The front end of the Arizona Diamondbacks' rotation is the best its been since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling led the club to its first World Series victory in 2001.

Dan Haren, who was acquired from Oakland in the offseason, joins Brandon Webb, who won the Cy Young Award in 2006 and was second in voting last season. Webb, owner of one of the game's best sinkers, has a career ERA of 3.22. Haren is coming off a 2007 season in which he pitched 217 innings and had a 3.07 ERA with 192 strikeouts and 15 wins.

"It's got to be one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball," outfielder Eric Byrnes told the Arizona Republic. "I'm glad I'm on their team because to face those two guys and throw in a healthy Randy and Micah Owings and Doug Davis ... that's a very solid rotation."

General manager Josh Byrnes likes that both pitchers have proven themselves durable and typically devour innings.

"Durability is sort of something you count on," Byrnes said. "These guys have a great track record, knock on wood. What both of those guys have done -- the amount of innings and the quality -- is on a short list in recent years."

Jones ready to blend in with Orioles: Newly acquired outfielder Adam Jones -- a key player coming back to the Orioles in the trade that sent pitcher Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners -- understands he's going to be getting some attention this spring.

"I think everybody is looking at everybody," Jones told the Baltimore Sun. "I'm not trying to come here and steal the show from anybody. They already got some good players -- [Nick] Markakis, [Brian] Roberts and [Jay] Gibbons. It's a list of guys. I'm not trying to come here and say, 'I'm this, I'm that.' I'm just trying to play and be another guy."

Manage Dave Trembley, though, had to deliver some bad news to Jones. The goatee he is sporting has to go.

"This is all I've grown in ... 22 years," Jones joked. "It's going to be a little weird. But meeting the guys, that's going to be the hardest part. It took me four or five years to remember the names in Seattle. Now, I got to learn the names all over again. But it's going to be a very exciting time here."

With less than 140 Major League at-bats under his belt, Jones concedes he still has a lot to prove.

"I haven't proved anything in my eyes at this level," he said. "I've been a prospect. To me, that means nothing. I have to produce with the team that I'm with. So far, I haven't produced anything [in] Baltimore so I have a lot to prove."

Versatility a key for Mientkiewicz: Doug Mientkiewicz, long considered one of the game's outstanding first baseman, will try to add defensive versatility to his repertoire in an effort to stick with the Pittsburgh Pirates in his 11th season.

"At some point in your career, you're going to have to make a club this way," Mientkiewicz told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I know with Adam LaRoche here, with Jason Bay, with Xavier Nady, that those guys are going to play. But I know I can back those guys up. I can play the outfield right now. Third base is going to take some reps."

General manager Neal Huntington told Mientkiewicz that his best chance for a roster spot was to demonstrate he could play multiple positions.

"If Doug is able to move around the diamond, he'll make our decisions very interesting at the end of camp," said Huntington. "And that's because of what he can do for us on the field and off the field."

Meanwhile, Mientkiewicz, who always takes a leadership role, enlisted All-Star second baseman Freddy Sanchez for a conversation about developing a winning culture in Pittsburgh.

"It's time," Mientkiewicz recalled telling him. "I told Freddy it's time for you to start taking a little bit of a role here. There are too many good players, too many good guys in here. But it's easy to fall into the rut of losing. It's time to be a big-leaguer, and winning is what big-leaguers are all about."

Sanchez was responsive to the veteran's positive energy.

"I was, like, 'Wow,' this guy's awesome.' It was unreal," he said. "The things Doug had to say, with all the knowledge he has about things on and off the field ... it was only about 45 minutes or so that we talked, but it was incredible. That attitude he can bring is something we really need."

Ian Kinsler commits to Rangers: Ian Kinsler credited Michael Young and his wife for guiding him through the process of making his five-year agreement with the Rangers.

"Mike and [wife] Cristina basically walked us through this whole thing," Kinsler told the Dallas Morning News. "A lot of people say Mike took a club-friendly deal in his first contract, but the important thing was to make sure he had taken care of his family first and that he could concentrate on just playing baseball. We talked about all of that. It's the same way for me."

This season will be Kinsler's third with the Rangers. Last season he hit .263 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs and 23 steals. Despite missing five weeks during his rookie season, he hit 14 home runs. The contract, which takes Kinsler through his arbitration years and the first two years of free agency, also calls for a club option for a sixth year.

"Ian represents the past, present and future of this organization," assistant general manager Thad Levine, who oversaw most of the negotiations, told the Dallas Morning News. "As we continue to build towards being a championship organization, we wanted to try to continue to identify core players and get them to commit to be here.

Torii returns to Metrodome on March 31: After spending 15 seasons in the Twins' organization, Torii Hunter will return to Minnesota in his first series with the Angels, beginning March 31.

"I won't have to think about it for two months and go there in June. I can get rid of those demons right away," Hunter told the Los Angeles Times.

"I don't know how they'll perceive me -- will I get a standing ovation or boos? You never know," Hunter said. "That's a place I've been for 15 years. If you're with somebody for 15 years and you love it, you're going to have feelings for it. I still love Minnesota, but I'm here with the Angels and I'm getting to love it here."

Kennedy on a mission: Adam Kennedy has no interest in another season during which he hits in the low .200s and struggles to keep his job.

"Trust me, you don't forget," Kennedy told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I tried to fix what I thought was wrong, or just do things differently [this offseason]. It's a time where something needs to change, and I did. We'll see whether it translates to some success."

Manager Tony La Russa remains behind the second basemen in his effort to return to form in his second season back with the Cardinals.

"I would characterize that there's an expectation that he's going to be the solid winning player that he's been his whole career, and that last year was a hiccup," said La Russa. "He goes in with an edge to be the dominant guy at second base."

As for what happened in 2007, Kennedy says it was "a real aberration, a one-time deal," he said. "Pretty much you look at it as this is a big step this spring to get back on my feet."

Pain-free Blalock puts rib surgery behind him: Hank Blalock made full-speed throws across the diamond for the first time since undergoing shoulder surgery last May.

Blalock had the surgery to remove a rib in an effort to relieve numbing and limited blood flow due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Blalock played his last game at third base on May 16, 2007. Though he returned to the team in September, he played at designated hitter and didn't throw to bases during the winter.

"It felt like normal; the injury shouldn't even come into question," Blalock told the Dallas Morning News.

Double-whammy keeps Chavez on the mend: The good news for Mets outfielder Endy Chavez is that both of his hamstrings are feeling fine. The bad news is that he still isn't completely healthy as Chavez is trying to recover from a severely sprained ankle suffered back in December.

Chavez hurt his ankle while trying to score during a Venezuelan winter league game for the Magallanes Navigators. While pulling up after suffering a hamstring injury, Chavez caught a spike on his slide into home, spraining his ankle.

"The ankle is worse than the hamstring," Chavez told Newsday.

While the ankle is still sore, Chavez is still going to concentrate on his hamstrings. He was out three months last year with a strained left hamstring and said he will be dedicated to a stretching program to prevent subsequent hamstring problems.

"Now I have to prepare myself," Chavez said, "and try to be healthy for the whole season."

Nationals give Perez a chance to return to old form: The Nationals signed former 15-game winner Odalis Perez to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Perez played for Washington manager Manny Acta in the World Baseball Classic, as well as in the Dominican Winter League.

"This guy is here to compete for a spot," Acta told the Washington Post. "The fact is, we have some guys coming back from injuries, and we want to be covered."

Perez was 8-11 with the Royals last season. The 30-year-old lefty has a career record of 66-70 in nine seasons in the Majors.

"Will he come back to his form of a few years ago?" general manager Jim Bowden asked. "Not sure but ... if there is a chance of bouncing back at his young age, this is the environment for him to do it in."

Hernandez gearing up for daily shortstop duties: Luis Hernandez enjoyed his time watching and learning the game from Miguel Tejada, but now he believes he's ready to succeed him.

"When my agent called me and said he was traded, I was excited," Hernandez, who was playing winter ball in his native Venezuela when he learned of the trade, told the Washington Post. "I was going to get my chance to play every day. It was good for [Tejada], too. I was happy for him. He was a good guy. He got all the numbers on this team.."

Hernandez will compete for the job with Brandon Fahey and Freddie Bynum.

"I'm excited to be here, to be the shortstop every day," said Hernandez. "We have a lot of young guys. I think we have a good team now because all the young guys want to play every day and they are going to play hard."

-- Red Line Editorial