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Spring Training Rejuvenation

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Another common theme among today's Times/PI/Tribune was Jamie Moyer, who spun six pretty good innings against Arizona yesterday. The probable Opening Day starter, Moyer's turned in a few good outings so far in March, which has evidently been enough to convince the local sportswriters that he's back to his normal, pre-2004 self. Of course, these are the same sportswriters who say stuff like this:

The differences between his 2003 season and his 2004, when we went 7-13, were surprisingly small. Aside from the win-loss total and the 44 home runs he allowed (compared to 19 in 2003), Moyer allowed 18 more hits, had three fewer walks and struck out four fewer batters.

And the difference between Ichiro's 2003 and 2004 seasons, 50 additional hits aside, was pretty small, too.

Anyway, Moyer is just one of dozens of players in the Majors whose success in a small ST sample size, after struggling through most of last season, has led to a bunch of "(Player) is back!" articles in the daily rag. These columns, as you may have guessed, have a formula that, once deduced, makes them remarkably easy to hammer out in a matter of minutes. Knowing this formula, as transcribed below, is absolutely necessary for anyone who aspires to become a sports journalist.

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_ OPTIMISTIC AFTER ROUGH SEASON

"I can do better."

Those four words helped _ get through an up-and-down 2004 campaign that featured an uncharacteristic amount of disappointments.

A tough game on Opening Day became a tough few weeks, which soon turned into a tough full season.

"It was hard to go out there and struggle as much as I did," _ said. "I felt like I was doing a lot of things right, but things kept going wrong, and it didn't let up all season."

2004 turned out to be the worst year of his career. But _ knows it's too early to write him of.

"I've had success before, and I'm going to have success again. It's just a matter of going out there and working hard, because good things will come."

If Spring Training is any indication, _ is right. An impressive performance yesterday afternoon was his fourth in a row, and his numbers are back up to where they've been during good years in the past. The coaching staff has certainly noticed.

"_ looks a lot more relaxed, a lot more comfortable out there," said the manager. "He's not gripping as hard as he was last season, and it's really paid off.

I don't think we saw the real _ last season," he added. "It was a bad year all around, and there was too much pressure on his shoulders. Now it's a new year, and we've got some new energy in here that'll make it easier for everyone."

_ is no stranger to doubts. Told that he didn't have what it takes to be a professional ballplayer, _ worked hard in the minors to become a Major Leaguer and, before long, an All Star-caliber player. He doesn't think this situation is any different.

"Whenever you make a bad play or a bad decision, there will be people harping on you," _ said. "The key is to phase them out. I know what I'm capable of, and I just have to go out there and prove myself all over again.

The fans got a little upset last year - I think all of us did - and it was pretty messy. We look a lot better this time around, and I think it makes for a better situation for everyone."

_ isn't alone in thinking that things will turn around this season. Some new faces in the dugout and, more importantly, a new attitude in the clubhouse have people excited about the team's chances going forward. Certainly, they feel, things couldn't be any worse than they were a year ago.

So it is for the individual, just as it is with the team. _ has remained positive over the offseason and into the spring, and he's confident that he'll be back to his old self in 2005.

"When you have some success, people come to expect a lot from you, and all the time. After a while, it gets hard to keep up with their expectations, and you try to become something you're not. You try to make yourself a better player, but in doing so you forget who you really are.

I remember who I am, now," _ said with a smile.

It won't be long before everyone else does, too.

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As you may have noticed, posting has been slow, and it will continue this way for a few days as both Trent and I will be busy in the LA area. In the meantime, enjoy today's game against the Rockies. Meche, Thornton, Atchison, and Putz will take the hill.