Mets swagger into camp

SUN WIRE SERVICES

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. -- Johan Santana's first workout with the New York Mets had his teammates all pumped up -- even the normally quiet Carlos Beltran.

The star centre-fielder reported to camp three days early yesterday 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.

That hardly put him in a dour mood, though. An upbeat Beltran spoke excitedly about his club's new ace 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 off-season his Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East, even though the Mets had runaway 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.

On the strength of outstanding numbers, and perhaps his clairvoyant prediction, Rollins won the NL MVP award. Does Beltran plan to duplicate that feat, too?

"I don't know about that," he said. "We'll find out."

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

The Colorado Rockies began spring training in Tucson, Ariz., yesterday with a grand sense of accomplishment stemming from their unfathomable 21-1 run-up to the World Series four months ago.

Mixed in with all the happiness, however, was a sense of unfinished business for the talented team that set a franchise record for wins but was overmatched in a sweep by the Boston Red Sox.

"Oh, there's no doubt about that. We need to win four more games," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Four more games!"

The Rockies can't even claim they're the defending division champs. That honour goes to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who train 15 minutes away. The Rockies won the wild card last year in an extra-inning tiebreaker over San Diego.

"We still want to win our division. That's another goal that's out there. It makes it easier to make the playoffs if you win your division," Hurdle said. "The script that we wrote last year, I don't think any man could have written that script. We'd like to try to do it a little bit differently so we don't have to have a run at the end of the season like we had."

The Rockies' big off-season moves consisted of signing star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a $31-million US, six-year deal, the biggest ever for a second-year player; MVP runner-up Matt Holliday to a $23-million, two-year deal; and right-hander Aaron Cook to a $34-million contract for four years.

BIG UNIT BACK AGAIN

For the second year in a row, Randy Johnson begins training camp recovering from back surgery.

At 44, he said this almost certainly will be the last of such comebacks.

"I don't care to go through another surgery again and rehab," he said yesterday. "If this was to happen again, it's 99.9%" that he would retire.

One of the game's greatest left-handed pitchers is heading into the final season of a $26-million US, two-year contract with the Diamondbacks.

When his back held up for a time a year ago, he had six strong outings. And he is 16 wins shy of 300 for his career.

Johnson will not say whether, if he makes it through this season, he will hang it up. But he wants to end his career "on my own terms."

"I've played 25 professional years, and this might be my 20th or 21st major-league spring training," Johnson said during a lengthy session with reporters. "Just a matter of playing that long is quite an accomplishment. ... I just want to be able to walk away from the game and say 'You know what? I finished up healthy.' "

BOOM OR BUST

Kei Igawa's first season in the majors was a bust. The New York Yankees left-hander hopes to make up for that this year.

Igawa was projected to be a starter in 2007 after signing a $20-million US, five-year contact. The former Japanese Central League all-star went 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA in 14 games and wound up in the minors most of the season.

After yesterday's workout in Tampa, Fla., Igawa met for 30 minutes behind closed doors with Yankees manager Joe Girardi, general manager Brian Cashman and pitching coach Dave Eiland.

The Yankees want to make sure lines of communication are open early.

"It was just an opportunity to make sure we try to go above and beyond to get an idea about Kei and his experience from last season and what he felt would work and felt wouldn't work," Cashman said.


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