- Associated Press - Monday, February 21, 2011

Cliff Lee arrived at spring training with a big contract and a muscle strain.

The Philadelphia Phillies left-hander, signed to a $120 million, five-year deal during the offseason, said Monday the strain under his left armpit was the reason his first bullpen session lasted just eight pitches a week ago.

Lee completed his next two pitching sessions last week and took part in fielding practice during the first week of camp. He felt discomfort while playing catch last month in Arkansas.

“I had a little minor, something going on in my armpit,” Lee said in Clearwater, Fla. “I called the trainers, went to Philadelphia, and they diagnosed it. I didn’t throw for a few days, built back up and here I am. I’m perfectly fine and right with everyone else. It’s not really a major issue.”

Across the bay in Tampa, Alex Rodriguez arrived at Yankees camp and talked about the snack seen ‘round the world.

The third baseman, known for dating actress Kate Hudson during the 2009 World Series, was pictured on TV getting fed popcorn by Cameron Diaz in a suite at the Super Bowl.

“Did anyone watch the Super Bowl?” Rodriguez said to laughter. “No popcorn endorsements yet, but our lines are open. Who would be upset about getting fed popcorn?”

Laughter quickly changed to a more serious tone when the discussion shifted to Rodriguez’s performance on the field the past two years, which declined following right hip surgery in March 2009.

The 13-time All-Star and three-time AL MVP was cleared during the offseason by Dr. Marc Philippon to end his combination rehab-workout program and resume his normal offseason routine. The result is a leaner A-Rod, down 5 or 6 pounds to around 222.

“This is as healthy as I’ve felt over the last several years,” the 35-year-old Rodriguez said. “It’s fun getting back to work. I have a good winter behind me of real work, probably my first since ‘07 or ‘08. I’m ready to go.”

Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner had his own diagnosis for what went wrong following his team’s 2009 World Series championship.

“I think, maybe, they celebrated too much last year,” he said. “Some of the players, too busy building mansions and doing other things and not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that.”

Across the state in Kissimmee, the Atlanta Braves gave general manager Frank Wren a two-year contract extension through the 2013 season. Wren, entering his fourth season, and new manager Fredi Gonzalez are signed for the next three years.

“We feel like we’re on the right path,” Wren said. “We finally got back to the playoffs last year, and we want to take it a little farther. I’m excited to be part of that.”

In Jupiter, union head Michael Weiner started his tour of training camps with the St. Louis Cardinals and said he expects meetings with management about the next labor contract to be held in both Florida and Arizona before the regular season opens. The current deal expires in December.

“I know we’re prepared to try to get it done. I’m confident that the ownership is prepared to try to get it done as well,” Weiner said. “You don’t know until you get to the table.”

Weiner does not expect the looming trials for home run king Barry Bonds (scheduled for March) and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens (scheduled for July) to cast a pall over the season.

“I don’t think anybody’s happy about the fact that Barry and Roger face these trials,” Weiner said. “Knowing both of those guys a long time, I’m not happy about that. I think the institution has gotten to the point where drug testing and the issues associated with it are going to be involved with the business of the game, but it’s not the dominant story that it has been or was several years ago.”

In Fort Myers, Justin Morneau said he’s feeling better in his recovery from a July 7 concussion. At first, he figured he’d be back by the All-Star game. Then it was September. Finally, when he wasn’t able to play in the postseason, the Minnesota Twins’ star first baseman finally started to come to grips with the fact that recovery from this injury was out of his control.

He still feels a few lingering symptoms. He will likely miss the first four or five exhibition games as he eases his way back into things and still hopes to be ready for opening day on April 1.

“Wouldn’t say it’s 100 percent yet, but I think it’s as close as I can get,” Morneau said. “It’s just trying to get over that final hump.”

In Mesa, Ariz., Cubs manager Mike Quade said Ryan Dempster will start Chicago’s opener against Pittsburgh on April 1.

Dempster was picked over right-hander Carlos Zambrano, who has started the last six openers for the Cubs. Zambrano will start the second game of the season, followed by Matt Garza in Game 3. The Cubs obtained Garza during the offseason from Tampa Bay.

“To be honest with you, I never really thought about it a whole lot until today,” said Dempster, who started Florida’s openers in 2001 and 2002. “It’s a humbling feeling to go out there. It could have been any one of the three guys everybody’s been talking about. Z’s started the last six years. So it feels weird to go out there and do that.”

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