Maddux, Schilling Prepare for Big Seasons

Saturday, February 18th 2006, 10:27 am
By: News On 6

Greg Maddux is excited to start his 20th season in the major leagues while Curt Schilling is just happy to be healthy for the first time in almost two years.

Maddux, the veteran Chicago Cubs pitcher, won't say whether this season will be his last, preferring to concentrate on the basics.

``It's my free-agent year,'' he said Saturday in Mesa, Ariz. ``Hopefully, we'll win more games than last year. Hopefully, we'll get a shot at postseason. That's always the goal. Go out there and try to throw 200-plus innings and see what happens after that.''

Schilling's goal is a season similar to 2004 when he went 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA and the Red Sox won the World Series in his first year with the team. He had surgery on his injured right ankle in November 2004, but it wasn't at full strength all last year. He spent 76 days on the disabled list, part of the season as the closer and finished with an 8-8 record with a 5.69 ERA in 32 outings.

``From a personal standpoint, it was excruciating,'' Schilling said in Fort Myers, Fla. ``There were times last year when walking away seemed like the smart thing to do and the right thing to do given how badly I was performing and how hard it was to come to the park.

``The thing I tried to really emphasize from a personal standpoint was not dragging anybody down with me.''

He said there wasn't any one development in the offseason that told him he was ready to come to camp to prepare for the season rather than continue his rehabilitation.

``One day I was moving better than I was the day before and without pain and without repercussions,'' he said, ``which was a big change.''

There are little changes so far with Maddux, who still approaches the game with the same enthusiasm as he did in his youth and was the first in line during fielding practice drills on the opening day of spring training this year.

``It's still fun; I like it,'' said Maddux, who turns 40 in April. ``I looked forward to coming here this morning, and I'll look forward to it again tomorrow. After a while, it might wear off a little bit, but I'm excited to be here. ... I still enjoy coming to the ballpark.''

Former and current Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein also was happy to be back at spring training after a tumultuous offseason.

Epstein left Boston when his contract expired on Oct. 31 amid reports of a rocky relationship with team president Larry Lucchino. He was back about three months later as general manager with a change from senior vice president to executive vice president, while Lucchino remained president.

``We're always happy to see spring training come. It's one of the best days of the year,'' said Epstein, who oversaw a baseball operations group located in Fenway Park's basement. ``November and December are usually fun, but you're cramped up sitting in a basement on the phone all the time and don't get to see the sun too much, don't get to see any baseball games.

``So we always look forward to spring training.''

In Sunrise, Ariz., Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said he has prostate cancer but is planning to be in the dugout on opening day.

Jaramillo, 55, said he will remain with the team until he has surgery later in spring training. He said he will decide in about a week when to have surgery.

``Some things happen, and this will make me mentally stronger,'' Jaramillo said. ``I've always had a lot of faith in God and am a positive person. This will make me appreciate each day even more. Baseball is my passion, and I want to get back to these kids as soon as I can.''

Jaramillo said the discovery was made about three weeks ago during his regular six-month checkup. Since previous checkups were clear, Jaramillo said the chances of early detection were good.

In Tucson, Ariz., the World Series champion Chicago White Sox picked Mark Buehrle to pitch opening day for the fifth straight season.

``It's nice to start opening day and then I can get my ring and enjoy it,'' Buehrle said. The White Sox's ring ceremony comes two days after the opener.

Buehrle has pitched more than 220 innings and made more than 30 starts for five straight seasons. The White Sox start defense of their championship against the Cleveland Indians on April 2.

Roger Clemens may not be in Astros camp but Houston starter Andy Pettitte said the team is approaching the season the same way it did last year.

``Everyone needs to chill out and know that Roy (Oswalt) and I are No. 1 and 2 just like last year,'' Pettitte said in Kissimmee, Fla.

Pettitte was 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA last year, while Oswalt went 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA. Oswalt became the first pitcher to post consecutive 20-win seasons since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in 2001-02.

Pettitte dismissed suggestions that he and Oswalt would feel extra pressure trying to bear the burden of Clemens' possible retirement. Clemens plans to pitch for the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic next month but hasn't said whether he will return for a 23rd major league season. He can't play for the Astros until May 1.

``We have to go out and win with what we have,'' catcher Brad Ausmus said. ``We know Roy and Andy are 1-2 around here, and that's the way it was before Roger got here. We need people to step up and perform, but we're not worried. Roy and Andy are a pretty good pair of pitchers.''

In Sarasota, Fla, the Cincinnati Reds released right-hander Josh Hancock because they were unhappy that he reported to spring training over his assigned weight.

Hancock, 27, missed most of last season with a groin injury suffered in spring training. Hancock and the rest of the Reds pitchers and catchers took physicals on Friday.

Manager Jerry Narron said Hancock, whose weight is listed at 207 pounds, reported 17 pounds too heavy.

``I have no clue what Josh Hancock was doing,'' Narron said. ``As far as I know, he might have been running a marathon all winter long. He may have been throwing off the mound. But he was 17 pounds over his requested reporting weight.''