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Pittsburgh starter is optimistic

For a change, the Pirates got good medical news: No. 1 starter Kris Benson expects to rejoin their starting rotation in early May.

That's about a month ahead of early projections, and would mean Benson might miss only a month of the season as he recovers from reconstructive elbow surgery.

Benson's prediction may be optimistic but, with no setbacks this spring, he is starting to believe that it will happen.

"Every two starts, we're evaluating, and we may need an extra few days, but I feel good right now," Benson said Sunday.

Benson will pitch three innings in a minor-league game against Class A players for the second time today. After that, he expects to pitch four innings against Triple-A or Double-A players on Saturday.

Then, he anticipates starting the season on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Nashville, although general manager Dave Littlefield said he might temporarily stay behind in Bradenton.

BRAVES: Manager Bobby Cox said second baseman Marcus Giles will begin taking swings again today. Giles hasn't participated in workouts since hemorrhoid surgery last week.

BREWERS: The team acquired pitcher Luis Vizcaino from the Rangers for pitcher Jesus Pena.

Vizcaino had been traded to Texas from Oakland last week for pitcher Jason Duchscherer.

CUBS: The team optioned right-hander Mark Prior, the second pick in last year's draft, to Double-A West Tennessee.

CARDINALS: Placido Polanco started at third base, but it's still unknown where he will end up defensively in the everyday lineup. Manager Tony La Russa is committed to playing Albert Pujols, last year's NL rookie of the year, at third.

But La Russa is equally committed to finding a place for Polanco, who hit .307 last season while playing several positions.

"I put my best eight out there every day and usually Polanco is one of the best eight," La Russa said. "He's a good problem to have."

DODGERS: General manager Dan Evans is aggressively shopping centerfielders Tom Goodwin and McKay Christensen, the Los Angeles Daily News reported, an indication that Dave Roberts has played his way onto the roster.

The left-handed-hitting Roberts has impressed club officials not only with his approach this spring but also his results. Roberts is batting .387, has a .500 on-base percentage, six stolen bases and hit well in game situations. He's also played well defensively and the team believes he is strong in fundamentals.

Manager Jim Tracy hasn't announced his plans for centerfield, but is said to be toying with the idea of a platoon of Roberts and Marquis Grissom.

METS: Mike Piazza sat out with a bruised left hip and will not make today's trip to Lakeland. Piazza, who was hit by a pitch Saturday, said he could have played had it been the regular season.

Closer Armando Benitez has a twisted left ankle, but it is slight, according to manager Bobby Valentine. Benitez was treated with ice and said there should be no lingering effect.

REDS: The team reassigned catcher Jesse Levis, infielders Ranier Olmedo and Kevin Witt and outfielders Raul Gonzalez and Anthony Sanders to the minors.

_ TIMES WIRES

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