Matt Kata has opened some eyes in the Texas Rangers' camp. Kata is hitting .472 this spring and is now a serious contender for a bench spot on the team's Opening Day roster.

"He's been a very solid player," manager Ron Washington told the Dallas Morning News. "I just hope he keeps this up. I want to take a look at him again."

Kata hoped to make the team as a backup infielder. But he played center field Wednesday and has spent the last two seasons in the Minors learning how to play the outfield.

"The chance to play center [field] was huge," Kata said. "Versatility is a big thing right now for me. It can help me make this team and give [Washington] some options. But I don't want to just be an infielder they stick in the outfield every once in a while; I want to be able to play the position well when I'm out there."

Lo Duca focuses more on the weight room: New York Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca is approaching his 35th birthday, an age at which many catchers move to another position. That is why Lo Duca has rededicated himself to working out in the weight room and made sure he is in good shape.

"I'm really making a conscious effort this year to try and stay in there," Lo Duca told Newsday. "Last year I think I got in a little bit of rut where I wasn't getting in there during the season because of my thumb, and I want to start it here and just stay in there during the season and stay strong. The second half of the year was good, but I want that to repeat. I want to have the same thing I had last year."

Lo Duca battled a torn ligament in his left thumb much of last season, but that didn't slow him down at the plate. He hit .318 for the season, ranking sixth in the National League, and had an impressive .338 batting average after the All-Star break.

The Mets, however, want to see if Lo Duca can duplicate his 2006 season before they try to sign him to a new contract. He has struggled at the plate this spring, but he hit a pair of doubles on Tuesday and appears to be swinging the bat better.

"In the last three or four games I've felt better at the plate," said Lo Duca. "When I came into camp, my [left] thumb wasn't fully ready. You think it is, but it wasn't. My right hand wasn't ready, now it is. My arm went through that dead-arm period you always go through during Spring Training, and that feels better. I feel ready now. If the season started right now, I'd feel good."

Teammates see Cabrera as key cog for Yankees: Melky Cabrera is not as well known a player as many of his teammates with the Yankees. But the outfielder just may be the key to a World Series title this year, at least according to his teammates.

Johnny Damon told Newsday that one of the Yankees' keys to success this season is, "Finding a way to get Melky out there to play and get 400 at-bats. He just has an energy that makes it fun. He's a phenomenal prospect. He can be as good as he wants to be."

In 130 games last season, Cabrera hit .280 with 50 RBIs, filling in admirably for the injured Hideki Matsui when he was out with a broken left wrist. Cabrera has become a popular player in the clubhouse due to his energetic play and has earned the nickname of "Leche" (Spanish for "milk") from team captain Derek Jeter.

"He and Robby (Robinson Cano) are a lot like Jorge [Posada] and I when we were coming up," Jeter said. "I give them a hard time sometimes, but I think it's a good thing."

While Cabrera has the backing of his teammates, he is making sure he continues to work hard in order to maintain his place on the club.

"I would like to play many years in the Major Leagues," Cabrera said, "and have a career here like Derek Jeter or Bernie Williams."

Matsuzaka's 'struggles' look like fun to BoSox: Some people suggested that Daisuke Matsuzaka struggled in his last outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. All Matsuzaka did was allow one hit in 5 2/3 innings. That hit came in the first inning and scored Chris Duffy, who reached first when he was hit by a pitch.

Manager Terry Francona will take that form of struggling at any time this season from Matsuzaka.

"If that's struggling," manager Terry Francona told the Boston Globe, "we're in for some fun."

After the single, Matsuzaka retired the next 11 hitters he faced before issuing a walk to Nate McLouth in the fifth inning. When Matsuzaka left the mound after striking out Don Kelly, he received a standing ovation from the 6,021 fans in attendance.

"It's fairly rare to receive a standing ovation upon being taken out of a game in the middle of an inning," he said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "I was happy and grateful, but at the same time, I was a little bit embarrassed."

While Matsuzaka looked dominant on the mound, he said he was "able to pitch despite struggling a little." The Japanese right-hander said he had some problems gripping the ball on some pitches.

Still, his performance left an impression on Pirates manager Jim Tracy.

"Very, very impressive," said Tracy, who played in Japan. "He continues a long line of great Japanese pitchers. The fact that he really knows what he's doing, put that together with the fact he has great stuff, and that's quite a package."

Edmonds may be ready for Opening Day: On second thought, maybe St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds will be ready to play on Opening Day, after all.

"I believe it is more likely than not that Jim will be ready to play based on how his shoulder and toe have responded," Dr. George Paletta told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Edmonds isn't positive yet that he'll be ready to go on April 1 when the Redbirds take on the New York Mets, but says he does feel better. Kind of.

"We'll see," Edmonds said when asked about possibly appearing in a weekend exhibition. "I feel pretty good except for my whole body being sore."

Manager Tony La Russa said it's always difficult to tell with Edmonds because he prepares differently than other players.

"To me, he's a unique guy," La Russa said. "Jim doesn't need the same (amount of time) as most people. He's unique, so you look at his situation in a unique way. You can't apply the same standards. I don't know if he will do it. But I think he certainly could do it."

Loewen impresses Orioles: Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Adam Loewen was solid in his start against St. Louis on Wednesday, working five innings without allowing a run.

"I didn't have my best outing today, but I think I was aggressive enough in the strike zone," Loewen told the Baltimore Sun. "I used my movement to my advantage and made them get themselves out. When I had chances to strike somebody out, I did that. I was really encouraged by today, but I can pitch better than that."

Loewen, in line to be the O's fourth starter this year, has gained the confidence of manager Sam Perlozzo with his work ethic.

"He takes his game serious. He takes his work serious," said Perlozzo. "You cross your fingers, but I think the kid has gone about his business the way we'd like to see him go about it. The last thing we wanted to see was him struggle in the spring and then have a question mark. We feel like he's OK. He's going to be fine. He might be better than fine."

Mesa closes in on 1,000: Detroit Tigers reliever Jose Mesa is coming up on quite a milestone -- 1,000 games pitched.

When he arrived in the Major Leagues in 1991, Mesa was a starting pitcher and spent part of that year on the disabled list. That was the last time he did a stint on the DL. After becoming a reliever in 1994, Mesa began to pile up appearances and heads into 2007 needing only 34 more to reach the milestone.

"It means a lot because not a lot of people have pitched in a thousand games," Mesa told the Detroit Free Press.

In Major League history, 10 pitchers have reached that plateau. Among active hurlers, Mike Timlin (961) and Roberto Hernandez (960) are on the brink along with Mesa.

"I thought about 1,000 games last year (with Colorado), when I hit 900," Mesa said. "I looked at 1,000 and said, 'That would be a pretty good group to be in.' I've got a pretty good chance to do it."

Pitcher Mike Maroth is among those impressed with Mesa. "You've got to stay healthy to put up those kinds of games pitched," said Maroth. "Seventy is a good amount of games for a reliever in a season. Ten years at that pace gives you 700 games. Thirteen puts you just over 900.

"That's impressive when you start breaking it down like that. The guys who pitch in that many games are pretty stable as far as being ready to pitch and being healthy."

Another Tigers pitcher, Zach Miner, also admires what Mesa has been able to do. "For a guy who's 40, he's in amazing shape," said Miner. "I don't think it's by accident he's got 966 appearances. Obviously, he's very durable and he's kept in shape. You also have to be good to get a chance to toe the rubber that many times."

That and a good work ethic, noted Miner.

"What strikes me the most about him," Miner said, "is that he doesn't approach Spring Training any differently than a guy in his first big league camp. He does whatever anyone else does. If the youngest guy is doing something in a drill, that's what he's doing.

"He doesn't take any shortcuts. That's probably why he's got 966 appearances."

Quinlan's preparation keeps him sharp: A strong performance in 2006 earned Robb Quinlan a two-year contract. He batted .321 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs in 86 games last season. He credits his success to preparing each day as if he was in the starting lineup.

"That's what helped me the most," Quinlan told the Los Angeles Times. "In the past, maybe I didn't do as much as I should have done, thinking I wasn't going to play, and the next thing you know, you're in there. It's always better to be ready and not used, than to be used and not ready."

Quinlan is a fine hitter versus left-handers. He has a lifetime average of .324 versus southpaws and hit .326 against them last season. The key to his success in 2006 was that he hit .313 versus righties, too.

"He can play 10 games in a row if he had to, or he could sit 10 games in a row and put a good at-bat on -- that's a great piece that Robb brings," manager Mike Scioscia said. "His ability to hit left-handed pitching gives us options, whether it's in the infield or outfield. Some guys have a tough time acclimating themselves to that role, but Q has been able to."

Quinlan's best position is first base but with Juan Rivera out for the year, he could see more time this season in the outfield.

"During batting practice, I'll go to the outfield and shag balls off the bat like it's a game situation," Quinlan said. "I'm open to playing anywhere."

Quinlan will also see time at third base.

"Sometimes it can be tough playing four different spots, but I try to pick a spot or two each day and get better at them," Quinlan said. "It's extra work, but I'm willing to do it."

-- Red Line Editorial