Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca addressed his inclusion in the Mitchell Report for the first time Saturday, acknowledging what he called ``a mistake.''
At the New York Mets' camp, Carlos Beltran said Lo Duca's former team is the favorite in the NL East.
Lo Duca was among the more prominent players cited in baseball investigator George Mitchell's report on drug use in the sport, which was released Dec. 13. That was two days after Washington announced it signed the former Mets backstop to a $5 million, one-year contract.
``You do something wrong in your life and you get away with it, you still have something inside you that burns,'' Lo Duca said, his shoulders slumping and his fingers fidgeting with the folds of his orange T-shirt. ``And, um, it's been a big relief for me to know that I've come to grips with it. That I made a mistake.''
guilty in April.
Lo Duca was completely silent on the matter for more than two months. But Saturday, he issued a statement through the team in the morning, saying: ``In regards to Senator Mitchell's Report, I apologize ... for mistakes in judgment I made in the past.''
Then he held a news conference shortly after arriving at Washington's spring training facility in Viera, Fla., in the afternoon. Even then, Lo Duca was not very expansive.
Asked whether the Mitchell Report was accurate about him, Lo Duca said: ``I'm not going to comment on that.''
When another reporter asked what he was apologizing for, Lo Duca replied, ``Come on, bro'. Next question.''
It was reminiscent of New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi's non-detailed apology in February 2005, a few months after it had been reported that he told a federal grand jury in 2003 he took steroids. At no point did Giambi explicitly say why he was apologizing, nor did he ever use the word ``steroids.''
At Port St. Lucie, Fla., left-hander Johan Santana's first workout with the Mets had his teammates all pumped up - even the quiet Beltran.
The star center fielder reported to camp three days early and revealed he probably won't be ready to play when spring training games start because he's still rehabbing from Oct. 3 surgery on both knees.
and had a right-back-at-you message for Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
``Let me tell you this: Without Santana, we felt as a team that we have a chance to win in our division. With him now, I have no doubt that we're going to win in our division,'' Beltran said. ``So this year, to Jimmy Rollins - we are the team to beat!''
Of course, it was Rollins who boasted last offseason that his Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East, even though the Mets had run away with the 2006 division title.
The comment made headlines in New York and turned Rollins into a ripe target for angry boos at Shea Stadium. He backed up his words, however, leading Philadelphia's late-season surge past the fading Mets for its first division championship in 14 years.
Rollins is scheduled to report to Phillies camp by Monday. When told about Beltran's comment, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said: ``I got nothing to say about that. You have to ask Jimmy. I could see why they'd feel good with Johan.''
Manuel did say, however, that he prefers when players just speak with their bats.
``Let Louisville do the talking,'' he explained.
At Jupiter, Fla., St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said he'll keep a close eye this season on Albert Pujols' balky right elbow.
Pujols, who opted not to have surgery to repair a strained ligament after meeting with specialists during the offseason, is less concerned. The slugger said he will not change his routine as he prepares for opening day.
``If it blows out it's going to blow out,'' Pujols said. ``You can't control that.''
The Cardinals, though, will try.
Pujols arrived in South Florida on Friday and went through his first workout at the Cardinals facility later that afternoon. The first baseman was in the batting cage Saturday morning long before the pitchers and catchers took the field.
The injury has bothered Pujols since 2003 and it flared up last season.
``We'll definitely monitor it,'' La Russa said. ``Talking to the trainers this morning one of the biggest issues will be throwing so we'll be on the careful side of really firing it. He could make a swing that could tweak it, too. It's one of those deals.''
At Phoenix, Joe Blanton threw to hitters who stood in the batter's box but didn't take swings, a fast-forward step in the Oakland pitcher's preparation to start the season March 25 in Tokyo against the defending World Series champion Red Sox.
The burly right-hander has been the subject of trade rumors but it doesn't seem like it has bothered him too much.
``You try to block it out as much as you can. You're going to hear stuff. People who know you would say, 'I saw this, I saw that,''' Blanton said. ``Once (Dan) Haren got traded, then everybody followed that. I didn't think about it. I just kind of had the idea I was going to be here until they told me I wasn't. That was my whole mind-set. You're here until they tell you you're not. I don't look at it any other way.''
Dodgers pitcher Jason Schmidt, a question mark entering spring training, looked impressive in his first bullpen outing and was all smiles afterward.
``Knock on wood, I hate to even say anything. I was pain-free,'' he said in Vero Beach, Fla. ``I'm feeling free and easy. Stamina up, arm strength, too. (But) we're not out of the woods.''
The Dodgers signed Schmidt to a $47 million, three-year contract last winter hoping he'd join Brad Penny and Derek Lowe atop their rotation. Instead, the 35-year-old right-hander was limited to six starts before undergoing surgery June 20 to repair an inflamed bursa, a torn labrum and a frayed biceps tendon in his right shoulder.

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