Sports Briefs

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Judge in Bryant case schedules into March

DENVER The judge in Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case scheduled a series of pre-trial hearings that will last until nearly April, making it unlikely the NBA star would go to trial before the season ends.

Judge Terry Ruckriegle set hearing dates Monday for Feb. 2-3, March 1-2 and March 24-25 to settle disputes over what evidence can be used at trial. The Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to play games Feb. 2, March 2 and March 24.

''I doubt if the Lakers' schedule will have any impact in the judge's mind, but it certainly will in Kobe Bryant's mind,'' said attorney Dan Recht, past president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. ''I don't see a trial happening in this case until summer at the earliest.''

The NBA Finals begin in early June and will end by June 20.

United States beats Canada to win Junior Worlds

HELSINKI, Finland The United States won its first world junior hockey title Monday, beating Canada 4-3 after Canadian goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's failed clearing pass ended up in his own goal.

Fleury's pass bounced off teammate Braydon Coburn and into the Canadian goal with 5:12 left, capping a three-goal rally by the Americans. Patrick O'Sullivan was credited with the winning goal.

''This rates right up there with the Miracle On Ice,'' said tournament MVP Zach Parise, referring to the 1980 Winter Olympics when the Americans won the gold medal.

Vazquez agrees to $45 million, four-year contract

NEW YORK The New York Yankees haven't finished first without a regular left-handed starter since 1947. Going into the season with an all right-handed rotation doesn't bother general manager Brian Cashman.

With five right-handed starters under contract, Cashman is looking for a backup starting pitcher and sees better quality among the remaining righties.

''There are very few quality left-handers out there,'' he said Monday. ''I'm not really concentrating on any available left-handers out there.''

New York hasn't gone with an all-righty rotation since 1992, and hasn't made the postseason with one in 57 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's statistician.

The current projected rotation has Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, Jon Lieber and Javier Vazquez, who agreed Monday to a $45 million, four-year contract.

Vazquez was acquired Dec. 4 from the Expos in a trade that sent Nick Johnson and two others to Montreal. Vazquez had been eligible for free agency after next season.

''Obviously, pitching in Montreal is not the same as pitching for the Yankees,'' Vazquez said Monday during a telephone conference call. ''All that's acceptable is winning.''

The 27-year-old right-hander has been durable he's the only pitcher with 200 innings, 170 strikeouts and an ERA under 4.000 in each of the last three seasons. While he was 13-12 with a 3.24 ERA last season, the Expos scored 21 runs in the 12 losses and blew four games in which he left with a lead.

While some pitchers have thrived, others have flopped, such as Jeff Weaver and Ed Whitson.

''There will be some adjustment period, there's no question about it. But we believe in his abilities and Javy believes in his abilities,'' Cashman said. ''There's a big learning curve here. Playing here is different than anyplace else. You just don't know who is going to be successful and who is not.''

Vazquez gets a $2 million signing bonus from the Yankees, $8.5 million next season, $10.5 million in 2005, $11.5 million in 2006 and $12.5 million in 2007. The deal left New York's payroll at $164 million for 23 signed players, with second baseman Alfonso Soriano and left-hander Gabe White still eligible for arbitration.

''I want to have that opportunity of trying to win some championships with the Yankees,'' Vazquez said. ''It's very refreshing to have an owner who wants to win more than anything else, like George Steinbrenner.''

New York's rotation needed a massive reworking after right-hander Roger Clemens retired and its two left-handed starters signed elsewhere Andy Pettitte with Houston and David Wells with San Diego.

As for Soriano, Cashman said the Yankees probably will try to negotiate a one-year contract instead of a multiyear deal. He made $800,000 last season, when the Yankees renewed his contract, and is eligible for arbitration for the first time.

New York is trying to finalize an agreement with free agent Tony Clark, who would back up Jason Giambi at first base.

Notes: Vazquez wants to wear No. 33, which Wells wore last season. ... RHP Steve Karsay is scheduled to throw off a mound next week for the first time since shoulder surgery last year. ''I'm finishing up throwing off flat ground this week and will get off the mound starting next Tuesday,'' Karsay said. ''It will be the next step in a long process.'' Karsay is rehabbing at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa Fla. It's unclear when he will be able to pitch in games. ... Contreras is among the players already working out at the Yankees' Florida facility.

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