Pettitte and Willis both rusty in debuts
It should take Andy Pettitte a while to find his groove.
The only way to properly apply that word to his performance Tuesday was as a description of the route of his pitches.
The left-hander was back in action for the first time since season-ending elbow surgery in August, pitching a shaky inning in Houston's intrasquad game at Kissimmee, Fla.
''I felt like I hadn't pitched in a long time,'' Pettitte said. ''I didn't feel real comfortable out there today.''
He threw only fastballs during his 28-pitch performance, a cautionary measure to prevent a setback in his recovery. He gave up two runs, three hits and walked two before getting an out.
Pettitte stayed in to record four outs in the inning because the Astros wanted him to get in some extra work.
''He was a little protective of his arm,'' catcher Brad Ausmus said. ''I think he got a little frustrated with himself.''
Astros manager Phil Garner wasn't worried.
''He was a little tentative at first, but I thought the last third of his outing looked a little better,'' Garner said.
Pettitte said his arm felt fine but was a little sore.
''I don't want to do anything to push it,'' he said. ''I still feel that I could injure something around it ... so that's the only thing that I'm protecting against now. I'm just going to take it slow and try to build my arm strength up.''
For the Astros to come close to repeating last year's run to the NLCS, a healthy Pettitte is almost a necessity.
A two-time 21-game winner, Pettitte joined his hometown Astros in December 2003, leaving the New York Yankees as a free agent to sign a $31.5 million, three-year contract.
But Pettitte tore a tendon in his elbow in his Houston debut -- while batting, of all things. He went on the disabled list twice, missed eight starts with a sore arm and hardly resembled the guy known as one of baseball's best postseason pitchers.
Dontrelle Willis was worse than Pettitte when he faced the aluminum-bat-toting University of Miami Hurricanes.
The Florida Marlins' lefty allowed six runs and six hits in 2 1-3 innings, and the college boys won 9-7 in an exhibition at Jupiter, Fla.
''I was throwing right where I wanted to,'' Willis said. ''With the talented team they had and the bats they had, they were just turning everything around.
''This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.''
The only thing that surprised Willis was the sound of the ball hitting the bat.
''It was funny because when the ball came back at me, the ping was so loud I thought it was harder than it was, so I kind of jumped back.''
Tim Hudson was a happy camper.
The Atlanta Braves' newcomer completed a $47 million, four-year contract extension with the Braves, giving up the chance to go through free agency at the end of the season.
He figures he would have commanded at least $15 million a year as a free agent, but was willing to settle for less to play for the Braves.
''I knew all along this was the place I wanted to be,'' the former 20-game winner said.
Hudson was traded from Oakland to Atlanta in December. He went 12-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 27 starts, but spent a month on the disabled list with an injury to his left side.
''We look forward to Tim being the cornerstone for us going into a new era of excellent Braves pitching,'' general manager John Schuerholz said.
Spring training games begin in earnest Wednesday, and so do the Washington Nationals. They play the New York Mets.
Florida will play Los Angeles, and Colorado meets the Chicago White Sox in the only other games exclusively involving major league teams.
In other games, it will be Manatee Community College against Pittsburgh, Navy vs. Tampa Bay, Georgia Tech vs. Atlanta, Florida Southern vs. Detroit, and Florida Atlantic vs. St. Louis.
With the curly ''W'' on their caps, the former Montreal Expos give fans in Washington a home team for the first time since the Senators left town following the 1971 season.
''It's going to be a very special day, even though it's just spring training,'' general manager Jim Bowden said.
After saying earlier he wouldn't play a full complement of regulars, manager Frank Robinson changed his plans. Newcomers Jose Guillen and Vinny Castilla are expected to be in the lineup, along with Jose Vidro and Nick Johnson.
Tony Armas Jr. will pitch against the Mets' Tom Glavine at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., where the Nationals hold camp.
''Frank told me how he wasn't going to start his regulars for the first few days, but, boy, they're all in there tomorrow, at least for the first couple of innings,'' Bowden said. ''And I think that's good, because it allows the fans in Washington as well as America to see some of our players.''
Also on the schedule for Wednesday -- the Veterans Committee will announce whether anyone was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Ron Santo, Joe Torre and Gil Hodges were among 25 players on the ballot. Reconfigured to include mostly Hall of Famers, the Veterans Committee did not pick anyone in 2003.