Free-swinging Roberto Kelly might have the biggest challenge in the Cincinnati Reds' overhauled lineup.
Manager Davey Johnson plans to make Kelly his leadoff hitter this season, even though Kelly doesn't fit the mold. Kelly likes to swing at the first good pitch he sees _ a tendency that goes against the first rule of batting first.
Leadoff hitters are supposed to take pitches, draw walks and get on base a lot. Kelly doesn't have the patience.
"In the first spot, you may have to take a few extra pitches," he said. "I'm not going to change my style a lot and be the same kind of hitter. I hope it works out that way. I'm going to remain aggressive. If I see something I like, I'm just going to take a swing at it."
That approach worked last season. Kelly, batting primarily second, was hitting .319 with a team-high 102 hits when he severely separated his left shoulder just before the All-Star Game and missed the rest of the season.
Johnson liked Kelly's hitting and speed so much that he made him the leadoff hitter in his first act after replacing Tony Perez as manager. Kelly went along with it then and will again, but he won't hide his dislike for batting first.
"If I were making the lineup, I would rather not," he said. "But here, since there is nobody else, I'll hit there and do the best job I can. I would rather be hitting in the third or fifth spot."
Last season, Kelly got on base less often than Hal Morris, Barry Larkin and Kevin Mitchell _ the players expected to bat behind him.
The problem: Kelly doesn't walk often: 17 in 320 at-bats last season. He had more stolen bases (21) than walks.
Cox itching to get back to work
DUNEDIN _ An enforced rest isn't sitting well with reliever Danny Cox.
"I'd rather be doing what I'm supposed to be doing, getting my arm in shape for the season," Cox said. "However, the injury is such that the only cure is complete rest." Cox has a shoulder inflammation but said he hopes to be ready for the regular season.
Cox shrugs off talk that he held the club together when the starting rotation faltered last season. "I appreciate that thought, but I was just part of the 25 guys it took to win," he said. "I did my job whenever I was called upon and, when you have the defense and offense we have and put it all together, that's what really counts."
Cox appeared in 44 games and went 7-6 with a 3.12 ERA in his first American League season after stints with St. Louis, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
_ PHIL GULICK
Pratt working hard to fill role
CLEARWATER _ With All-Star Darren Daulton ahead of him on the depth chart, catcher Todd Pratt has a tough time cracking the Philaldephia Phillies' lineup. Although he is expected to start fewer than 20 games during the season, Pratt has impressed manager Jim Fregosi with his work ethic this spring.
"The thing I like about Todd is he works very hard _ he takes extra hitting all the time, he throws extra," Fregosi said. "He does everything that is necessary to do his job well, and he's very good at it."
Last season Pratt played in 33 games and hit .287 with five homers and 13 RBI. "His numbers are very impressive for the limited amount of playing time he got," Fregosi said. "He's won a lot of games for us with his bat since he's been here."
_ JULIE GOODRICH
Oates: O's "know what they are doing'
SARASOTA _ Baltimore is 10 days into what manager Johnny Oates calls "a boring" spring training, but he is happy with what he has seen.
Or hasn't seen.
"There have been fewer mistakes this year than I can remember at any year at this time," Oates said. "I've been very pleased with our fundamentals. I don't know why, but every spring training I'd have to scream at somebody, "Either do it right or don't do it at all.' This spring I haven't had to scream at anybody."
The players may be more used to Oates, entering his third spring training. "That might be part of it, but I'll give credit to the players," said Oates, noting veteran additions Rafael Palmeiro, Chris Sabo, Sid Fernandez, Lee Smith, Rich Gedman and Mark Eichhorn "are players who know what they are doing.
"You just have to tell them something once."
Cormier gets nod for first game
ST. PETERSBURG _ Dale Murphy, a perennial all-star who retired last season, joined the St. Louis Cardinals' coaching staff as a part-time outfield instructor. "He's going to try it and see if he likes it," manager Joe Torre said. Dan Cholowsky, a third baseman who hit .288 in 57 games for St. Petersburg last season, tripled to the foot of the fence in an intrasquad game Monday. He was the only player to come close to reaching the fence, as a stiff wind was blowing in. Rheal Cormier will start the spring opener Friday against Minnesota in Fort Myers. Torre said the rest of the rotation, for now, is Rene Arocha, Rick Sutcliffe and Bob Tewksbury.
_ JACK HOUGHTELING, AP