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Who's on first? Wil Cordero
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03/29/2003  7:31 PM ET 
Who's on first? Wil Cordero
But Robinson leaves option open for platoon
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Javier Vazquez pitched four pain-free innings in a minor league game on Saturday. He is scheduled to pitch the third game of the season against Atlanta. (Scott Rovak/MLB.com)
VIERA, Fla. -- After Jeff Liefer and Wil Cordero battled all spring for the starting first base job, Montreal Expos manager Frank Robinson said "neither separated himself from the other one." Liefer tied Ron Calloway for the lead in RBIs with nine, but hit .188, while Cordero hit .238 with one home run and five RBIs.

But Robinson needs a first baseman to start against the Braves in Atlanta on March 31, and the manager decided to give Cordero the Opening Day nod.

"It helps that I know him. I know what he's capable of doing, so that's why I'm giving him the first shot," Robinson said. "Then people might say, 'Well why don't you give Liefer the first shot because you don't know him. Take a look at him. You could always go to Cordero.' But our schedule is real tough here in the beginning. So if Cordero can get off to a good start, it will work for us. If not, then we'll just try to figure out something. We could always go to a platoon if we had to."

  Wil Cordero   /   LF
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 210
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
floridamarlins.com

The right-handed hitting Cordero is what Robinson calls "a professional hitter." Last season, Cordero was a valuable player off the bench, hitting .273 with six home runs and 29 RBIs for the Expos. His best season was in a Red Sox uniform, when he hit 18 home runs and drove in 72 runs in 1997.

Cordero, who started his career as a shortstop, said that he was happy to learn that was able to get the nod on Monday.

"It's a good feeling," he said. "I played first base before and I'm feel familiar with a lot of stuff. It's not like I never been there before. It helps a lot."

Physical fitness: Javier Vazquez, who hasn't appeared in an exhibition game since March 21 because of a strained right-calf muscle, pitched four shutout innings in a minor-league game on Saturday. The right-hander said he felt no pain and expects to pitch in the third regular-season game against the Braves.

"My arm felt good and when the injury happened , I felt bummed a little bit, but thank God everything went well today," he said. "The key was pushing off the rubber. That was the main thing."

According to Vazquez, he bunted twice in the game and ran the bases without pain.

Around the horn: Livan Hernandez will start the season in the bullpen and might start the second week of the season, according to Robinson.

Tony Armas Jr. said on Saturday that he is happy to be the Opening Day starter against the Braves. "It looks like a tough challenge, but I want to do it. That's what we are here for," he said. "Like I said, no matter if you are No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, you are always going to match up against good pitchers and good teams." Last season, Armas was 0-4 with a 5.72 ERA against the Braves.

Catcher Edwards Guzman has decided to accept the assignment to Triple-A Edmonton. Had he not gone to the minors, he would have been a free agent.

Reliever Scott Stewart, who had a bone spur removed on the back of his elbow after the 2002 season, said that he isn't concerned that he didn't face big-league hitters during the exhibition season. He did, however, pitch in minor league games.

"A strike is a strike, a strike down is a strike down. You leave it up in the zone anywhere, they are going to hit it," he said.

Stewart admitted there were times he felt that he wasn't going to make it for Opening Day because he felt soreness in his arm. The pain was caused by the fact that he had not thrown a baseball in a while. "I would go to the trainers and say, 'I just don't know. The soreness just won't go away.' They were like that's all normal stuff, just relax." Stewart said the soreness went away about a week ago. He did not pitch in minor-league games until about 10 days ago.

Ron Calloway has waited six seasons to play in his first regular-season big-league game. He will get that chance on March 31 when he starts in right field against the Braves. "I've been waiting a long time to do this. It still hasn't sunk in yet," Calloway said.

Robinson said that big hits, improved base running and defense helped Calloway make the team. "Whenever he started, he hit the ball hard, got some big hits, couple of big home runs for us," Robinson noted. "He showed me that left-handers didn't bother him too much. Defensively, he played better this year than he played last spring. He had better routes to the ball, didn't look as shaky out there. On the bases, he was more sure of himself."

Robinson said there's a good possibility that the Expos could be involved in a lot of 10-8 ballgames when the team plays 22 games in Estadio Hiram Bithorn in San Juan, Puerto Rico. According to Robinson, the ballpark is smaller than when he managed there in the late 1960's and early '70s. "I just hope we can come out of there without any mental damage to my pitching staff, but I have confidence in them," Robinson said.

"If you can pitch, you can pitch in a telephone booth. But it's going to be quite a chore." The outfield wall is eight feet high and the dimensions are symmetrical: 315 feet down the lines, 360 to the power alleys and 398 straight away center field.

The skipper speaks: "This team is capable of winning over 85 games. I would be very disappointed if we didn't win more than 85 games." -- Robinson on the Expos

Did you know? In 1972, Bill Stoneman, now the Anaheim Angels general manager, became the first Expos pitcher to be named to an All-Star team. That season he went 12-14 with a 2.98 ERA.

Weather report: On Saturday, it was mostly sunny at Space Coast Stadium, where the Expos were working out. The temperature was in the low-80s. Sunday's forecast in Atlanta calls for rain in the morning, but the sun will come out in the afternoon. The temperature is expected to be in the low-50s.

Coming up: The Expos will work out at Turner Field starting at noon to prepare for a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves. The first game is at Monday at 1:05 p.m.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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