- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

From combined dispatches

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Dave Roberts knelt beside Barry Bonds on the first day of spring training hoping to strike up a conversation with the slugger. Bonds spoke first with one message: be aggressive and run.

For the first time in years, the San Francisco Giants have a prototypical leadoff man in Roberts. He is energetic, gets on base and regularly steals bags. He’s also a welcoming, friendly face to his teammates in the clubhouse who has been a fan favorite at every stop.

“I think this team has obviously always been centered around Barry and waiting for him to do something really special, but I think guys up and down the lineup still need to do their jobs,” Roberts said. “For me, it’s needing to get on base and provide energy and stealing bases. That’s my job, my role this year and I’m excited about my role.”

Roberts will bat in front of Omar Vizquel, giving San Francisco two base-stealing threats at the top of the lineup the Giants hope will be key in making the club a contender again. He also will start in center field, with Randy Winn moving to right and Bonds playing left.

“With Dave Roberts out there getting on base, he’s going to create a lot of problems out there,” said Bonds, ready to resume his chase of Hank Aaron’s home run record. “I’ve had the opportunity to play against him for so many years, and he’s done it. This time it’s having him on our side. We had a good talk earlier. I told him, ‘Don’t change your game — run. The more runs you score, the more runs we have.’ I just hope he runs and doesn’t do anything different than he’s done in the past.”

Roberts batted .293 with two home runs and 44 RBI and stole a career-best 49 bases for San Diego in 2006, his eighth year in the big leagues. His steals were fourth in the National League, and he was caught only six times. Roberts is fourth in the majors with 195 steals the last five seasons, and his 81.3 percent success rate is second best among players with at least 175 stolen bases in the span.

Roberts appreciated Bonds taking the lead with the new guy. They have crossed paths as opponents but had rarely talked before.

“He initiated the conversation,” said Roberts, who also could relieve Bonds in left field on occasion. “It was great because that is what I was hoping was going to happen and what I intended to do. I wanted to talk to him about it. It was nice that he understands it and realizes we’re going to need everybody to be productive on offense.”

Thome looking for title

TUCSON — Jim Thome had an ace bandage wrapped around his midsection as he sat by his locker, but no, he’s not injured.

His back’s fine. So are his wrist and hamstring.

One year after re-establishing himself as a premier power hitter, Thome has a chance to reach 500 career home runs. And, he hopes, win a World Series.

“I certainly feel very, very strongly about winning,” he said yesterday. “Winning a championship should be in everybody’s plan. I certainly would like to accomplish that.”

Thome put up some impressive numbers last season, his first with the White Sox — a .288 batting average, 42 home runs and 109 RBI after being limited to 59 games because of injuries with Philadelphia the previous season. He has 472 homers, meaning he could reach a milestone this season.

But the most important number is this: 90.

That’s how many games the White Sox won last season after capturing the championship in 2005. Not bad. But not good enough for a team that had visions of repeating — or at least getting back to the playoffs.

The champagne had barely run out when the White Sox added Javier Vazquez to the starting rotation and Thome’s booming bat to the middle of the lineup. But instead of another celebration, there was a third-place finish in the AL Central.

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