Not quite routine

People watching the Los Angeles Dodgers wondered why veteran backup Gary Bennett, a former Phillies catcher, would lob a soft, high-arching return throw to the pitcher every time.

Now Bennett has come clean, admitting that he has a mental block when throwing the ball back to the pitcher and that he has sought the advice of sports psychologists since spring training.

"I have talked to all kinds of people, put it that way," Bennett said in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Bennett, who has no problem throwing to any of the three bases, first experienced difficulty with his return throws late last season while with the St. Louis Cardinals, but it worsened in spring training.

He said he worked on his throws every day in the bullpen. As for the psychology sessions, he said it was too early to tell if they were working.

"I hope so, but I'm not there yet," said Bennett, whose progress was interrupted when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list yesterday. "Some days are better than others."

The cold shoulder

Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, normally one of the most affable of players, is through talking about his injured right shoulder.

Smoltz, 41, who has been on the disabled list since April 29, felt some reporters misinterpreted his recent comments by writing his return could be delayed for a long time after he ran into problems.

So now, "I will report to you when I'm ready," Smoltz said yesterday after a private 15-minute session at Turner Field. "I'm not going to be subjected to being put on the death cart or any reading between the lines."

Seen enough

The San Diego Padres are 16-30 and rank last in the National League in batting average (.235), runs scored and slugging percentage.

General manager Kevin Towers has seen enough.

"We're bad, no question about it," Towers told reporters outside his team's locker room after Monday night's loss to the Cardinals. "I've seen no signs to tell us or our fans that we're going to turn it around. I'm not going to watch this for another four months."

Pedro to retire?

As New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez continues to rehabilitate his strained left hamstring, he thinks of his ailing 78-year-old father, Pablo, who is battling a form of brain cancer, and of retirement.

Martinez told the New York Daily News he will deliberate in the off-season whether to give up the game so he can tend to his father.

Iron man

Braves rightfielder Jeff Francoeur was not in the lineup for the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets last night, ending a streak of 370 consecutive starts.