Nelson Figueroa has won the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation in Houston. The chance to be a starter at the outset of the season is something Figueroa has always wanted.

"It's the first time, I think, I got called into the office for a good thing," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I've always been the 26th man and have that meeting the day before the season starts. Be in a suit getting ready to go to the city we're going to be playing in and be told I had to head down to Triple-AAA for a little bit."

Figueroa showed what he could do as a starter last season after the Astros claimed him off waivers from Philadelphia. He was 5-3 with a 3.22 ERA in 18 appearances for Houston, with 10 of those appearances being starts.

"He does things to make the other team beat him, which is going to give us a chance to win games," manager Brad Mills said.

Kershaw looking forward to Opening Day start: Most players are just getting their feet wet in the Majors at age 23. But Clayton Kershaw is already a veteran with three big league seasons and 85 games under his belt. Kershaw will be the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

"I expect to do well; that's not being cocky or anything," Kershaw told the Los Angeles Times. "But, at this point, I have to keep progressing. If you don't, you get left behind. Now, I'm not going to try and downplay that I get to pitch Opening Day. I think that's a sign of recognition from your manager and with that comes expectations. I'm looking forward to living up to those expectations."

"That's got to be my mentality -- don't walk people," Kershaw says. "If you throw strikes you're putting the pressure on them. It sounds easy, but something that still doesn't come easy for me."

Takahashi raising funds for disaster victims: Hisanori Takahashi is leading an effort to help raise money to aid the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Takahashi will collect money from his Angels' teammates and then make a donation to the Power Nippon Project. Japanese athletes and entertainers started the group to help reconstruct areas overwhelmed by the disasters.

"I hope they give me some money, even if it's just quarters," Takahashi told the Los Angeles Times. "Of course, more is better, but I don't want to set a goal."

Fans can make donations through http://www.power-nippon.com.

Schumaker brings versatility to batting order: Skip Schumaker looks destined to be hitting seventh in the lineup. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa says that should suit him just fine.

"He can hit leadoff, which he has," La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He also has the ability to juice the ball and have the kind of spring he's having, too. He's a very versatile hitter. I'm not looking for him to hit home runs. He doesn't just hit little flicky popups over the infield. He can juice the ball in the gaps."

Coke finding proper mental approach as starter: Detroit's Phil Coke believes that his velocity has been improving throughout the spring and says he thinks he has things figured out.

"I think the problem was you can't go out there with that huge adrenaline rush like you do out of the bullpen," Coke told MLB.com. "And if you do, you're going to run out of gas really quick. Well, I think I was dialed too far down, going out there with no fire at all. That's not me. I'm not that solemn-type guy."

Kennedy changes mechanics, finds success: D-backs Opening Day starter Ian Kennedy had his best spring outing on Monday. He allowed three hits and three walks while striking out six in 5 1/3 innings of work against the Dodgers. Kennedy figured out he had been over-striding on the mound and made the adjustment.

"Ian really got it going," manager Kirk Gibson told the The Arizona Republic. "He's been working on his mechanical adjustment in his bullpens. I think he was thinking about it earlier in the game. He was repeating it, and he got the ball down. He threw some real good changes late. His ball was way down in the zone."

Howell working his way back from surgery: After missing most of last year recovering from shoulder surgery, Jay Howell is pitching pain-free for the first time since his senior year at the University of Texas. Howell has been slow and steady with his rehab, but he knows he will be able to join the Rays' active roster soon.

"Now there's a light at the end of the tunnel. I can see it," he told the Tampa Tribune. "I'm not stupid about it. I'm not going to rush. I would have before. A year ago, I would have rushed it. But I've learned one month, if I don't give it that, it could cost me seven months and the pennant race. I want to be there when we win it all."

During rehab, Howell has added 30 pounds to allow him to maintain his strength, and he has strengthened his core.

Chris Young putting together effective spring: So far this spring, Chris Young has a 1.33 ERA. He has allowed only 15 hits in 20 1/3 innings of work for the Mets.

"I don't think he's had a bad outing all spring," manager Terry Collins told the New York Post. "I've talked to guys who have faced him and they say you just can't pick the ball up until late. As tall as he is, you don't see the ball, and when he's down in the zone, you don't see a lot of guys swinging at it."

Wells brings confidence back to rotation: Randy Wells knew he didn't have a guaranteed job in the Cubs' rotation heading into Spring Training. Now, though, thanks to a great spring, he's earned his place.

"Confidence is a huge thing, and I lost it last year," Wells told the Chicago Tribune. "It's a tough thing to overcome. If you don't have confidence, even if you've got your stuff working, if you don't believe in yourself, it's hard to get guys out.

"Confidence doesn't only come with getting guys out. It's believing in yourself and knowing you belong and getting the job done."

Jaramillo not getting caught up in status: Jason Jarmillo isn't worrying about his status with the Pirates. He hopes to be a part of the Opening Day roster, but says he isn't going to let it consume him.

"I would take it all home before," Jaramillo told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I would always be trying to figure out how it is going to play out, what is going to play out. I have always been confident that I belong in the big leagues, and I have finally understood it isn't my decision; it is the decision of other people. I can just do one thing in all of this: Play baseball. I can't try to figure out what the roster is going to look like."

Olson aiming for a chance as starter: Garrett Olson says that while he knows he's destined for a spot in the Pittsburgh bullpen, he still has aspirations of being in the starting rotation.

"I would still like to have the opportunity again to be a starter," Olson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "I've been a starter my whole life, and it will always be a big part of me. Over the past year, I got used to the bullpen a little bit. I enjoy that role. But I definitely like getting out there every fifth day."

Rockies looking to keep Helton fresh: Rockies manager Jim Tracy has talked to Todd Helton about sitting more often this season in an attempt to keep him fresh and healthy.

"The plan is to play him sensibly as a starter. I can't get to the point where I know he's tired, but his mere presence will affect the lineup," Tracy told the The Denver Post. "I can't think along those lines. When he needs a day, he's going to get a day."

-- Red Line Editorial