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College basketball preview: No. 7 Florida vs. No. 25 Kentucky


By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2013

. TOnight

No. 7 Florida vs. No. 25 Kentucky

When/where: 7; O'Connell Center, Gainesville

TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

Records: Kentucky 17-6, 8-2 SEC; Florida 19-3, 8-1

Notable: The SEC's top teams square off. Florida, 11-0 at home, is trying to maintain its top position in the SEC and seeks its 15th consecutive 20-win season under coach Billy Donovan. … The Wildcats have held seven of their past eight opponents to under 40 percent shooting and have scored at least 70 in eight of their past nine games. … The Gators have lost five straight against Kentucky.

Antonya English, Times staff writer

1-1 week keeps IU in top spot


Times wires
Monday, February 11, 2013

Indiana coach Tom Crean used an analogy to the state's second favorite sport after the Hoosiers remained No. 1 in the AP poll for a second straight week.

It had been more than a month since a team managed to stay on top, and Indiana broke that trend despite losing a game, leading Crean to bring up auto racing.

"I had a good friend tell me that in-season rankings are the barometer of representing what lane you're in and the direction and how far you are moving towards your goals," Crean said Monday. "We want to stay in the left lane and keep working on our team and pace because we know there are quite a few others in the left lane as well."

The Hoosiers lost to Illinois on a last-second basket Thursday but rebounded with a win at then-No. 10 Ohio State on Sunday. In a week when four of the top five teams and six of the top 10 lost, it was enough to keep the No. 1 ranking.

There were four newcomers: No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Memphis, No. 24 Colorado State (its first poll appearance since March 9, 1954) and No. 25 Kentucky. They replaced Creighton, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Missouri.

Jeter making progress


Times wires
Monday, February 11, 2013

TAMPA — Derek Jeter ran Monday for the first time since breaking his left ankle in October, another step toward being in the Yankees lineup on opening day.

The shortstop, 38, jogged on a treadmill at the Yankees' minor-league complex a day before pitchers and catcher report to spring training.

"I've gotten the okay to do everything," Jeter said. "It's a progression. I haven't used my legs, so I've got to get back to using them."

When asked how the running workout felt, Jeter replied "great."

Jeter began his third week of baseball workouts. He hit in a batting cage, fielded grounders on the grass in front of the infield dirt at shortstop and threw in the outfield.

"I feel fine," Jeter said. "I was able to do everything else. I just had to be careful with my ankle, but now I've gotten the green light with that. I've gotten all the green lights I need."

The 13-time All-Star expects to start in the opener against Boston on April 1. Jeter broke the ankle lunging for a grounder in the AL Championship Series opener against Detroit on Oct. 13 and had surgery a week later.

"In terms of his work ethic, it's amazing," Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson said. "I got a chance see to him for the first time (Monday). He's going to do whatever he can to get himself back there."

BOURN TO INDIANS: Free-agent centerfielder Michael Bourn agreed to a four-year, $48 million contract with Cleveland. Bourn, 30, an All-Star with the Braves last season, must pass a physical this week in Goodyear, Ariz., before the deal can be completed.

CARPENTER NOT DONE: Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter hasn't ruled out pitching again, including this year. The 37-year-old ace, who is expected to miss the season because of circulation problems, maintained his usual dogged optimism in a conversation with reporters. "Maybe I don't ever want it to end," Carpenter said. "I don't think I'll ever retire, to be honest with you. I'll never say that word. There might always be hope. Maybe like when I'm 48 I can come back and pitch some more."

NEW PIRATE SIDELINED: Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano reported to spring training camp in Bradenton but it will be at least another month before he throws his first pitch. Liriano will spend the next four weeks rehabilitating his broken right humerus. He likely won't be ready to make his regular-season debut until early May. "It's coming along pretty good," Liriano said. "I'm going to take it one day at a time and see how it feels over the next couple of weeks."

OBITUARY: Edith Houghton, one of baseball's first female scouts, died Feb. 2 in Sarasota. She was 100. After a playing career that included a stint with the Philadelphia Bobbies, Ms. Houghton worked for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1946-52.

ANGELS: Right-handed reliever Ryan Madson, who is recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery that caused him to miss all of last season, had a setback Feb. 1 and hasn't thrown since, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A'S: Free-agent left-hander Hideki Okajima agreed to a minor-league contract.

REDS: Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, acquired this offseason from the Indians, agreed on a one-year contract for $7,375,000.

TIGERS: Right-hander Justin Verlander said he would not pitch for the United States in the World Baseball Classic.

Sports on TV/radio


Times sports staff
Monday, February 11, 2013


College basketball

Kentucky at Florida, 7 p.m., ESPN; 620-AM

Seton Hall at Rutgers , 7 p.m., ESPN2

Virginia Tech at Virginia, 7 p.m., ESPNU

Villanova at Cincinnati, 8 p.m., BHSN

Michigan at Michigan State, 9 p.m., ESPN

Alabama at Georgia, 9 p.m., ESPNU

Women: Rutgers at DePaul, 9 p.m., CBSSN


Trail Blazers at Heat, 7:30 p.m., NBA

Rockets at Warriors, 10:30 p.m., NBA


Canadiens at Lightning, 7:30 p.m., Sun Sports; 970-AM

Rangers at Bruins, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN


UEFA Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain at Valencia, 2:30 p.m., FSN

UEFA Champions League: Juventus at Celtic, 2:30 p.m., FSC

Mexican Cup: Atlas at Lobos Buap, 10 p.m., ESPND

TV: NBCSN: NBC Sports Network; FSN: Fox Sports Network; BHSN: Bright House Sports Network; CBSSN: CBS Sports Network; FSC: Fox Soccer Channel.

Florida, Kentucky ignore established narrative


By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2013

GAINESVILLE — From the outside looking in, here's how you might pitch the storyline for tonight's SEC showdown between No. 7 Florida and No. 25 Kentucky.

The young Wildcats have struggled and are still trying to find their way late in the season. The Gators are in transition, having lost their top reserve for the remainder of the regular season and dealing with serious depth issues, particularly in the frontcourt.

But spend a few minutes talking to players and coaches from both sides and it's clear neither is buying what's billed about the other.

Team in transition? Not in Kentucky coach John Calipari's mind.

"You've got a top-five team on the road," Calipari said Monday. "They play well in their building. It will be a hard game for us to win. Let's put it this way, they were an Elite Eight team last year, should have been in the Final Four, and they've got everybody back. And college basketball isn't what it was a year ago, so that's how a good a challenge, or how big a challenge and how good of a team they are. …

"It doesn't matter (the loss of Will Yeguete to injury). You've got a bunch of guys that expect to win and they're that good, they'll make up for that."

Kentucky is the only Division I team not to return a single player with at least one start. At the beginning of January, UK was 10-4, and the team that began the season No. 5 eventually fell from the Top 25. But the Wildcats are 8-2 in conference play, one game out of first place, on a five-game winning streak and back in the rankings at No. 25.

"I think it's their same offense," UF senior guard Kenny Boynton said when asked how this team compares to last year's. "Honestly, I think their talent's the same. Archie Goodwin is a great driver. I think they've got a good, solid team. Despite what their record is, I think lately they've gotten better. … I see a team that's getting better throughout the year as last year's team did."

With Kentucky's strong frontcourt depth, it's imperative for the Gators to keep senior forward Erik Murphy and junior center Patric Young out of foul trouble. Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel has had a double double in the past three games and poses serious problems with his 6-foot-10 frame.

"I think he's just as good as Anthony Davis as shot-blocker," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He's got unbelievable length, he's got unbelievable timing. He's very skilled at it. He keeps himself out of foul trouble. He can alter shots in a lot of different directions and areas of the floor. We have to have a level of intelligence of driving in there and trying to shoot over the top of him. But I still think that we're a team that needs to attack the basket."

The game is also expected to be a battle of guard play between Gators Scottie Wilbekin and Boynton and Kentucky's Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow, who combine to score 22.4 and 24.6 points, respectively. How well Florida can press and disrupt Kentucky's young guards could be key.

"They have great guards that get out and run, so our guards are going to have to step up," Goodwin said. "It's going to be a big game so everyone is really going to have to play great."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Spring decisions for Rays


By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2013

PORT CHARLOTTE — For all the roster reconstruction the Rays did in what executive vice president Andrew Friedman jokes is the misnomered offseason — replacing eight of last year's core 25 players — they don't appear to have that much to do this spring.

Despite parting ways with the workhorse leader of their rotation and three key members of their American League-best bullpen, the Rays open camp today with 11 of their 12 pitchers seemingly set, although some roles are to be determined.

And despite losing their leading hitter, two of their top three home run and RBI men and one of their most versatile bench players, the Rays similarly can all but identify 12 of their 13 position players, with only the backup catcher spot undecided.

So what, over the next 47 days — the extra week courtesy of the World Baseball Classic — will they spend their time on?

Well …

For starters

They are not going to replace James Shields, the veteran right-hander who was traded to Kansas City for a package led by blue-chip outfield prospect Wil Myers.

But they do have to have five starters in the rotation.

Three are set, barring injury: Cy Young winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore.

The other two are likely to come from the group of Alex Cobb (who has the edge), Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona), though Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi will get looks.

Cobb, based on what he did last year, has an edge but not necessarily a job. Both Niemann (injuries) and Hernandez (off-field issues) are coming off down seasons. Whoever isn't in the rotation is headed to the bullpen, though Niemann (who is out of options) could be a trade candidate.

Guessing today: Cobb and Hernandez

Pitching in

While Burke Badenhop, Wade Davis and J.P. Howell are gone, the Rays return closer Fernando Rodney, setup men Jake McGee and Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth to their pen. Cesar Ramos, who is out of options, is in line to take over as the second lefty. And the Hernandez/Niemann "loser" makes six.

That leaves one spot, with veteran Jamey Wright, who likely wouldn't have agreed to a minor-league deal without promise of a legit shot at a major-league job; Brandon Gomes; and Josh Lueke the most likely candidates. Wright's ground-ball style fits in well with their defense.

Guess: Wright

Catching on

If things go the way the Rays plan, the only decision among the position players could end up being the "battle" between Jose Lobaton and Chris Gimenez for the backup catcher job behind Jose Molina.

And given that Lobaton is out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers before he can be sent down, and Gimenez has an option, it may not even be much of a competition.

Otherwise, the 11 players look to be Yunel Escobar, Sam Fuld, Desmond Jennings, Kelly Johnson, Matt Joyce, James Loney, Evan Longoria, Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez, Luke Scott and Ben Zobrist.

Guess: Lobaton

Lining up

The Rays like flexibility and versatility among their players, and they could have more of it this year than ever. Potentially, only three position players will be in the same spot on a pretty much everyday basis — Longoria at third base, Escobar at shortstop, Jennings in centerfield. (Plus, Scott at DH). Zobrist will play every day, but splitting time between at least rightfield and second base.

Spring will be to determine who else can do what else, as they seek to sort out what could be a quartet at second base, a trio in leftfield and platoons at first base and in right. Among the questions: Can Johnson handle the outfield, where he last played in 2005 before switching full time to second base? Or Roberts? Is Rodriguez the best right-handed option at first base? Will Fuld, a pesky lefty swinger, provide tough-enough at-bats vs. lefty pitchers?

Guess: What's the point? Joe Maddon has averaged 133-plus lineups the past four seasons.

Sizing up

Of all the scenarios being pondered with Myers, the least likely is that he has a monstrous spring, forces the Rays to shuffle their plans and makes the opening day roster.

A tad less likely is that he looks every bit of a 22-year-old who has less than 100 games above the Double-A level and hit his 37 homers in the friendly confines of the Pacific Coast and Texas leagues and spends all season at Durham until a September callup.

More likely for his arrival is something, and some time, in the middle, and their spring evaluation can go a long way toward determining that.

Not so much by what Myers does, but how he does it. In addition to making their own assessments of his game — strengths and weaknesses — the Rays need to get a better feel for his personality, work ethic, dedication, coachability, all the kind of things that will factor into their decision. While the Rays tend to be patient with prospects — and, yes, there are financial considerations as well — they prefer to keep them in the majors once they get there.

Today's guess: Oh, for fun, let's say June 13, when they're hosting the Royals.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Sports in brief


Times wires
Monday, February 11, 2013



PHILADELPHIA — QB Michael Vick took a significant pay cut to stay with the Eagles and compete for a starting job.

The four-time Pro Bowl pick agreed Monday to a restructured three-year contract, two seasons after signing a $100 million extension with $35.5 million guaranteed. The new deal is essentially for a year.

AP reported that Vick, 32, could earn up to $10 million in 2013 if he meets all his performance incentives. Vick was slated to earn about $16 million next season, including a $3 million roster bonus. He lost his job to rookie Nick Foles last season, but new coach Chip Kelly will give him a chance to win it back.

"I am grateful and proud to be a Philadelphia Eagle," a post on Vick's Twitter account read. "My heart is in Philly and this community is important to me."


Former No. 1s advance easily

Former top-ranked players Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic eased into the second round of the Qatar Open in Doha. The 10th-ranked Wozniacki beat qualifier Mervana Jugic-Salkic 6-1, 6-2; No. 13 Ivanovic beat Tamira Paszek 6-1, 6-2. Serena Williams can claim the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2010 by reaching the semifinals.


BC takes fourth straight Beanpot

Johnny Gaudreau scored twice and Parker Milner stopped 20 shots to lead Boston College to a 6-3 victory over Northeastern, giving the Eagles their fourth consecutive Beanpot title. Already the defending national champions, BC's seniors are the first class in school history to go unbeaten in the annual tournament involving Boston's four Division I teams.


SKIING: American Ted Ligety won the super-combined at a World Cup event in Schladming, Austria with a time of 2 minutes, 56.96 seconds over two runs (downhill and slalom).

SOCCER: The NASL champion Rowdies will face the New York Cosmos in St. Petersburg on Aug. 10, Tampa Bay's home opener of the fall season. The Cosmos are returning to the league in the fall. … FIFA banned Canadian forward Olivier Occean for six matches. He was sent off, then insulted the referee, during a World Cup qualifier Oct. 12 against Cuba.

DOPING: Two-time Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso told a Spanish court he paid Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the center of a scandal, for treatment in 2005 because he thought it would help him win the Tour de France.

FAN VIOLENCE: Serbia's basketball cup final was completed in an empty arena a day after fighting between rival fans forced the game to be stopped. Red Star beat Partizan 78-69; they were tied at 43 Sunday when fans turned violent in the third quarter, storming the court and hurling smoke bombs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Dennis Erickson, 65, who won two national titles as Miami's coach, came out of retirement to be Utah's co-offensive coordinator. … Running back Tyler Gaffney is returning to Stanford's team, after a year in the minors with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

GOLF: The U.S. Golf Association is getting rid of the U.S. Amateur Public Links in favor of a U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, to start in 2015.

OLYMPICS: IOC leaders are meeting for two days, starting today in Lausanne, Switzerland, to decide which sport to drop and how to deal with the fallout from the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

Times wires

Marquette coach sparks Hoyas' run


Times wires
Monday, February 11, 2013

WASHINGTON — Georgetown coach John Thompson III was so focused on the details of the game that he claimed not to notice a momentum swing when Marquette counterpart Buzz Williams was called for a technical foul in the second half.

But his point guard felt it.

"Yeah, absolutely," the Hoyas' Markel Starks said. "Absolutely."

The 18th-ranked Golden Eagles were making a run at No. 15 Georgetown, having closed a 10-point deficit to three when Williams got T'd up for arguing an out-of-bounds call along the baseline with 12:13 left.

The Hoyas responded with an 8-1 run immediately after the call, and Marquette didn't get closer than eight points the rest of the way in Georgetown's 63-55 victory Monday night.

"I was just hollering at somebody that would respond," Williams said. "We can make a big deal out of it if you want. I got a technical. I'm sorry. I may get a technical again next year — that's my average — and it'll probably be on the road."

Otto Porter scored 11 of his 21 after the technical, Starks had 16 points and Georgetown scored 24 off 19 turnovers to tie the Golden Eagles for second place in the Big East.

The Hoyas (18-4, 8-3) won their sixth straight game. Jamil Wilson scored 13 for the Golden Eagles (17-6, 8-3), who fell out of a first-place tie with Syracuse.

Williams indeed has five technical fouls in his five seasons at Marquette, according to the school. He used up his reservoir of goodwill long before the costly call, pushing the envelope repeatedly in the first half with strolls outside the coach's box.

NO. 14 KANSAS 83, NO. 10 KANSAS ST. 62: Ben McLemore scored 30 on his 20th birthday for the host Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3), who snapped a three-game skid and tied the Wildcats (19-5, 8-3) atop the Big 12.

NCCU 81, B-CU 75: Jeremy Ingram scored 20 of his career-high 32 in the first half as host North Carolina Central held off Bethune-Cookman (9-16, 4-6 MEAC) for its 11th straight win.

N.C. A&T 64, FAMU 56: Bruce Beckford had 16 points to lead the host Aggies past the Rattlers (6-18, 3-7 MEAC).

NO. 11 BUTLER: Senior center Andrew Smith, who is second on the team in scoring (11.4 points) and rebounding (5.4), has been ruled out for two games because of an abdominal injury.

NO. 22 MEMPHIS: Junior guard Antonio Barton has a hairline fracture in his right foot that will not need surgery but will keep him out for four to six weeks.

CONNECTICUT: Junior center Enosch Wolf was suspended from the team after his arrest in what police described as a domestic dispute.

SOUTHERN CAL: Junior guard-forward Ari Stewart is expected to miss at least three weeks after breaking his left thumb.

TEXAS: Sophomore guard Myck Kabongo said that he is ready to return after a 23-game NCAA suspension and that he should have cooperated with school officials when first asked about a 2012 trip to Cleveland.


NO. 2 NOTRE DAME 93, NO. 10 LOUISVILLE 64: Natalie Achonwa had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the host Irish (23-1, 11-0 Big East), who won their 18th straight and stopped a six-game winning streak by the Cardinals (20-5, 8-3).

NO. 5 DUKE 71, NO. 7 MARYLAND 56: Chelsea Gray scored a career-high 28 for the host Blue Devils (22-1, 12-0 ACC), who snapped a nine-game winning streak by the Terrapins (19-4, 10-2).

USF women deal with winter blizzard


By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jose Fernandez vividly remembers Hurricane Andrew in Miami some 20 years ago, being huddled in a closet with his mother and brother as winds blew in the sliding-glass door in their home.

On Friday night, listening to the howling wind from his hotel room as USF's women's basketball coach was bunkered down in Providence, R.I., the massive winter storm seemed familiar to him.

"It was something you couldn't really describe," said Fernandez, whose team flew in Thursday to arrive before the storm. "I felt hurricane winds in my hotel room, howling winds. You looked out, and it was just white. It was like a hurricane with snow."

On Saturday morning, the sightseer in him went downstairs, wanting to see the snow piled up, and it was high enough he couldn't turn the revolving door in the hotel lobby. The Bulls' game at Providence, originally bumped from 2 p.m. Saturday to 7:30 p.m., was shifted again to 1 p.m. Sunday to allow for better cleanup; that meant the Bulls were stuck in a hotel for more than 24 hours leading up to the game.

The Bulls worked out on treadmills and elliptical machines in the Renaissance fitness room; with a limited hotel staff, they ate meals in five-person shifts. "It was pretty nuts," Fernandez said.

Understandably, the Bulls played poorly in the first half ("We sleepwalked," he said), as USF held just a 28-23 lead. What followed was like a change of seasons: a dominant second half in which the Bulls shot 61 percent from the field and led by as many as 36 points before closing out an 82-54 rout.

"It was like a racehorse that took off," said Fernandez, whose team is 16-6 and 5-4 in the Big East, needing a strong push in the final seven regular-season games to make a case for the NCAA Tournament. "Our kids know what's at stake. Our backs are against the wall. We've got to get to 20 wins and finish in the top six in the league to get to the tournament."

The weather woes weren't over for the Bulls, who couldn't fly out of Rhode Island and took a four-hour bus ride to New York, staying overnight and waking up at 5:15 a.m. Monday to fly to Tampa. Landing at 11:30, they practiced 45 minutes later, watched video and sent players home for much-needed rest.

USF had been scheduled to play St. John's in the Sun Dome today, but the Big East granted USF's request to move the game to 4 p.m. Wednesday, the early tipoff required to honor a TV commitment.

USF Bulls set for new baseball season


By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

TAMPA — USF baseball coach Lelo Prado has settled into a new ballpark, has a solid core of returning veterans and just enough impact newcomers to have optimism as the Bulls seek their first trip to NCAA regionals since 2002.

"Pitching-wise, I feel good at how much strides they've made, and offensively, I think we'll be a better club, and that's good, because we've struggled to score runs," said Prado, whose team went 38-22 last spring and reached the Big East championship game. "I think we'll score some now."

Prado knew going into preseason practice that his top two pitchers would be senior RHP Joe Lovecchio and junior lefty Nick Gonzalez, and there's a three-way battle for the No. 3 job to close out the weekend rotation, among junior college transfer Nolan Thomas, freshman Justin Patrick of Rhode Island and sophomore Michael Clarkson (Dunedin).

"We feel good about those guys," said Prado, who said another junior college transfer, 6-foot-7 righty Alex Vetter, to compete for starts as well once he's healthy.

Prado has loads of returning bats and has high expectations for newcomers such as freshman Levi Borders, the son of former major-leaguer Pat, who will see work at catcher, third and designated hitter.

The Bulls open the season with seven tough games before they get a home game — Louisville, Purdue and Indiana in Clearwater this weekend, then a three-game series at Florida State and one at Central Florida before the home opener March 1 against Toledo.

"I love it. I think this group needs to get tested early to see where we're at," Prado said. "I always like facing tougher competition. I've told you a thousand times, I could schedule 45 wins every year, but it doesn't do many any good. We've got to get to the point where we're competing against some of these guys."

WELL-DESERVED: Jessica Dickson, already enshrined in USF's Athletics Hall of Fame as the Bulls' all-time leading scorer, will have her No. 25 jersey retired Saturday before USF's women's basketball game against Seton Hall.

RECRUITING HONORS: USF football assistants Larry Scott and Ray Woodie, who handled much of the Bulls' recruiting duties as Willie Taggart assembled a new staff, have been honored for their work in USF's 2013 recruiting class.

Scott, a former Bulls lineman now working under his third USF head coach, was recognized as one of the nation's top 50 recruiters by 247sports.com, continuing his success in the Miami area with four-star CB Lamar Robbins and RB Darius Tice. Scott and Woodie had at least some role in nearly every recruit who signed with the Bulls, having done much of the recruiting and evaluation until Taggart was able to bring in more assistants.

Woodie, who followed Taggart from Western Kentucky, was honored among the Big East's top recruiters by Rivals.com. The site gives him credit for securing eight of USF's 23 commitments. He was instrumental in the Bulls being able to lure Bradenton Manatee DT Derrick Calloway out of a previous commitment to Louisville.

THIS AND THAT: Rick Stumpf, who has worked in USF's compliance department since 2006, is leaving to become associate athletic director for compliance at Delaware. ... USF could make a late addition to its football recruiting class in Lake Gibson's Kennard Swanson, rated as the nation's No. 2 fullback by two national recruiting sites. Swanson was previously committed to LSU and Florida before academic issues, but his coach at Lake Gibson said he has a good chance to qualify academically. He visited USF on Monday.

Girardi believes Yankees will win big


By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

TAMPA — Manager Joe Girardi believes the suggestion the Yankees are getting old is an old story.

He points out people have been saying that for a decade, including last year, when they racked up 95 victories and took the American League East.

So even as the Yankees opened camp Tuesday with their share of questions, from the health of shortstop Derek Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera to another controversy surrounding Alex Rodriguez's alleged performance-enhancing drug use, Girardi has the same old expectations for his club.

"This team could win 95 games and get to the World Series," Girardi in his opening spring news conference. "There's a lot of talent in this room."

The Yankees fate could partly rest on the shoulders of two of their oldest — and most important — players. Girardi is optimistic Jeter, 38, coming off left ankle surgery, will be their everyday shortstop. And Girardi is happy to hand the ball in the ninth to Rivera, 43, who is the "greatest closer of all-time," but missed the final four months last season due to knee surgery.

However, as confident as Girardi is in the two future Hall of Famers, no one knows for sure. "You want to see him," Girardi said of Jeter. "And you want to get over the 'I'm done worrying about him' stage. Same with Mo."

The Yankees won't be seeing much of Rodriguez, 37, who will continue rehabbing his surgically-repaired hip in New York to prepare for his post All-Star break return. Girardi said it has nothing to do with avoiding the potential camp distraction of Rodriguez, who was linked in a Miami New Times report last month as a client of alleged PED-supplier Anthony Bosch. Rodriguez, who has denied the report, is just getting off crutches and Girardi said the "best place" for him is with specialists in New York. "He's not ready to do anything with us from a baseball standpoint," Girardi said.

Aside from Rodriguez's absence, there has been considerable focus on what the Yankees lost, including catcher Russell Martin (Pirates), Nick Swisher (Indians), Raul Ibanez (Mariners) and Rafael Soriano (Nationals). Gone are nearly 100 of their MLB-leading 245 homers from 2012, and even though New York signed veteran Kevin Youkilis (one-year, $12 million) to play third base, Girardi admitted their offense will have a different look. The Yankees still boast some pop, with Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, but will rely on speed at the top with Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki.

"I believe we're going to score runs," Girardi said. "It's just going to be in a different fashion

The Yankees don't have an established catcher, picking this spring among the trio of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Austin Romine. But their bullpen remains mostly intact (Rivera replacing Soriano) and they'll have the luxury of the same starting rotation. That staff is topped by a healthier CC Sabathia, who feels relief after an offseason procedure on his throwing elbow, which was more of an issue last year than initially stated. Girardi considered retaining veterans Andy Pettitte, 40, and Hiroki Kuroda, 38, as "big signings," overlooked because they were returning players.

The Yankees may not have made as big a splash this winter as other teams such as the Blue Jays, but Girardi noted that some of the biggest offseason spenders last year didn't make the playoffs.

"If other clubs want to think that we're vulnerable, that's okay," Girardi said. "But I love the character in that room, and the way they find ways to win games. And that's important."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Captain's Corner: Warmer water brings action


By Dave Zalewski, Times Correspondent
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Timing: It appears we can expect an early Spanish mackerel and kingfish season. Both Sunshine Skyway fishing piers are reporting daily catches of Spanish mackerel. Schools of baitfish of all sizes are showing up at bridges and offshore. The best indicator is water temperature, which is hovering around 65. St. Patrick's Day is when we traditionally see trolling season hit high gear, targeting cobia, kingfish, mackerel and bonita.

Tip: Now is the time to inspect trolling tackle. Repair shops are not that busy. Check rod guides for burrs and cracks that might not be readily visible by running a piece of nylon stocking through them. The stocking will hang up on the smallest imperfection. Check drags for smoothness by tying the line to a fixed object and pulling against it.

What's hot: Bottom fishing has been exceptional in 40- to 60-foot depths. Grouper season (red and gag) is closed and we have been targeting white grunts, mangrove snapper, triggerfish and sea bass on light tackle. These fish inhabit the same limestone bottom structure as grouper. Use a live or frozen sardine on a flatline on every bottom stop. One or two kingfish have been striking on most days.

Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.

Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria 'feeling like a new man'


By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

PORT CHARLOTTE — This year is going to be different for Evan Longoria.

There's the baby he and girlfriend Jaime Edmondson are expecting just before opening day. The attention, and expectations, that come with his $100 million contract extension. A decision to take on an increased leadership role in the Rays clubhouse.

And the realization that he has to find a way — even if it reluctantly means taking preventative days off — to avoid having another season disrupted by injury.

"This has to come to an end," he said.

Longoria missed more than half of last season with a left hamstring injury, leading to November surgery — which left him "feeling like a new man" — and his early arrival at Rays spring training, which formally starts today with a workout for pitchers and catchers.

He missed a month the previous season with an oblique strain, and the last 10 games (and was limited in the playoffs) the one before that with a quad strain. Plus, he had a finger infection in the middle of the 2009 season and a broken wrist as a 2008 rookie. Overall, he has missed more than 20 percent of the Rays' games in his five seasons.

After seeing Longoria try a series of different conditioning programs and routines, they now are planning to find ways to get him more rest. With last year a sledgehammer reminder of how valuable he is to have on the field, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said they haven't committed to a specific plan (such as DH, pinch-hit, total rest) but, "I'm sure we'll be a little bit more proactive in terms of giving him days."

And as much as Longoria prides himself as an everyday gladiator, he is willing to make the concession.

"If I have to take a day off here and there to not go on the DL and not have to deal with that kind of stress or worry, I'll do it," he said. "Trying to avoid the DL is going to be the biggest thing for me."

But he won't necessarily be happy about it.

"I'm 27 years old," he said. "It's getting to the point, I shouldn't have to take these days off. I'm still young. That's the last thing on my mind, having to worry about taking days off. I can do that eight years from now, but not now."

He found inspiration in the play of oft-injured veteran Carlos Beltran, who "kind of had that stigma, too," and at 35 had a strong season for St. Louis: "It's doable as late into his career as he is, so you hope that for me I can have five, six, seven years just like that."

As "really good" as Longoria said he feels and has done running, he will be watched closely and questioned often. And given that he has yet to try running the bases, he admitted he "might take a couple steps back" in the first week or two of camp.

Meanwhile, he is making a concerted effort to be more of a leader in a clubhouse that lost veterans James Shields and B.J. Upton. For Longoria, that started with the unprecedented act of actually looking at the roster of who was coming to camp, and he plans to follow through with introductions.

"I just told myself coming into spring this year that I would do a better job at meeting the new guys and just making myself available," he said.

The contract will bring some attention, along with some high-profile appearances (like the ESPN The Magazine photoshoot) and a hand in a new sports bar venture in Tampa.

There also is all that is involved with the baby girl due the day before the April 2 opener.

"It's been fun," Longoria said. "I think it's all going to be good. It really hasn't put my mind at a stressful point. I feel great, I'm happy to be here. I think when it all happens there, will be a little bit of weight lifted off of me. But it's not enough that's going to drag me down right now."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

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IOC boots wrestling from Olympics


By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

For Jared Frayer, the Olympic dream kept him going.

A skilled wrestler at Countryside High in the 1990s, Frayer kept at the sport into adulthood, finally making the U.S. Olympic team at age 33 and competing last summer in London.

But soon that Olympian goal that kept Frayer on the mat all those years will be snuffed out. The International Olympic Committee executive board voted Tuesday to eliminate wrestling — part of the modern Games since 1896 and the ancient games before that — beginning with the 2020 Games

"It's pretty wild, pretty disheartening," Frayer said. "It's tough because the Olympics was the one thing that was really keeping the sport alive past college. It was the one thing that give it notoriety and respect on a world stage. Growing up in Florida, in a sport with no college wrestling (in the state), my biggest dream was to represent the USA in the Olympics. ... I can only imagine what kids in high school or even younger are thinking right now."

The IOC decision was a surprise to many Olympic observers, who thought modern pentathlon — a sport that combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting — was most likely to be dropped in a review of the 26 Olympic sports. Wrestling will attempt to reclaim its spot, competing against softball, baseball, wakeboarding and wushu (a Chinese form of martial arts) in coming months.

The 15-member board gave no reason for its decision.

"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling; it is what's right with the 25 core sports."

According to IOC documents obtained by the Associated Press, wrestling ranked low in several of the areas evaluated, including popularity with the public at the London Games. Wrestling sold 113,851 tickets in London out of 116,854 available.

Wrestling also ranked low in global TV audience with a maximum of 58.5 million viewers and an average of 23 million, the documents show. Internet hits and news coverage were also ranked as low.

The United States has had much success in Olympic wrestling, winning 113 medals in freestyle competition, more than any other country. U.S. athletes have more wrestling medals than any sport other than swimming and track and field, which offer more medal opportunities.

Longtime Brandon High coach Russ Cozart, familiar with the international politics of the sports and Olympic lobbying, said the world's governing body for wrestling has been criticized for mismanaging the sport. Other sports, including equestrian, have had better lobbying efforts at the Olympic level and will carry on when wrestling does not, with significant impact on the sport and its future.

"The world organizationn for freestyle and Greco-Roman has kind of dropped the ball, and it has been well-noted," said Cozart, who has spent more than a decade on the U.S. Olympic coaching staff, working with wrestlers of various age levels. "There are huge ramifications if wrestling is kept out of the Olympics. ... You don't need an Olympic Training Center in America if you're not in the Olympics. Hopefully, maybe them being kicked out of the Olympics for a while will force them to reorganize and present a better (product)."

With moments such as Rulon Gardner's historic upset for gold in the 2000 Olympics, the Olympics have represented the pinnacle of competition beyond success at the college level for generations of wrestlers. Former Hernando High wrestler Charley Combs, who made a comeback effort last year for the U.S. Olympic Trials, said it's unfair to point to metrics such as TV ratings because even medal competitions in wrestling aren't given the opportunity for audiences.

"It's an appalling decision," Combs said. "It deflates the interest in the sport because it's more difficult to aim for something. In every facet of life, you have to have goals, and this just takes away some of those goals. Your average high school or college wrestler couldn't tell you who won the 2011 world championship in any weight class, but the Olympics are prestigious."

While wrestling advocates, can hope to regain an Olympic spot, the consensus is that significant damage is being done to the sport and the motivations for more than one hundred thousand young wrestlers across the country.

"I'm hopeful, but any halt is detrimental," Cozart said.

Frayer points back to the sport's fundamental traits of toughness and resilience: "I know there's a lot of people in the sport that won't let this decision go down without a fight."

Some of the sport's most successful and well-known leaders took to social media and mainstream news outlets Tuesday, expressing their frustration and hope that a solution still exists for wrestling's Olympic future.

"I do think wrestling people are the strongest in the world, and they're resilient. And we'll come out of whatever happens. But short term, yeah, it's sad," 2004 gold medalist Cael Sanderson, now head coach at Penn State, told the Associated Press. "I just think of the kids in our program that dream of being Olympic champions. And to think that now that's no longer an opportunity just so the IOC can stay fresh and continue to rotate sports and whatever their plan is —it's tough to think about."

Times staff writers Greg Auman, Joey Knight and Bob Putnam and correspondent Derek J. LaRiviere contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.

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