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Routinely brilliant pitcher

Keeping it simple keeps Maddux going

GREG MADDUX 333 victories

There is a crossword puzzle to solve, golf to be played, and a baseball season to prepare for. For 21 years, Greg Maddux has never changed his routine. Why would he?

"I'm a pretty simple person," Maddux said one recent morning in Peoria, Ariz., in the San Diego Padres locker room. "I do what I do, and I've never really changed it. I've stuck with the things that have worked and have eliminated the things that don't. There aren't many complexities in this brain."

He is remarkable in being so unremarkable.

He does not have the power arm of his former teammate John Smoltz, or the thick legs of a Roger Clemens. Physically, he is Joe Average, though he's much stronger than people give him credit for, and his offseason workout routines with longtime personal trainer Keith Klevan have kept him young.

Also remarkable are the numbers: 333 wins, including two 20-win seasons and five other 19-win campaigns. He has four Cy Young Awards, 16 Gold Gloves, and has pitched more than 200 innings in 18 of his 20 seasons.

And one more thing: He's always pitched in the National League.

"Never really thought about pitching in the American League and never really wanted to," said Maddux, who has been with the Cubs, Braves, Dodgers, and now the Padres. "There was a brief time there a few years back when the Yankees were interested, but I love National League baseball. I love the fact the pitcher is involved in the offense, which creates an added dimension and an added duty for a pitcher in the National League."

But much is made of the hardship the AL pitcher faces in having the designated hitter while the NL pitcher works against a weaker lineup.

"That's true," Maddux said. "I think winning games -- actually I think that's a wash -- or my ERA might be a little higher, but in the National League, you're not only a pitcher, you're a player. You're hitting and running, which takes something out of you, and you're always susceptible to be taken out of the game for a pinch hitter, which also makes it more difficult to accumulate wins."

A master manipulator with a baseball, he has based a Hall of Fame career on fooling the hitter, year after year after year. Even last season at age 40, Maddux went 15-14 between the Cubs and Dodgers (6-3), which led to one more season with the Padres, the team closest to his Las Vegas home.

"I've always had my eye on coming here," Maddux said. "I thought this would always be a good place to play. This is a very good pitching staff with a deep bullpen filled with pitchers who have accomplished a lot in the game and younger ones with a lot of talent. It's going to be pretty fun around here if everyone stays healthy."

Already he's had pitchers such as Jake Peavy and David Wells approach him about his secret to winning. Wells claims Maddux won't tell him, almost as if he were hiding a family recipe.

Maddux also shrugged when asked about the difficulty in changing catchers. Former Red Sox backup Josh Bard is now the Padres' starter with Mike Piazza gone to Oakland.

"I'm the easiest guy to catch," Maddux said. "Stick your mitt out and I'll hit it. I mean, once you've caught me and have an understanding of what I do, a high school kid could catch me."

He went through his favorite catchers over the years.

"I really enjoyed throwing to Damon Berryhill," said Maddux of the former Red Sox catcher who was his teammate in Atlanta. "Eddie Perez was like a mannequin back there, so still and steady. Henry Blanco was the best defensive catcher I ever threw to. Michael Barrett was a lot of fun in Chicago. "

What about Javy Lopez?

"Javy was a big target and he had a good arm. He could throw behind the runner with anyone. I didn't mind Javy at all. He was a pitcher's best friend because he could really hit. I don't know anything about what happened in Boston, but I was very impressed with Javy. He was at the top of his game then."

His lasting memories?

"The Atlanta years. The winning and the golf were sensational. Smoltzy set up the best golf. It was incredible being around him and Glav [Tom Glavine]. We had a lot of fun. Winning and having fun . . . there's nothing more you can ask for."

Asked about Glavine's pursuit of 300 wins (he needs 12), Maddux said, "He'll do that easily. I'm rooting for him. Glav can pitch a long time if he wants to. He can really pitch."

So can you, Greg.

Some relative feedback

A few questions for Seattle middle-infield prospect Michael Garciaparra, Nomar's 23-year-old brother.

How tough is it to be Nomar's brother and the expectations associated with that?

MG: "Early on in my career, it was affecting me, what people said -- especially questions pertaining to the pressure I felt, and it was there. But I was harder on myself because of him and also because of where I got picked [36th overall in the 2001 draft]. I just had to realize that none of that should matter. I'm over it now. I dealt with it for a while."

You obviously look a lot like him. Do you also share some of the same quirks in the batter's box?

MG: "I'm kind of fidgety as well. I don't have the toe-tapping thing. I do a little tap. I don't think I'm as fidgety as he is with his gloves and stuff like that. But I have my own things."

Do you get a chance to work with him much in the offseason?

MG: "Not really. I used to work with him a little bit, but now I live out here [Arizona] and he lives in California now, so we don't get to see each other that much. I don't talk to him too much in the offseason because the offseason is the offseason. During the season, I might talk to him a little bit. We don't necessarily talk about baseball. We just talk like brothers would, catching up on things."

It seems to be a tough team to make with Yuniesky Betancourt at short and Jose Lopez at second, with Willie Bloomquist the super sub.

MG: "I'm taking ground balls at second, short, and third and now the outfield just to see what happens. If I can be versatile and useful, then maybe they'll spot a need for me. I'm a natural shortstop and second baseman, though the last two years I've played more second base than shortstop. There are a lot of veteran guys in camp and it's my first big league camp so I'm just trying to make an impression and leave them with something they'll remember about me."

There must be a lot of family pride given that the two boys in the family are professional athletes?

MG: "I think the great thing about our family is as long as we're all doing something we're happy with and productive with -- and that goes for our two sisters as well -- then our parents are proud of that. I don't think our parents could care less that we happen to be professional athletes so much as we both chose a profession that's tough to crack."

Meredith turned a bad start into solid relief

Padres reliever Cla Meredith, who put together a scoreless string of 33 2/3 innings last season, still thinks about his brief but traumatic tenure with the Red Sox and uses it as motivation. He still remembers the 0-and-1 pitch in the top of the seventh, two outs, that Seattle's Richie Sexson belted for a grand slam in Meredith's major league debut May 8, 2005.

"I just wasn't tough enough," said Meredith, who was 5-1 with a 1.07 ERA in 2006, holding opponents to a .170 average. "I was so scared. My body was tight that day. I learned a lot from that."

Meredith said, at first, he took it personally when the Sox traded him (and Josh Bard) last May for Doug Mirabelli, but, "I have no regrets. I needed something to give me a jump start. I used the trade to my advantage to motivate me."

Meredith said after the Sexson homer and a subsequent demotion to Pawtucket, he struggled because his confidence was shot. He said the Sox tried to change his sidearm delivery and other things to get him back on track, but none of it worked.

"When I got here, I saw it as a fresh start, so I just went back to what I was doing before," he said. "My old delivery. The Padres never said a word to me. I just went with it and I found myself again. The confidence came back.

"Nothing against the Red Sox, because they tried everything. I can't blame them for offering solutions. But getting back to what I was comfortable with did it for me."

Meredith came up through the Sox system with Dustin Pedroia and considers him one of his best friends. He expects Pedroia to meet with success.

"Pardon the pun, but don't sell him short," said Meredith. "He's going to open some eyes and he's going to do some things that will make you go 'wow.' "

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Red Sox chairman Tom Werner confirmed he sold his 10 percent stake in the Padres in January to John Moores, the principal owner. The stake had been given to Werner's ex-wife as part of a divorce settlement. 2. Aiming high? Devil Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said his goal was 50 home wins (Tampa was 41-40 at the Trop last season). 3. Chipper Jones is going up one shoe size to a 14 in hopes it will alleviate a bunion problem that has reduced his playing time the past three years. 4. Good to see former Oakland A's manager Ken Macha auditioning for a NESN gig. 5. From 2003-06, the Red Sox had 423 games in which the starter lasted at least six innings. In the American League, only the White Sox (490), A's (439), and Yankees (436) had more.

Rocket's trajectory uncharted
The Red Sox have not had any dialogue lately with Roger Clemens's agent. While Clemens has been working in Kissimmee, Fla., with young Astros players and son Koby Clemens, the word from a former Astros teammate is that he will wait to see how the season starts out for Boston, New York, and Houston to determine where he'll go. That ex-teammate didn't buy that Clemens was leaning "80 percent" toward retirement. The Cardinals tried to get into the hunt last week, but they were rejected. On paper, the Astros and Yankees appear to need him more than the Red Sox, but if Clemens thinks finishing his career in Boston is appropriate, the Sox will clear a spot in the rotation.

Fun before Fame
A leftover from an interview with David Wells. Subject: the Hall of Fame. After going on a diatribe about how so many writers in New York and some in Boston would never vote for him, Wells, who has 230 wins and a 10-5 postseason record with two rings, said, "It's not important. If it happens, great. I never thought of myself as one. It's not up to me, it's up to you guys. I've done some good things in the game. If I was a starter my whole career, I'd have an opportunity, but I was a reliever and spot starter for six years. I'll probably be in the 250-win-plus range. I never think about it. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I've had a lot of fun."

Dustin' off Dustin
Every team stayed away from him but one, Cincinnati. But something tells me Dustin Hermanson is going to be a great asset to the closerless Reds before all is said and done. Hermanson was a big-time bust in Boston and then got hurt. He came on huge in 2005 with the White Sox (34 saves) before his back problems acted up. If healthy, his split-fingered pitch is as nasty as any in the game. "He's a risk," said an NL general manager. "We looked at him and we just thought we have other pitchers we wanted to look at in spring training. A team could get lucky with him if he holds up, but that's the issue. You could never commit to him as your closer for that reason."

No sense of fulfillment
You can think of countless players who never fulfilled expectations. Here's one: Travis Lee. If he makes the Washington Nationals roster, it will be his 10th season in the big leagues. He's hit .256 with 115 homers in nine seasons. But in 1996, when he was the second pick overall in the draft, he was supposed to be a superstar. Lee, a fine defensive first baseman, drove in 90 runs for the Phillies in 2001, his best season, but for the most part, he's been a complementary player. Now he finds himself competing with Larry Broadway and Dmitri Young for the Nationals' first-base job.

Outstanding in their field
The Devil Rays have reason to call their outfield -- Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Delmon Young -- the best in the game. Certainly, you won't find a more athletic threesome. Senior adviser Don Zimmer said, "I just can't figure there's a better outfield than we have. We've got three guys that can just play like hell." Senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker chimed in, "It's tough to find one player with the package these guys bring to the table, let alone three of them. There really aren't any glaring weaknesses in any of their games. They are still young and still have huge upsides, even from where they are today."

Monkey business in clubhouse
Anyone who has been around major league baseball clubhouses the past 20 years has seen a lot of fad drinks. Former Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy used to have boxes of Met-Rx protein drink stacked up everywhere. Then there are protein shakes like the popular banana-strawberry concoction that Julian Tavarez makes. But in the Yankee clubhouse, the chic drink is the antioxidant-rich green tea, part of manager Joe Torre's daily ritual. Reliever Ron Villone is also into it. "My best friend is monkey oolong," said Villone, referring to Monkey Picked Oolong Oolong tea. Villone tells the story: "Thousands of years ago, monkeys picked the tea leaves from the top of the tree. Monks taught them to do that. I guess it's a lost art because they don't need the monkeys to do that any longer."

Plans are optional
Manny Ramírez reserves the right to change his mind, and he's done so if he now wants the Red Sox to pick up two more years of $20 million options. He told this reporter on April 8, 2005: "I'm trying to play three more years. I just want to go out there and have fun and play the game for fun because in three years it will be over for me and I'll go be with my family . . . I've accomplished everything I want to accomplish."

Nick Cafardo's e-mail address is cafardo@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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