Major League Baseball
MLB News Wire
  • Sunday, March 1, 2015
    Giants' lineup tinkering merely in thinking stages
    By The Sports Xchange

    The start of San Francisco Giants spring training has gone so smoothly, the biggest concern is something that hasn't even happened.

    • Giants manager Bruce Bochy made headlines -- albeit it small ones -- when he announced he would be holding center fielder Angel Pagan out of consecutive workouts Thursday and Friday.

      Immediately red flags went up. Had Pagan reinjured his surgically repaired back, the one that had cost him nearly half of the 2014 season and all of the playoffs?

      No, Bochy said the move was mostly precautionary, while also citing a sore neck as having slightly hampered Pagan on Wednesday.

      Bochy met with Pagan during his "layoff," and they discussed the possibility of moving the Giants' leadoff man down in the lineup. It wouldn't be a demotion, the veteran skipper assured, but rather more of a means of balancing the lineup.

      Bochy is looking for a way to break up the right-handed hitters in the middle of his order -- catcher Buster Posey, right fielder Hunter Pence and third baseman Casey McGehee.

      Bochy was able to do that last season by interjecting left-handed-hitting first baseman Brandon Belt and switch-hitting third baseman Pablo Sandoval. But Sandoval is gone, replaced by the righty McGehee.

      By moving Pagan, a switch-hitter, to the sixth spot, he could have a middle of the lineup -- starting in the third position -- of Posey, Belt, Pence, Pagan and McGehee.

      Such a move would mean finding a new leadoff man, and Bochy believes he has a candidate in new left fielder Nori Aoki.

      The manager assured any lineup tinkering was merely in the thinking stages at this point.

      Meanwhile, left-hander Madison Bumgarner helped produce the biggest highlight of the first week of camp, even if he had to suffer some ridicule afterward.

      Posey bombed him for a double, single and home run on the first three pitches of their highly anticipated, live batting practice session on Saturday.

      Posey had been assigned to catch Bumgarner's session, but rearranged the hitting schedule in order to bat against the reigning World Series Most Valuable Player.

      Bumgarner shrugged off some Posey barbs afterward, countering, "I want him to feel good, so I'm going to try to give him something to hit before I start getting him out."

  • Sunday, March 1, 2015
    Rockies' Gonzalez healthy, excited for 2015
    By The Sports Xchange

    When healthy, Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has shown he is an elite player, one able to make an impact on both offense and defense.

    • Gonzalez can play all three outfield positions extremely well thanks to a strong, accurate arm and plenty of range. He hits for both power and average with a picturesque left-handed swing.

      In short, Gonzalez is one of those rare players who can make a difficult game look downright easy.

      That was far from the case last year, when Gonzalez, 29, endured his most trying season. He played a career-low 70 games and hit .238/.292/.431 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in 281 plate appearances.

      It was a long fall for Gonzalez, a two-time All-Star, who has won three Gold Gloves and a National League batting title.

      Gonzalez had a benign tumor removed from his left index finger on June 10. That surgery was an exploratory procedure in the Cleveland Clinic, which an exasperated Gonzalez first visited when the Rockies played in Cleveland on May 30-June 1. At the time of the surgery, Gonzalez had not played for exactly a week and had so much trouble gripping the bat with his top hand when swinging that he was in the throes of an awful slump. To wit, Gonzalez had two hits in 24 at-bats with nine strikeouts, the final portion of an 11-for-58 slide with 17 strikeouts dating from May 9.

      After coming off the disabled list July 11 when his finger had healed, the chronic tendinitis in his left knee -- something that Gonzalez learned to play with, compensating when necessary -- began to get more and more bothersome. On Aug. 8, Gonzalez played what turned out to be his final game of the season. He went 0-for-3 at Arizona, striking out on each at-bat. That left him 4-for-28 with 12 strikeouts in nine games and the realization that continuing to play was futile with his left knee patella tendinitis restricting him so much. Gonzalez underwent surgery Aug. 18.

      Manager Walt Weiss has said he will ease Gonzalez into Cactus League games and will let him get plenty of at-bats in minor league games to assure he's ready for Opening Day. That's not until April 6 at Milwaukee.

      But the early signs are very encouraging. The first time he took batting practice on one of the practice diamonds at the Rockies complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., Gonzalez drove the ball far and had a pleasant flashback.

      "I can put all my weight back, sit and wait for the ball," Gonzalez said, "something that I wasn't able to do last year. It's my back knee, and it's really important to stay back. I have a leg kick, and last year, I had a difficult time staying back on pitches.

      "I'm happy to be healthy again and can concentrate on playing ball."

  • Sunday, March 1, 2015
    Dodgers' Kershaw determined to succeed in October
    By The Sports Xchange

    GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Clayton Kershaw had much to celebrate this winter. He became the first player since 1968 to win both the Cy Young and MVP awards in the National League. And he became a father for the first time when his daughter, Cali Ann, was born in January.

    • But something clearly bothered him. In fact, he acknowledged that with the last line of his Cy Young and MVP acceptance speech.

      "My last thank you goes to the St. Louis Cardinals," Kershaw said. "Thank you for reminding me that you're never as good as you think you are."

      Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball over the past four years. But he has not carried that success over into the postseason where the St. Louis Cardinals have beaten him in an elimination game each of the past two years. Kershaw lost both of his starts in last year's first-round matchup.

      "If somebody had told me anybody would beat Clayton twice in one series I'd have said, 'No way,'" Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax said after arriving in Dodgers camp last week. "I probably would have cursed and said 'No way.' But, you know, it happens."

      Kershaw's failures against the Cardinals were put in stark relief by Madison Bumgarner's historic October run as the San Francisco Giants won the World Series title. But Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis -- Kershaw's close friend -- said he doesn't think Kershaw has anything to prove.

      "He just ran into two tough innings," Ellis said. "This is really hard to even talk about because we've turned the page to 2015. He dominated them for 12 innings during that series. Absolutely dominated them.

      "He just ran into two innings against one of the best grinding teams in all of baseball. So I don't think he has anything to prove. It's hard to prove anything more than being the best pitcher of our generation."

      The best pitcher of his generation, Koufax said he is not concerned that the postseason will remain a black mark on Kershaw's career.

      "I don't think so," Koufax said. "Because I think he'll be in a lot more postseasons and I think it will be totally turned around. The best pitcher in baseball is not going to have that happen to him, probably not ever again."

  • Sunday, March 1, 2015
    White Sox great Minnie Minoso dies at 90
    By The Sports Xchange

    White Sox great Minnie Minoso, who was major league baseball's first black player in Chicago, died Sunday morning at the age of 90.

    • Police said Minoso was found unresponsive in the driver's seat of a car around 1 a.m. There were no signs of trauma.

      The beloved Minoso endeared himself to millions of Chicagoans over the years, first as a dynamic player with the popular Go-Go Sox of the 1950s and 1960s and later as a community relations ambassador of the club for decades. It was often joked that Minoso had signed enough autographs that every man, woman and child in Chicago had at least one.

      "Our organization and our city have suffered a heart-breaking loss today," Jerry Reinsdorf, owner and chairman of the White Sox, said in a statement. "We have lost our dear friend and a great man. Many tears are falling."

      Minoso played 12 of his 17 seasons in Chicago, hitting .304 with 135 homers and 808 RBIs for the White Sox. Minoso's uniform No. 9 was retired in 1983 and a sculpture of Minoso was unveiled in 2004.

      "When I die, I want to be playing baseball," Minoso once said. "Truly. They don't bury me without my uniform. If I die, I die happy because I was wearing No. 9 for the White Sox."

      Minoso, nicknamed "Mr. White Sox" and "The Cuban Comet," hit a two-run home run in his first at-bat. He became the first black player in White Sox franchise history on May 1, 1951. He also was baseball's first black Latin star and a seven-time All-Star.

      "Minnie truly was the heart, soul and smile of the White Sox," said Christine O'Reilly, vice president of community relations for the White Sox. "We saw him every day at the ballpark and he loved the fans and the White Sox dearly. Nothing made him prouder than to be at the ballpark."

      Ken Williams, White Sox executive vice president, said, "I am saddened by the news of Minnie's passing, but when I think of him, laughter and joy come to mind. He was just that way. I only wish he would have lived long enough to see his plaque go up in Cooperstown. He will be missed."

      Minoso was a Havana native who spent most of his career in left field. He is one of only two players to appear in a major league game in five different decades. He got his final hit in 1976 at age 53 and went 0-for-2 in two games in 1980 for the White Sox.

      Among all Cuban-born players in baseball history, Minoso ranks second in average (.298), third in triples (83), fourth in doubles (336), RBIs (1,023), extra-base hits (605), total bases (3,023), stolen bases (205) and walks (814), fifth in hits (1,963), home runs (186) and runs scored (1,136) and eighth in games (1,835).

      Minoso appeared in 1,835 career games over 17 major league seasons with Cleveland (1949, '51, '58-59), the White Sox (1951-57, '60-61, '64, '76, '80), St. Louis (1962) and Washington (1963). Minoso won three Gold Gloves, was named the 1951 American League Rookie of the Year and finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting four times.

      Minoso led the AL in doubles in 1957 (36), triples in '51 (14), '54 (18) and '56 (11), stolen bases in '51 (31), '52 (22) and '53 (25) and total bases in '54 (304). He also led the league in hit-by-pitches 10 times during an 11-year span from 1951-61 and ranks ninth all-time in HBP (145). Minoso eclipsed the .300 average mark eight times during his career.

      "When you talk about the top players in the American League in the 1950s," Reinsdorf said, "you talk about Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Minnie Minoso."

      The White Sox tried unsuccessfully over the years to get Minoso into baseball's Hall of Fame.

      "When I watched Minnie Minoso play, I always thought I was looking at a Hall of Fame player," Reinsdorf said in an informational package produced by the team for a 2011 Cooperstown push. "I never understood why Minnie wasn't elected.

      "He did everything. He could run, he could field, he could hit with power, he could bunt and steal bases. He was one of the most exciting players I have ever seen."

      Current White Sox players close to Minoso included 2014 Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu and fellow Cubans Alexei Ramirez and Adrian Nieto.

      Minoso leaves behind his wife of 30 years, Sharon, sons Orestes Jr. and Charlie, and daughters Marilyn and Cecilia. Details about services are still being determined.

      "The most important thing in my life is the fans," Minoso once said. "To receive a smile and pay them back with a smile."

  • Saturday, February 28, 2015
    A-Rod could see first action in year on Tuesday
    By The Sports Xchange

    New York manager Joe Girardi is expected to decide by Monday if Alex Rodrigues will play in the Yankees' spring opener on Tuesday.

    • Rodriguez, who was suspended for the entire 2014 season, practiced at first base on Friday. It's unclear exactly where Rodriguez will play, if he plays Tuesday,

      "It's something I've got to talk to him about," the Yankees manager told nj.com. "I figured I'd wait until Monday to see where he's at, where he feels he's at physically. Because we're not there yet I think it's important to just wait until Monday."

      Reporters asked Girardi if there is any way Rodriguez won't play, and the Yankees skipper tried to avoid answering.

      "I've just got to see where his body is at," the manager said. "I would like to. But I will see where he's at."

      If he does play Tuesday against the Philadelphia Phillies, it will be the 40-year-old's first game since 2013.

  • Saturday, February 28, 2015
    Blue Jays sign OF Viciedo
    By The Sports Xchange

    Outfielder Dayan Viciedo and the Toronto Blue Jays agreed on a minor league deal Saturday. Terms were not released.

    • The Chicago White Sox waived the 25-year-old Viciedo on Feb. 4. The White Sox signed OF Melky Cabrera in the offseason making Viciedo expendable.

      Viciedo hit 21 home runs and knocked in 58 runs last season, but his batting average was a paltry .231.

  • Saturday, February 28, 2015
    Marlins star Stanton fine after being plunked
    By The Sports Xchange

    Last time we saw Miami Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton in action, he suffered facial fractures and dental damage after being struck in the face by a fastball from Milwaukee's Mike Fiers in September.

    • On Saturday, Stanton was back in the batter's box wearing a specially designed batting helmet when he was plunked on the hip by his own teammate -- Henderson Alvarez -- during an intrasquad scrimmage.

      "Feels good," he told reporters after the game. "No thoughts, 100 percent fine. Didn't have one thought about it."

      Catcher J.T. Realmuto told Rodriguez not to worry and "that the baseball might have been more hurt than (Stanton.)"

      Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million contract in the offseason.

  • Saturday, February 28, 2015
    White Sox's Sale injures foot
    By The Sports Xchange

    Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale will be out at least three weeks after injuring a foot during an accident at his home.

    • Sale suffered an avulsion fracture to the lateral side of his right foot on Friday in Arizona at his spring residence that will limit the left-hander's preparation before Opening Day.

      White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Sale was unloading items from his truck and landed awkwardly.

      "It was really just a freak incident," Sale said. "I've just done it a million times and this time it didn't work out so well."

      Sale, slated to start the White Sox's opener at Kansas City, would only have about two weeks to prepare in spring training once he returns to the mound.

      "We'll have to assess how much arm strength he can build up prior to the opener," Hahn said. "Due to off days early in the season, we do not need a fifth starter -- so to speak -- potentially until April 12, so that would buy you another week before going to that spot.

      "But we'll see. The most important thing is that this should heal completely in three weeks and then we'll go from there."

      Sale finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting last season after posting a 12-4 record with a 2.17 ERA in 174 innings.

      "I mean, it's essentially a sprained ankle. I'll be fine," Sale said. "They aren't going to have to cut it off. It's still here. I'll be walking on it in a few days and just doing therapy."

  • Saturday, February 28, 2015
    Rays' Belisario fractures shoulder exiting pool
    By The Sports Xchange

    Tampa Bay Rays reliever suffered a fractured left shoulder getting out of a swimming pool at home in Venezuela and will miss the start of the season.

    • Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said Saturday that the injury to Belisario's non-throwing shoulder, which went undetected until he arrived for spring training, will prevent him from throwing for several weeks.

      "He said he had an accident a month ago getting out of a swimming pool," Silverman said. "And it hadn't been checked out until he got here. It's going to push him back several weeks. We don't expect him to be ready for the beginning of the season."

      The 32-year-old right-hander signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the Rays during the winter. He's expected to compete for a bullpen job on the Opening Day roster.

      "We have a number of relievers in the same situation," Silverman. "So the competition will be even more fierce among that group."

      Last season, Belisario pitched in 62 games for the Chicago White Sox and posted a 5.56 ERA in 66 1/3 innings after spending five years with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

      Manager Kevin Cash said the Rays will evaluate the pitchers on the staff before looking outside for potential help after Belisario's injury.

      "At this point, I know coming in we felt very strong about the competition, about who was competing for those spots," Cash said. "So I don't see anything coming. But that could change tomorrow."

  • Saturday, February 28, 2015
    Rays sorting out crowded middle infield
    By The Sports Xchange

    PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays will use the early part of the exhibition season to sort out their crowded middle infield situation.

    • Veteran Asdrubal Cabrera, signed to a one-year, $7.5-million contract in January as a free agent, will start at either shortstop or second base. Beyond that, the picture is muddled as prospect Tim Beckham is being given a chance to win the starting shortstop job while Nick Franklin could factor at either spot and Logan Forsythe could be the second baseman.

      "I think anything's possible," first-year Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "It's too early to tell. We've got to see some of these guys play."

      The Rays open Grapefruit League play March 5 when they host the Baltimore Orioles.

      Cabrera broke into the major leagues as a second baseman with the Cleveland Indians in 2007 and then moved to shortstop in 2009. He switched back to second base last year when the Washington Nationals acquired him from the Cleveland Indians at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

      Cabrera is willing to play either position and will see action at both during the spring training games. However, he prefers not to switch back and forth once the regular season starts.

      "I think it's hard for someone to play short and then come back to second," Cabrera said. "It's not the same."

      Cabrera, 29, hit a combined .241 with 14 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 146 games last season.

      Beckham has been slow to develop since the Rays chose him with the first overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft following his senior year of high school in Griffin, Ga.

      The 25-year-old Beckham had a five-game stint with Tampa Bay in the final month of the 2013 season. He then missed the first four months of last season while recovering from knee surgery before hitting a combined .295 with one home run in 24 games with three different minor league teams.

      Franklin was acquired from the Seattle Mariners last July 31 in the three-team trade in which the Rays sent left-hander David Price to the Detroit Tigers. Franklin, who turns 24 on March 2, hit a combined .160 with one homer in 28 major league games last years and .272 with 11 homers and 11 steals in 102 games at the Triple-A level.

      Forsythe, 28, hit .223 with six homers in 110 games for the Rays last season while serving as a utility player.

  • Friday, February 27, 2015
    Jays look to fill hole with Saunders out 5-6 weeks
    By The Sports Xchange

    Dioner Navarro lost his spot as the No. 1 catcher with the arrival of Russell Martin, but he could help the team at another position, say left field.

    • That's not a possibility. He is limited to catching and designated hitter.

      But Navarro could ultimately help the Blue Jays shore up a position of sudden need in left field after Michael Saunders suffered a knee injury and underwent meniscus removal surgery on Friday that is expected to sideline him for five to six weeks.

      Earlier reports indicated that Saunders might be out until July, but removing the meniscus because it was badly damaged rather than repairing it actually accelerates the recovery time.

      If the Blue Jays grant Navarro's wish to be traded to a team that needs an everyday catcher or DH, they could receive outfield help in return. Or they could fill a need at another position, like second base or in the bullpen.

      Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was not sure about the timing of a deal as spring training opened. Obviously, it could depend on another team's need for an regular catcher.

      "I don't know that that everyday job is lined up right now for various reasons, but the landscape can change -- guys get hurt, guys don't perform, things can change fast," Anthopoulos said. "We could do something at the end of spring training, we could do something in the first month of the season, we could do something in the middle of the year or it may not occur at all. You just don't know.

      "He's too good a player, and too valuable a player, that I think something will present itself at some point."

      The Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks are among the teams that have been mentioned as having interest in Navarro, who batted .274/.317/.395 with 12 homers and 69 RBIs in 139 games for Toronto in 2014.

      Behind the plate, Navarro could be questioned on his pitch selection. For example, he too often asked for a slider when a fastball seemed more appropriate, with dire consequences.

      The opening in left field was a sudden development. Saunders suffered a knee injury Wednesday when he stepped on a sprinkler head while shagging flies on a back field. He is not being counted on until the All-Star break.

      Anthopoulos said he would like to fill left field from within the organization, which could create a big chance for Kevin Pillar, who is good defensively but must improve at the plate.

      Outfielders Chris Dickerson, Ezequiel Carrera and Andy Dirks and infielders Chris Colabello and Danny Valencia are among the other possible candidates to fill in for Saunders.

      If none of the above provides a solution, then perhaps it will come from trading Navarro.

  • Friday, February 27, 2015
    MLB notebook: Injury ends camp for Braves' Upton
    By The Sports Xchange

    Atlanta Braves outfielder Melvin Upton was diagnosed with inflammation in his left foot that likely will sideline him for the remainder of spring training.

    • An X-ray and MRI of the foot identified the injury as sesamoiditis, which is inflammation behind the ball of the foot, the Braves said Friday.

      Upton's foot will be placed in a cast for two weeks, followed by a walking boot for four to six weeks. The Braves expect Upton to return to baseball activities in early April when the season opens.

      The 30-year-old made news earlier at spring training when he told reporters that he wanted to be referred to as Melvin rather than his nickname, B.J.

      Since signing a five-year, $75 million contract with the Braves, Upton has struggled the past two seasons. Last year, he batted .208 with 12 home runs, 35 RBIs and 173 strikeouts. That was better than the previous season, when he batted .184 with nine homers and 26 RBIs.

      --- Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez said the 2015 season will be his last.

      Ramirez, 36, enters his 20th season with 2,057 games played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Brewers. He has 369 home runs, 1,342 RBIs and 2,186 hits with a .285 batting average.

      He is sixth all-time among third basemen in home runs.

      "I'm going to play this year, and probably be done after this year. I don't know if I want to play after this year. I think this is it. I had a nice career, and I think enough is enough," Ramirez said Friday in Phoenix.

      --- After sitting out last year, outfielder Juan Pierre decided that he will call it a career after 14 major league seasons.

      The 37-year-old Pierre announced his retirement Friday, closing the curtain on his playing days with a .295 batting average, 2,217 hits and 614 stolen bases. The steals rank 18th in major league history.

      In his last season with the Miami Marlins in 2013, Pierre batted .247 in 113 games. He was part of a World Series championship with the 2003 Marlins and also played for the Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.

      --- New York Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan underwent a precautionary MRI which revealed a mid-back strain.

      The team announced Friday that Ryan saw Dr. Daniel Murphy in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday. The injury occurred while he was lifting weights in the days leading up to spring training, and Ryan is expected to miss approximately five days of on-field activity.

      In 2014, Ryan hit just .167 with eight RBIs in 49 games. In nine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Seattle Mariners and Yankees, Ryan has a .234 average with 19 home runs and 195 RBIs.

      ---St. Louis Cardinals ace right-hander Adam Wainwright returned to spring training in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday and expects to be back on the mound in a few days.

      Wainwright left camp for a medical exam in St. Louis on Thursday, where he was diagnosed with a mild abdominal strain. Wainwright felt a tweak in his side while returning a 45-pound barbell to the rack during early weight-room sessions in Florida. He experienced discomfort during fielding drills and agreed to the appointment despite his opinion that the injury was nothing serious.

      General manager John Mozeliak said Wednesday that the Cardinals will take things slow with Wainwright, who was fatigued at the end of the 2014 season. There are no limitations prescribed from medical personnel on Wainwright's throwing program. However, there are specifics for his routine fielding and weight lifting.

  • Friday, February 27, 2015
    Aramis Ramirez to retire after 2015
    By The Sports Xchange

    Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez said the 2015 season will be his last.

    • Ramirez, 36, enters his 20th season with 2,057 games played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and Brewers. He has 369 career home runs, 1,342 RBIs and 2,186 hits with a .285 batting average.

      "I'm going to play this year, and probably be done after this year. I don't know if I want to play after this year. I think this is it. I had a nice career, and I think enough is enough," Ramirez said Friday in Phoenix.

      He is sixth all-time among third basemen in home runs.

      Ramirez played in 133 games last season but leg injuries slowed him down. He said he focused on conditioning and rebuilding his foundation in the offseason.

      A three-time All-Star, Ramirez was a raw fielder when he was traded to the Cubs from the Pirates, with whom he debuted at age 19. But he worked diligently to maximize his agility and soft hands to become a more complete player.

      "I've played for a long time, and sometimes it's just time to do something else," Ramirez said. "I think I achieved my goals. The only thing I'm missing is playing in a World Series. Other than that, I think I've done pretty good."

  • Friday, February 27, 2015
    OF Pierre retires at age 37
    By The Sports Xchange

    After sitting out last year, outfielder Juan Pierre decided that he will call it a career after 14 major league seasons.

    • The 37-year-old Pierre announced his retirement on Friday, closing the curtain on his playing days with a .295 batting average, 2,217 hits and 614 stolen bases. The steals rank 18th in major league history.

      In his last season with the Miami Marlins in 2013, Pierre batted .247 in 113 games. He was part of a World Series championship with the 2003 Marlins and also played for the Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.

      Pierre's career milestones include playing in every game from 2003 to 2007, hitting better than .300 six times and stealing more than 60 bases three times. He led the league in stolen bases three times but was not a home-run hitter, with only 18 round-trippers during his career.

  • Friday, February 27, 2015
    Injury ends camp for Braves' Upton
    By The Sports Xchange

    Atlanta Braves outfielder Melvin Upton was diagnosed with inflammation in his left foot that likely will sideline him for the remainder of spring training.

    • An X-ray and MRI of the foot identifed the injury as sesamoiditis, which is inflammation behind the ball of the foot, the Braves said Friday.

      Upton's foot will be placed in a cast for two weeks, followed by a walking boot for four to six weeks. The Braves expect Upton to return to baseball activities in early April when the regular season opens.

      The 30-year-old made news earlier at spring training when he told reporters that he wanted to be referred to as Melvin going forward rather than his nickname, B.J.

      Since signing a five-year, $75 million contract with the Braves, Upton has struggled the past two seasons. Last year, he batted .208 with 12 home runs, 35 RBIs and 173 strikeouts. That was better than the previous season when he batted .184 with nine homers and 26 RBIs.

      Upton's younger brother, Justin, was traded by the Braves during the offseason after the two siblings played together in Atlanta for two years.

  • Friday, February 27, 2015
    Twins pleased with players arriving early
    By The Sports Xchange

    Minnesota Twins pitchers and catchers have been in Fort Myers, Fla., for almost a week now, but the rest of the players at major league camp didn't arrive officially until Friday.

    • That's when optional workouts started and the 2015 baseball season officially got underway.

      But that doesn't mean Twins players haven't been getting in work. New manager Paul Molitor has been pleased with the number of players arriving early to spring training.

      "It's good to see them all here obviously," Molitor said earlier this week. "I think sometimes when you get various changes that have taken place, it kind of lights a fire for a few people. The bulk of our position players are here with a few days to spare. That's a good sign. I don't even know how many are missing."

      The only Twins player on the 40-man roster who had not officially reported to the team complex by Wednesday was designated hitter Kennys Vargas, who was visiting family in Puerto Rico. But even he had been at the facility last week to get in some light hitting work.

      Several position players were on one of the back fields on Wednesday working on base running drills with first-base coach Butch Davis.

      It helps, too, that the Twins had a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open their renovated facilities in Fort Myers. The organization and Lee County spent more than $48 million, refurbishing everything from the stadium to a new player's dormitory.

      "This place, there's no reason why you wouldn't want to come early," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said.

      Right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer was excused from the team for a few days to attend the funeral of his grandfather, who passed away earlier this week. Meyer is expected to compete for the No. 5 starter's job in the Twins' rotation.

  • Friday, February 27, 2015
    Yankees INF Ryan has back strain
    By The Sports Xchange

    New York Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan underwent a precautionary MRI which revealed a mid-back strain.

    • The team announced Friday that Ryan saw Dr. Daniel Murphy in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday. The injury occurred while lifting weights in the days leading up to the start of spring training, and Ryan is expected to miss approximately five days of on-field activity.

      In 2014, Ryan hit just .167 with eight RBIs in 49 games. For his career over nine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Seattle Mariners and Yankees, Ryan has a .234 average with 19 home runs and 195 RBIs.

  • Friday, February 27, 2015
    Wainwright returns to Florida, can resume throwing
    By The Sports Xchange

    St. Louis Cardinals ace right-hander Adam Wainwright returned to spring training in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday and expects to be back on the mound in a matter of days.

    • Wainwright left camp for a medical exam in St. Louis on Thursday, where he was diagnosed with a mild abdominal strain. Wainwright felt a tweak in his side while returning a 45-pound barbell to the rack during early weightroom sessions in Florida. He experienced discomfort during fielding drills, and agreed to the appointment despite his personal opinion that the injury was nothing serious.

      "You just hear and then you get on Web MD and you do all this stuff online and you're your own best doctor, and then all of a sudden you're your own worst doctor and you make prognosis that aren't there," Wainwright said. "But two days after the fact, I saw how much better I was and then I wasn't scared anymore. It's also relieving to hear it knowing that there isn't something else going on in there that should cause concern."

      General manager John Mozeliak said Wednesday that the Cardinals will take things slow with Wainwright, who was fatigued at the end of the 2014 regular season. There are no limitations prescribed from medical personnel on Wainwright's throwing program. However, there are specifics for his routine fielding and weight lifting.

      "Everybody was saying that you need to scale back your innings in Spring Training," Wainwright said. "God just naturally found a way to make that happen without ticking me off. 'OK, Adam. You don't want to have time off? I'll make you take time off.'"

      Wainwright said he can throw live batting practice as long as he doesn't field his position. He will be reevaluated Monday before the team sets his schedule for spring.

      "In four or five days, I can start mixing and matching things that I would normally do slowly until I'm back to 100 percent in a matter of just two weeks," Wainwright said. "I can continue to build arm strength off the mound and face hitters and all that stuff. And when I'm ready to move laterally and get stuff going, that should be a quick, easy thing."

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Hundley settles in as Rockies' regular catcher
    By The Sports Xchange

    After several years, the Colorado Rockies finally reached the point where they were willing to sacrifice power at the plate for defense behind it.

    • That is the quick explanation of why they signed free agent Nick Hundley, 31, to a two-year, $6.25 million contract, acquiring him to be their primary catcher. Hundley supplants Wilin Rosario, 26, who has far more power than Hundley but struggled for three years defensively with the finer points of a difficult position.

      In 83 games last year with the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles, Hundley, hit .243 with a .273 on-base percentage, a .358 slugging percentage, six homers and 22 RBIs. The numbers are in keeping with Hundley's career output of .238/.294/.386 with 52 homers and 214 RBIs in 560 games.

      Hundley began his career in the Padres organization. He had to learn on the fly about the stuff and personalities of the Orioles' pitchers after being traded early last season. This year, Hundley will have all of spring training to settle in with a new team and familiarize himself with the Rockies' pitchers.

      "It's my job to get acclimated to them, not their job to get acclimated to me," Hundley said. "It's not my job to be a pitching coach and change anybody. If I come in and start talking about mechanical adjustments after catching 10 pitches, you're going to lose credibility really quick. I'm here to catch these guys and get the most out of them, but it starts with being quiet and learning."

      Hundley had four passed balls and four errors in 63 games behind the plate for the Padres and Orioles last season. He threw out 13.9 percent (5-for-36) of the runners attempting to steal. In 516 career games, Hundley has been charged with 32 passed balls and 36 errors.

      Rockies manager Walt Weiss praised Hundley.

      "(He possesses) the ability to handle a pitching staff, to command the game," Weiss said. "There's a physical toughness and a mental toughness that we really like. There's a servant mentality."

      Rosario was charged with 12 passed balls and seven errors in 96 games catching last season. In 2012, his first full season in the big leagues, Rosario was charged with 21 passed balls in 105 games behind the plate, and he had nine passed balls in 106 games in 2013.

      In 321 career games, Rosario has been charged with 45 passed balls and 30 errors.

      Last season, he threw out seven of 44 runners attempting to steal (15.9 percent), down from 31.9 percent in 2012 and 26.4 percent in 2013.

      Rosario hit 28 homers in 2012 and 21 the following year. Last season, Rosario dealt with Type B influenza early in the season, causing him to lose nine pounds and go on the disabled list. He also dealt with a sprained left wrist for much of the season. Rosario wound up hitting .267/.305/.435 with 13 homers in 362 at-bats.

      Rosario has played nine career games at first base, including seven starts, and understandably looked rough around the edges. He will get work at first base during spring training as well as catch.

      Last season, a member of the Rockies organization said Rosario ideally should be as far from the ball as possible on defense. Since there is no designated hitter in the National League, it was suggested that Rosario, who has well above average arm strength, should play right field.

      "It's not a priority," Weiss said of Rosario getting time in right field this spring. "It's difficult to learn two new positions -- first base and the outfield -- particularly for a guy who has virtually never done it. So we don't want to put too much on his plate."

      Rosario gives the Rockies a right-handed power bat who has done considerable damage against left-handed pitchers, compiling a .328 average with a 1.009 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 30 homers in 357 at-bats vs. southpaws.

      Justin Morneau, the regular first baseman, is a left-handed hitter, so there os a chance for Rosario -- if he gets up to speed at first base defensively -- to spell Morneau against some left-handed pitchers. Last season, Morneau hit .341 with a .927 OPS and 14 home runs in 372 at-bats against right-handed pitchers. Against lefties, Morneau hit .254 with a .665 OPS and three homers in 130 at-bats.

      "In my heart, I know I'm still a catcher," said Rosario, who nonetheless realizes that becoming adequate at first base could work to his advantage. "I want to learn, and I want get time to play and practice. I feel like I can play first, I can catch, and maybe I can play the outfield, too. It gives me more opportunities to get (at-bats)."

      As they look to set their roster as the spring unfolds, the Rockies must decide whether to keep three catchers.

      In addition to Hundley and Rosario, Michael McKenry, who is out of minor league options, showed last year he can work well with pitchers, and he hit .315/.398/.512 with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 198 at-bats. McKenry doesn't throw particularly well, catching eight of 42 baserunners attempting to steal for a 19 percent success rate, right in line with his career mark of 19.1 percent (40-for-209).

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Rodriguez enjoys first day in Yankees' camp
    By The Sports Xchange

    On his first official day back with the New York Yankees after a yearlong suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, Alex Rodriguez blasted a few balls out of the park during batting practice at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla., and generally appeared at ease with the attention surrounding his return.

    • "It was fun," Rodriguez said. "I'm happy to be here."

      Rodriguez, 39, drew the loudest cheers Thursday, heard no boos from fans and also bantered with the media who surrounded his locker.

      "It was like going to Disney World," Rodriguez aid.

      Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira was impressed with Rodriguez's swings. He hit three balls over the fence in 32 swings.

      "I saw his batting practice today," Teixeira said. "Not many guys are hitting the ball like he is right now. First day is always kind of a breaking in time for most guys. He looked great out there today, and hopefully that continues."

      While Rodriguez was enjoying his return, his bosses weren't as thrilled. Both general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi are already tired of answering questions about the slugger.

      "I don't really want to talk about the Alex stuff like this anymore," Cashman said. "At some point, hopefully, you guys can let it go too. ... I don't feel like dealing with it too much longer.

      "I just don't want to talk about the same stuff we covered already. I feel like we've been there, done that. I feel like we're going back to stuff that's already been asked, which I feel is a waste of time.''

      Cashman did confirm that Rodriguez will be on the roster for Opening Day.

      "He's got a three-year contract," Cashman said.

      Most of the questions to Girardi from reporters after the Yankees' first full-squad workout were about Rodriguez. Asked whether he was happy to see Rodriguez in camp, Girardi finally became agitated.

      "I don't understand what kind of question that is, to be honest," Girardi said. "He's a player of ours. Of course, I want him back."

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Blue Jays take chance on LHP Santana
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Toronto Blue Jays are hoping two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana can return to the mound after signing the oft-injured veteran to a minor league contract on Thursday with an invitation to spring training with the major league club.

    • Santana, who turns 36 next month, hasn't pitched in the majors since August 2012 with the New York Mets. Since then, his left shoulder has been through two surgeries.

      Last year while pitching in the minor leagues for the Baltimore Orioles' organization, Santana tore his left Achilles tendon in June. He returned to the mound in January during the Venezuelan Winter League and retired six batters in a row during one appearance.

      A four-time All-Star, Santana won the American League Cy Young in 2004 and 2006 pitching for the Minnesota Twins. He has a 139-78 career record with a 3.20 ERA and the only no-hitter in Mets history.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Brewers bring back K-Rod
    By The Sports Xchange

    Reliever Francisco Rodriguez is back with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    • "K-Rod" agreed Thursday to a two-year deal with a team option for a third year. He will be paid $13 million over the first two years, according to FOX Sports.

      He should help solidify a bullpen the Brewers tried to improve via trade until talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon deteriorated.

      The Miami Marlins were also in the bidding for Rodriguez.

      The 33-year-old Rodriguez closed 44 games for the Brewers in 2014, when he earned his fifth All-Star selection.

      In four seasons with Milwaukee, Rodriguez is 12-13 with a 3.11 ERA and 57 saves.

      He was acquired by the Brewers from the New York Mets in July 2011.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Cardinals' Wainwright diagnosed with muscle strain
    By The Sports Xchange

    St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has an abdominal strain that should not cause him to miss significant time during spring training.

    • Wainwright returned to St. Louis from the Cardinals' camp for an examination by Dr. Michael Brunt on Thursday and received a diagnosis that caused a sigh of relief for the team.

      The 35-year-old right-hander is to avoid running and lifting weights for a few days but is able to throw.

      "Based on all the different studies and what the doctor saw, he feels this was the best news we could have gotten," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said.

      Wainwright was injured Monday when he placed a 45-pound weight on a rack. The strained muscle doesn't affect his pitching but bothers him when he runs or lunges.

      "In the end, I feel good about what we know, and I know Adam is relieved," Mozeliak said.

      Wainwright was to return to spring training camp later Thursday. He's likely to make three or four starts in exhibition games to prepare for the Cardinals' regular-season opener against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field on April 5.

      "I think we can take the foot off the gas on the bullpen session," Mozeliak said. ''We'll discuss what that strategy looks like in conjunction with the medical staff, but based on what I've been told, having him continue to throw is OK."

      Wainwright finished the 2014 season with a 20-9 record and a 2.38 ERA.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    MLB notebook: Brewers bring back K-Rod
    By The Sports Xchange

    Reliever Francisco Rodriguez is back with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    • "K-Rod" agreed Thursday to a two-year deal with a team option for a third year. He will be paid $13 million over the first two years, according to FOX Sports.

      He should help solidify a bullpen the Brewers tried to improve via trade until talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon deteriorated.

      The Miami Marlins were also in the bidding for Rodriguez.

      The 33-year-old Rodriguez closed 44 games for the Brewers in 2014, when he earned his fifth All-Star selection.

      In four seasons with Milwaukee, Rodriguez is 12-13 with a 3.11 ERA and 57 saves.

      He was acquired by the Brewers from the New York Mets in July 2011.

      ---Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders was on crutches Thursday and could be out until July with a freak knee injury that requires surgery.

      Saunders tore the meniscus in his left knee Wednesday, when he stepped on a sprinkler head in the outfield while shagging fly balls.

      "I just tried to walk off the field and not draw any attention to myself. Then, when I got into the training room, my knee felt like it was getting tight on the inside," Saunders said. "I've never had any issues with my knees, so that's when I knew that something was wrong."

      He said this is the first time he has had a knee injury -- but had two stints on the disabled list in 2014 with oblique and shoulder issues -- and will seek a second opinion before determining a course of action.

      Saunders was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in an offseason trade. The 28-year-old hit .273 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 2014.

      ---Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto shed no new light on reported off-field issues and said outfielder Josh Hamilton is at home rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

      "I'm not going to get into any kind of situation or information regarding Josh Hamilton," Dipoto said Thursday in Tempe, Ariz. "He's not here in camp with us. He is at home rehabbing from a surgery and I'm going to leave it at that."

      Hamilton met with MLB officials in New York about an undisclosed disciplinary issue on Wednesday. According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Hamilton had a relapse of cocaine use.

      From 2003 to 2005, Hamilton was suspended from baseball for cocaine and alcohol addiction. He was reinstated but subject to ongoing drug testing and had alcohol relapses in 2009 and 2012.

      --- St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has an abdominal strain that should not cause him to miss significant time during spring training.

      Wainwright returned to St. Louis from the Cardinals' camp for an examination by Dr. Michael Brunt on Thursday and received a diagnosis that caused a sigh of relief for the team.

      The 35-year-old right-hander is to avoid running and lifting weights for a few days but is able to throw.

      Wainwright was injured Monday when he placed a 45-pound weight on a rack. The strained muscle doesn't affect his pitching but bothers him when he runs or lunges.

      --- Masahiro Tanaka intensified his workout at a Thursday morning bullpen session in Tampa, Fla., and the New York Yankees liked what they saw from their right-handed ace.

      Tanaka did not limit pitch selection and threw 40 pitches with pitching coach Larry Rothschild observing.

      "I feel that I'm on the right track," Tanaka said through an interpreter, adding that he was clear to throw split-finger fastballs, his most effective pitch in his 2014 rookie season. "Going through the workouts and going through the bullpen today also, it does give me confidence that I'm moving in the right direction."

      Tanaka said the only discomfort he has felt is considered normal after pitching workouts. He also threw a brief bullpen session Sunday.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Comeback players for all 30 MLB teams
    By The Sports Xchange

    A pair of 31-year-old, former Most Valuable Player award winners head the list of players seeking a bounce-back season in 2015.

    • Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is attempting to shake off a quadriceps ailment that kept him out for the majority of last season and left him ineffective when he was on the field.

      The Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer saw his production drop sharply in 2014 after his full-time switch to first base, a move that was intended to help keep him healthy and productive at the plate.

      A look at the most notable players seeking a comeback with each team this spring, according to The Sports Xchange's network of baseball correspondents:

      NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

      ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: The D-backs invited long-time major league catcher Gerald Laird to camp on a minor league deal, and he appears to have a chance to make the team. A 12-year veteran, Laird, 35, is the most experienced of a catching corps that starts Tuffy Gosewisch and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez. In 52 games for the Braves last year, Laird hit .204 with no homers and 10 RBIs. He is a career .244 hitter in the big leagues, but he has thrown out 35 percent of the runners who attempted to steal against him.

      COLORADO ROCKIES: RHP John Axford will bring a power arm and plenty of experience to the bullpen, if he makes the club. He signed a minor league contract and would earn a $2.6 million base salary in the big leagues with an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses. Axford, who turns 32 on April 1 and has pitched in 343 games, has swing-and-miss stuff and plenty of experience closing with 116 career saves. Axford's fastball still sits in the 94-95 mph range, and last year his ground-ball percentage was 54 percent. However, command can be an issue for Axford, who averaged 10.4 strikeouts and 5.9 walks per nine innings last year.

      LOS ANGELES DODGERS: The Dodgers' bullpen was their weakness in 2014. The new front office tried to address that by collecting as many alternatives and as much depth as possible. RHP Sergio Santos is in that group. Santos, 31, signed a minor league contract and received a non-roster invitation to spring training, where he will vie for a spot in the bullpen. A 30-save closer for the White Sox in 2011, Santos struggled since then, bottoming out with a disastrous 8.57 ERA in 26 appearances for the Blue Jays last season.

      SAN DIEGO PADRES: After missing all of last season following his second Tommy John surgery, RHP Josh Johnson re-signed with the Padres as a minor league free agent. He says his rehab is ahead of schedule, and the Padres hope Johnson might be ready in the first half of June. If he is, the former Marlins ace would be a nice addition to the San Diego rotation. "It would be like adding a top-of-the-rotation starter in a late-July trade," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said. Johnson, 31, was an All-Star in 2009 and 2010 before his arm woes began.

      SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: The Giants are a far more productive team when CF Angel Pagan resides at the top of the batting order. That is a bit scary to consider when you recall the club won a championship in 2014 while Pagan was laid up with a back injury. It is critical for Pagan to stay healthy and get on base at or near the same clip (on-base percentages of .338, 334, .342 the past three seasons) as before he got injured if the Giants, who lost about 20 percent of their run production in the free agent exports of 3B Pablo Sandoval and OF/1B Michael Morse, are going to take some of the pressure off their shaky pitching staff.

      NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

      CHICAGO CUBS: RHP Edwin Jackson, signed through 2016, endured baffling, hard-luck runs the past two years and looks for redemption in his 13th major league season. Jackson, 31, went 8-15 in 2013 and 6-15 with a 6.33 ERA in 28 games last year. He basically was shut down after Aug. 20 after allowing seven runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings against the Giants, but he made two brief appearances in September. Jackson has had past success, especially under new Cubs manager Joe Maddon, going a 14-11 record in 2008 with the Rays.

      CINCINNATI REDS: The condition of 1B Joey Votto's quadriceps remained a mystery throughout the final 76 games of last season, all of which he missed. Votto sat out a total of 99 games with a distal quad strain in his left leg. When he played, Votto batted .255, far below his .310 career mark. Votto, 31, ranked second on the club with 47 walks, but due in part to his limited action, Cincinnati ranked near the bottom of the NL in on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. The Reds are holding their breath that Votto can regain the form that led him to the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player award.

      MILWAUKEE BREWERS: RF Ryan Braun was in the spotlight last season, when he returned from a 65-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy. Braun, 31, appeared to handle the boos and jeers just fine, but a nagging thumb injury led to career lows in batting average (.266), home runs (19) and RBIs (81). Not long after the season, Braun underwent a procedure that froze a nerve in the base of the thumb and has reported no further issues. The Brewers hope it holds up because not only is the 2011 NL MVP the lynchpin to their offense, he also is due $118 million over the next six seasons.

      PITTSBURGH PIRATES: LHP Clayton Richard is confident his shoulder woes are behind him and that he is ready to return to the big leagues. He compiled a 46-47 record in six major league seasons with the White Sox (2008-09) and Padres (2009-13) while posting a 4.33 ERA in 147 games, 129 of which were starts. In 2013, he had a 2-5 record with a 7.01 ERA in 12 games with the Padres before he was injured. Richard, 31, returned to pitch in the minor leagues last year and was largely ineffective.

      ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: LHP Jaime Garcia, who has one year left on his contract, wants to make the team in spring training. Garcia, 28, is a proven winner and innings-eater when he takes the ball every fifth day. And that is the problem ... when he takes the ball. Garcia has battled injuries most of the past two seasons, making just 16 starts. It is foolish to count on Garcia as a 32-start guy at this point, but with some uncertainty about the back end of this rotation, the Cardinals aren't excising him from their plans just yet.

      NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

      ATLANTA BRAVES: LHP Wandy Rodriguez was signed to a minor league contract, and he will try to show he is healthy enough to compete for the open slot as the fifth starter. The 36-year-old veteran pitched just half a season with Pittsburgh in 2013, and got into only six games for the Pirates last year, finishing 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA. The Braves signed him after a deal with Philadelphia fell through this winter. Rodriguez has a career 91-94 record with a 4.06 ERA in 258 games (248 starts).

      MIAMI MARLINS: The conditions could be right for Jhonatan Solano, 29, to make the team as a non-roster invitee. He is a native of Colombia, and he would be playing in a city with a majority Hispanic population, including lots of fellow Colombians. Also, his brother, Donovan Solano, is a reserve infielder on the Marlins, which should add to his comfort level. Jhonatan Solano posted a modest .602 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 36 big-league games for Washington in 2012-13 before spending all of last season in the minors. He will be challenging perhaps the most vulnerable Marlins veteran for a job -- backup catcher Jeff Mathis (.537 OPS last year).

      NEW YORK METS: RHP Buddy Carlyle actually came back last year, when he posted a 1.45 ERA over 27 relief outings -- more games than he appeared in between 2009 and 2013 combined. The Mets probably didn't expect Carlyle to return after outrighting him off the roster last Oct. 31, but he didn't find any big league offers before agreeing to a minor league deal with the Mets in January. The Mets like Carlyle, who will be the beneficiary if a reliever gets hurt and has to miss Opening Day.

      PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: OF Jeff Francoeur was once one of baseball's rising stars, driving 103 runs in 2006 and 105 in 2007 for Atlanta in his first two full major league seasons. However, Francoeur is now considered a "4A" player at 31, not quite good enough to play regularly in the major leagues but too good to be playing in the minor leagues. Francoeur has played in just 91 major league games over the last three seasons. He will get a chance to resurrect his career with the Phillies, and he could wind up being the right-handed-hitting side of a platoon in right field with Grady Sizemore.

      WASHINGTON NATIONALS: OF Nate McLouth has a lot to prove. He was signed to a two-year contract by the Nationals prior to 2014 but batted only .173 with a .517 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 139 at-bats over 79 games last year, hitting six doubles and one home run. His season ended after right shoulder surgery on Aug. 21 to repair a labral tear. The Nationals hope McLouth, 33, can recapture some of the magic that made him an All-Star with the Pirates in 2008 or at least come close to his .258 average with the Orioles in 2013.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

      HOUSTON ASTROS: RHP Dan Straily, once deemed ascendant by the Athletics, is seeking to rebound following a rough seven-appearance stretch with the Cubs last season. Straily, 26, finished 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA over 27 starts with Oakland in 2013, but after his trade to Chicago last July 5, he posted an 11.85 ERA while making just one start over the final three months. The Astros view Straily as a viable candidate for the fifth spot in their rotation. They hope to see the pitcher who went a combined 12-9 with a 3.94 ERA in 34 starts for Oakland in 2012 and 2013.

      LOS ANGELES ANGELS: RHP Matt Lindstrom, 35, was signed to a minor league deal, and he enters camp as a non-roster player, but he could crack the Opening Day roster if he has a good spring. Lindstrom has a 3.47 ERA and 51 saves in eight big league seasons, including spending time as a closer for the Marlins, Astros and White Sox. Last season with the White Sox, Lindstrom went 2-2 with a 5.03 ERA and six saves in 35 games. He likely will have to beat out RHP Vinnie Pestano for one of the final spots in the bullpen.

      OAKLAND ATHLETICS: INF Andy Parrino, a non-roster veteran, is a .179 career hitter in 114 major league games, but his glove could earn him a job with the A's if SS Marcus Semien, the projected new starter, falters in the field. Parrino, 29, spent three stints with the A's last season and started 15 games, including 11 at shortstop. He made just one error at shortstop and had a .972 fielding percentage. Parrino hit .274 with seven home runs and a minor league career-high 57 RBIs for Triple-A Round Rock and Sacramento last season.

      SEATTLE MARINERS: INF Rickie Weeks had a slow fall from grace with the over the past two-plus seasons, but Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik believes Weeks may have a little more left in his 32-year-old bat. The former Brewer hit 21 home runs in 2012 but managed just 18 total homers and 53 RBIs over the past two seasons. He won't challenge 2B Robinson Cano for a starting spot but could prove valuable as a utility infielder and pinch hitter off the bench.

      TEXAS RANGERS: Anyone remember how good Juan Carlos Oviedo was as a late-inning reliever? Well, maybe you remember him as Leo Nunez, the right-hander who totaled 92 saves from 2009-11 while pitching for the Marlins. Tommy John surgery and issues with his name change helped keep him out of the majors the next two seasons, but he showed flashes of what he could do last year with Tampa Bay. He posted a 3.69 ERA in 32 games and had 26 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings of work. Nunez, 32, could be just what the Rangers need in a young bullpen that could use a veteran stabilizing force or two.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

      CHICAGO WHITE SOX: RHP Brad Penny is making yet another effort at a big-league comeback -- this time with the White Sox. Penny, 36, signed a minor league deal with Chicago after a disappointing 2014 season in which he went 2-1 with a 6.58 ERA in eight appearances (four starts) with the Marlins. That was his first major league action since an unsuccessful, 22-game stint as a reliever for the Giants in 2012. A strong spring could give Penny a chance at a job as a starter or long reliever.

      CLEVELAND INDIANS: RHP Anthony Swarzak could squeeze his way into the bullpen with a strong training camp. The 29-year-old veteran signed a minor league contract with the Indians after pitching in the big leagues with the Twins for the last five years. In 50 appearances for Minnesota last year, Swarzak went 3-2 with a 4.60 ERA. The Indians need bullpen depth in the majors and in Triple-A. Swarzak and LHP Scott Downs, 38, appear to be the two strongest such candidates to fill that void.

      DETROIT TIGERS: RHP Joel Hanrahan, 33, was paid $1 million by the Tigers last year while working his way back from Tommy John surgery, although he did not appear in a game at any level. He signed a minor league contract for similar money with various release clauses this year. Hanrahan saved 40 and 36 games for Pittsburgh in 2011 and 2012 but only pitched nine games for Boston in 2013 before needing the surgery. He was throwing in the low 90s when the Tigers signed him last year but couldn't get healthy enough to pitch in minor league games.

      KANSAS CITY ROYALS: While the rotation appears set, RHP Joe Blanton will get a chance to make a comeback, likely starting the season with Triple-A Omaha. Blanton, 34, retired last May after compiling a 5.06 ERA in two starts with the Athletics' Triple-A Sacramento club following a spring training release by the Angels. Blanton last pitched in the majors in 2013 with the Angels, and it was ugly, 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. Blanton, however, did have some productive seasons with the A's and Phillies before that, and he has a 4.51 ERA in 1,567 career innings. He provides insurance should a starter falter or if there is an injury.

      MINNESOTA TWINS: When the Twins moved Joe Mauer from catcher the first base, the hope was it would keep Mauer's prolific bat in the lineup more often. Mauer, who turns 32 a couple weeks into the season, had a nightmare of a first season at first base, hitting a career-low .277 with only four home runs -- the fewest he hit in a full season in his career. The Twins don't expect him to suddenly turn into a major power source, but a slash line around his career averages .319/.401/.459 would do a lot to bolster the middle of Minnesota's lineup.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

      BALTIMORE ORIOLES: C J.P. Arencibia gives the team some veteran depth behind the plate since there are still some questions about whether C Matt Wieters will be ready for Opening Day. C Caleb Joseph and C Nick Hundley shared the regular job for the final five months last year, and the team didn't get much offense there. Arencibia, 29, struggled with the Rangers in 2014, hitting .177 in 62 games and getting sent down to Triple-A, but he has worked with the Orioles' new hitting coach, Scott Coolbaugh, who also comes from the Rangers.

      BOSTON RED SOX: While the Red Sox have key players returning from surgeries, they also have a pitcher trying to regain his form to claim a spot in the rotation. RHP Justin Masterson, traded by Boston in the deal that brought DH Victor Martinez from Cleveland, endured an injury-plagued season with Cleveland and St. Louis last year, going 5-8 with a 5.88 ERA in 28 games (25 starts). He rejoined the Red Sox in December, signing a one-year, $9.5 million deal. Masterson, 30, was an All-Star for the Indians in 2013, going 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA.

      NEW YORK YANKEES: Before undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2012, RHP Scott Baker was a fairly effective pitcher for the Twins. From 2007-2011, he went 55-37 with a 3.98 ERA in 821 innings. After missing all of 2012, Baker made three starts for the Cubs in 2013, then went 3-4 with a 5.47 ERA in 25 appearances (eight starts) for the Rangers last year. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal in January, and he would earn $1.5 million if he makes the major league roster. If he can stay healthy, Baker, 33, may get a shot at cracking the rotation or serving as a long reliever.

      TAMPA BAY RAYS: RHP Ronald Belisario fits the profile of the kind of veteran reliever the Rays tend to remake. The 32-year-old is coming off a terrible season with the White Sox: 4-8 with a 5.56 ERA in 66 1/3 innings. However, he was 13-8 with a 3.24 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 139 innings for the Dodgers in 2012-13. That was enough for Tampa Bay to invite him to big league camp on a minor league contract. With rehabbing LHP Jake McGee unlikely to return before late April, there should be a spot or two open in the Rays' bullpen. Don't be surprised if Belisario grabs one of them and rebuilds his value this season.

      TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Back surgery limited OF Andy Dirks, 28, to 14 minor league games in 2014. The Blue Jays claimed him off waivers from the Tigers in the offseason, did not tender him a major league contract and signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring camp. He could be valuable as a left fielder. Michael Saunders (knee) could miss significant time after he was injured Wednesday. Already, Saunders was considered an option in center because rookie CF Dalton Pompey isn't guaranteed the job. Dirks batted .322/.370/.487 with eight homers and 35 RBIs in 88 games with the Tigers in 2012. He played 131 games with Detroit in 2013, batting .256/.323/.363 with nine homers and 37 RBIs.