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Spring Headlines: Mariano Rivera faces live hitters, Johan Santana’s first start pushed back

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(USA Today)

In his first big test since undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last May, Mariano Rivera faced live hitters in a 20-pitch batting practice session at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

By all accounts — most importantly Rivera's — it went smoothly.

From The LoHud Yankees Blog:

“Basically just wanted to see the hitters, that’s it,” Rivera said. “I don’t do nothing different than the bullpen, but seeing the hitters, seeing how they swing at the ball. … The first BP that I threw in almost a year. I’m really happy with the results. It will get better. The longer I keep throwing, it will get better.”

Rivera said there’s not a lot for him to learn from an early batting practice. He was happy with the movement on his cutter and happy with his location, but those two things have never been a concern.

“It feels real good there,” Rivera said. “The big thing of this is doing the real thing; covering first base, fielding bunts, all that stuff. The rest is good.”

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Rivera is tentatively scheduled to throw two more batting practice sessions to build up arm strength before he'll be ready to appear in simulated games. From there, manager Joe Girardi will leave it up to Rivera to determine when he's ready to pitch in a real game, but there's no expectation for that step to happen soon.

Johan Santana’s first spring start pushed back: We weren’t due our first spring look at Johan Santana until March 2 anyway, but Newsday’s Marc Carig tells us that date will be now be pushed back at least one week, and perhaps two, because the veteran left-hander has fallen behind schedule in his throwing program.

That sounds like discouraging news, I know, but there's actually good news on Santana courtesy of general manager Sandy Alderson.

"There's no structural issue," Alderson said. "It's just a matter of building up strength. And so there will be long tossing before he gets back on the mound. We just expect that his schedule will have been delayed somewhat."

The only potential bad news is Santana may see his first regular season start pushed back as a result, but all parties agree it’s far too early for concern.

Victor Martinez feels great after spring debut: Much like Mariano Rivera, Detroit's Victor Martinez also faced a big test in his recovery from reconstructive knee surgery on Friday and came through feeling great.

During the Tigers 2-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves, Martinez would log three plate appearances. In the first, he was struck by a pitch on the right shin before being erased on Jhonny Peralta double play ball. In the second, he was retired on a line drive to center field. In his final appearance, Martinez hit a comebacker that was knocked down by pitcher Dusty Hughes and ended up being thrown out at first.

The latter pretty much confirms he's still going to be among the slowest players in the game, but at least he's feeling good and happy to be back on the field.

"I don't know how to explain it," Martinez said. "It was like I was just called up to the big leagues all over again."

"Honestly, I'm not really thinking about the knee," Martinez said. "I'm just letting the fans know, I'm not thinking about it. I come to spring training now like I used to be: just getting ready to get to the season."

Ryan Madson unlikely for Opening Day: Updating an injury situation we’ve been watching closely, it appears Angels setup man Ryan Madson is likely to begin the season on the disabled list. Madson, who was shut down after complaining of soreness in his surgically-repaired right elbow on Feb. 1, received a clean bill of health last week but only resumed his throwing program on Monday. He won’t be ready to throw back-to-back days until next week.

[Also: Tigers ace Justin Verlander willing to test free-agent waters for $200M deal]

Scott Kazmir impressing at Indians camp: The last time we saw Scott Kazmir in a big league uniform he was getting lit up by the Kansas City Royals in his lone 2011 start. Now he’s attempting a comeback with the Cleveland Indians, and if we’re to take the words of manager Terry Francona seriously, he appears to be in top form.

From The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes:

"He's looked so good it's scary," said Francona. "I wish we could bottle it right now for the season."

Are you sure you're watching right guy, Terry? I think I’d have to to see it myself to believe it, but for now we’ll file it under encouraging news for the Indians.

Tweet of the Day: Apparently it’s never too early to start piling on the Mets.

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