- Associated Press - Thursday, March 1, 2012

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Jason Varitek officially announced his retirement, bringing to an end a beloved 15-year career with the Boston Red Sox.

Varitek made the announcement Thursday night at the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. Many of his teammates, his parents, Red Sox ownership and his wife and three daughters all attended.

Varitek says he grappled with the decision for a long time. The Red Sox offered the 39-year-old a chance to come to camp on a minor-league contract, but he declined. “The hardest thing to do is walk away from your teammates,” he said.

The captain helped lead the Red Sox to two World Series titles. He caught a record four no-hitters and played in three All-Star games.

PIRATES: Pitcher A.J. Burnett will undergo surgery Friday to repair a fractured right orbital bone. The right-hander injured himself Wednesday at the team’s spring training facilities in Bradenton, Fla., when a bunt attempt caromed off his face. He flew to Pittsburgh late Wednesday to be further evaluated. There is no immediate timetable for Burnett’s return.

The 35-year-old was acquired in a three-player trade with the New York Yankees last month and was expected to join the rotation on a team looking to improve on a 72-90 record last season.

Burnett, a two-time World Series winner, is also trying to rehabilitate his career. He struggled during his final two seasons in New York, posting a 21-26 record with a 5.20 ERA. He led the major leagues with 25 wild pitches in 2011 while allowing a career-high 31 homers.

RAYS: Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria was hit by a pitch during an intrasquad game and has a bruised right hand. The Rays said precautionary X-rays on Thursday were negative. The three-time All-Star third baseman was struck by a pitch thrown by reliever Matt Bush.

CUBS: After losing two of their top three run producers from last season, the Cubs might open 2012 with outfielder Alfonso Soriano as their cleanup hitter. Spring training games don’t start until Sunday, and new manager Dale Sveum said his lineup is still very much a work in progress. But his early thoughts include newly acquired outfielder David DeJesus leading off and either first baseman Bryan LaHair or Soriano batting fourth.

METS: Johan Santana, who missed all of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery, faced hitters Thursday for the first time since tossing four innings in an Instructional League game Sept. 30. The next step for Santana will be his first Grapefruit League outing. He is scheduled to start a split-squad game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday. He will throw two innings or 40 pitches, whichever comes first.

CARDINALS: St. Louis agreed to a five-year, $75 million contract with four-time Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2017 season. The team announced the details Thursday, including a mutual, $15 million option for a sixth year. The contract makes Molina the second-highest paid catcher in the majors, trailing only the Twins’ Joe Mauer (eight years, $184 million).

INDIANS: Outfielder Grady Sizemore underwent a minimally invasive lower back procedure Thursday in Miami. The oft-injured Sizemore, who re-signed with the Indians in the offseason, required a microdiscectomy that was performed by Dr. Barth Green of the University of Miami School of Medicine. He is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks.

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