What did you do on your 21st birthday? Clayton Kershaw pitched five scoreless innings versus the Rockies on Thursday and also hit a solo home run to lead Los Angeles to a 3-2 Cactus League win.

"It was a great birthday," Kershaw told the Los Angeles Times, adding that he hadn't hit a home run since his senior year in high school. "I felt clueless out there," he joked, in reference to his home-run trot.

"I pitched well," he said. "To be able to come out of there with 61 pitches through five [innings] was pretty good."

Escobar slices into recovery time: After missing all of the 2008 season, Kelvim Escobar was not expected back until July. But, after a solid session of batting-practice pitching on Thursday, Escobar is now scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game on Monday.

"He looks great," pitching coach Mike Butcher told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm very happy for him and for us. He's put a lot of hard work into what you saw today. He's fought his way back to where he is now and is several months ahead of where we thought he'd be."

Boone to undergo heart surgery: Aaron Boone announced on Wednesday that he will have open-heart surgery to replace an aortic valve, ending his season before it ever started.

Boone has had the heart condition since his playing days at USC in the 1990s, but a decision was made to undergo a corrective procedure following a recent physical.

"I have been diagnosed with a heart condition involving my aorta and aortic valve," Boone told the Houston Chronicle. "I'll need surgery to correct the problem. Initially, my doctors thought I could delay corrective surgery for some time. But, because of some variations in my condition, they are now advising me to deal with the problem sooner rather than later.

"Am I going to recover well enough to play baseball again? Probably. Will I play baseball again? I don't know at this time. We'll cross that bridge when I get there."

Petit makes headway in bid for bullpen spot: Yusmeiro Petit has allowed only two runs in 11 innings this spring after throwing two more scoreless innings. He now appears to have the lead in claiming one of the open spots in the Arizona bullpen.

"I've been working on my control," Petit told the Arizona Republic. "I'm trying to work down in the zone and work ahead in the count."

Hernandez continues to impress: It is looking more and more likely that Livan Hernandez will earn the fifth spot in the New York Mets starting rotation. Hernandez continues to pitch well, as evidenced by his solid five-inning outing against Atlanta earlier this week. Hernandez allowed one run on five hits and threw only 58 pitches.

"Well, I tell you what, he was pretty good," manager Jerry Manuel told Newsday. "He has a good presence about him on the mound, in the dugout, and it's like he brings a little different energy for us. So I would have to say that he's put himself in a real good position."

Francisco makes shift from starter to closer: After starting the last three years in the Minor Leagues, Frank Francisco enters the 2009 season as the Texas closer.

The right-hander, though, isn't taking anything for granted during camp this year.

"I don't want to be comfortable like I've got my job," Francisco, who has five career saves, told the Dallas Morning News. "I'm going to go out there and do what I can and give whatever I can every day. I want to earn this job."

Achilles injury keeps Youkilis out of action: The United States lost another player off its World Baseball Classic roster when Kevin Youkilis had to leave due to tendinitis in his left Achilles'. Youkilis is expected to miss five-to-seven days of action.

USA manager Davey Johnson wasn't sure exactly when Youkilis suffered the injury.

"I don't know exactly [when]," Johnson told the Boston Herald. "I just know his name started coming up on the treatment list."

Smith recovering from flu: Greg Smith pitched in a Minor League game in an effort to get some work in after missing nearly a week with the flu. While the rest of the Rockies in the Major League camp had the day off, Smith threw two perfect innings as he continues his quest to land a spot in the starting rotation.

"I would have liked to be a little sharper, and I let a few fastballs get away," Smith told the Denver Post. "But other than that, I felt OK. I thought it was good for the first time back."

Matsui will wait to see action in field: Hideki Matsui will be used strictly as a designated hitter until the Yankees play in National League cities during Interleague play, manager Joe Girardi said. Matsui is recovering from surgery on his left knee, but that has not slowed Matsui at the plate, as he hit a two-run double and two-run home run on Tuesday.

"I still think it's something we're going to have to watch all year long with Matty," Girardi told Newsday. "He played a lot of years on turf. It's something that we're going to have to be aware of, check with him pretty constantly how he's doing. It does make me feel better that he was able to play four days in a row and we had no issues.

"We need him. He's a great RBI guy. And we need him to do what he does. Matty's a professional hitter. He's going to give you a great at-bat. Lefties don't bother him. He's really important to our lineup."

Carpenter shows his efficiency: Chris Carpenter needed just 64 pitches to get through six innings of shutout ball against Baltimore on Wednesday. With that, he has allowed no runs in 14 innings this spring.

"That shows what you can do when you make quality pitches down in the zone with some movement," Carpenter told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Spring Training isn't the same as when they turn the lights on for the season."

Roberts proud to wear the red, white and blue: Brian Roberts hadn't even come to the plate for the United States when the magnitude of what was happening struck him -- he was representing his country in the World Baseball Classic.

"I take the national anthem seriously every day, but I was standing there, praying like I always do during the anthem, and then I opened my eyes and looked around and saw who was standing beside me and what uniform I had on," Roberts told the Baltimore Sun. "I said to myself, 'Wow, this is for real.'"

Hamels not worried about inflammation: Despite some inflammation in his pitching arm, Cole Hamels is doing all he can to reassure fans that he's just fine.

"They have nothing to worry about," Hamels told the Philadelphia Daily News. "They don't need to jump on the bandwagon of freaking out. I try to be honest with you guys and tell you the truth as much as possible, and if I was in serious pain, I'd let you guys know. I hope you can go by my word."

Duke returning to successful old form: Zach Duke is having the type of Spring Training that has his coaches remembering his run through the Minor Leagues in 2005 with the Pirates.

"So far in spring, he's looked very similar to the old Zach Duke," Pirates third-base coach Tony Beasley, his manager in Hickory and Altoona, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I don't know what he and Joe [Kerrigan, the pitching coach] have been doing, but it looks like it's working. He's pitching with confidence. He's playing around with his curveball -- he always had the ability to throw it and make it bite hard. He's pounding the strike zone with his fastball. He's showing good feel with all his pitches. That's what I saw in his past."

Jackson aims to become 'strike-throwing machine': Edwin Jackson took a big league approach to his work against Minor League hitters earlier this week.

"You know it's a simulated game," Jackson told the Detroit News. "Everyone knows it's a simulated game. But regardless of the atmosphere, you're still on the mound throwing to hitters. You have to force the issue to get something out of it. You have to push yourself. It's good, but it's tough. I'm not really fighting for a spot, but, so I don't get complacent, I go out there with the thought that nothing is yours. You have to take it.

"I want to get more consistent with every pitch, become a strike-throwing machine. That's what this game is. Consistency keeps you around."

Escobar ignites teammates with passion: Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton likes Yunel Escobar's intensity.

"You'd like to see some of the other kids with that kind of fire in them," Pendleton told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I'd never want to take it away from him, absolutely not. The fire that he has, you can tame that a little. But with complacency, it's hard to get somebody to get up on another level. So it's good to see him with that. And at times, he fires up others around him, so that's a big plus."

Beimel brings experience to Washington bullpen: The Nationals signed Joe Beimel to a one-year contract. The left-handed reliever pitched for the Dodgers last year and had a 5-1 record with a 2.02 ERA.

"He really gives us balance and experience in the bullpen," assistant general manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post. "He pitched extremely well the last three or four years with the Dodgers and with the Pirates. He was a guy that our scouts really liked -- his aggressiveness on the mound. He holds runners great. He fields his position well."

Hoffman to stay off the mound for now: Trevor Hoffman felt tightness in his right oblique earlier this week and had to be scratched from three straight games.

While the trainers don't seem to be overly concerned, manager Ken Macha and general manager Gord Ash said the Brewers closer will undergo treatment and not pitch until further notice, just in case.

"If this was the last week of camp, you'd be more concerned about it," Ash told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I'm not sure what his history of preparation is, but back-end guys don't throw that many innings [in Spring Training]."

-- Red Line Editorial