Major League Baseball
MLB News Wire
  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Mariners, Rays swap pitchers
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Seattle Mariners traded right-handed pitcher Erasmo Ramirez to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery, the Mariners announced Tuesday.

    • Ramirez, 24, was 1-6 with a 5.26 earned-run average in 17 appearances, including 14 starts, for the Mariners last season. He is out of options heading into the 2015 season.

      Montgomery, 25, was still on the Rays' 40-man roster when the trade was made. He has used two of his three options heading into the 2015 season.

      Last season he was 10-5 with a 4.29 ERA for Triple-A Durham.

      Montgomery was acquired by the Rays before the 2013 season as part of a seven-player trade involving James Shields, Wade Davis and Wil Myers.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Mets season preview: Strong spring a harbinger?
    By The Sports Xchange

    What does being one of baseball's best teams in spring training portend for the regular season? The New York Mets are on the verge of finding out.

    • The Mets finished March with an 18-11 record in exhibition play, the best mark amongst Grapefruit League teams and the fourth-best record in the majors behind a trio of Cactus League teams.

      The Mets need to win just one of their final four Grapefruit League games to ensure their best record in exhibition play since 2009, when they went 18-15. The Mets haven't won more than 18 games in spring training since 2008, when they went 20-11.

      The 2008 season was, of course, the last time the Mets finished with a winning regular season record and contended for a playoff berth. Between 2009 and 2014, the Mets went 87-97 (.473) in exhibition play, performances which were more or less in line with how they've fared in the regular season (453-519, a winning percentage of .466).

      So should the Mets start printing playoff tickets? Well, not quite, but recent history suggests a team would rather have a very good spring than a poor one.

      Each of the last three World Series winners (the 2012 and 2014 San Francisco Giants and 2013 Boston Red Sox) had a .500 or better record in spring training, though none got to the .600 mark. Of the 16 teams to play .600 ball or better in spring training since 2012, six made the playoffs.

      Conversely, of the 15 teams to play .400 ball or worse in spring training since 2012, only three made the playoffs and none got to the World Series.

      For the Mets, the recent results for successful spring training teams are less relevant than the message they are sending and tone they may be sending by winning -- especially in the style they've displayed.

      The Mets ended March by winning 12 of their final 15 games as they recovered from a slow start that inspired owner Fred Wilpon to pay a visit to manager Terry Collins' office on March 9. Wilpon made another trek inside the clubhouse on March 30, when he met with the team and delivered what was described as a "very positive" half-hour speech.

      "Fred's always been upbeat," said third baseman David Wright, the Mets' captain and longest-tenured player. "This was nothing different."

      The victorious burst certainly helped cement some positivity that may have been shaken by a spate of injuries throughout March. The Mets lost their no. 2 starter, right-hander Zack Wheeler, and their lone left-handed reliever, Josh Edgin, to Tommy John surgery within a matter of days. Right-hander Vic Black, the likely seventh-inning man, has battled a shoulder injury for most of camp.

      Second baseman Daniel Murphy, the most reliable cog in the lineup, hasn't played in an exhibition game since March 19 due to a hamstring strain. He is likely to begin the season on the disabled list.

      Even with Murphy banged up, the Mets began play on March 31 ranked first in the Grapefruit League and third in the majors with 167 runs scored. Outfielder Michael Cuddyer, the lone free agent import of note, had six homers through March 31 while Wright, coming off an injury-wrecked 2014, had four blasts.

      In addition, the Mets' run differential of plus-52 was also tied for first with the Athletics.

      It's just spring training, of course, but it can't hurt a franchise perpetually in search of offense to enter the season feeling pretty good about itself at the plate. Nor can it be bad for the Mets to be trouncing teams after a season in which general manager Sandy Alderson kept pointing to a positive run differential as evidence the Mets were better than their record.

      "We're playing well," Alderson told the New York Post on March 30. "We're swinging the bats, scoring runs. There's a reason why we've won a few of the games.

      "But it's spring training, and we all understand that."

      And as well as the Mets have performed offensively, the projected top two starters -- reigning Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and returning ace Matt Harvey -- combined for a 1.99 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38-to-5 over their first 10 starts, a span of 40 2/3 innings. The likely Opening Day rotation -- right-handers Bartolo Colon, deGrom, Harvey, Dillon Gee and left-hander Jonathon Niese -- combined to issue just 18 walks in 90 1/3 innings.

      "The starting pitching has been uniformly good," Alderson told the Post.

      In addition, Alderson bolstered the one weakness of the pitching staff on March 30, when he acquired left-handed relievers Alex Torres and Jerry Blevins in separate deals with the San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals.

      "We talk about how successful we want to be," Collins said. "There was a piece we needed and today we went out and got those pieces."

      So even if the spring training offensive surge isn't for real, the Mets appear to have built themselves some margin for error with sturdy pitching.

      One thing with no margin for error is the Mets' timetable for contention. Collins and Alderson have both spoken for months about 2015 being the season in which the Mets finally complete the rebuilding process and vie for a playoff berth.

      "I think this is the year for our team to step up," Collins told MLB.com.

      The Mets will at least enter the season looking like a team ready to take that step.

      ROSTER REPORT

      PROJECTED ROTATION:

      RHP Jacob deGrom

      RHP Matt Harvey

      LHP Jonathon Niese

      RHP Bartolo Colon

      RHP Dillon Gee

      Colon will draw the Opening Day start and reigning National League Rookie of the Year deGrom will start the home opener on April 13. But all eyes will be on Harvey, who is expected to open the season third in the rotation and is lined up to start the second game on April 14. Harvey, who missed last season due to Tommy John surgery, looked ready in spring training to pick up where he left off during his meteoric 2013 campaign. The snarling right-hander had a 1.45 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 17-to-1 over his first 18 2/3 innings of Grapefruit League action. If he's really already all the way back, then Harvey provides the Mets a true ace whose every start is a must-see event.

      Nobody expected deGrom to emerge as the Rookie of the Year last season, but it doesn't look to be a fluke: He was regularly clocked in the mid-90s this spring while posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 21-to-4 in his first 22 innings. At 26, deGrom is on the old side of the prospect spectrum, but his athleticism and medical history -- the former shortstop has already undergone a Tommy John surgery -- suggests he could be the Mets' long-term no. 2 starter.

      The rest of the rotation is a bit in flux. Niese, whose last two seasons were marred by shoulder injuries, admitted feeling some fatigue during the Grapefruit League schedule. Colon threw 202 1/3 innings last season but turns 42 in May. Gee has been an underrated cog in the Mets' rotation the last four seasons but doesn't seem very appreciated by anybody in management. With three rookies -- RHP Rafael Montero, RHP Noah Syndergaard and LHP Steven Matz -- knocking on the door, the Mets are well-positioned to replace Niese, Colon and/or Gee due to health or performance issues.

      PROJECTED BULLPEN:

      RHP Jenrry Mejia (closer)

      RHP Jeurys Familia

      LHP Jerry Blevins

      LHP Alex Torres

      RHP Carlos Torres

      RHP Rafael Montero

      LHP Sean Gilmartin

      For the first time in almost 30 years, the Mets have multiple homegrown options available to serve as closers. Mejia will get first crack after stepping in and recording 28 saves last season, but his rocky spring training was a bit concerning for a player who absorbed a heavy workload and walked a tightrope for much of last season.

      RHP Bobby Parnell, who had 22 saves in 2013 but blew out his elbow in his lone appearance in 2014, expects to contend for his job once he returns from the disabled list in April. The biggest threat to his job may not be Mejia but Familia, who recorded five saves as the backup closer last season and posted a 2.21 ERA over 76 games. Familia also struggled this spring.

      For most of the spring, it looked as if the Mets might not have a single lefty in the bullpen. But they will likely enter the season with three southpaws following the March 30 acquisitions of Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres. Blevins has limited opposing left-handed batters to a .212 average and a .264 on-base percentage over parts of eight big league seasons while Torres has a 2.55 ERA in 120 innings since 2011, albeit with 60 walks. Rule 5 pick Gilmartin is likely to make the team as well, though the Mets may need to get creative once Parnell and/or RHP Vic Black return from the disabled list.

      Montero could provide multiple innings after reaching the majors as a starter last year, but he is looking more and more like a late-inning weapon, at least in the early going. Carlos Torres was one of the most reliable and versatile relievers in the majors last season, when he seemed to get better with use, but a deeper bullpen might allow manager Terry Collins to better pick and choose his spots with the right-hander.

      PROJECTED LINEUP:

      1. CF Juan Lagares

      2. LF Curtis Granderson

      3. 3B David Wright

      4. 1B Lucas Duda

      5. RF Michael Cuddyer

      6. C Travis d'Arnaud

      7. SS Wilmer Flores

      8. 2B Danny Muno

      There's still some debate over whether Lagares or Granderson should leadoff, but Lagares likely won the chance to start the season atop the order by hitting a robust .346 with a .404 on-base percentage in his first 17 Grapefruit League games. It was just a small sample size, but strikeout-to-walk ratio of 10-to-5 indicates he may have developed a bit of patience after striking out more than four times as many times as he walked in his first two seasons, during which he had a .302 on-base percentage.

      At 26, Lagares offers far more possibility for speed atop the lineup than the 34-year-old Granderson. A lineup with Granderson batting second could give the Mets their most potent heart of the order of the Citi Field era. Granderson, Wright, Duda and Cuddyer had 16 homers in their first 169 Grapefruit League at-bats. Each player has at least one 30-homer season on his resume, though none of the quartet is a sure thing. But Duda had three hits against St. Louis Cardinals left-handers on March 29. Granderson has a full season of Citi Field under his belt and Wright and Cuddyer both appear to be healthy.

      With no major league ready starters behind them, d'Arnaud and Flores must take big steps forward in their first full major league seasons. The Mets have fast-rising catcher Kevin Plawecki slotted to begin the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, so d'Arnaud needs to prove the strides he made at the plate and behind it last season are for real in order to remain in the Mets' long-term plans. Flores hit .352 with eight extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in his final 54 at-bats last season and hit .333 with seven extra-base hits and nine RBIs in his first 48 spring training at-bats. Anything remotely close to that once the games count for real and nobody's going to be asking about his defense.

      Muno, a 26-year-old career minor leaguer who hit .381 in his first 21 Grapefruit League games, will likely open the season at second base while Murphy recovers from his hamstring injury, but the Mets need Murphy back sooner than later.

      RESERVES

      2B/SS Ruben Tejada

      1B/3B Eric Campbell

      1B/OF John Mayberry Jr.

      OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis

      C Anthony Recker

      Most teams don't have multiple big league starters sitting on the bench, but the Mets are particularly thin behind their everyday players. Tejada offers versatility and little else to an organization that seems to have completely soured on him. Campbell can play every position on the field in a pinch was a feel-good story last year as a 27-year-old rookie last year, but he hit just .172 after the All-Star Break. Mayberry has 30 homers in 490 career at-bats against left-handers but is just a .224 hitters against righties. Nieuwenhuis established himself as a solid pinch-hitter last year while Recker provides a bit of pop and a good game-caller behind the plate, but little else.

      MEDICAL WATCH

      --RHP Zack Wheeler (torn UCL in right elbow) underwent Tommy John surgery on March 25. He will miss the entire 2015 season.

      --LHP Josh Edgin (stretched ligaments in left elbow) underwent Tommy John surgery on March 17. Edgin will miss the entire season.

      --2B Daniel Murphy (strained right hamstring) was hurt during a Grapefruit League game on March 19. The Mets estimated he would miss a week or two but he had not returned to action as of March 31. The inactivity allows the Mets to backdate a disabled list stint, which looked more likely as Opening Day approached.

      --RHP Vic Black (right shoulder tendinitis) threw 24 pitches on March 28 and expressed hope he would be on the Mets' Opening Day roster. However, Black, who hasn't pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 9, will need to appear in back-to-back games to have a chance at heading north with the Mets. It is likely Black will begin the season on the disabled list.

      --RHP Bobby Parnell (2014 Tommy John surgery) threw a scoreless inning March 29. Parnell will open the season on the disabled list but expects to return in April.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Phillies season preview: Rebuilding mode could mean a long season
    By The Sports Xchange

    CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Philadelphia Phillies are at the beginning of a rebuilding project, and many prognosticators peg them to have the fewest wins of any major league team this season.

    • Shortstop Jimmy Rollins and outfielder Marlon Byrd were traded over the winter, and left-hander Cole Hamels, closer Jonathan Papelbon and first baseman Ryan Howard are among those players available in trade for the right price.

      The Phillies are starting to integrate young players into the lineup, such as third baseman Cody Asche and shortstop Freddy Galvis, and more are likely to follow later in the season.

      Yet while the expectations outside the clubhouse are nearly non-existent, the Phillies insist they are not going to be the laughingstock of baseball.

      "The faces might be different, the names might be different and they might not be big names, but the mentality is the same," Asche said. "We're still out there trying to earn it every day and we're going to have our bad days and good days, but I guarantee there's no one in that clubhouse not trying to earn something."

      Some of the holdovers from the golden era when the Phillies won five straight National League East titles, two NL pennants and one World Series from 2007 to 2011 are still useful players.

      Hamels is a true No. 1 starter, second baseman Chase Utley stated in last year's All-Star Game and Papelbon remains an elite closer in a bullpen filled with intriguing young arms, including right-hander Ken Giles and left-hander Jake Diekman.

      The rotation beyond Hamels is a cause of major concern, especially since left-hander Cliff Lee is out for at least the first two months of the season with a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. Right-handers Aaron Harang, David Buchanan and Jerome Williams would be No. 5 starters on most other teams.

      The Phillies were so disappointed in their in-house candidates for the last spot in the rotation that they were looking outside the organization for help, scouring the waiver wire and seeing what non-roster players were opting out of their minor league contracts with other clubs.

      One intriguing youngster is rookie Odubel Herrera, who will be the starting center fielder after being selected from the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft in September. Primarily a second baseman in the Rangers' farm system, the Phillies have been so impressed by Cabrera's athleticism that they have moved him to center field and shifted Ben Revere to left field.

      "I'm very pleased with the demeanor of the players in the clubhouse," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Young players are stepping up and gaining confidence. It's all about experience and that's what these young guys are going to get and hopefully they take the ball and run with it."

      ROSTER REPORT

      ROTATION:

      1. LHP Cole Hamels

      2. RHP Aaron Harang

      3. RHP David Buchanan

      4. RHP Jerome Williams

      5. RHP Sean O'Sullivan

      Hamels will have to carry a heavy load as he is far and away the best pitcher in a lackluster rotation. Harang can eat innings if he is healthy but he was slowed by back problems throughout spring training. Buchanan was a pleasant surprise as a rookie last season and so was the journeyman Williams after being claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers, but neither is a difference-maker. The Phillies won't need a fifth starter until the second week of the season and have no idea who that will be, though it appears O'Sullivan is the most likely candidate for the job if they stay inside the organization.

      BULLPEN:

      RHP Jonathan Papelbon (closer)

      RHP Ken Giles

      LHP Jake Diekman

      RHP Justin DeFratus

      RHP Luis Garcia

      RHP Philippe Aumont

      LHP Andy Oliver

      Papelbon complained about the Phillies' decision to go into rebuilding mode last year but began embracing it this spring, and he should be a veteran leader for a bullpen full of impressive young arms. Giles, who has the look of a closer in waiting, and Diekman both throw hard and should ably set up Papelbon. DeFratus and Garcia will pitch in middle relief and also can be effective. Aumont and Oliver have never had their results match up with their talent, but the Phillies can afford to give both another chance in long relief during a season where it is doubtful they will contend.

      LINEUP:

      1. LF Ben Revere

      2. C Carlos Ruiz

      3. 2B Chase Utley

      4. 1B Ryan Howard

      5. RF Grady Sizemore

      6. 3B Cody Asche

      7. CF Odubel Herrera

      8. SS Freddy Galvis

      Revere has fallen out of favor with the Phillies as indicated by his move from center field to left field, and he could be a candidate to be traded at some point in the season. Ruiz is a steady presence behind the plate and a good mentor to likely successor Cameron Rupp. Utley isn't the star he used to be but his professionalism sets a good example for the younger players.

      Howard lost 15 pounds over the winter and said he was moving this spring better than at any point since suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon during the 2011 NLDS. After finally getting healthy last season and revitalizing his career, Sizemore had a rough spring and will likely go to the bench once Domonic Brown comes off the disabled list. Asche is on a short leash because prospect Maikel Franco also plays third base and will be in the wings at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

      Herrera was the highlight of spring training as he was converted from second baseman to center fielder and won a starting job after being selected from Texas in the Rule 5 Draft in December. Galvis will try to fill the big shoes of Jimmy Rollins, who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the offseason, at shortstop, and that might be asking too much of a player who looks more suited for a utility infielder role.

      RESERVES:

      C Cameron Rupp

      1B/OF Darin Ruf

      INF/OF Cesar Hernandez

      OF Jordan Danks

      OF Jeff Francoeur

      Rupp, Ruf and Hernandez have limited major league experience and the Phillies want to see what they can do at the major-league level. Rupp is considered the heir apparent to Ruiz behind the plate while Ruf's power potential is intriguing and Hernandez is a good athlete who could unseat Galvis at shortstop. Danks and Francoeur will provide what little veteran presence there will be on the bench as both try to get their careers back on track in a new organization.

      MEDICAL WATCH:

      RF Domonic Brown (left Achilles tendinitis) has not played since March 19 and will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. He could be ready to be activated by mid-April.

      RHP Chad Billingsley (right elbow flexor tendon surgery in June, 2014) will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list but the Phillies are optimistic he can join their rotation by early May.

      LHP Cliff Lee (torn left elbow flexor tendon) will begin the season on the 60-day disabled list and will be out through at least the end of the May. Lee is hoping he can return to pitch through a program of rest and rehabilitation, though three doctors have recommended surgery, which would cause him to miss the season.

      LHP Mario Hollands (left elbow soreness) has not pitched since March 20 and is expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list.

      RHP Jonathan Pettibone (right shoulder surgery in May 2014) will begin the season on the 60-day disabled list.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Marlins season preview: Primed for postseason run
    By The Sports Xchange

    It's been a while since the Miami Marlins opened this season with this much optimism.

    • Owner Jeffrey Loria's surprising spending spree this past offseason changed perceptions about the club.

      But now the players have to back it up, and they can do that by making the playoffs.

      Last season, the Marlins won 77 games, a 15-game improvement from 2013. The early-season injury to ace right-hander Jose Fernandez kept the Marlins from achieving more as Miami went through a franchise-record 13 different starting pitchers.

      Things should go much smoother this year for a deep pitching staff -- both in the rotation and in the bullpen. The ace of the staff at the moment is right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who is primed for a big year.

      "His approach this spring was better than last year," Marlins pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said of Alvarez, who was stellar in 2014 with a 12-7 record and a 2.65 ERA. "He took care of himself better in the offseason, conditioning-wise."

      Behind Alvarez and the rest of the rotation -- Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Jarred Cosart and Tom Koehler -- are two long relievers who can also start, right-hander David Phelps and lefty Brad Hand.

      Then, in June, the Marlins are due to get Fernandez back from the disabled list. Currently, he is throwing bullpen sessions, but he could be ready for a rehab stint in the minors by May 1.

      Fernandez's talent -- along with his swagger and charisma -- should provide a huge boost for Miami's playoff prospects.

      The bullpen, led by closer Steve Cishek and backed by capable set-up men Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, Bryan Morris and Aaron Crow, is stacked.

      Right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, fresh off an MVP-caliber season of 37 homers and 105 RBIs in just 539 at-bats, fuels a dangerous lineup that has speed at the top, with Dee Gordon and Christian Yelich, and production throughout.

      The bench is full of veterans who know how to play the game, most notably future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, who has to make the adjustment to part-time work.

      In short, this is a team built to make a postseason run, and the only things that can derail the Marlins are injuries, suspensions and chemistry issues.

      Those things are impossible to predict, but we saw what it could look like last week when Major League Baseball said it was investigating gambling allegations against Jarred Cosart.

      If those allegations are false, Cosart -- a 13-game winner last season who has struggled this spring with an 8.49 ERA -- should be fine.

      But if those allegations are true, that's a serious problem, and Marlins fans who expect the worst would have a right to be concerned about a season that as of now has tons of potential.

      ROSTER REPORT

      ROTATION

      RHP Henderson Alvarez

      RHP Mat Latos

      RHP Dan Haren

      RHP Jarred Cosart

      RHP Tom Koehler

      This has the makings of an excellent rotation. Alvarez was second in the NL last season in groundballs-to-fly ball ration, and he tied for the league lead with 24 double plays induced.

      Latos and Haren are new to the team, but they are proven major league starters. Koehler is coming off his breakthrough season at 10-10 with a 3.81 ERA, making him a solid place-holder at No. 5 until ace Jose Fernandez returns to the top of the rotation, likely in June.

      The concern -- all of a sudden -- is Cosart, who also had a breakthrough last season, going 13-11 with a 3.69 ERA at age 24. But gambling allegations have rocked Cosart, who took down his Twitter page and was scratched from his scheduled start Friday. MLB is investigating.

      BULLPEN

      RHP Steve Cishek

      LHP Mike Dunn

      RHP A.J. Ramos

      RHP Bryan Morris

      RHP Aaron Crow

      RHP David Phelps

      LHP Brad Hand

      RHP Sam Dyson

      This is a deep and talented bullpen.

      Cishek, Miami's closer, can bring his fastball at speeds up to 94 mph, but he generally works in the 90-92 range with a hard sinker that was good enough last season to help him post 39 saves and a 3.17 ERA. Plus, he is only 28.

      The rest of the bullpen is young also -- nobody 30 or older. Dunn (10-6, 3.16 ERA) is the lefty set-up man. The Marlins have three options for set-up men from the right side, Ramos (7-0, 2.11 ERA), Morris (8-1, 1.82 ERA) or Crow (6-1, 4.12 ERA with the Royals).

      Hand and Phelps are valuable as spot starters and long relievers. Dyson (3-1, 2.14 ERA) may be the 25th man on the roster, but he was effective in limited exposure (42 innings) last season.

      Once Fernandez returns from the injured list, Dyson could return to the minors. In that scenario, Koehler would be bumped from the rotation and join the relief ranks. But that is assuming no other injuries or suspensions happen.

      LINEUP

      1. 2B Dee Gordon

      2. LF Christian Yelich

      3. RF Giancarlo Stanton

      4. 1B Michael Morse

      5. 3B Martin Prado

      6. CF Marcell Ozuna

      7. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

      8. SS Adeiny Hechavarria

      There are concerns with Gordon's low on-base average, but he can certainly hit, and he can run. If he does enough of both and plays good defense, the Marlins will look past his lack of walks.

      Another possible concern revolves around how Stanton reacts to regular-season pitching after getting hit in the face late last year. But all indications so far are that he will be fine.

      Saltalamacchia is coming off a poor season, and Morse as the clean-up guy could be an issue due to his injury history and a general lack of consistency.

      But ... if everything is clicking, this could be a dynamic lineup. Gordon has electric speed, Yelich can do a little bit of everything, Stanton has more power than virtually anyone in baseball, and Morse can also crush mistakes.

      Put it this way, when the second half of your lineup includes a professional hitter such as Prado; a young slugger (Ozuna) who hit 23 homers and drove in 85 runs last year at 23; a switch-hitting catcher (Salty) who hit 25 homers as recently as 2012; and a shortstop (Hechavarria) who produced 31 extra-base hits from the eight hole last year ... that's pretty good.

      RESERVES

      C Jeff Mathis

      INF Jeff Baker

      INF Donovan Solano

      OF Ichiro Suzuki

      The bench is nothing special, but gritty guys like Baker, Solano and Mathis won games for the Marlins last year.

      Mathis doesn't provide much offense -- he is a career .196 hitter -- but he plays good defense and tends to get timely knocks. Baker has made himself into a good pinch-hitter, and Solano played well last year when given a chance.

      The newcomer to the bench is 41-year-old future Hall of Famer Suzuki, but it remains to be seen how he fits and how much he has left. Suzuki once had 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons -- an MLB record -- but, at this point, barring injury, he doesn't figure to get too many starts behind the Marlins' talented outfield.

      MEDICAL WATCH

      --RHP Jose Fernandez (Tommy John surgery) is expected to return in June.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Braves season preview: Tough times ahead?
    By The Sports Xchange

    Atlanta Braves players kept insisting throughout spring training that they weren't conceding anything this year despite the team's offseason rebuild toward a new ballpark in 2017.

    • "I didn't come here to lose," said veteran outfielder Jonny Gomes, brought in to add some needed grit and clubhouse leadership. "We're all here to win."

      Reality is reality, though, and nothing transpired during spring training to indicate that Braves aren't likely to be a sub-.500 squad in 2015.

      The team that collapsed in the second half of last season was certainly flawed, but so is the present one. Instead of relying too much on homers, the Braves now don't have enough pop after trading Justin Upton and Evan Gattis for prospects with the future in mind.

      At least the Braves shouldn't finish last in the National League East. The Philadelphia Phillies, who waited too long to retool, appear a lock for that.

      "Look, I'm sure nobody is going to pick us (to contend)," said president of baseball operations John Hart, who took over fired general manager Frank Wren. "I understand that. I probably wouldn't pick us. But we're going to be a team that's tough to play and the future looks bright. I think everyone feels good about where we're headed."

      The Braves have building blocks in first baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Andrelton Simmons, rotation ace Julio Teheran and closer Craig Kimbrel.

      Kimbrel, though, will have a lot of wear and tear by the time the new ballpark opens in suburban Cobb County, and Freeman could suffer with little protection around him in the lineup.

      The Braves signed Nick Markakis to replace the traded Jason Heyward in right field, but the long-time Baltimore Orioles outfielder missed much of spring training recovering from neck surgery.

      Markakis appears ready for Opening Day, but left-hander Mike Minor will miss at least the first month of the season because of shoulder inflammation. The team will also be without center fielder Melvin Upton Jr. until May because of a foot injury that prevented him from trying to get back on track during spring training.

      The Braves may not contend, but how competitive they are 2015 in could impact manager Fredi Gonzalez's job future. He definitely can't write off this season.

      "Yeah, '17 for me is a long ways away," he said. "In my profession, you can't look that far ahead. You've got to concentrate on what's happening now."

      ROSTER REPORT

      PROJECTED ROTATION:

      RHP Julio Teheran

      LHP Alex Wood

      RHP Shelby Miller

      LHP Wandy Rodriguez

      RHP Mike Foltynewicz or LHP Eric Stults or RHP Cody Martin

      The loss of LHP Mike Minor for at least the first month of the season because of shoulder problems meant that the Braves had to fill two rotations spots this spring instead of just one.

      Veterans Rodriguez and Stults, both signed to minor league contracts, pitched well this spring, but aren't long-term answers. Foltynewicz, obtained from Houston in the Evan Gattis deal, has great stuff, but shaky command.

      The Braves feel good about their top three starters, all young and talented. Teheran is a budding ace, while Wood and Miller -- acquired from St. Louis for Jason Heyward -- have both shown flashes of potentially being nearly as good.

      PROJECTED BULLPEN:

      RHP Craig Kimbrel (closer)

      RHP Jason Grilli

      RHP Jim Johnson

      LHP Luis Avilan

      LHP Josh Outman or LHP Brady Feigl

      RHP Juan Jaime

      RHP Aaron Kurcz or Brandon Cunniff

      Kimbrel, who went from 50 saves in 2013 to 47 last year, will likely seen his opportunities drop again this season and not just because of the Braves' lack of offense. The bridge to the closer seems questionable at best.

      Veterans Grilli and Johnson were brought in as the new set-up men, but both are dearly in need of bounce-back seasons. Johnson is especially questionable.

      The Braves also don't have a proven lefty, with Avilan taking a big step backward last year. LHP James Russell struggled so badly this spring that he was released.

      PROJECTED LINEUP:

      1. CF Eric Young Jr.

      2. 2B Jace Peterson

      3. RF Nick Markakis

      4. 1B Freddie Freeman

      5. LF Jonny Gomes

      6. 3B Chris Johnson

      7. SS Andrelton Simmons

      8. C Christian Bethancourt

      The Braves won't strike out as much this season, but they might have just as much trouble scoring runs. When they get runners on base ahead of Freeman, a lack of protection will allow opponents to pitch around the first baseman.

      Gomes and Johnson are hardly feared, and that can mostly be said about everyone on the team except for Freeman. After trading Justin Upton, Gattis and Heyward, the Braves may have the least power of any team in the majors.

      With Melvin Upton Jr. (foot) out for the first month or more, Young at least gives the team speed at the top of the order and rookie Peterson, acquired from San Diego, appears capable of fitting in nicely in the No. 2 spot. Markakis, given a four-year deal as a free agent, is coming off winter neck surgery and remains a questionable signing.

      RESERVES:

      2B/3B Alberto Callaspo

      OF/INF Kelly Johnson

      C A.J. Pierzynski

      INF Phil Gosselin

      OF Todd Cunningham

      Pierzynski is a capable backup for Bethancourt behind the plate and brings, along with Gomes, some fire to a team badly in need of it. The Braves' bench, though, is hardly a strong one.

      Callaspo, who reported to camp out of shape, may end up in a platoon with Johnson at third base, and fellow veteran Johnson could do the same with Gomes in left field.

      The Braves could get a lift in the second half of the season from 20-year-old 2B Jose Peraza. The team's top position prospect is starting the season with Triple-A Gwinnett after hitting .339 with 60 stolen bases in the lower minors last year.

      MEDICAL WATCH:

      --LHP Mike Minor (left rotation cuff inflammation) received an injection in his shoulder March 9. An MRI found no structural damage, but he will open the season on the disabled list and isn't expected back before May.

      --OF Melvin Upton Jr. (left foot inflammation) was hurt in late February and will start the season on the disabled list. He went into April still not cleared for baseball activity and isn't expected back before May.

      --RHP Shae Simmons (Tommy John surgery in February 2015) went on the 60-day disabled list Feb. 20. He will miss the entire season.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    MLB notebook: Average salary to top $4 million
    By The Sports Xchange

    The average Major League Baseball salary will cross the $4 million threshold when the regular season begins next week.

    • According to an Associated Press analysis, the average salary is projected to be about $4.25 million in 2015. Topping the list is Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw at $31 million, followed by Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander at $28 million, Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke at $27 million and Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton at $25.4 million.

      The Dodgers have baseball's biggest payroll at about approximately $270 million.

      The average salary last year was $3.95 million on opening day and $3.65 million in 2013.

      ---Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon is getting a third opinion on his injured right knee that was originally diagnosed as an MCL sprain.

      Rendon was scheduled to visit Dr. Steven Singleton at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo., on Tuesday for an examination after an appointment with noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews on Monday confirmed the initial diagnosis.

      Rendon was injured in a March 9 game against the Atlanta Braves while making a diving stop. He has not played since then, but the knee remains sore after rest and treatment.

      ---For the second straight season, the Baltimore Orioles will hand to the ball to right-hander Chris Tillman for the Opening Day start.

      Tillman received the nod over Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris for the April 6 game against the Tampa Bay Rays, becoming the first Orioles pitcher to start back-to-back openers since Jeremy Guthrie in 2008-09.

      Tillman, 26, finished last season with a 13-6 record and a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts covering 207 1/3 innings. He surpassed 200 innings for the second consecutive season.

      ---Grady Sizemore could open the season as the right fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, who will be without Dominic Brown for the start of the season.

      Brown was informed Tuesday that he will be placed on the disabled list before the Phillies open the season Monday (April 6) because of tendinitis in his left Achilles. Brown has been injured since March 19.

      Sizemore, Jordan Danks, Jeff Francoeur, Russ Canzler and Brian Bogusevic are competing for the start in right field. The roster for Opening Day is not set until Sunday.

      The Phillies also released right-hander Kevin Slowey on Tuesday.

      ---The commissioner's office suspended pitcher Jose Mijares for 50 games without pay on Tuesday for violating the minor league's drug prevention and treatment program.

      Mijares, a free agent left-hander, tested positive a second time for a drug of abuse. The suspension will begin immediately after he signs with a major league organization.

      The 30-year-old last pitched in the major leagues for the San Francisco Giants in 2013. In two seasons with the Giants, he appeared in 138 games and had a 3-5 record. In parts of six seasons as a reliever with the Minnesota Twins and the Giants, he has a 6-11 record and a 3.26 ERA in 259 innings. He was released by the Cincinnati Reds on March 23 after posting a 5.06 ERA in 5 1/3 innings this spring.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    LHP Mijares suspended for 50 games
    By The Sports Xchange

    The commissioner's office suspended pitcher Jose Mijares for 50 games without pay on Tuesday for violating the minor league's drug prevention and treatment program.

    • Mijares, a free agent left-hander, tested positive a second time for a drug of abuse. The suspension will begin immediately after he signs with a major league organization.

      The 30-year-old Mijares last pitched in the major leagues for the San Francisco Giants in 2013. In two seasons with the Giants, he appeared in 138 games and had a 3-5 record. In parts of six seasons as a reliever with the Minnesota Twins and the Giants, he has a 6-11 record and a 3.26 ERA in 259 innings.

      Mijares was released by the Cincinnati Reds on March 23 after posting a 5.06 ERA in 5 1/3 innings this spring.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    MLB average salary to top $4 million
    By The Sports Xchange

    The average Major League Baseball salary will cross the $4 million threshold when the regular season begins next week.

    • According to an analysis by The Associated Press, the average salary is projected to be about $4.25 million in 2015, depending on transaction before the start of the season on April 5.

      Topping the list is Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw at $31 million. The Dodgers have baseball's biggest payroll at about approximately $270 million.

      The New York Yankees have the second largest payroll at $215 million. Next are the Boston Red Sox at $185 million, the Detroit Tigers at $170 million and the San Francisco Giants at $169 million. The Miami Marlins are at the bottom of the league at about $65 million.

      Kershaw is followed by Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander at $28 million, Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke at $27 million and Los Angeles Angels outfielder/designated hitter Josh Hamilton at $25.4 million.

      The average salary last year was $3.95 million on opening day and $3.65 million in 2013. Contrast that with the average player salary at $50,000 in 1976.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Tillman to start opener for Orioles
    By The Sports Xchange

    For the second straight season, the Baltimore Orioles will hand to the ball to right-hander Chris Tillman for the Opening Day start.

    • Tillman received the nod over Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris for the April 6 game against the Tampa Bay Rays, becoming the first Orioles pitcher to start back-to-back openers since Jeremy Guthrie in 2008-09.

      The 26-year-old Tillman finished last season with a 13-6 record and a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts covering 207 1/3 innings. He surpassed 200 innings for the second consecutive season.

      In six major league seasons, Tillman has a 45-31 record and a 4.00 ERA in 118 career starts, including 67 the past two years.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Nationals' Rendon seeks opinions on knee
    By The Sports Xchange

    Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon is getting a third opinion on his injured right knee that was originally diagnosed as an MCL sprain.

    • Rendon was scheduled to visit Dr. Steven Singleton at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo., on Tuesday for an examination after an appointment with noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews on Monday confirmed the initial diagnosis.

      Rendon was injured in a March 9 game against the Atlanta Braves while making a diving stop. He has not played since then, but the knee remains sore after rest and treatment.

      "We're just trying to make sure we cover all bases and everybody gets a chance to take a look at it and develop a course of action from today on," Nationals manager Matt Williams said.

      In Rendon's absence, the Nationals have used Danny Espinosa and Ian Stewart at third base.

      Rendon batted .287 with 21 home runs and 83 RBIs last year. He finished fifth in the National League MVP voting.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Phillies OF Brown to open on DL
    By The Sports Xchange

    Grady Sizemore could open the season as the right fielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, who will be without Dominic Brown for the start of the season.

    • Brown was informed Tuesday that he will be placed on the disabled list before the Phillies open the season Monday (April 6) because of tendinitis in his left Achilles. Brown has been injured since March 19.

      The Phillies also released right-hander Kevin Slowey on Tuesday.

      Sizemore, Jordan Danks, Jeff Francoeur, Russ Canzler and Brian Bogusevic are competing for the start in right field. The roster for Opening Day is not set until Sunday.

      With Ben Revere in left field and Odubel Herrera in center field, the Phillies could feasibly start three outfielders who had a total of seven home runs last season. Sizemore hit five with the Red Sox and Phillies combined and Revere had the first two homers of his career in 2014.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Nationals season preview: Washington up in arms
    By The Sports Xchange

    WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Washington Nationals led the league in wins last year with 96, have the most wins in the past three years in the National League and enter this season with the best starting rotation in the game.

    • The Nationals are a World Series favorite among many pundits. But the big question is: can this club win a post-season series? It is something the franchise has never done, with first-round losses in 2012 to the St. Louis Cardinals and last year to the San Francisco Giants, also in the NLDS.

      The club shocked many when they signed free agent pitcher Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract in January as the right-hander left Detroit for the nation's capital. It seemed to be an embarrassment of riches, but there is a method to the madness: right-hander starters Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are free agents after this season and Stephen Strasburg is under team control through the end of 2016.

      Throw in that All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond, an original member of the Montreal/Washington franchise, and center fielder Denard Span are also free agents after this season and this year takes on the character of 2012 when then-manager Davey Johnson declared "World Series or Bust."

      Matt Williams, now in his second season as manager, is much more guarded with his comments so don't expect any such declarations from the National League Manager of the Year.

      Entering spring training there seemed to be little suspense as the team's eight starting regulars seemed set. And the only question mark among the starting staff was if Tanner Roark had any chance to beat out lefty Gio Gonzalez for a spot in the rotation. He didn't.

      But outfielder Jayson Werth has not fully recovered from right shoulder surgery in January. And then center fielder Denard Span, who set a franchise record for hits last year with 184, had right core muscle surgery on March 9 and won't be ready until early May.

      And third baseman Anthony Rendon (.287, 21 homers, 39 doubles), who had perhaps the best season of any Washington player in 2014, dove for a ball on March 9 in a spring training game and injured his knee. Werth and Rendon may not be ready for Opening Day. With all of the outfield injuries the Nationals traded one of their few lefty veterans in the bullpen -- Jerry Blevins -- on Monday for Mets' outfielder Matt den Dekker.

      So there has been plenty of suspense this spring when it comes to the makeup of the 25-man roster. Nationals' fans can only hope there is more drama come October.

      ROTATION:

      RHP Max Scherzer

      RHP Jordan Zimmermann

      RHP Stephen Strasburg

      LHP Gio Gonzalez

      RHP Doug Fister

      Zimmermann has been the consistent starter for years for the Nationals while Strasburg is a former No. 1 draft pick with perhaps the best collection of pitches. But it will be Scherzer who will lead the rotation in his first season in Washington.

      Zimmermann and Fister are free agents after this season while Strasburg is signed through 2016. The Nationals have control of Scherzer for seven years after he signed a free agent contract with the team in January. If any of the starters is injured the Nationals can turn to Tanner Roark, who won 15 games last season as a starter. Washington also has young A.J. Cole waiting in the wings if needed, and Blake Treinen can also start.

      BULLPEN:

      RHP Drew Storen (closer)

      RHP Aaron Barrett

      RHP Craig Stammen

      LHP Matt Thornton

      RHP Tanner Roark

      RHP Blake Treinen

      LHP Xavier Cedeno

      The Nationals lost nearly a combined 200 innings out of the bullpen as they bid goodbye to former closer Rafael Soriano, All-Star Tyler Clippard and Ross Detwiler. Clippard was traded to the Oakland A's for second baseman Yunel Escobar while Detwiler, a former starter, was dealt to the Texas Rangers for prospects.

      Washington will turn to the closer role over to Storen, who took over for Soriano in early September. Janssen is a former closer for the Blue Jays who is expected to be a setup man in the eighth, though Stammen and Thornton could also be used in that inning. The Nationals traded veteran lefty reliever Jerry Blevins on March 30 to the New York Mets for outfielder Matt den Dekker. Janssen appears likely to miss the first part of the season with right shoulder inflammation.

      LINEUP:

      1. CF Michael A. Taylor

      2. 2B Yunel Escobar

      3. RF Bryce Harper

      4. 1B Ryan Zimmerman

      5. SS Ian Desmond

      6. C Wilson Ramos

      7. LF Tyler Moore

      8. 3B Danny Espinosa

      The Nationals entered spring training with pretty much a set lineup. But Werth had surgery in January, Span had surgery in March and second baseman Yunel Escobar has been slowed by injuries as well so Moore, Taylor and Espinosa could be in the lineup on Opening Day.

      Lost in all of this is the move of Ryan Zimmerman from third base to first base. And Bryce Harper makes the move from left field to right field, with Werth heading to left when he returns. So much for a spring with little suspense.

      RESERVES:

      C Jose Lobaton

      INF/OF Kevin Frandsen

      OF Matt den Dekker

      OF Clint Robinson

      INF Ian Stewart or 1B/OF Mike Carp

      There is a good chance the Nationals will begin the season with three expected starters on the disabled list: Span, Werth and Rendon. That means roster spots for the bench should go down to the last minute.

      With Tyler Moore and Danny Espinosa in the mix to start Opening Day, that could create a bench role early in the season for den Dekker, Robinson, Stewart and Carp. Carp is a veteran lefty swinger who played first base for the Red Sox team that won the World Series in 2013. Robinson has had an impressive spring and gives the Nationals another left-handed bat -- something they need after Adam LaRoche left via free agency to the Chicago White Sox.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Athletics season preview: Newcomers making presence felt
    By The Sports Xchange

    A's manager Bob Melvin has had an unusually long to-do list during spring training this year while handling a team that was overhauled during a trade-filled offseason.

    • Incorporate five newcomers into the starting lineup? Check. Third baseman Brett Lawrie, shortstop Marcus Semien, second baseman Ben Zobrist, first baseman Ike Davis and designated hitter Billy Butler are all expected to be in the Opening Night lineup on April 6 when the A's host Texas. Zobrist, however, will likely be in right field the first few games, filling in for the injured Josh Reddick.

      Fill three openings in the rotation? Check. Although the official announcement hasn't come, right-handers Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman -- a pair of offseason trade acquisitions -- and lefty Drew Pomeranz will likely join

      Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir in the rotation.

      Choose a closer to fill in until left-hander Sean Doolittle recovers from an injury to his pitching shoulder? Check. Right-hander Tyler Clippard, another offseason addition, will fill that role.

      Establish some chemistry and confidence going into the season? Check. With Opening Night less than a week away, the A's owned baseball's best record in spring training at 19-9 after beating Colorado 11-2 on March 30.

      "It's always nice to win some games," Melvin said. "I think with a new group, on what we've accomplished the last three years, we want them to know that winning is important."

      The A's made the playoffs each of the past three seasons, averaging 92.7 wins per year.

      "Winning puts us in a good spot and gives us some confidence going into the season," Kazmir said.

      ROSTER REPORT

      ROTATION:

      1. RHP Sonny Gray

      2. RHP Jesse Hahn

      3. LHP Scott Kazmir

      4. RHP Kendall Graveman

      5. LHP Drew Pomeranz

      The A's ended last season with a starting rotation of Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Gray, Kazmir and Jason Hammel. Lester and Hammel signed with the Cubs as free agents. The A's traded Samardzija to the Chicago White Sox. That left Gray and Kazmir as the only returning members of the rotation when spring training began.

      Gray, who was named the A's Opening Night starter, and Kazmir, a 2014 All-Star, will anchor a young but promising rotation that will likely include Hahn, Graveman and Pomeranz.

      Hahn went 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA last year as a rookie for San Diego, but he made just 12 starts. Graveman, a rookie, is 3-0 with a 0.42 ERA this spring, but he has never started a regular-season major-league game. He made five relief appearances last season for Toronto.

      Pomeranz went 5-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 20 appearances, including 10 starts, last season, and he lowered his spring training ERA to 2.04 on March 30, blanking Colorado on two hits for six innings. But he has only 40 career

      regular-season starts in the big leagues and is 9-18 with a 4.24 ERA overall.

      Hahn, Graveman and Pomeranz need to prove they can be solid major-league starters over the course of an entire season. For that matter, Kazmir has some questions to answer after fading down the stretch last season.

      Right-handers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, both recovering from Tommy John surgery, could be ready by June to reclaim spots in the rotation. Jesse Chavez, expected to be Oakland's long reliever, had success in the rotation last year.

      It doesn't appear as if left-hander Barry Zito will make the A's roster, but he posted a 2.30 ERA in his first five appearances, including one start, and could wind up starting for another major-league team. If he isn't traded and

      agrees to pitch for Triple-A Nashville, Zito could be first in line for a call-up if another A's starter falters.

      BULLPEN:

      RHP Tyler Clippard (closer)

      RHP Dan Otero

      LHP Eric O'Flaherty

      LHP Fernando Abad

      RHP R.J. Alvarez

      RHP Evan Scribner

      RHP Jesse Chavez

      The A's pride themselves on having one of baseball's deepest bullpens, but that depth will be tested severely early in the season and possibly longer. Closer Sean Doolittle spent spring training recovering from a slight tear in his left rotator cuff and will open the season on the disabled list. The A's bullpen took another blow when right-handed setup man Ryan Cook was optioned to Triple-A Nashville on March 24 after his spring training ERA soared to 16.88.

      Clippard, acquired from Washington in an offseason trade, will fill in for Doolittle. A two-time National League All-Star, Clippard went 7-4 with a 2.18 ERA in 75 relief appearances last year as a setup man for the Nationals. Dan Otero, one of manager Bob Melvin's most versatile and trusted relievers, will take over Cook's role as Oakland's right-handed setup man, at least until Cook fixes some glaring problems with his control and mechanics and earns a promotion from Nashville. Otero went 8-2 with a 2.35 ERA in 72 appearances last year, striking out 45 and walking 15. Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty, who's tough against both left- and right-handed batters, will see more late-innings work, too.

      Alvarez, acquired along with RHP Jesse Hahn from San Diego in the Derek Norris trade, gives the A's a power arm in their bullpen. Melvin should find a way to take advantage of Alvarez's mid-to-high 90s fastball. Last year, he had a 1.13 ERA in 10 relief appearances for the Padres, striking out nine batters over eight innings. Chavez, still a long shot to earn a spot in the rotation, is expected to be the A's long reliever.

      LINEUP:

      1. LF Coco Crisp

      2. CF Sam Fuld or Craig Gentry

      3. RF Ben Zobrist

      4. DH Billy Butler

      5. 1B Ike Davis

      6. 3B Brett Lawrie

      7. C Stephen Vogt

      8. SS Marcus Semien

      9. 2B Eric Sogard

      The A's lost a lot of offensive power during the offseason when they traded 3B Josh Donaldson to Toronto, 1B/OF Brandon Moss to Cleveland and C Derek Norris to San Diego, moves that came just months after they sent OF Yoenis Cespedes to Boston. But their revamped lineup has displayed some potential in Arizona.

      Through games of March 29, the A's led the major-leagues with 78 doubles, were tied for 10th in home runs with 25 and ranked seventh in batting average at .277.

      Butler, who had just nine home runs last year for Kansas City, is trying to recapture his power stroke of 2012, when he hit 29 homers and drove in 111. Butler has four doubles and four home runs in spring training. He's tied for the

      team lead in home runs with 1B/OF Mark Canha, a Rule 5 pickup, and Lawrie, who hit two home runs March 30 against Colorado.

      Zobrist raised his average to .347 with a 2-for-3 day against Colorado. He had his sixth double of spring training and three RBIs, giving him 14.

      The A's will be without RF Josh Reddick for at least the first five games of the season. Reddick (strained right oblique) will open the season on the disabled list. The versatile Zobrist, who spent most of spring training at

      second base, is expected to start in right field on Opening Night against the Texas Rangers on April 6, with Eric Sogard starting at second.

      There's also still a chance that Crisp (sore right elbow) could be on the disabled list for Opening Night, which would force Melvin to juggle his lineup even more.

      RESERVES:

      INF/OF Mark Canha

      C Josh Phegley

      INF/OF Tyler Ladendorf

      Canha, a powerful right-handed hitter, should see significant time at first base against left-handers. He hit .303 with 20 home runs and 82 RBIs last season for Triple-A New Orleans. Canha can also play the corner outfield spots and has experience playing third base.

      Phegley is known most for his strong throwing arm and defense, but he has also shown some offensive pop during spring training. Phegley, a right-handed hitter, had seven doubles and two homers through games of March 30. Last year, he hit .274 with 23 home runs in 107 games for Triple-A Charlotte. He's expected to start most of Oakland's games against left-handed pitchers, sharing time with returning catcher Stephen Vogt.

      Ladendorf is likely to be on the Opening Night roster, taking the spot that opened because of Reddick's injury, although OF Billy Burns is another possibility. Ladendorf's ability to play multiple positions in the infield and

      outfield gives him the edge. He also opened some eyes by hitting .288 with 12 RBIs in his first with five doubles and a home run in his first 23 spring games. Burns countered with a .403 average and a team-high 27 hits in his first 23 games.

      MEDICAL WATCH:

      --RF Josh Reddick (strained right oblique) was injured March 6. He returned to action March 29 in a minor-league game but will open the season on the disabled list. He's expected to play a rehab game April 6 for Class-A Stockton. He might miss only five games before being activated.

      --CF Coco Crisp (sore right elbow) left the March 8 game. He returned to the lineup March 17 but was a late scratch from the lineup March 24 and had a cortisone injection that day. He's scheduled play in a minor-league game March 31. It's still unclear whether he'll be on the roster for Opening Night.

      --LHP Sean Doolittle (strained left shoulder) received a platelet-rich plasma injection in January. He passed a strength test on Feb. 28 and played catch March 27 for the first time since being shut down in January. Doolittle will

      open the season on the disabled list.

      --RHP Jarrod Parker (Tommy John surgery in March 2014) threw to hitters March 15 for the first time since his surgery. Barring a setback, he should be able to return at midseason.

      --1B Nate Freiman (strained back) hopes to be ready for Opening Day.

      --LHP Sean Nolin (sports hernia surgery in November 2014) threw his first bullpen session March 15. He is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season.

      --RHP A.J. Griffin (Tommy John surgery in April 2014) went on the 60-day disabled list Feb. 28. Barring a setback, he could return as soon as June.

      --RHP Taylor Thompson (strained right shoulder) went on the 60-day disabled list Feb. 26.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Mariners season preview: Seattle expects to contend
    By The Sports Xchange

    While the Mariners' sky-high expectations may have seemed a bit unrealistic heading into spring training, the Cactus League did very little to slow the roll.

    • As All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano said a few weeks ago: "On paper, we look like a world champion."

      New addition Nelson Cruz showed the power and offensive consistency that the Mariners hope to see when the real games begin, the pitching staff stayed relatively healthy, and most of the bats that make up Seattle's rebuilt outfield were off to a good start.

      People in Seattle are wondering whether the Mariners are on the verge of becoming a World Series contender, but the truth is there are a few question marks heading into the most anticipated Seattle baseball season in more than a decade.

      Top two starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma showed signs of wear down the stretch last season, despite manager Lloyd McClendon's efforts to ease their load, and youngsters like James Paxton and Taijuan Walker have yet to prove that they can stay healthy and effective over an entire major league season.

      Like Seattle's rotation, the lineup looks good on paper but isn't without holes. Center fielder Austin Jackson still has to prove himself at the top of the order, while there are legitimate offensive questions at shortstop, first base and catcher as well.

      That being said, this team is built with far fewer questions than any Mariners squad in recent memory. The talk about Seattle finally being a contender is real -- but a few things have to fall into place to make it happen.

      Getting Cruz to handle the cleanup spot between Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager shored up Seattle's most glaring need in a big way. Now the Mariners hope some of the other possible holes don't start getting leaky as they attempt to make a run at their first division title since 2001.

      A contender? No doubt. An October lock? No way.

      ROSTER REPORT

      ROTATION:

      1. RHP Felix Hernandez

      2. RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

      3. LHP J.A. Happ

      4. RHP Taijuan Walker

      5. LHP James Paxton

      The addition of Happ gave Seattle some options at the back of its rotation, meaning this could be the first time in a few years that the Mariners won't have to pluck a veteran off the street to fill out their rotation. He's a solid

      addition who'll probably give 26-year-old lefty Roenis Elias a chance to get some quality starts at Triple-A after the rookie burst onto the scene last year but faded down the stretch.

      The success of Seattle's rotation begins at the top, where Hernandez is as good as anyone in the game but he has also thrown a ton of innings over his career (1,976 1/3 since 2006, the most in baseball). Hernandez turns 29 in April but has the arm use of a guy in his mid-30s. Iwakuma, who turns 34 in April, has shown even more signs of overuse. The Mariners did everything they could to cut down the innings of both starters last year, and manager Lloyd McClendon might have to sneak a few five- and six-day layoffs between starts again to keep them fresh if this team is still going to play in October.

      Paxton and Walker have been up-and-coming phenoms for awhile, but this is the year when the Mariners just need them to be solid parts of the rotation for the long haul. Paxton's limited spring makes him a candidate for the No. 5 spot, which the Mariners won't need until the second week of the season because of an early off day.

      BULLPEN:

      RHP Fernando Rodney (closer)

      RHP Danny Farquhar

      RHP Dominic Leone

      RHP Yoervis Medina

      RHP Tom Wilhelmsen

      LHP Charlie Furbush

      LHP Tyler Olson

      Seattle's relief pitching has been as good as any bullpen in baseball over the past two seasons, despite a lack of big names. The big question this year is whether the 38-year-old Rodney can turn in another All-Star performance. There were times over the first half of last season when he looked a pitch or two away from going off the rails, but he held on and was playing some of his best baseball by season's end.

      Farquhar and Wilhelmsen are former closers who thrived in new roles last season, while Furbush has emerged as a reliable left-handed specialist and one of the most consistent relievers on the team. It's possible the Mariners could open the season with just one southpaw in the bullpen, especially after Rule V draft pick David Rollins was suspended 80 games for violating baseball's substance-abuse policy.

      Seattle seems to unearth quality major league relievers out of their farm system every year, and Smith looks like the latest flame-thrower to be on the verge of a breakout year.

      LINEUP:

      1. CF Austin Jackson

      2. RF Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano

      3. 2B Robinson Cano

      4. DH Nelson Cruz

      5. 3B Kyle Seager

      6. 1B Logan Morrison

      7. C Mike Zunino

      8. LF Dustin Ackley

      9. SS Brad Miller

      No other team bolstered its lineup with the addition of one player as much as the Mariners did with Cruz. If he can come anywhere close to the 40-homer total he had in Baltimore last season, it would be worth the contract, but Cruz's presence between Cano and Seager is valuable even if he doesn't put up All-Star numbers.

      Jackson and the new right-field platoon at the top of the lineup will be key factors to this team's offensive success early on, while keeping Morrison healthy and somewhat consistent could be the difference between Seattle having a good offense or a great one.

      Former prospects like Ackley, Miller and Zunino don't have time to endure any more growing pains; the Mariners need them to produce now.

      RESERVES:

      C Jesus Sucre

      UT Willie Bloomquist

      UT Rickie Weeks

      Seattle has plenty of versatility, especially if Weeks can make the successful transition to the outfield and give the team a few games at first base. Weeks has the potential to provide the kind of pinch-hit power no Mariners

      offense has had in years, while the return of Bloomquist from injury gives Seattle options all over the field.

      The right-field platoon of Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith will leave one veteran bat available on the bench, and there are more than a few options at Triple-A if Seattle needs to change things up.

      MEDICAL WATCH:

      --SS Chris Taylor (fractured wrist) is expected to be out until late April after taking a pitch off his arm in a Cactus League game.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Orioles' Hardy will miss opener
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Baltimore Orioles will open the season without their regular shortstop, as J.J. Hardy likely is headed to the disabled list.

    • A strained muscle in Hardy's left (non-throwing) shoulder caused the team to shut him down Monday from baseball activities for a minimum of 10 days, a date that extends past the April 6 season opener against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.

      In all goes well, Hardy could come off the DL as soon as April 11, though it is uncertain if he will be back that quickly. In any case, manager Buck Showalter is confident Hardy will be back in April.

      "We're still optimistic," Showalter said. "What's unoptimistic is something that might require surgery or be longer than the time frame that they're thinking."

      Hardy, 32, was injured Friday while making a fielding play, and he didn't play over the weekend. An MRI exam diagnosed a strained subscapularis under the shoulder blade.

      "It's pretty good news, all things considered," Showalter said.

      The Orioles' Opening Day shortstop likely will be Ryan Flaherty or Everth Cabrera.

      In 11 games this spring, Hardy hit .233 with no homers and three RBIs. Last year, Hardy hit .268 with a .309 on-base percentage, a .372 slugging percentage, nine homers and 52 RBIs in 141 games, and he received his third consecutive Gold Glove.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015
    Astros season preview: Will small changes make a big difference?
    By The Sports Xchange

    Few would describe the offseason moves orchestrated by Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow as earth-shattering, but given the team's steady climb from rebuilding to contention orchestrated by the front office, the sensible acquisitions made by the Astros were nevertheless noteworthy.

    • By signing shortstop Jed Lowrie and trading for third baseman Luis Valbuena and left fielder/designated hitter Evan Gattis, Luhnow addressed three positions where the Astros underperformed in 2014.

      Lowrie, even with his subpar defense, represents an upgrade after the Astros cobbled together production that was 7 percent below league average at shortstop. The Astros were even worse at third and first base, posting wRC+ of 69 and 71 that ranked dead last in the American League.

      Valbuena hit .405 and posted a 1.113 OPS through his first 15 games in the Grapefruit League, prompting the demotion of incumbent Matt Dominguez to Triple-A Fresno. Gattis, who will likely earn a large share of at-bats as the designated hitter, shifts slugger Chris Carter to first base, which in turn probably nudges Jon Singleton to the minors where he can perhaps reclaim his confidence after a brutal rookie season (.168 average with 134 strikeouts in 362 plate appearances).

      "One of our goals this offseason was to give ourselves more options, and our infield production last season with the exception of (second baseman Jose) Altuve was below what we really needed it to compete in this division," Luhnow said. "We went out and addressed upgrades at shortstop and options at third base and first base and we're seeing the results of that."

      Carter and Gattis slugged .645 and .654, respectively, through the final full weekend in Florida, cementing hopes that having those two working in tandem will overwhelm opposing pitching staffs. Add to their presence slugging right fielder George Springer, who hit 20 home runs over 78 games during an injury-shortened rookie year, and the Astros appear stacked.

      "That's the biggest thing for us this year -- not being able to pitch around a guy," Carter said.

      While the lineup and bullpen have been bolstered by additions (right-handers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek join the fray as accomplished late-inning relievers), the Astros' rotation remains a question mark.

      The club will lean heavily on a pair of pitchers -- left-hander Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Collin McHugh -- who enjoyed surprising breakthroughs in 2014. Veteran right-hander Scott Feldman scuffled during spring training while left-hander Brett Oberholtzer dealt with nagging injuries. Another veteran right-hander, Roberto Hernandez, made the club as a non-roster invitee, meaning the Astros aren't as deep in starters as they might be elsewhere. How they mitigate those concerns might reflect just how far up the AL West standings the Astros can climb following their promising 19-game improvement from 2013 through last season.

      "You need seven, eight, nine starters throughout the year," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Very rarely do you go through a season with just five. By the time we show up at Minute Maid (Park) and we face the (Cleveland) Indians and then the second series against the (Texas) Rangers, we'll have picked the guy we're going to start with."

      ROSTER REPORT

      ROTATION

      1. LHP Dallas Keuchel

      2. RHP Scott Feldman

      3. RHP Collin McHugh

      4. LHP Brett Oberholtzer

      5. RHP Roberto Hernandez

      The Astros appear set to give the veteran Hernandez the final spot in their rotation despite the strong spring performance of rookie right-hander Asher Wojciechowski. Because the Astros are due to pay Hernandez a $100,000 retention bonus if they don't decide to keep him by March 31, and because Wojciechowski has options remaining and has never pitched in the majors, Hernandez is in and Wojciechowski will have to wait his turn despite posting a 1.08 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over 16 2/3 innings while limiting opposing batters to a .197 average.

      Keuchel is entrenched as the staff ace and the Astros are hopeful that he and McHugh can repeat their surprising success from last season. Feldman has scuffled this spring (8.76 ERA, 2.11 WHIP) but there is little concern that his troubles will linger. Oberholtzer is trending toward better health and a roster spot after battling nagging injuries.

      How things shake out injury-wise with Oberholtzer and right-hander Brad Peacock, who made his spring debut Sunday following offseason hip surgery, will directly impact Wojciechowski. Peacock is likely to start the season on the disabled list but his return is probably imminent.

      BULLPEN

      RHP Chad Qualls (closer)

      RHP Luke Gregerson

      RHP Pat Neshek

      RHP Samuel Deduno

      RHP Will Harris

      LHP Tony Sipp

      LHP Joe Thatcher

      A couple slots in the bullpen remain in flux based upon the health of right-hander Josh Fields, who was slowed by injuries to both legs this spring. Whenever Fields returns, his spot is guaranteed, meaning the club will have to make a decision on leaving Sipp as the lone left-hander or choosing Thatcher over Harris. Sipp is a lock, as is Deduno, who will serve as the long man.

      The signings of Gregerson and Neshek position the Astros to greatly improve upon their league-worst 4.80 bullpen ERA from 2014. Not only are Gregerson and Neshek reliable arms in a set-up role, both appear capable of filling the closer void should Qualls regress. Fields also flashed some high-leverage potential a season ago, giving the Astros a number of options should they choose to change course during the summer.

      LINEUP

      1. 2B Jose Altuve

      2. RF George Springer

      3. 3B Luis Valbuena

      4. 1B Chris Carter

      5. SS Jed Lowrie

      6. DH Evan Gattis

      7. C Jason Castro

      8. LF Colby Rasmus

      9. CF Jake Marisnick

      There is no quintessential leadoff candidate available, but to suggest that the Astros are settling on Altuve is a stretch. While Altuve walked in only 5.1 percent of his plate appearances en route to the 2014 American League batting crown, he did post a .331/.363/.444 slash line over 358 plate appearances batting first. He gets on base often enough by wielding his bat to set the table for the Astros' collection of sluggers.

      Sandwiching Springer, who bashed 20 home runs in just 78 games as a rookie, between Altuve and Valbuena, whose 114 OPS+ with the Chicago Cubs last season represented a career high, seems logical. With Altuve aboard and a dangerous heart of the order following Valbuena, Springer should get a steady dose of fastballs. How Astros manager A.J. Hinch clusters Carter and Gattis will be interesting because both have 30-homer potential. Sliding the switch-hitting Lowrie between those two right-handers might lessen the potential for rally-killing strikeouts.

      Castro slugged .529 through his first 13 games during spring training, leaving the Astros hopeful that he can return to form from his All-Star season in 2013 (130 OPS+) and turn the page on his nightmarish 2014 campaign (83 OPS+). Rasmus provides additional thump near the bottom of the order while Marisnick possesses leadoff-hitter qualities.

      RESERVES

      C Hank Conger

      IF Marwin Gonzalez

      OF Robbie Grossman

      IF Jonathan Villar

      Conger, Gonzalez, Grossman, and Villar have one thing in common: They're switch-hitters. Given the boom-and-bust potential of the everyday lineup, the Astros would be wise to stash some versatility on their bench, both at the plate and in the field.

      Grossman logged 67 games in left, 31 in right and six in center field last season so his capability with the glove is without question. He was hitting .349/.408/.465 through the final weekend in the Grapefruit League, essentially forcing the Astros' hand in the battle for the fourth outfield spot that also included veteran Alex Presley and L.J. Hoes.

      Gonzalez was a valuable asset as a utility infielder last season, and while Villar has showcased maddening consistency and maturity issues, he provides the club more flexibility in the present when compared to first baseman Jon Singleton, who slumped down the stretch during spring training (17 strikeouts in 17 games through the final weekend in Florida) and needs more seasoning following an awful rookie season.

      MEDICAL WATCH

      --RHP Josh Fields (right groin strain) is in danger of starting the season on the disabled list. Fields, who was slowed earlier in spring training with a sore left hamstring, had yet to throw off a mound since suffering the groin injury on March 23. Fields is considered a lock to make the roster, and the Astros are poised to take their time working Fields back into form so that he can be available for duty whenever he returns.

      --LHP Brett Oberholtzer made his final Grapefruit League start on March 30 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Oberholtzer was shut down in mid-March after suffering a lat strain on March 10. He pitched three innings in a minor league game last Wednesday and is poised to make one final appearance before the Astros open the regular season on April 6.

      --RHP Brad Peacock made his spring training debut on March 29 against the New York Yankees, allowing four runs (three runs) on two hits and two walks while recording two outs (both via strikeout). Peacock underwent right hip surgery last October and will likely open the season on the disabled list as he attempts to build arm strength. Peacock worked as a starter and out of the bullpen for the Astros last season.

  • Monday, March 30, 2015
    Rangers season preview: Similar lineup hopes for different results
    By The Sports Xchange

    The 2015 Texas Rangers will certainly have a flashback look to their lineup despite a change at the top.

    • New manager Jeff Banister, whose upbeat attitude was infectious in spring training, will get a chance to manage a Texas lineup that closely resembles what the club hoped the 2014 lineup was supposed to look like before injuries cost the Rangers more than 2,000 games lost to the disabled list.

      Whether that lineup is good enough to keep the Rangers in the thick of the race in a deep American League West remains to be seen. Despite opening the year with a healthy batting order, the club has already lost ace Yu Darvish and prospect Jurickson Profar for the season.

      Injuries won't be an excuse for an organization that's been to the postseason three times since 2010.

      "I'm personally not taking the position, 'Here we go again,'" general manager Jon Daniels said.

      And with good reason. The Rangers are in better shape than they were last season because they have addressed their biggest concern in rotation depth. Despite the loss of Darvish, the Rangers still have newcomer Yovani Gallardo, a healthy Derek Holland, a healthy Colby Lewis and the newly acquired Ross Detwiler, who was obtained from Washington in the offseason.

      The key could be a revamped bullpen that searched for a left-handed reliever all spring and will re-insert Neftali Feliz into the closer's role that he had when the Rangers were going to consecutive World Series in 2010-2011. Tanner Scheppers, who missed most of 2014, is also back in the set-up man role he had in 2013.

      "I've said all along you're only as good as your bullpen but your bullpen's only as good as your rotation," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "We can't overwork those guys. To go out there and get six or seven good innings out of your starter you've got to be able to bring it open. I think we're in a situation where we have guys that can shorten the game."

      As many pitching problems as the Rangers had last year they were still competitive until they lost key offensive contributors like Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland to injury. All three are healthy and will hit in key spots in the Texas lineup.

      While the bullpen can bail out the rotation and vice versa, Texas knows if it is to compete with the likes of Seattle and Los Angeles in the West, the offense has to produce.

      ROSTER REPORT

      ROTATION:

      1. RHP Yovani Gallardo

      2. LHP Derek Holland

      3. RHP Colby Lewis

      4. LHP Ross Detwiler

      5. RHP Nick Martinez

      Losing ace RHP Yu Darvish after just one inning of Cactus League work was a huge blow to a team whose offseason focus was upgrading its rotation. The Darvish loss moved the other three rotation locks up a spot in the pecking order and secured a rotation spot for Detwiler.

      Detwiler hasn't started a regular-season game in the majors since 2013 but was one of the most effective starters the Rangers had in Arizona and would have won a rotation spot with his performance alone regardless of the Darvish injury.

      It took until the final week of spring training for manager Jeff Banister to anoint Martinez as the No. 5 starter. He was the most impressive starter the Rangers had in spring, posting an 0.84 ERA in his first three outings. It's the second consecutive spring he's made the Opening Day rotation, having done so in 2014 despite not spending a day in big-league camp.

      BULLPEN:

      RHP Neftali Feliz (closer)

      RHP Tanner Scheppers

      RHP Shawn Tolleson

      RHP Keone Kela

      LHP Sam Freeman

      RHP Kyuji Fujikawa

      RHP Lisalverto Bonilla or Nick Tepesch

      Feliz is back as the primary closer after spending most of the 2014 season in Triple-A. While his velocity is still a work in progress he was able to get outs in spring training.

      There could still be plenty of moving pieces behind Feliz and set-up man Scheppers. Tolleson, the club's most effective reliever last season, was playing catch-up at the end of camp because he was slowed by forearm stiffness.

      The long-man role is still to be determined as both Bonilla and Tepesch lost out on a rotation bid. Bonilla may have the edge because of his ability to miss bats. There's little experience in the group, though, as Kela has never pitched above Double-A. Kela didn't allow a run in Arizona but has never pitched more than 49 innings in a professional season. Freeman was acquired on March 28 from St. Louis and provides some experience from the left side, having pitched in 81 games over the last three seasons for the Cardinals.

      LINEUP:

      1. CF Leonys Martin

      2. SS Elvis Andrus

      3. RF Shin-Soo Choo

      4. 3B Adrian Beltre

      5. 1B Prince Fielder

      6. DH Mitch Moreland

      7. C Robinson Chirinos

      8. LF Ryan Rua

      9. 2B Rougned Odor

      The top of the order is the way many people envisioned the Rangers using their lineup in 2014 before injuries decimated the club. Texas as speed at the top as Martin has two seasons of at least 30 steals under his belt, and Andrus has four. Andrus was the club's best hitter in spring, which is huge given his disappointing 2014 season (.263 average, 41 RBIs).

      Manager Jeff Banister said he'll mix things up with the heart of his order but that Choo, Beltre and Fielder would make it up. Fielder showed no ill effects of the neck issue that led to surgery and limited him to 42 games last season.

      Moreland, who also had his season cut short last year because of surgery, had no issues with his surgically repaired left ankle. Rua won the lone position battle in spring, beating out Ryan Ludwick and Jake Smolinski for the spot in left. He has hit at every level he's played, and he batted .295 in 28 games for Texas last year.

      RESERVES:

      C Carlos Corporan

      2B/SS Adam Rosales

      OF Jake Smolinski

      OF Delino DeShields Jr.

      Corporan has stepped in and worked with the staff well since being acquired from Houston in January and will provide a solid backup to Chirinos, who is in his first full season as the primary guy.

      Rosales can play all four infield positions as well as the outfield, which helped him win the utility spot despite a less-than-spectacular spring at the plate.

      Smolinksi, who hit better than .300 for the Rangers last season in limited time, pushed Ryan Rua for the starting spot in left but will have to settle for making an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. DeShields Jr. won the final spot because of his ability to come off the bench late and steal a base and the fact the Rangers didn't want to lose him because he was a Rule 5 pick last November. DeShields, who will be the backup in center, has had at least 50 steals in each of the last three seasons in the minors.

      MEDICAL WATCH:

      --LHP Martin Perez (Tommy John surgery in May of 2014) has started throwing off a mound as of March 30. He's still on target to be a rotation candidate following the All-Star break.

      --LHP Matt Harrison (spinal fusion surgery in June of 2014) has hit all his marks so far this spring. There's still no timetable on a return for Harrison, who is attempting to be the first player to pitch in the majors after having the surgery.

      --OF Antoan Richardson (herniated disc surgery March 27) will start the season on the DL and is expected to miss at least six weeks.

      --2B Jurickson Profar (right labrum surgery in February of 2015) will start the season on the 60-day disabled list and has all but been ruled out for the entire 2015 season.

      --RHP Yu Darvish (Tommy John surgery in March of 2015) will start the season on the 60-day disabled list and begin rehabbing his elbow in Arlington next month.

  • Monday, March 30, 2015
    Angels season preview: No panic or rebuild necessary
    By The Sports Xchange

    It may be a difficult concept to understand, but the team with the best record in the major leagues last season -- the Los Angeles Angels -- considered it a big disappointment.

    • Such is the case when a team that went 98-64 was swept out of the playoffs in three straight games by the eventual American League champion Kansas City Royals. The good news for the Angels was that there was no reason to panic, no reason to rebuild.

      And it also helps that the Angels have the reigning AL MVP in Mike Trout, who, at 23, already has three All-Star selections, a Rookie of the Year award, two MVP runner-up seasons and that MVP on his resume just three seasons in.

      Trout believes he can be even better, and he has focused this spring on cutting down his strikeouts (he led the AL with 184 last year) and increasing his stolen-base total (16 last year).

      "He embodies everything you want a superstar to embody," closer Huston Street told MLB.com. "Humility, passion about the game, has fun on the field ... leader in the clubhouse. He embodies everything as a professional. For somebody like me, who's been in the league a while now, he's everything that I want out of a superstar on my team. That's how a superstar should be."

      Trout isn't the only former MVP in the clubhouse. Three-time winner Albert Pujols, 35, is as healthy as he has been since joining the Angels in 2012. Another former MVP -- Josh Hamilton -- has not stepped foot in the clubhouse as he awaits word on a potential suspension for possibly violating MLB's drug policy.

      The Angels, though, have a replacement for Hamilton in former All-Star Matt Joyce, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in a trade for reliever Kevin Jepsen. The other significant offseason move involved the trade of second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Los Angeles Dodgers for left-handed starter Andrew Heaney.

      That opened up a four-man race for Kendrick's second-base job, and it seems that former Kansas City Royal Johnny Giavotella has emerged as the front-runner. Though he isn't recognized as a great defensive player, Giavotella has hit well in camp. Through Sunday, he was hitting .366 (15 for 41) with a .422 on-base percentage and an OPS of 1.056, third on the team behind Trout and C.J. Cron among those with at least 40 at-bats.

      "We need someone to step up, and he's doing a nice job," manager Mike Scioscia said of Giavotella.

      Probably the biggest concern the Angels had entering camp was the health of starting pitcher Garrett Richards, who was recovering from knee surgery. But Richards has made steady progress and is expected to join the rotation by mid-April.

      ROSTER REPORT

      ROTATION:

      1. RHP Jered Weaver

      2. RHP Matt Shoemaker

      3. LHP C.J. Wilson

      4. LHP Hector Santiago

      5. Andrew Heaney/Drew Rucinski

      The Angels likely will go with a four-man rotation to start the season, not using the fifth spot until they need it on April 14. At that point, it's possible that RHP Garrett Richards will be ready. If not, Rucinski could be moved from his long reliever role in the bullpen to get the nod.

      Weaver is a solid top-of-the-rotation guy, coming off an 18-win season. Shoemaker and Wilson are wild cards -- the Angels hope Shoemaker's 2014 season (16 wins) was no fluke but that Wilson's 2014 season (4.51 ERA) was.

      BULLPEN:

      RHP Huston Street

      RHP Joe Smith

      RHP Mike Morin

      RHP Fernando Salas

      LHP Cesar Ramos

      RHP Vinnie Pestano

      LHP Jose Alvarez

      RHP Drew Rucinski

      Street and Smith are as steady as any eighth- and ninth-inning combo in the league and, health withstanding, will solidify the bullpen. The Angels did suffer a loss with the trade of hard-throwing Kevin Jepsen, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for OF Matt Joyce. But it seemed to show the club's confidence in RHP Mike Morin, who stepped up last year and will fill the seventh-inning role.

      The club is hoping Ramos can be the left-handed reliever it has so desperately missed in recent years.

      LINEUP:

      1. RF Kole Calhoun

      2. CF Mike Trout

      3. 1B Albert Pujols

      4. LF Matt Joyce

      5. 3B David Freese

      6. DH C.J. Cron

      7. SS Erick Aybar

      8. 2B Johnny Giavotella

      9. C Chris Iannetta

      Joyce takes over in left field and the cleanup spot for Josh Hamilton, whose status remains unclear because of an alleged substance abuse relapse. Joyce, Freese and Cron will be key to the Angels' offensive success, considering opposing pitchers may feel they just need to get through the top three in the lineup.

      Giavotella will be watched closely, having replaced long-time second baseman Howie Kendrick, who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Aybar is coming of perhaps his best season and again will be key to the club's infield defense.

      RESERVES:

      C Drew Butera

      OF Colin Cowgirl

      INF Taylor Featherston

      INF/OF Efren Navarro

      1B Marc Krauss

      Cowgill figures to get plenty of playing time, filling in for all three outfielders, because he's a solid defender and is a tough out at the plate. Featherston has shown the ability to play the left side of the infield as well as second base, and he has some pop at the plate.

      Navarro's ability to play both first base and the corner outfield spots has helped his chances to land a spot on the bench to start the season.

      MEDICAL WATCH:

      --RHP Garrett Richards (left knee surgery) continues to make progress and could be ready to join the starting rotation by mid-April.

      --RHP Cory Rasmus had surgery to repair a core muscle in his mid-section on March 24 and isn't expected back until May at the earliest.

  • Monday, March 30, 2015
    MLB notebook: Mets acquire two relievers in trades
    By The Sports Xchange

    The New York Mets bolstered their bullpen Monday, acquiring left-handed relievers Alex Torres and Jerry Blevins in separate trades.

    • The Mets sent pitching prospect Cory Mazzoni and an undetermined player to the San Diego Padres for Torres and then traded outfielder Matt den Dekker to the Washington Nationals for Blevins.

      Torres, 27, has a 2.55 ERA while holding hitters to a .199 average in three major-league seasons. In 54 innings over 70 games with San Diego last year, he tallied a 3.33 ERA. Torres will make $522,900 in 2015.

      After spending his first seven seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Blevins posted a 4.87 ERA in 64 games for Washington last year. In his eight-year career, he has a 3.58 ERA and left-handed batters have hit just .212 against him. Blevins, 31, will earn $2.4 million in 2015.

      Den Dekker, a top-notch defender, hit .238 with one homer and 13 RBIs in 210 at-bats with the Mets the past two seasons. He was expected to start the season at Triple-A for the Mets.

      ---Chicago Cubs slugging prospect Kris Bryant, who made a strong case to break camp with the major league club with nine home runs this spring, was reassigned to minor league camp Monday.

      The Cubs also demoted two other highly regarded prospects -- infielder Javier Baez, who had been competing for the starting second base, to Triple-A Iowa and shortstop Addison Russell to minor-league camp.

      The 23-year-old Bryant led the minor leagues with 43 homers last season. He will start the season at Iowa for more development.

      By sending Bryant to the minors for a couple of weeks, the Cubs will gain an extra year until he is eligible for free agency. The Cubs will have him under their control for seven years instead of six.

      ---The St. Louis Cardinals placed left-hander Jaime Garcia on the 15-day disabled list and purchased the contract of pitcher Carlos Villanueva.

      Garcia was scratched from his start Sunday due to fatigue in his left shoulder. Garcia had surgery last July to relieve nerve issues in his arm, shoulder and hand.

      Garcia is expected to pitch in extended spring training and rejoin the Cardinals after the season begins.

      Villanueva, 31, had signed a minor-league contract in February, and the team had until Tuesday to decide whether he would make the 25-man roster.

      In nine major-league seasons, Villanueva is 45-50 with a 4.26 ERA. He spent the past two seasons with the Chicago Cubs, starting 20 games and going 12-15 with a 4.28 ERA.

  • Monday, March 30, 2015
    Mets acquire two relievers in trades
    By The Sports Xchange

    The New York Mets bolstered their bullpen Monday, acquiring left-handed relievers Alex Torres and Jerry Blevins in separate trades.

    • The Mets sent pitching prospect Cory Mazzoni and an undetermined player to the San Diego Padres for Torres and then traded outfielder Matt den Dekker to the Washington Nationals for Blevins.

      "We were missing a piece," manager Terry Collins said. "We talk about how successful we want to be. There was a piece we needed, and today we went out and filled that."

      Torres, 27, has a 2.55 ERA while holding hitters to a .199 average in three major-league seasons. In 54 innings over 70 games with San Diego last year, he tallied a 3.33 ERA. Torres will make $522,900 in 2015.

      After spending his first seven seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Blevins posted a 4.87 ERA in 64 games for Washington last year. In his eight-year career, he has a 3.58 ERA and left-handed batters have hit just .212 against him.

      Blevins, 31, will earn $2.4 million in 2015.

      The Nationals are shorthanded in the outfield, with Denard Span, Nate McLouth and Jayson Werth all injured, so den Dekker could end up starting on Opening Day.

      Den Dekker, a top-notch defender, hit .238 with one homer and 13 RBIs in 210 at-bats with the Mets the past two seasons. He was expected to start the season at Triple-A for the Mets.

      "He adds speed, adds a little bit of power," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "So he gives us a lot of options in that regard. Certainly the need of the Mets for a left-handed pitcher was there, and den Dekker gives us a lot of tools that he brings to the table."

  • Monday, March 30, 2015
    Cardinals put Garcia on DL, keep Villanueva
    By The Sports Xchange

    The St. Louis Cardinals placed left-hander Jaime Garcia on the 15-day disabled list Monday and purchased the contract of pitcher Carlos Villanueva.

    • Garcia was scratched from his start Sunday due to fatigue in his left shoulder. Garcia had surgery last July to relieve nerve issues in his arm, shoulder and hand.

      Garcia is expected to pitch in extended spring training and rejoin the Cardinals after the season begins.

      Garcia had been considered the top option for the fifth spot in the rotation, recording a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings this spring. That role likely will go to Carlos Martinez or Marco Gonzales.

      Villanueva, 31, had signed a minor-league contract in February, and the team had until Tuesday to decide whether he would make the 25-man roster.

      He reportedly will get a $2 million, one-year contract and the chance to earn $500,000 in performance bonuses.

      In nine major-league seasons, Villanueva is 45-50 with a 4.26 ERA. He spent the past two seasons with the Chicago Cubs, starting 20 games and going 12-15 with a 4.28 ERA.

      In seven games this spring, Villanueva is 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA and has struck out 11 and walked two in 11 innings.

      "I saw more strikeouts than I was expecting to see, which is valuable," manager Mike Matheny said. "I saw a guy in big situations, when he started getting into a mess, figured out how to get out of it and that's kind of been his M.O. We see a guy that can help us in some tight situations, hopefully get us out of some messes."

  • Monday, March 30, 2015
    Cubs slugger Bryant to start year in minors
    By The Sports Xchange

    Chicago Cubs slugging prospect Kris Bryant, who made a strong case to break camp with the major league club with nine home runs this spring, was reassigned to minor league camp Monday.

    • The Cubs also demoted two other highly regarded prospects -- infielder Javier Baez, who had been competing for the starting second base, to Triple-A Iowa and shortstop Addison Russell to minor league camp.

      The 23-year-old Bryant led the minor leagues with 43 homers last season. He will start the season at Iowa for more development.

      By sending Bryant to the minors for a couple of weeks, the Cubs will gain an extra year until he is eligible for free agency. The Cubs will have him under their control for seven years instead of six.

      Scott Boras, Bryant's agent, questioned the Cubs' "integrity" earlier this month when discussing the possibility of the slugger starting the year in the minors.

      Commissioner Rob Manfred said Boras should stay out the Cubs business when it comes to a decision on Bryant.

      "Look, I don't think the Cubs' decision with respect of what's going to happen with Kris Bryant is really any of Mr. Boras' business," Manfred said Friday. "I think the Cubs -- I know the Cubs -- will make decisions that are best for the long term competitiveness of that club, and focusing on whether a particular player has played, or (is) with a club on a day, or days, I don't think is a fair evaluation of what the club is up to.

      "The club is in the best position, and the Cubs are in the best position, to decide what's going to make them the most competitive over the longest period of time."

      Team president Theo Epstein said last week that Bryant might need more time in the minors before making his major league debut. Epstein said he prefers young players to make their debuts in-season.

      "I've never put a guy on an Opening Day roster who hadn't played in the big leagues previously. In 13 years, I've never done it," Epstein said. "I'm not saying I'd never do it, but the general rule, the presumption, is to allow those guys to go out, play, get comfortable, get in rhythm, and come up when you hand-pick just the right moment for them to have success."

      Bryant is a natural third baseman, but he played left field for the first time this spring last week.

      The Las Vegas native was named Minor League Player of the Year in 2014 in his first professional season. Bryant was the No. 2 overall pick out of the University of San Diego in the 2013 amateur draft.

  • Sunday, March 29, 2015
    Padres season preview: Unchartered territory for San Diego?
    By The Sports Xchange

    High expectations are not typically synonymous with the San Diego Padres.

    • But that is the word circulating among Padres fans this year.

      Not only do the Friars' faithful believe they can bid for their first playoff berth since 2006, they have hopes that the Padres can compete for the title in the tough National League West where the Giants have won three of the last five World Series and the Dodgers have spent a gazillion on talent.

      One man has raised San Diego's expectations -- General Manager A.J. Preller.

      During the off-season, Preller remade the Padres.

      Offensively, he bolstered what had been the most hapless (and boring) offense in the Major Leagues with the acquisition of outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers; catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

      Then he topped what statistically was already one of the top pitching staffs in the Major Leagues by signing James Shields to the richest free agent contract in Padres history.

      Even before Kemp labeled Preller "Rockstar GM" there was a buzz in San Diego and among the Padres themselves.

      "We don't think we can win this season," Kemp said during a pre-spring training tour of San Diego. "We expect to win. This is a good baseball team. And we can't wait to show what we can do."

      Counting Opening Day starter Shields, the Padres will have six and possibly seven new faces in their lineup April 6 when they take on the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium.

      And a team that is usually scrambling to fill the final roster spots with recycled veterans or free agents with a hot hand in March went into the final week of spring training facing the probability of eliminating at least two of the following – Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin, Will Venable and Tommy Medica.

      Yet, there are still major questions facing the Padres.

      --Kemp, Upton and Myers give the Padres a formidable offensive outfield. But there are questions about the outfield defense, particularly in the spacious outfield of Petco Park. Myers is down to start in center, where he has two games experience.

      --The Padres might have one of the most powerful lineups in franchise history. But there is not a "traditional" lead-off or No. 2 hitter in the projected starting lineup. Myers is targeted to hit in the lead-off slot with first baseman Yonder Alonso likely hitting second against right-handed pitching. On-base percentage will be a concern for the Padres.

      --The lineup is heavy right-handed. The only projected left-handed starters are first baseman Alonso and co-shortstop Alexi Amarista.

      --Two of the five starting pitchers – Andrew Cashner and projected No. 5 Brandon Morrow -- have a history of injuries.

      But the Padres have come through a healthy spring. Even the knees that have limited Quentin to 218 games over the last three seasons have been quiet. The only setbacks this spring was the torn meniscus that will keep backup catcher Tim Federowicz out until at least the All-Star break and a blister on the ring finger of Morrow that caused him to miss a start.

      Although the eyes are on the offense, the Padres might have one of the deepest rotations in the Major Leagues with Shields, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy ahead of Morrow or Odrisamer Despaigne in the No. 5 slot. And former Marlins ace Josh Johnson is already throwing from the mound in his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

      "I like this team," said manager Bud Black, who has yet to take to the Padres to the playoffs in his eight previous seasons as the field general. Then again, he's never had Preller leading the front office before.

      "I think we're going to surprise a lot of people," said Kemp. "But it won't really be a surprise."

  • Sunday, March 29, 2015
    Diamondbacks season preview: Many questions remain
    By The Sports Xchange

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The new-look Arizona Diamondbacks entered spring training with a host of questions, and they have done a good job of whittling them down, although two big ones remain -- where will Yasmany Tomas play, and what role best suits right-hander Daniel Hudson?

    • Free agent signee Tomas was brought to camp as a third baseman despite spending most of his career in Cuba in the outfield, and he has done virtually all of his work at third this spring. While his defense is coming along, the D-backs also have talked about having Tomas play some outfield. It is still possible that he opens the season in the minor leagues, an option they noted after signing him to a six-year, $68.5 million contract this winter. Tomas is hitting .268 with two homers and eight RBIs, and the D-backs recently tweaked his batting stroke.

      "If we can get his bat started, it makes everything much better. We'll see how those things work out," D-backs general manager Dave Stewart said. "We'd like for him to make our major league club. I don't know that we've seen enough (to make a decision either way). Right now we have to go as far with this as we can. If he is not a fit, then we'll make that decision to put him in the minor leagues."

      If Tomas does not open at third base, the position could go to 2014 Southern League MVP Jake Lamb, who had a look-see last year and is the better defender. Lamb has six doubles, two homers and six RBIs this spring.

      Hudson won 16 games in 2011 and the D-backs have said they will do just about whatever it takes preserve and protect his arm this season while keeping the long term in mind. They have said he could have a soft limit of about 85 pitches a game this season, a number that would seem problematic for a starter inasmuch as it could overtax the bullpen. At the same time, they might be better able to control his recovery on a starter's rigid schedule.

      Hudson hit 96 mph a half-dozen times in his Sunday start and was consistently at 95. The D-backs have said they will take his opinion into consideration when making a final decision. Hudson, Chase Anderson and Trevor Cahill appear to be the leading candidates for the final two spots in the rotation.

      "It's a newer, kinder baseball than it was when I played," said D-backs manager Chip Hale, who played seven major league seasons.

      Any questions about Mark Trumbo's move from left field to right have been answered. He has played a reliable right field, and with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs look poised for the kind of big season he had with the Los Angeles Angels before a foot injury cost him 11 weeks last year.

      Ditto center fielder A.J. Pollock and second baseman/shortstop Chris Owings, who also three months apiece but are back. Owings with a new hitting approach designed to take some of the stress of his surgically repaired left shoulder.

      Add with Paul Goldschmidt, and the D-backs should score runs. They may need to. Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson had rotation jobs coming in and Rubby De La Rosa was recently named the third starter, but there is not a lot of experience among any of them unless Trevor Cahill can make his new delivery work and return to the form that saw him post double-digit victories in his first four major league seasons, three with Oakland.

  • Sunday, March 29, 2015
    Giants season preview: Can they repeat?
    By The Sports Xchange

    The San Francisco Giants begin the 2015 season with three strikes against them.

    • They have absolutely no momentum on the eve of Opening Day, having floundered at the plate almost the entire spring, resulting in far and away the worst record in the Cactus League.

      They have two veteran pitchers in their starting rotation coming off surgeries, a third who began 2014 with one win in his first 23 starts, and a fourth who basically hasn't gotten anybody out in three years.

      And they have a recent history of struggling the year after winning a championship.

      It's no wonder nobody is picking the defending champs to win their division this year, and only a few have been bold enough even to predict a backdoor entry into the playoffs as a wild-card team.

      But the Giants -- even with the terrible spring and with star right fielder Hunter Pence (broken arm) out to open the year -- do have some things going for them, some of which proved to be enough to carry them through the postseason a year ago despite not having been assured a playoff berth until the final weekend of the regular season.

      Manager Bruce Bochy brings his magic touch back to the top step of the dugout. Nobody is quite sure how he does it, but having taken three similarly flawed rosters to championships in the past five seasons, Bochy has risen to the elite level of major league managers and the surest thing among today's crop to retire straight into the Hall of Fame.

      Bochy has many strengths, but first and foremost is his ability to deploy his bullpen. The Giants ranked No. 1 in baseball in relievers' batting average against (.217) last season, No. 3 in wins (32) and No. 5 in ERA (3.01). They return the core four -- right-handers Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, and lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez -- and a pair of starters-turned-long-relievers (righties Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Vogelsong), who are positioned to bail out struggling starters and turn over a competitive game to the talented finishers. The bullpen is so deep, flame-throwing righty Hunter Strickland was sent to Triple-A to start the season.

      Left-hander Madison Bumgarner is to the field what Bochy is to the dugout: Dominant. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the 2014 postseason, and has 25-win potential this year. Bumgarner is so good, the Giants probably could potentially be an under-.500 team in his non-starts and still make the playoffs.

      With two sluggers (third baseman Pablo Sandoval and left fielder Michael Morse) gone, and an age-challenged starting staff one year older, the Giants appear worse both in hitting and in pitching this season. The spring surely demonstrated that. But that's only part of the game. The Giants should be significantly improved defensively, after having seen Gold Glove candidate first baseman Brandon Belt miss 103 games last season and having played rotating left fielders and second basemen. Newcomer Nori Aoki solidifies left field defensively, and second baseman Joe Panik (had a hand in 53 double plays in 66 starts) returns to complete a solid infield that now features more-than-capable Casey McGehee at third base in place of Sandoval.

      The Giants have been criticized for replacing Sandoval and Morse on the cheap, opting for Aoki and McGehee. At the same time, they have not spent any of the savings on upgrading the pitching staff. So where has the money gone? Actually, it's right where the club wants it -- in the pocket of general manager Brian Sabean, who no doubt will have the green light to spend big on this year's prized rentals at the trade deadline in hopes of kick-starting a fast finish.

      After all, a team that went 26-41 in the heart of the summer in 2014 knows better than most that you don't win or lose pennants in March.

      Thank goodness, because if much of what transpired in the spring carries over to the summer, there will be no fall ball for the Giants this season.