Spring Headlines: Phillies, Nationals add fuel to budding rivalry; Ryan Westmoreland announces retirement

Things are getting contentious down in spring training — and it’s only March 7.

First we had the designated hitter dispute between managers Kirk Gibson and Dusty Baker. Now we have a continuation of the National League East rivalry between the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals that really started to gain steam last season when Cole Hamels decided to send a message to newly-arrived rookie Bryce Harper with a fastball between the numbers.

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Of course Harper ended up extracting his own revenge almost immediately by creating havoc on the base paths and embarrassing Hamels with a clean steal of home, but that really only added to the hard feelings that lingered throughout the year. And those feelings may continue linger throughout the 2013 season based on their dust up during Philadelphia’s 6-3 win on Wednesday.

Nathan Fenno of the Washington Times fills us in:

A mini-kerfuffle unfolded between the Nationals and Phillies on Wednesday after Stephen Strasburg hit Chase Utley’s back ankle with an errant fastball.

“I don’t have any reason to throw at him, do I?” Strasburg said.

Roy Halladay followed up by throwing a pitch behind Tyler Moore, the most experienced player left in the Nationals' lineup after Utley’s ding. Halladay told Philadelphia media he lost his grip on the ball, but delivered the remark with a smile.

“He missed a little inside,” Moore deadpanned. “Maybe it just slipped out of his hand.”

Considering Utley’s recent history of knee and lower leg injuries, it’s certainly understandable why Halladay would feel the need to send a corresponding message. And perhaps it was just as much a message to his own club, because it was Halladay along with Jonathan Papelbon who recently expressed their concerns over the team's leadership.

Either way, we could hear a lot more noise from these teams as the Phillies attempt to claw their way back up the mountain and the Nationals try to hold their ground.

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Derek Lowe lands in Texas: While it’s only a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers, it’s an opportunity. That’s all Derek Lowe was looking for after going through the entire winter without landing a guaranteed contract. Lowe is scheduled to report to Rangers camp on Thursday, and as Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes, there appear to be a couple roles available on the Rangers pitching staff that would suit the veteran sinkerballer perfectly.

He would give the Rangers a legitimate long reliever or middle-innings reliever in the bullpen or, in the event, the Rangers don’t add another starter, he could potentially fill the fifth spot in the rotation early in the year before sliding back to the pen when Colby Lewis is activated.

Lowe struggled mightily in 21 starts with the Cleveland Indians last season, posting a 5.52 ERA. He then moved on to the New York Yankees where he made 17 relief appearances and recorded a 3.04 ERA. That latter looks like the way to go if he hopes to extend his career.

In other Rangers news, T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com also reports the team will not be signing free agent right-hander Kyle Lohse. “We are not going to sign Kyle Lohse. I can’t be clearer than that,” a team source was quoted as saying.

Ryan Westmoreland announces retirement: Once a top prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization — Baseball America ranked him No. 21 prospect following the 2009 season — Ryan Westmoreland seemed destined to call Fenway Park his home for a long, long time. That all changed, however, in March of 2010 when he was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation at his brainstem.

The condition required Westmoreland to undergo brain surgery, which put his baseball dreams on hold. To his credit, though, he resumed chasing those dreams once he was physically able in 2011. Unfortunately, a setback in July 2012 required another operation and another lengthy absence.

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Though he was determined to again overcome and continue working with the Red Sox this spring, Westmoreland realized the physical tasks involved are too much for him to handle. As a result, Westmoreland formally announced his retirement on Wednesday in an email to the media.

"With a clear mind and heart, as well as the unwavering support and friendship of my family, friends, agent(s), doctors, therapists and the Boston Red Sox, I have decided to voluntarily retire as a professional baseball player."Although it is a very difficult decision for me, it has become clear that the neurological damage caused by the most recent cavernous malformation and surgery leaves me with physical challenges that make it impossible to play the game at such a high level.

Westmoreland added that he plans to pursue a career in baseball in a different capacity.

Team USA falls to Rockies: Before anyone panics, there’s a rather large caveat here. While Team USA did technically blow a 7-2 ninth inning lead against the Colorado Rockies, all six runs that scored in the inning actually came against Colorado’s own minor league pitchers who were filling in for Joe Torre’s short-handed staff. In fact, all eight of Colorado’s runs in the games were scored against their own, so feel free to ignore to 8-7 final score altogether.

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