cubs, and was pulled for precautionary reasons before the Padres beat the Chicago White Sox 10-8.

``He would have been available during the season, but why push it on March 12?'' manager Bud Black said.

Maddux, who turns 41 next month, is 333-203 with a 3.08 ERA in 21 major league seasons.

Jim Thome homered twice for the White Sox and Jose Contreras gave up two runs and four hits in 4 2-3 innings. He struck out five.

At Fort Myers, Fla., Carl Pavano's trouble-filled tenure with the New York Yankees took a positive turn.

The right-hander felt ``pretty good'' while allowing two runs and four hits in the first three innings of a 7-5 loss to Boston after returning from a bruised foot and missing a start Friday because of his girlfriend's medical problem. He drove 135 miles from Tampa rather than take the team bus.

``It was a long drive,'' he said. ``It was a nice ride just to clear my head a little bit.''

Pavano, in the third season of a $39.95 million, four-year contract, last pitched in the major leagues on June 27, 2005, before being sidelined by shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and rib injuries.

``It felt good just to get out there and work fastballs in and out and get ahead of some hitters,'' he said.

Before the game, Boston rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka posed for photographers near home plate with fellow Red Sox pitcher Hideki Okajima and Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui. The Japanese players bowed several times to one another, smiled and wished each other good luck.

``It's still the rivalry,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said, ``wherever the players come from.''

New York brought only three regulars: Robinson Cano, Jason Giambi and Matsui, who went 2-for-4. Still, people outside the stadium held signs saying they needed tickets to the 55th consecutive sellout at City of Palms Park.

``It's hard to believe,'' Torre said.

J.D. Drew homered for Boston, and starter Tim Wakefield allowed four runs and eight hits in four innings.

Nationals 9, Mets 6

At Viera, Fla., Shawn Hill posted his third quality start of spring training for Washington.

Twins 9, Marlins 1

At Fort Myers, Fla., Torii Hunter and the Twins roughed up Dontrelle Willis. Hunter went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and AL MVP Justin Morneau also drove in two runs. Willis gave up six runs and nine hits in three innings.

Cardinals 3, Braves 1

At Jupiter, Fla., Braden Looper's move from setup man to St. Louis' rotation appears to be succeeding. Looper allowed four hits in 4 2-3 scoreless innings. Atlanta starter John Smoltz needed only 46 pitches to get through four innings. He allowed one hit.

Reds 3, Blue Jays 0

At Sarasota, Fla., Matt Belisle boosted his bid for the final spot in Cincinnati's rotation, allowing one hit in four impressive innings to earn his third win of spring training. He has allowed only one run in nine innings.

Tigers 3, Devil Rays 2

At St. Petersburg, Fla., Casey Fossum made his spring training debut, pitching the first inning of a loss that dropped Tampa Bay to 1-11. Fossum, whose 2006 season ended when he had left shoulder surgery Sept. 8, allowed two hits, struck out one and walked one in a scoreless inning.

Phillies 6, Astros 6, 10 innings

At Clearwater, Fla., Chase Utley hit a three-run homer for Philadelphia.

Pirates 6, Indians 1

At Bradenton, Fla., Tony Armas Jr. supported his own strong start with a run-scoring single for Pittsburgh and Neil Walker hit a two-run homer.

Dodgers 4, Orioles 2

At Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Erik Bedard allowed four singles and his first run of spring training, pitching four solid innings for Baltimore. He has a 1.00 ERA in nine innings over three starts.

Rangers 11, Brewers 7

At Phoenix, Texas' Nelson Cruz had a headache after getting beaned by a fastball, one of six players hit during two games between the Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers.

Cruz was hit by Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo in the sixth inning. He crumpled to the ground and stayed there for several minutes before getting up on his own power and walking off the field.

Cruz looked dazed as he walked to the clubhouse. He was coherent and answered the medical staff's questions, then was taken to the hospital. He was released about an hour after the game following a CT scan and X-rays that showed no concussion or fracture.

Mariners 6, Athletics 5

At Peoria, Ariz., Felix Hernandez tossed four scoreless innings against his expected opening-day opponent. Richie Sexson homered and had his first two hits of spring training after starting 0-for-18.

Diamondbacks 6, Rockies 5, 10 innings

At Tucson, Ariz., Aaron Cook pitched five innings for Colorado, allowing three runs and eight hits. The Rockies released catcher Javy Lopez.

Angels 11, Royals 4

At Surprise, Ariz., Hector Carrasco pitched four shutout innings for Los Angeles, hours after ailing Angels starters Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver each threw 45 pitches in a bullpen session. Both looked good, pitching coach Mike Butcher said, but it's too early to tell when they might return.

Cubs 10, Giants 5

At Scottsdale, Ariz., Barry Bonds lost a pair of fly balls in the sun, Gold Glover Omar Vizquel booted a routine grounder and Carlos Zambrano fell on his face while legging out a triple.

And that was just the top of the first, as Chicago scored six runs in an inning that featured nearly enough plays to fill a blooper reel. Cliff Floyd hit a two-run single in his first at-bat of spring training.

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