Izturis quickly makes his claim for the starting jobPosted: Monday March 11, 2002 11:25 AM
Throughout spring training, CNNSI.com will feature regular dispatches from Sports Illustrated staffers assigned to scout camps in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Site: Vero Beach, Fla.
Weather: Sunny, high 70s, just enough humidity to curl your hair.
Player I Saw Whom I Really Liked: Shortstop Cesar Izturis. Granted it's early, but the 22-year-old prospect has already impressed the hell out of manager Jim Tracy. Izturis was acquired from the Blue Jays over the winter and entered camp as a longshot for the starting shortstop job (the Dodgers are less than thrilled with incumbent Alex Cora). "I know it's only [early March] ," said Tracy, "but I haven't seen anything to tell me he can't play up here." Is he the Opening Day shortstop, Jim? "He's moving in that direction."
Izturis strengthened his bid by going 3-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs against the Expos on Sunday, increasing his spring training average to .440. Another plus for Izturis is his versatility. While playing second base against the Braves Friday, he made a diving backhanded stop to rob B.J. Surhoff of a hit, then flipped the ball with his glove to shortstop Cora, who threw to first to nail Surhoff.
Around the Horn: The Dodgers were abuzz after Friday's debut of their Japanese import, left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii. Ishii struck out four and allowed just a single in two innings. His slider was especially effective, and he surprised his teammates with how hard he threw. "Man, he was nasty," reliever Giovanni Carrara, said to no one in particular. Added pitching coach Jim Colborn, "He made the Braves look silly."... Third baseman Adrian Beltre, who lost 31 pounds last spring after an emergency appendectomy, is finally up to his normal playing weight. Check that -- he's actually a tad overweight. That's good news, but it hasn't stopped second baseman Mark Grudzielanek from teasingly calling Beltre "Pena," a reference to tubby former L.A. catching prospect Angel Pena . ... Tracy's biggest decision this spring will be choosing a leadoff hitter from among Tom Goodwin, McKay Christensn and Dave Roberts. The manager says he hasn't even checked the stats yet, but he's happy with the approach all three are taking at the plate. "They're keeping the ball out of the air," he says. "That's what we want."... What has the departure of frequent malcontent Gary Sheffield meant? "This is definitely a different clubhouse," says one Dodgers veteran. "Things are more relaxed. Before, it seemed like there was always something going on."
Sports Illustrated staff writer Stephen Cannella will check in periodically
with reports from his tour of spring camps.