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Larkin says he'll be ready

All-Star SS Barry Larkin says he expects to play in the season opener Tuesday in Cincinnati, despite an inflamed Achilles' tendon that has sidelined him for two weeks.

"It is important for me to be there from the beginning," Larkin said.

Larkin has been sidelined since taking himself out of a game March 11 in Dunedin. He got a cortisone shot last week and has begun working out again.

But to be on the safe side, the Reds have decided to keep backup SS Pokey Reese on the roster. Reese was delighted when GM Jim Bowden informed him Tuesday night.

Reese _ who otherwise faced a quick trip to Triple-A Indianapolis _ ran off to call his family.

"I've got to call my mom, and my brother, and my sister and my cousins," Reese said. "I've got to tell them to take April 1st off."

Closer Jeff Brantley started the ninth inning but left the game after two pitches because of an unusual sensation in his right shoulder. A MRI found no damage. The injury was diagnosed as a slight strain, and Brantley is expected to pitch again before Opening Day.

Pitching staff thins out

CLEARWATER _ Less than a week before Opening Day, Phillies' pitchers are dropping fast.

First it was RHP Mark Portugal, then RHP Tyler Green. Now it's RHP Mike Grace.

Grace left Tuesday's start against St. Louis in the first inning with a sore arm and will be out at least two weeks with a strained triceps muscle.

"I know definitely I'm not going to be able to pitch (April 4) in San Diego," Grace said. "That's just too soon."

Portugal, the No. 2 starter, left his start Sunday after two innings because of elbow tendinitis. The next day, Green was put on the disabled list to continue rehabilitating his surgically repaired right shoulder.

Rookie RHP Edgar Ramos, a strong candidate to make the team as a middle reliever, hasn't pitched since taking a line drive off his pitching hand Saturday.

OF Danny Tartabull has been cleared to play after being hit in the helmet Tuesday by a pitch from Cardinals RHP Brady Raggio. Tartabull, who signed a one-year, $2.5-million contract with Philadelphia on Feb. 20, will play when he feels ready, a team spokeswoman said.

Orioles officials continue to discuss a possible trade for 1B Darren Daulton, but GM Pat Gillick continues to downplay the chances of completing such a deal. "I'd say it's fairly dead," Gillick said.


Raines strains hamstring

TAMPA _ OF Tim Raines strained his left hamstring while running out a ground ball and left Wednesday's game with the Rangers in the fifth inning. But the Yankees outfielder said he could play today if necessary and insisted that the injury would not cause him to be put on the disabled list.

"I don't think it's serious," said Raines, who walked without any problems after the Yankees' 14-7 victory. "I've felt a lot worse than this. I could have stayed in."

Raines, who missed three months last year with a strained right hamstring, is in a battle for the last reserve position with Pat Kelly, a second baseman turned outfielder. The Yankees have 26 players for 25 roster spots.

In Port Charlotte, 1B Tino Martinez and C Jorge Posada drove in three runs each.

Martinez and Posada each had run-scoring doubles in the Yankees' three-run first. Posada had a two-run homer in the third, and Martinez had a homer in the fourth and a run-scoring double in the eighth.


Williams drops Cards

DUNEDIN _ Toronto RHP Woody Williams posted his most impressive performance of the spring, sparking the Jays to a 13-3 victory over the Cards at Dunedin Stadium.

Williams, bidding for a spot in the rotation, went six innings, gave up two runs on three hits and struck out six. He served a two-run homer to C Tom Pagnozzi in the second, retired the last 12 batters he faced and earned his first win. In 20 innings, Williams has surrendered two earned runs on 14 hits, walked two and struck out 13.

OF Shawn Green drove in five runs with a pair of homers and C Charlie O'Brien drove in five runs with a homer and double.

RHP Pat Hentgen (1-2, 4.71) goes against the Pirates and LHP Jon Lieber in a 1:05 game today at Dunedin Stadium. Hentgen, the 1996 AL Cy Young Award winner, is the Opening Day pitcher against the White Sox at SkyDome on Tuesday.

C Jorge Brito was sent to Syracuse and INF Mike Aldrete and RHP Marvin Freeman were released. RHP Tim Crabtree and LHP Paul Spoljaric pitched against Columbus, a Yankees' minor-league team, in Tampa on Tuesday. Crabtree is recovering from elbow surgery and Spoljaric from shoulder surgery.

The Jays play the Phillies three straight games: 7:35 Friday night at Jack Russell Stadium, 1:05 Saturday and noon Sunday at Dunedin Stadium.


Rookie Morris stands out

DUNEDIN _ Cardinals rookie RHP Matt Morris was impressive against the Blue Jays, but his mound mates did not fare as well in a 13-3 loss at Dunedin Stadium. It was the last Pinellas County appearance this spring for the Cardinals.

Morris gave up one run on six hits in five innings as he prepared for his first major-league start against Houston on April 5. Morris' longest and most impressive start was against the Phillies on Friday, allowing only four hits and striking out five in nearly six innings of shutout ball.

RHP T.J. Mathews, LHP Lance Painter and RHP Eric Ludwick were knocked around by the Jays, who collected 20 hits. Mathews served a three-run homer to O'Brien in the sixth. Painter yielded a run-scoring double to OF Orlando Merced and a two-run homer to Green. Ludwick gave up Green's second homer, a three-run blast in the eighth.

RHP Todd Stottlemyre (0-1, 5.40) starts against Twins RHP Brad Radke at Fort Myers today.