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Pitchers Eddy Rodriguez, Aaron Rakers, Tony Fiore and Dave Borkwoski were sent to the minors, along with outfield prospect Nick Markakis and catcher Brandon Marsters. Again no surprises and no real solid decisions made. All these guys were expected to start the season where they're going, except maybe Fiore, who might've been expected to not start the season anywhere at all. He's had one good season in his major league career. He does throw a palmball though.

Tejader is still having some problems with a tooth he had extracted, plus he's getting over that bad flu he had. Jay Gibbons is still recovering from pneumonia but may make it back into the lineup this week. It's been a rough spring as far as nagging little stuff goes. Tejada, Mora and Javy missing time isn't a huge deal, those guys will hit. But I wish Gibbons would've gotten a full spring in after struggling with injury last season, and Brian Roberts' shoulder is the type of thing that could pick at him for half the season or worse.

Luckily in the meantime we've had things to be happy about: Cabrera finding control, Matos hitting, Bedard having a fine spring, sportswriters finding it necessary to note Sosa's hustle (and largely ignoring his unsuccessful at-bats), Enrique Wilson's quest to make our team and sit around on our bench being awful.

As an aside, would it surprise anyone if Cabrera and Bedard really do wind up being our best starters? Or would it surprise anyone if this is a miserable season where we lose for the eighth year in a row?

Yeah, the closer Opening Day gets, the more it sets back in: we've been a bad team for all these years, and it's not going to be easy to turn it around in a division where the Yankees and Sox will rule again, Tampa Bay has some stud young players, and Toronto is getting guys back that they didn't have last year, even if they did lose Delgado.

It's hard to be very confident when you don't (or might not, if you want to go glass half full) have pitching. Every spring, you start off on even ground, and you think, "Maybe this year we'll win 82 games. Or hell, maybe 90!" You get this glimmer of hope, especially trading for name sluggers after a year when pitching was the problem and your team could hit. But wait, that doesn't address the pitching - um, the pitching will come around itself? Sure, that works.

That works, at least, until you start inching toward Opening Day, and you're looking around your division, and every team except Tampa Bay has better starters, and even the D-Rays have hope with Kazmir and Brazelton, two guys who could conceivably be a lot better than anyone you have.

I hate this part of the spring, the anxious time when the hope fades a little and you're facing the cold reality that everything is going to start and the likelihood of the team succeeding isn't really very good, if you want to be serious about it.

But when the first pitch goes out, the same as that glorious day when pitchers and catchers report and the world slows down, the snow eases up, and there's balance again, we'll get right back into that silly dream of a pennant for this bunch of ours. We aren't ragtag and we aren't a misfit team, what we are is a handful of stars, a handful of youngish guys still looking to make a mark, and three scoops of questionable pitchers.

But hey, don't take my word for it. Just ask Earl.

"Nobody likes to hear it, because it's dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same - pitching."

But how about Sammy's hustle, huh? At the very least, this season is going to be interesting. And what if we win 90? I can see it.