AROUND THE HORN Spring training news and notes

Ephedra: The players union will await results of toxicology tests into the death of Baltimore pitcher Steve Bechler before deciding whether ephedra should be banned. Union head Donald Fehr said Sunday that taking a stand on whether to ban the supplement would be premature at this time. "You can't, it seems to me, draw any conclusions from this tragic event at the very least until we see what the toxicology reports show," he said. "We'll go from there, and if it's appropriate, obviously we'll take another hard look at the overall situation and see where it takes us."
Umpires: Baseball's umpires took the first step in reconciling the differences that emerged following a failed mass resignation more than three years ago. Umpires loyal to the old union and the new one met together for the first time this weekend in Clearwater, Fla., beginning the process to bring the 25 holdout members into the World Umpires Association. "It was amazing," John Hirschbeck of Poland, the head of the new union, said Sunday. "Nobody knew what to expect. Some emotions were brought out, but not in a negative way. It was a really positive meeting. It was very constructive to have people talking to each other. The biggest thing I felt coming out of the meeting was the feeling and need to be together again. People explained that people were hurt by what happened. In the big picture, people saw the need to put personal feelings behind for the good of the profession and our group of major league umpires. We need to try to get together and all be on the same page."
Yankees: Pitcher Jon Lieber, coming off elbow surgery, is expected to start throwing off a bullpen mound this week. Lieber, who turns 33 in April, had a ligament in his right elbow replaced in August. He went 20-6 in 2001 for the Chicago Cubs, then was 6-8 with a 3.70 ERA last season before a ligament in his right elbow was replaced Aug. 7. The right-hander has not ruled out pitching later this year, perhaps in the bullpen.
Dodgers: Fred McGriff needs 22 home runs to reach the 500 plateau. But that's not close enough for him to feel pressure. "If I had five home runs to go, maybe," said McGriff, 39, who begins his 17th season ranked 20th on the career home run list. McGriff batted .209 with three home runs during his first 40 games last season with the Cubs. He finished the year with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs. His batting average was .273, respectable but 33 points below the previous season.
Cubs: Manager Dusty Baker is withholding judgment about how his new team looks this spring. "I'm not disappointed at all," Baker said Sunday. "I expect a lot. I'm not overly pleased, and I'm not disappointed. I tend to be a perfectionist, but I realize you're going to make mistakes." Baker admitted that he's still trying to learn names. From the beginning, Baker has stressed quality of work rather than quantity. Drills have been efficient -- coaches sound air horns to signal when it's time to move from field to field -- but the atmosphere is loose.
Rangers: Closer Ugueth Urbina has finally arrived at camp. Urbina had been expected Saturday, but changes in his flight plans from Venezuela delayed his arrival. Urbina is fresh off a 40-save season with the Boston Red Sox and his second All-Star appearance. He's being counted on to help shore up a bullpen that lost a major league record 38 games in 2002. The Rangers also set a club record with a combined 33 blown saves in 66 opportunities. Urbina has 174 career saves in 205 tries.
Cardinals: Five players won't be ready when spring training games begin Thursday. Outfielder J.D. Drew and pitchers Jason Isringhausen, Chris Carpenter, Gene Stechschulte and Scotty Layfield are all nursing injuries. Stechschulte and Layfield, both right-handers, each felt some shoulder stiffness when they began workouts and have been held back from regularly scheduled drills. Drew had not swung a bat in four months when he arrived here a week ago because he had a portion of his right patellar tendon removed in October. Drew is taking his regular turn in the batting cage but cannot run. It is possible he will play only part-time, if at all, until June. Isringhausen, the closer last season, is recovering from right shoulder surgery which was described as a cleanup procedure. Carpenter had off-season surgery after suffering elbow tendinitis.
-- Associated Press

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