Ivan Rodriguez has fans among the Nationals' young pitching staff.

"He's been huge for me so far," pitcher Garrett Mock told the The Washington Post. "He'll call a pitch sometimes I might not understand. He'll call a pitch that I've never really thought about before. Then after that, he'll explain to me why. That's the learning process. He explains everything. That's awesome."

"When you have a lot of trust in your catcher, you make better pitches," pitching coach Steve McCatty said. "That's what he brings. He's got that presence."

Gomes feels benefits of weight loss: Jonny Gomes feels a difference after losing 17 pounds in the offseason.

"I feel better in the outfield," Gomes told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I feel like I'm covering more ground. I'm five, six years in, and I feel like I'm better."

Nolasco posts another springtime gem: Ricky Nolasco continued his strong spring with six innings of one-run ball on Tuesday against the Orioles. The Marlins pitcher did not walk a batter, extending his streak to 20 innings without allowing a base on balls.

"I take pride in not walking guys and I have been feeling good enough to where I have been able to fill up the strike zone, and hopefully it carries over into the season," Nolasco told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

"That is my goal every time I take the mound -- to throw strikes. Just let them put the ball in play, and let the defense work for you," Nolasco said.

Mauer turns focus to World Series after signing: With Joe Mauer's long-term contract finalized, the catcher wants to get the media focus back to the playing field.

"I'm just thrilled to do this for the rest of my career," Mauer told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I've told everyone here that I'm going to give you everything I got. My goal is to win a World Series, and I look forward to doing that. Let's get back to work tomorrow, huh?"

Duchscherer's return a positive step: On Monday, Justin Duchscherer made his first start against Major League hitters in 19 months. That made his four shutout innings even more impressive.

"I was very anxious in anticipating getting out there for the first time against big league guys," Duchscherer told the Oakland Tribune. "That was my goal -- get up and down four times. I'm very pleased with that."

"If he progresses with each start, he should be fine," A's manager Bob Geren said of the chances of Duchscherer making the Opening Day roster."

Cliff Lee could miss beginning of season: The Mariners got a bit of bad news on Tuesday when Cliff Lee felt tightness in his strained lower abdomen during a game of catch. It's unlikely that Lee will be ready to pitch at the start of the season.

"It doesn't look very good," Lee told the The Seattle Times. "I mean, I just played catch today. It's getting pretty close to decision time, and I don't really know where I'm at just yet. If everything were to go perfectly from here, there would maybe be an outside chance I could do it, but I don't know. We'll see what happens [Wednesday]."

Blum shows versatility at shortstop: With Tommy Manzella out of action for at least a week, Astros manager Brad Mills started Geoff Blum at shortstop on Monday.

Even at 6-feet-3 and 221 pounds, Blum can play all four infield positions and, in a pinch, the corner spots in the outfield. During his career, the only positions he has not played are center field, pitcher and catcher. As a shortstop, Blum has started 134 games.

"Part of it is getting Millsie the confidence that I can go out there and he doesn't have to worry about anything," Blum told the Houston Chronicle. "That's my job, [Keppinger's] job, Jason Michaels' and those guys'.

"We've gotta go out there and be ready to play as many positions as we can and have Millsie not worry about missing a beat with the ballclub."

Marcum gets the nod as starter on Opening Day: The Blue Jays announced on Monday that Shaun Marcum will be the team's Opening Day starter.

When Marcum takes the mound against the Rangers on April 5, it will also mark the end of a long road back for Marcum, who missed all of last season after having Tommy John surgery in 2008.

"You've got to be mentally tough to go through a major surgery like that," Marcum told MLB.com. "It was something I had to learn from, and I had to be mentally strong through it because a lot of guys can break down and just kind of get frustrated and give up on it. That's something that I didn't want to do."

Conor Jackson getting a look as leadoff hitter: Conor Jackson is not a typical leadoff hitter. But that is where the Diamondbacks are thinking of placing him in the batting order this year. Manager A.J. Hinch has been experimenting using Jackson as the leadoff hitter and Stephen Drew as the No. 2 hitter.

"It makes our lineup pretty interesting," Hinch told the The Arizona Republic. "As much as [Jackson] gets on base, if I have a left-hander hitting behind him, he's got the hole open. Conor will run. Even though he doesn't have blazing speed, he's a very good base runner. It's possible."

Eckstein happy to be part of running plans in San Diego: The Padres are pretending they are a track team this spring, sprinting from base to base as they rack up the steals. After getting three more steals the other day, San Diego has now swiped 32 bases this spring.

"I love it," David Eckstein told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "If we're going to compete, we need to do everything we can to create opportunities. We are committed to this. We did the same thing when I was with the Angels and everyone hated to play us.

"Sometimes it meant the defense taking a step in or an extra fastball from a pitcher using the slide step to slow us down. Using speed forces the other team to make plays. If they don't, you strike. It's just not stealing bases. We're creating a more aggressive mindset. We saw a flash of this at the end of last season, and it had a lot to do with the way [37-25] we finished the season."

J.D. Drew comfortable wherever he hits in lineup: J.D. Drew was asked if he has a favorite spot in the batting order.

"I couldn't say," Drew told the Boston Herald. "I've had good runs in all different spots. I don't think it matters where you bat. That's the God's honest truth. When you're swinging the bat well, it doesn't matter where you hit in the lineup."

Jamie Garcia makes his case for fifth starting spot: As one of a handful of candidates for the fifth spot in the St. Louis starting rotation, Jamie Garcia gave up just one run in four innings on Monday, and thus far this spring has a 1.42 ERA. Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa says that Garcia has done all he can to earn that spot.

"Garcia was really composed with his delivery. It never looked like he was rushing or flying all over the place," LaRussa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He was impressive. This is the beginning of the next-to-last week, right? So everything you do now has extra significance. He added another credential to his Spring Training résumé."

Soriano aims for healthy season, big numbers: Alfonso Soriano believes that if he can stay healthy in 2010 that he will be as productive as ever on Chicago's North Side.

"That's the most important thing. I just want to play 150, 155 games," Soriano told the Chicago Sun-Times. "And if I can play those games at 90-95 percent, I feel confident I can do everything for the team."

Mike Gonzalez making progress after sore back: Mike Gonzalez is back on the mound for the Orioles after being out with a sore back since March 8.

"Every time I'm going out there, I'm feeling a little better. Getting more into my rhythm and timing," Gonzalez told the Baltimore Sun. "I definitely feel like the ball's coming out a lot better out of my hand. It's definitely a good time to start getting in a groove right now."

-- Red Line Editorial