- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2009

It happens every spring, at least these days. Pitchers and catchers report to camps, and talk shifts from bats and balls to steroids and syringes.

From Florida to Arizona, the recent disclosures about Alex Rodriguez are topic No. 1.

“Guys that are playing right now, guys that haven’t done anything, the younger guys coming up, we have to deal with that cloud,” Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, the 2008 major league home run champion, said Friday. “Everyone who is playing in the present day has to deal with that cloud.”

“That’s more of the frustrating thing about it. The game is under this cloud,” he said at the World Series champions’ camp in Clearwater, Fla. “It’s just a dark cloud because of the steroid use.”

With spring training starting this week, there were also plenty of on-the-field questions. Among them: Can Chris Carpenter put his injuries behind him? Will Dontrelle Willis regain his control?

After shifting to Plan B - as in Boston, instead of Atlanta - John Smoltz provided an early answer about his status. The star right-hander said he doesn’t expect to pitch in a game before June, about 12 months after having shoulder surgery.

“My timetable’s a lot faster than most,” the former Braves star said at Red Sox camp in Fort Myers, Fla. “I told them their biggest challenge for me is to tame me down because I’m a full-bore guy and I love to compete. So they’ve communicated it well, and I look forward to the opportunities when they come.”

Exhibition games begin Feb. 25. Just a reminder to Manny Ramirez in case he decides to rejoin the Los Angeles Dodgers: They now train in Glendale, Ariz., instead of Vero Beach, Fla.

But before stats count, the suspicions will mount.

“I think anybody now who performs well or does anything well, people are going to definitely assume that they’re doing something,” Yankees newcomer CC Sabathia said in Tampa, Fla.

Sabathia said he was surprised the A-Rod scandal caused so much commotion.

“I didn’t think it was going to be that huge of a deal. I mean, I just said it was unfortunate that it had to come out in the way it did,” he said.

Another high-priced New York pitcher, A.J. Burnett, said he ran into Rodriguez in the Bahamas a couple of weeks ago. Burnett already has a plan on how he’ll try to make the slugger comfortable.

“Just going to mess with him every day, you know, prank him every day. I’m going to be mean to him,” Burnett said.

Meanwhile, fans and players and officials kept debating another aspect of the A-Rod situation: Should the names of the other 103 players who tested positive be revealed?

“I’m not here to say that because I don’t know what the issues are legally, don’t know what the situation is between the union and commissioner’s office,” Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said in Mesa, Ariz.

“I would like to just acknowledge the fact that so many people played the game clean and now that era is tarnishing them with an extremely unfair high percentage as it’s listed,” he said.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella remembered his days in Seattle as Rodriguez’s first manager.

“I was saddened. Alex, we brought up as a young pup. Got him up there at age 18, gave him a taste and brought him up a second time and he became an All-Star. Wonderful young man. It’s a shame it’s happened to him. I’ve been really, really close with him,” he said.

“I think the statement that he made getting that huge, huge contract with the Texas Rangers probably put pressure on him to be superhuman. And it turned out to be a big mistake. I hope he’s learned from this and I’m sure he has and he can go on and continue his career and do the great job he’s done.”

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