Bonds' deal approved, Soriano reports early

Friday, February 16th 2007, 7:02 am
By: News On 6

There's nothing quite like that first morning of spring training. Sun high in the sky, players chatting it up, the familiar pop-pop of soft leather mitts.

Baseball is back!

Barry Bonds' contract was approved at last, while Alfonso Soriano, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Barry Zito were among the big names already in camp Thursday as nine teams opened workouts for pitchers and catchers throughout Florida and Arizona.

``We're jogging from station to station, just to keep things going. There's no walking in baseball,'' rookie manager Manny Acta of the Washington Nationals said after an enthusiastic first day.

Kerry Wood is sidelined again (after slipping out of a hot tub), and it was a typically busy day at New York Yankees camp. Mike Mussina had some pointed words for oft-injured teammate Carl Pavano, only hours after owner George Steinbrenner's son-in-law and designated successor was arrested.

Bonds finally signed his $15.8 million, one-year deal Tuesday and it was approved Thursday by the commissioner's office, ending more than two months of wrangling between the slugger and the San Francisco Giants over contract language.

With both sides satisfied, Bonds is scheduled to report Monday to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is likely to participate in the Giants' first full-squad workout Tuesday.

``I expect he will be ready to go,'' general manager Brian Sabean said.

The 42-year-old Bonds is 22 homers shy of breaking Hank Aaron's career record of 755.

Bonds' new teammate, Zito, raised a few eyebrows when he unveiled a different delivery on his first day with the Giants, making pitching coach Dave Righetti a little nervous.

Righetti went as far as to say the tweaks Zito made this winter _ seen by the team for the first time Thursday _ could cause him to lose his dominant curveball and wear down his body.

``He's gone from one extreme to another from a pitching standpoint,'' Righetti said. ``His ball flight is going to be different, no doubt about it.''

But there's no cause for alarm, Zito said. He's done this before.

The 28-year-old left-hander, given a $126 million, seven-year contract in late December, said he's trying to better utilize his improved lower-body strength. He added 10 pounds of muscle in his legs and core during the offseason.

``This is something I used to do, so it's just getting back to it,'' said Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland. ``It's kind of more an old-school delivery.''

Soriano showed up in Cubs camp four days early and welcomed a potential switch from left field to center. The five-time All-Star agreed to an eight-year, $136 million deal with Chicago in November after hitting 46 homers and stealing 41 bases in his only season with Washington.

``There are a lot of very good people here, nice guys,'' Soriano said in Mesa, Ariz. ``I don't want to have problems with anybody. Everybody here is on the same page.''

The move impressed his new teammates, too.

``I think it shows what kind of teammate he's going to be,'' Wood said. ``I hope everybody saw that.''

Wood is not expected to throw off a mound for a few days after he slipped this week while getting out of a hot tub at home. He landed on his stomach and chest.

``It was just a little spill,'' said Wood, who participated in most drills Thursday. ``I didn't think anything of it. Nothing's wrong. It's just going to be a few extra days. My arm feels great. My body feels good.''

Bothered by an injured right shoulder the past three seasons, Wood is being converted to a reliever after being limited to four starts last year.

Another Cubs pitcher, ace Carlos Zambrano, backed off recent comments that he would leave the team as a free agent after this season if he doesn't get a multiyear contract during spring training.

Although he would rather get a new deal done by opening day, Zambrano said he would be willing to negotiate next fall. He won't discuss a contract during the season, though.

The Boston Red Sox are counting on a big season from Matsuzaka after paying $103 million to acquire him. The Japanese star held his first formal spring training news conference Thursday from a seat atop the third-base dugout at overcast City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.

``The scale of the contract does not determine how I play baseball,'' he said. ``I feel responsibility a little bit, but I am not pressured.''

The location gave about 100 media members plenty of room. Nine television satellite trucks were stationed outside the park. The session was telecast live in Japan, where it was 7 a.m. Friday when it began.

Up the road in Florida, Yankees general partner Steve Swindal was arrested by the St. Petersburg Police at 4:26 a.m., according to a copy of the charge report posted on the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's Web site. He was booked for a misdemeanor and released from jail in Largo at 9:53 a.m. on $250 bond.

A member of the police department's DUI squad pulled Swindal over at 2:12 a.m. after he cut off the officer's cruiser in traffic, police spokesman Bill Proffitt said.

Swindal was weaving and driving 61 mph in a 35 mph zone when he was pulled over, Proffitt said. He refused to take a breathalyzer test and failed a field sobriety test, but was cooperative, Proffitt said.

``Mr. Swindal apologizes profusely for this distraction during the Yankees' spring training, and no further comment will be made until this is resolved,'' said Steinbrenner's spokesman, Howard Rubenstein.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said he'll monitor the situation and ``review the ultimate disposition.''

The 52-year-old Swindal, who lives in Tampa, is married to Steinbrenner's daughter, Jennifer, and has taken an increasingly active role in running the Yankees. In June 2005, Steinbrenner said Swindal would eventually succeed him.

As for Mussina, he expressed frustration about Pavano's series of ailments the past two years. Pavano hasn't pitched in the majors since June 2005 because of shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and rib injuries.

``We want him to go out there and show that he wants to do this,'' Mussina said in Tampa, Fla. ``It got to a point where we just didn't even want to hear about it or talk about it anymore.''

Entering the third season of a $39.95 million, four-year contract, Pavano has made just 17 starts for the Yankees, going 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA.

``I didn't come in here nervous that my teammates are going to oust me or give me the cold shoulder,'' Pavano said. ``I know that definitely there's respect to be earned.''

In other news, Minnesota and right fielder Michael Cuddyer agreed to a $3,575,000, one-year contract, avoiding arbitration minutes before their scheduled hearing at a Phoenix hotel.