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Hoffman, Burrell, Ibanez getting used to new homes

Monday, February 16, 2009

By The Associated Press

Trevor Hoffman, Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez started to settle in with their new teams Monday while Mike Hampton left Houston Astros camp to get treatment for a minor irregularity in his heartbeat.

The upcoming World Baseball Classic also lost one of the sport's biggest stars when St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols said he will not play for the Dominican Republic because of insurance issues.

Hampton returned to Houston to be examined by team physician Dr. Jim Muntz before undergoing a procedure to correct the heartbeat with an electrical current. The Astros hope to have him back in camp Thursday.

"From what I understand, it's not an uncommon condition and it's not an uncommon procedure he's going to go through," general manager Ed Wade said in Kissimmee, Fla. "Other than travel time back and forth between here and Houston, we don't expect him to miss any time."

The 36-year-old Hampton has had a hard time staying healthy the past four years. He missed most of 2005 with five stints on the disabled list, then was out all of 2006 (elbow surgery) and all of 2007 (torn flexor tendon). He has 141 career victories, but just eight in the past four years.

Closer Jose Valverde, last year's NL saves leader, went to the hospital because of an inflamed right forearm that was diagnosed as an infection from an apparent insect bite. He was given antibiotics and isn't expected to be sidelined by the injury.

"It was a little bit of concern earlier today. Apparently he's going to be OK," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "We did have a couple scares, but it looks like everybody is going to be fine."

Pujols' health isn't a concern but the Cardinals star said Monday he's skipping the WBC because "the insurance does not want to cover" him to play. He made the comments during a conference call with Dominican baseball officials.

Pujols, the NL MVP who hit .357 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs last season, had elbow surgery in October.

Hoffman, meanwhile, is using his early arrival at spring training this year to get to know his new teammates and surroundings with the Milwaukee Brewers.

While the career saves leader is excited about the opportunity after signing a $6 million contract with the Brewers this winter, he admits he still isn't over the sting of how his long tenure with the Padres ended.

"It's not that I'm disconnected from San Diego. I'm disconnected from the Padres," Hoffman said in Phoenix. "I'm not seeing the same people every day. I'm seeing new people. As much as that three, four months ago didn't seem as much of a reality as it is today, time keeps moving and the game moves on. It doesn't sit for anybody. You kind of have to -- like it or not -- move on with it. ... I'm still trying to get used to it."

After spending most of the past decade as an everyday outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies, Burrell is expected to be the primary designated hitter for Tampa Bay this season.

"I can't lie, it's different. Different faces, different everything," Burrell, three months removed from helping the Phillies beat the Rays in the World Series, said Monday. "But change is good. I'm really looking forward to getting this thing started."

Burrell signed a $16 million, two-year contract in January after not being offered a new deal in Philadelphia, where he hit .257 with 251 homers and 827 RBIs over parts of nine seasons.

He reported to spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., in advance of Wednesday's first full-squad workout and is getting a feel for his new surroundings and teammates.

"Fortunately everybody's got their names on their back," said Burrell, who batted .250 with 33 homers and 86 RBIs in his final season with the Phillies.

Ibanez was Philadelphia's only major offseason acquisition after winning the World Series. He signed a $31.5 million, three-year contract to replace left fielder Burrell.

"Growing up as a kid, I watched this team with Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, (Garry) Maddox, Pete Rose," Ibanez said in Clearwater, Fla. "It's kind of neat for me to put on the red shoes and the pants and think I'm a part of something, a tradition that's been there for a long time and goes beyond any of us in the clubhouse."

The 36-year-old Ibanez hit .293 last season with 43 doubles, 23 home runs and 110 RBIs for the Seattle Mariners. He's one of five major league outfielders to drive in at least 100 runs in each of the past three seasons, joining Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltran, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee.

"He's a good hitter, a good contact hitter," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's going to put the ball in play hard. He makes good contact."

At Goodyear, Ariz., Indians first baseman Ryan Garko and second baseman Josh Barfield found themselves in a strange place -- the outfield grass.

With manager Eric Wedge looking for ways to keep Garko's bat in the lineup and Barfield trying to win a utility spot, both got in some work catching flyballs on Monday. Wedge said he'll limit the speed-impaired Garko to left field but will let Barfield have a try at all three outfield spots.

With Grady Sizemore playing in next month's World Baseball Classic, the Indians need a backup in center field and Barfield could fill that role.

"He looks pretty comfortable out there," Wedge said.

Also Monday, Ryan Ludwick and the Cardinals agreed to a $3.7 million, one-year contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for Tuesday.

"For me, it's not about the money, it's about being here," Ludwick said before the deal was finalized.

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