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Sheffield concentrates on future

He still would prefer to move on. Gary Sheffield has not changed his mind about that. He hopes the right offer is just around the corner.

But, so far, Sheffield said all the would-be buyers for his St. Petersburg home have fallen short by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His situation is not unlike that of Kevin Malone, the Dodgers general manager. Malone said he still is willing to listen to offers for Sheffield. But, so far, Malone said none has come close to overwhelming him.

In the meantime, Sheffield and Malone have done their best to put the rancorous relationship between employee and employer behind them. The Dodgers are making their only bay area appearance this weekend at Legends Field, giving Sheffield a chance for home-cooked meals and spin control.

Having spent the past few days apologizing to Dodgers ownership, teammates and fans for his earlier critical remarks and trade requests, Sheffield stood in the visitors clubhouse Saturday afternoon and insisted he wants to remain a Dodger for the rest of his career.

"I'm just going to talk about the Dodgers," said Sheffield, who put his house up for sale last year with the idea of moving from Tampa Bay.

"I'm going to go out and lead by example and put up big numbers. That's all I can do. I'll steal bases, hit home runs and drive in key runs. I'll be the player I've always been."

That could be both comforting and frightening. In the past, when Sheffield was feeling good, he has been among the most feared hitters in the National League. When Sheffield has felt unwanted, he has shown the capacity to make the clubhouse miserable.

Which might explain why Malone was so guarded when talking about Sheffield before Saturday's game. He said he expects Sheffield to be in the opening-day lineup, but would not rule out making a trade in the next two weeks. He said Sheffield has done everything possible to make up for his earlier complaints, but added that actions speak louder than words.

"I never wanted to trade him. Why would you want to trade one of the best players in baseball?" Malone said. "I'm here to build a championship team and this guy is one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball. You don't want to trade a guy like that unless you're forced to. We believe the situation has been resolved, but we'll see. We'll go day by day. Something can happen, I don't think it will, but you never say never."

So, for now, it is quiet. That does not necessarily mean it is peaceful. Nor does it mean the situation will not rapidly change.

Perhaps Malone will have better bargaining power now that Sheffield, 32, is no longer sabotaging his trade request with daily rants.

His contract squabble has left an impression, however. Playing in his hometown for the first time since the ugly mess began, Sheffield was greeted with boos each time he came to the plate Saturday.

Nevertheless, he seems certain the bad times are behind him.

"I'm even more focused than I was last year," Sheffield said. "It's a relief (to put the trade talk behind). I can just play the game now. I'll take care of my business on the field."

IN SEARCH OF: The Mariners are in the market for a power hitter, more than likely at third base. Seattle general manager Pat Gillick recently took to the road on a scouting expedition.

A BAD START: The Astros thought they could contend if closer Billy Wagner made a successful comeback this season. The way Houston's starting pitching has looked, it might not matter. The first four starters in the rotation gave up 38 runs in their first 30 spring innings. "There has to come a point when you start moving ahead," pitching coach Burt Hooton said. "With two weeks left in spring training, it's time to start honing things in."

THE OLD 1-2: Josh Hamilton, the No.

1 prospect in the game according to Baseball America, is not the only phenom struggling. Corey Patterson, the No.

2 prospect in the magazine's poll, might be sent down after a slow start with the Cubs. While Hamilton is 19 and never has been past Class A, Patterson is 21 and had a brief stay with the Cubs in 2000.

INJURY OF THE WEEK: Reds catcher Tim Spehr, who had a brief fling with the Rays, stabbed himself in the stomach with a pocket knife while trying to fix the rawhide on his equipment. The wound required four stitches.

D'ELAYED: St. Petersburg's Jeff D'Amico was scheduled to be Milwaukee's opening-day pitcher, but might miss the assignment after developing inflammation in his biceps. "We are not going to rush him just to get him ready for opening day. We'll push him back if we have to," manager Davey Lopes said. "I know he won't be happy about it. That's just the way it is."

REMEMBER THE NAME: The Tigers might be weaker defensively behind the plate in 2001, with Mitch Meluskey replacing the departed Brad Ausmus, but the situation is temporary. Brandon Inge, expected to start the year at Triple A, has an arm that rivals Ivan Rodriguez. He throws so hard, the ball apparently rises like a pitcher's fastball. On a recent pickoff attempt, Inge's throw hit second baseman Damion Easley in the chest.

FUTURE TRIVIA QUESTION: In what apparently was the final at-bat of his career, Albert Belle homered off Denny Neagle in a 7-3 victory against the Yankees at Camden Yards on Oct.

1.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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