Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley is ready for the season to start. With Spring Training still a month away, he's making plans to get there early.

"I'll be going a little early," Utley told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He'll be arriving early for a good reason -- he's anxious to get the season going.

"I'm very excited," Utley said. "I expect Ryan [Howard] to come out and be ready. I actually think he still has room for improvement. The same with Jimmy [Rollins], as well as myself. I think I can play better. I hope -- actually, I don't hope -- I expect everyone to want to get better."

And with just a little improvement, he noted, the Phillies could be playing in October.

"Two years in a row, we've been one or two games out of the playoffs, and I don't want that to happen again," Utley said. "We need to come into Spring Training from day one and be ready to go. We know what it takes to win -- we've just got to do it."

He believes the pieces are in place.

"Freddy Garcia is a huge complement to our pitching staff," Utley said. "He brings leadership. He brings a winning attitude. I talked with Aaron Rowand, and he said every game he's ready to go. He's fired up.

"And bringing Jamie Moyer back is big. Having him back, he has a similar type of mentality as Freddy. Every game he's focused and ready. He enjoys teaching and helping our other pitchers. It's a positive the whole way around.

"I think it's going to be a great year. I think [general manager] Pat [Gillick] did a great job of getting good people together. We have a good nucleus, and that can only make everything better. I watched the playoffs. Any team that gets to the playoffs has a chance. We've just got to get there."

Rolen's ready to roll: St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen, more than 12 months removed from shoulder surgery, feels much better than he did a year ago.

"I'm a different guy sitting here today than I was sitting here last offseason, when I was hopeful or optimistic about the season coming up or about my shoulder progress," Rolen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "When I was here last year, I hadn't lifted a weight yet. I don't think I was capable of lifting a weight.

"That's not the case anymore. I'm doing my old routine. I am totally free from any limitations. I wasn't able to do that last year. I was still healing."

He also addressed the end of the 2006 season, which saw him slow down as his shoulder seemed to weaken. Even so, he finished with 22 home runs and 95 RBIs for the World Series champions.

"Nobody was surprised about the shoulder's fatigue," Rolen said Sunday. "The surprise was, 'Wow, you made it until September!' The surprise wasn't that I was going to have a setback. [Playing so many games] is a surprise. That's a big surprise and probably not a wanted surprise for the Cardinals -- having a guy coming off shoulder surgery and play more games than [most players] on the team. Those are surprises."

If he had the chance to do it again, Rolen said he likely would have sought relief sooner.

"I learned from that experience," Rolen said. "I'm a pretty stubborn, hard-headed guy, and I went into September. ... It certainly wasn't my best month of the season. I felt fatigued, and I battled that physically, battled that mentally.

"When I actually did take the next step and talk to the doctor and got the cortisone injection, I felt like a new person. I [think] I'll try to remember that for Sept. 4 instead of Oct. 4 or Oct. 5."

He doesn't anticipate similar problems arising in 2007.

"I'm a different person sitting here health-wise," Rolen said. "I don't regret trying to battle through and trying to stay on the field. My regret, or my knowledge, is, hey, I was fatigued. I was hurt. I probably needed some treatment at the time. When I [did], I felt like a different person, felt like a different player."

Ramirez learns from Braves' best: The Seattle Mariners acquired Horacio Ramirez from the Atlanta Braves in a deal earlier in the offseason. Ramirez was fortunate to watch the Braves' top pitchers -- Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz -- work on an everyday basis and study their routines.

"They never hit the panic button, and they always had a plan," Ramirez told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Ramirez plans to take those lessons and others to his new team in Seattle.

"I want to be consistent, take the ball every five days, and every time I go out there have the opportunity to go deep in games," Ramirez said. "I want the team to know what I'm going to give them that night.

"It's a new beginning for me. I learned a lot from the Braves, and I'm just happy to go from one great organization to another."

Ramirez looks forward to turning a new page in his professional career.

"My game is really working both sides of the plate and trying to get ground balls," he said. "I have to keep things simple. I have to keep the ball down in the zone and save my strength and pitch to their weaknesses. I've got to be the aggressor, and that's what I plan on doing."

Holliday, Rockies come to terms: Both the Colorado Rockies and outfielder Matt Holliday wanted to avoid an arbitration hearing. The two sides got what they wanted as the left fielder signed a one-year deal with the club.

"[The Rockies] offered a very fair deal, and it's a big thing for me to get it out the way and not have to think about it for the season," Holliday told

Holliday, who'll celebrate his 27th birthday Monday, played for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic and was a National League All-Star in 2006. He also received the Silver Slugger Award after hitting .326 with 34 home runs and 114 RBIs last season.

The Rockies would like to eventually sign Holliday to a multiyear deal.

"We have Matt for three years [of arbitration], and [Holliday's agent] Scott Boras and I have done a lot of deals together and hope to do a lot more in the future," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "I told people not to overreact. If we don't get Matty signed to a multiyear deal, we're going to go through this process together and work through it the same way we did this year."

Carpenter likes role of leader: Over time, Chris Carpenter has become the dean of the Cardinals starting staff in addition to being its ace. He doesn't mind having the role of both leader and mentor.

"It kind of makes me feel good," Carpenter told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "To have guys trying to figure out what has helped me succeed the last few years is a nice feeling. I'm going to be willing to sit down and talk with them about how I do it and why I do it. All the guys ... they all have big-league stuff, they all have big-league arms, they all have big-league minds because they've been doing it."

On Monday in St. Louis at the annual Baseball Writers' Association of America dinner, Carpenter was awarded the Darryl Kile Award, which was voted on by his teammates.

The Darryl Kile Award is presented annually to the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros player who best exemplifies Kile's traits of "a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man."

Willis, Johnson show dedication: If there was any question about their levels of commitment, Florida Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis and fellow rotation member Josh Johnson erased them over the weekend.

Both players were married this offseason, and both honeymooned in Hawaii. While there, Willis drove across the big island and met Johnson so that the two pitchers could work out together.

"That just goes to show how motivated we are about the upcoming season," Willis told the Miami Herald.

Willis will show up for Spring Training this year on Feb. 1, 18 days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report.

"I feel happy, I feel great," Willis said.

-- Red Line Editorial