Best bet of the day
Reds at Yankees, 7:15 at Legends Field, Tampa: Two of baseball's best pitching prospects face off: New York's Joba Chamberlain, already a borderline folk hero after his late-season callup; and Cincinnati's Homer Bailey, who struggled during a brief big-league stint but is regarded as a future ace.
FORT MYERS — Bartolo Colon's comeback picked up speed Sunday when he showed excellent control during his first batting practice session this spring and was scheduled to pitch in a game Thursday.
Colon has been impressive since Boston signed the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner to a minor-league contract Feb. 25. He threw three bullpen sessions in the previous six days without facing hitters.
"He's ready for some game activity," pitching coach John Farrell said after Sunday's 43-pitch session.
Colon won't throw more than 30 pitches or two innings against the Rays in his spring debut, Farrell said.
Farrell had said that the Red Sox planned for Colon to pitch in his first game Saturday against Cincinnati.
After Sunday's batting practice session against four minor-leaguers, Colon said through a translator that he "feels better than ever" after two injury-plagued seasons.
By pitching Thursday, he has a better chance to appear in two games in Florida before the team departs March 19 for Tokyo. Boston plays two exhibition games there against Japanese teams and two regular-season games against the Athletics.
No decision has been made on whether Colon will make that trip, Farrell said.
"The most important thing we want at this point is consistency, continuity with his schedule," Farrell said.
JOHNSON TO START: Diamondbacks left-hander Randy Johnson is scheduled to make his first spring training start today and pitch two innings against the Rockies, another sign of progress as he returns from back surgery.
"Everything's gone on schedule," manager Bob Melvin said. "This is right around the first date that we thought that he would potentially take the mound in a game."
Johnson, 44, went 4-3 with a 3.81 ERA in 10 starts for Arizona last season, the last on June 28, before having his second back operation in less than a year.
LITSCH IS SHARP: Blue Jays right-hander Jesse Litsch, the former Dixie Hollins standout and Rays batboy, pitched four strong innings in a 9-4 victory over the Phillies as he bids for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Litsch, who lives in Pinellas Park, allowed two hits, struck out six and threw 39 of his 65 pitches for strikes.
"I was able to locate and my sinker was working really well," Litsch said. "I was able to locate in and out, just mixing pitches. That's how I need to be on the mound."
KENDRICK STRUGGLES AGAIN: Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick, who went into camp with a spot in the rotation, lasted two innings against the Blue Jays, yielding six runs and seven hits. He threw 40 pitches while facing 11 batters in the second, and his spring ERA ballooned to 16.43.
"If this kept going until like June, then you should start panicking," said Kendrick, who walked two and struck out one. "I know what I'm doing (wrong). I just need to go out there and make an adjustment. I need to get ahead. That's what I did all of last year, I got ahead, pounded the strike zone and moved the ball around."
Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee is confident Kendrick will get things corrected.
"In watching Kyle right now, first of all he's too strong," he said. "He's a sinkerball guy and by not getting enough pitches and wearing himself down, his ball isn't acting like it usually does. He's going to be fine."
A'S: Manager Bob Geren still hasn't decided if he will take third baseman Eric Chavez to Japan for the season-opening two-game series against the Red Sox. Chavez hasn't played in a game this spring and was only recently cleared to resume scaled-down workouts less than two weeks after receiving an injection to help ease inflammation in his lower back.
DODGERS: Manager Joe Torre promoted top pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw to major-league camp. The left-hander, 19, then pitched a perfect fourth against the Red Sox, striking out Sean Casey to end the inning.
METS: The team got a boost with the return of Jose Valentin, who is coming off knee surgery. Valentin played first base, where he could see time this season as a fill-in for Carlos Delgado. Valentin could play again today if he feels okay. Also, Delgado (sore hip) and centerfielder (knee surgery) are expected to play today.
NATIONALS: Former Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes was hit in the left hand by a pitch from Indians right-hander Masa Kobayashi and left for precautionary reasons. The team said he has two bruised fingers, with minimal swelling and full range of movement. Dukes is expected to be able to play today.
RANGERS: Right-hander Sidney Ponson agreed to a minor-league contract. Ponson last pitched May 12 for the Twins, who released him 10 days later. He was 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA in seven starts last season.
TIGERS: DH Gary Sheffield missed his third straight game with leg cramps but is expected to return to the lineup in a couple of days.
YANKEES: Making his first appearance of spring training since surgery on his right knee in November, Hideki Matsui went 0-for-3 with two groundouts and a flyout as the DH. "Even though it's been a while, I didn't have any problems," Matsui said through a translator. He said he didn't think it would "take too long" to return to the outfield.