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The Yankees announced today that injured ace Masahiro Tanaka threw a 29-pitch bullpen session at Nationals Park. The bullpen session was the third for Tanaka, who has been on the disabled list for about three weeks with a forearm strain. The Yankees continue to be hopeful that Tanaka, who suffered a small tear in his right elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament last year, will be able to avoid Tommy John surgery (or any other serious operation). Tanaka made two starts at the end of the 2014 season after coming back from the injury and pitched well in four starts prior to his injury in 2015.
Elsewhere in the AL East…
- Rays manager Kevin Cash won’t name a closer now that Jake McGee is back from the disabled list, writes Troy Provost-Heron of MLB.com. Cash maintains that he’ll use Brad Boxberger (who has closed in McGee’s absence) and McGee in save situations, depending on matchups. Boxberger tells Provost-Heron that he’s ok with not being the team’s sole closer, as McGee helps deepen the bullpen and take pressure of the rotation. However, I’ll note that given Boxberger’s early dominance in the ninth inning, being downgraded to a timeshare or even back to a setup role could have significant impact on his arbitration earnings following the 2016 season. Were Boxberger to have amassed a pair of dominant seasons at the back end of the game, he’d have been in line for a hefty payday. Greg Holland, for instance, landed a $4.65MM payday in his first trip through the arb process. The usage of both McGee and Boxberger will have a strong bearing on how affordable they are for the cost-conscious Rays in the years to come, making their closer situation of particular interest. (As a side note to fantasy players, remember that you can follow MLBTR’s @closernews account on Twitter for consistent updates on closer/setup situations throughout the season.)
- Just as the Red Sox‘ rotation has begun to show signs of improvement, the team’s offense has gone into the tank, observes Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. Lauber feels that the team needs to drop Mookie Betts from the leadoff spot as the 22-year-old sorts out his struggles and, perhaps more importantly, call up the hot-hitting Rusney Castillo from Triple-A. Lauber opines that Castillo could deliver more consistently competitive at-bats against right-handed pitching than Shane Victorino, adding that additional rest for Victorino is the best way to keep him healthy at this point. The Red Sox, who lost 5-0 to James Paxton and the Mariners yesterday, have been particularly feeble against left-handed pitching.
- Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com looks at a number of Orioles-related topics in his latest notebook. Kubatko notes that GM Dan Duquette told his colleague, MASN’s Steve Melewski, that there’s a “distinct possibility” that the team will select Chris Parmelee‘s contract from Triple-A, though as Kubatko notes, there’s no clear spot for the corner outfielder/first baseman on the roster. He also notes that catcher Steve Clevenger‘s defense has drawn rave reviews from Triple-A manager Ron Johnson. Baltimore optioned Clevenger to Triple-A, citing a need to improve his defense, and Clevenger has caught 12 of 34 base stealers (35%) this season.
- Lastly, Kubatko wonders what will come of Everth Cabrera when he’s eligible to be activated from the disabled list. The team can clear a roster spot by optioning Rey Navarro, but they’ll also need a spot in the infield for Ryan Flaherty. Cabrera is out of options and can refuse his outright assignment but still collect his $2.4MM salary if the Orioles pass him through waivers, lending the possibility that a situation similar to that of Ryan Webb could come up in the near future.
After a slow start to the season, many have wondered if it’s about time for Red Sox slugger David Ortiz to retire. Boston hitting coach Chili Davis doesn’t think that’s necessarily the case, however, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald writes. “Throughout my career, there were too many people that were ready to write me off way before I got to 39. And every time they did, I came back with a strong year, and they were like, ‘Well, this may be his last year.’ Nobody tells you when you’re done. You know when you’re done,” Davis said. “If you’re that kind of player — and David is that kind of player — he’ll know when he’s done.” Here’s more from the AL East..
- Red Sox offseason acquisition Rick Porcello is looking more like a complete pitcher and an ace with every start, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald writes. So far, Porcello is looking like the kind of pitcher Boston was hoping for when they inked him to a four-year, $82.5MM extension in April. Through eight starts this season, the 26-year-old has pitched to a 4.26 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9.
- The Orioles‘ farm system used to be pretty barren when it came to quality pitching choices. Now, there are multiple quality starting pitchers waiting in the wings for 2016, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes. Kubatko identifies Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Zach Davies as rotation possibilities and adds that Steve Johnson could be a bullpen option down the road, provided that the O’s are alright with him being out of options.
- Catcher Stephen Vogt never got the chance to break out with the Rays but he’s doing it now as he’s behind the plate for the A’s, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes. Vogt was designated for assignment by Tampa Bay two years ago and traded to Oakland for cash considerations.
Despite shaky defense, Wilmer Flores will remain the Mets starting shortstop, reports Ken Rosenthal in his latest video for FOX Sports. However, one alternative is to trade Daniel Murphy, shift Flores to second base, and promote shortstop prospect Matt Reynolds. The move would instantly upgrade the Mets’ infield defense. Per Rosenthal, the club may prefer to promote Reynolds once David Wright returns to action.
As for trading Murphy, the club may look to acquire a prospect or reliever. Aside from Jeurys Familia and a couple role players, the Mets bullpen has been a little shaky. However, strong starting pitching has allowed the club to hide that shortcoming. New York relievers have thrown the fewest innings of any team. Conversely, their starters lead the league in innings pitched. Here’s more from Rosenthal:
- Cubs second base prospect Javier Baez is on an 11-for-22 streak, leading to speculation that he could be promoted. The easiest way to insert him into the lineup would be to move Kris Bryant to the outfield and Baez to third. Since the club is juggling several important future pieces, they’ll want to be careful about how they handle the logjam.
- The Orioles are built to sell with eight players on the 25 man roster set to reach free agency after the season. Don’t expect a fire sale anytime soon. Baltimore is just four games back in a shaky AL East. Owner Peter Angelos is loathe to throw in the towel. He famously nixed a couple trades involving Bobby Bonilla and David Wells during the 1996 season. The club later clawed its way into the postseason. It would seem the Orioles’ woes would have to get a lot worse before Chris Davis and others were shopped.
- Many speculate that Mark Trumbo will be available this summer, however the Diamondbacks have publicly resisted the idea. Per Rosenthal, the club believes they will contend next season once Patrick Corbin and other youngsters solidify the rotation. Trumbo is signed to a $6.9MM contract and has one year of arbitration remaining. Arizona could replace Trumbo with a platoon of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league, with the most recent at the top.
- the Yankees have released righty Jared Burton, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets. Burton, formerly a regular in the Reds and Twins bullpens, has made a handful of appearances for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season. The Yankees originally signed Burton to a minor-league deal with a series of opt-out dates, and they already released and re-signed him in March, so perhaps it’s not out of the question that they could re-sign him yet again.
- The Royals have announced that they’ve selected the contract of veteran righty Joe Blanton. Blanton had an opt-out opportunity yesterday on his minor-league deal. He had been pitching for Triple-A Omaha, where he posted a 3.89 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 39 1/3 innings. The longtime Athletics and Phillies starter last appeared in the big leagues in 2013, when he posted a 6.04 ERA in 132 2/3 innings with the Angels. Blanton will work in long relief, as MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan tweets. The Royals also announced that they optioned righty Aaron Brooks to Omaha and placed lefty Brian Flynn on the 60-day disabled list.
- The Pirates have selected the contract of righty Wilfredo Boscan, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. They also optioned utilityman Steve Lombardozzi to Triple-A Indianapolis and moved righty Brandon Cumpton to the 60-day disabled list. Boscan will, presumably, help the Pirates’ bullpen after yesterday’s 11-10 extra-inning loss, which required the Bucs to throw 261 pitches. The 25-year-old Boscan has a 2.87 ERA, 5.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 31 1/3 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis this season. He has never pitched in the Majors.
- The Angels have signed outfield Jared Mitchell and assigned him to the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, the Travelers have announced. The White Sox released Mitchell, a 2009 first-round pick, earlier this month. The 26-year-old has hit .226/.334/.381 in parts of six seasons in the minor leagues.
- The Phillies have acquired infielder Jayson Nix from the Orioles for cash considerations, the teams have announced. Nix will head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. The 32-year-old was hitting .167/.190/.198 in 100 plate appearances for Triple-A Norfolk, and he struggled in brief stints in the big leagues last year with the Phillies, Pirates and Royals. In parts of seven seasons in the Majors, he’s hit .212/.282/.345. The move gives the Phillies infield depth after the recent promotion of Maikel Franco and their decision to have Cody Asche transition to playing outfield.
- The Rays have signed former Pirates pitching prospect Kyle McPherson, Steve Kinsella of DRaysBay tweets. McPherson pitched 26 1/3 strong innings with the Bucs in 2012 after posting a 3.22 ERA, 8.5 K/9 and an extremely stingy 1.2 BB/9 in 67 innings in the high minors that year, but he had Tommy John surgery in 2013 and another elbow injury last season. He became a minor-league free agent last fall.
MLB’s players have become less and less durable over time, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince writes. Castrovince notes that last year, only 56 players appeared in at least 150 games, and only 37 got 650 or more plate appearances, the lowest numbers in each category since MLB expanded from 26 teams to 28 in the early 1990s. The reason seems to be that teams (including minor-league teams) are reluctant to have players play through injury. “If you have a superstar player and you’re a young coach or manager in the minor leagues and you ask him to push through and he gets hurt, guess what? That’s not going to be very good for you,” says Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Castrovince points out that the number of days players spend on the disabled list has increased over the past five years (although players stayed somewhat healthier in 2014 than they did in 2013). More aggressive policing of steroids and amphetamine use is likely a significant factor in increased DL time throughout the big leagues. Here are more quick notes on injuries.
- The Marlins have announced that Henderson Alvarez will start tomorrow against the Braves. It will be Alvarez’s first start since April 12, having since missed a month with shoulder trouble. Alvarez’s return will be a big boost to the 16-20 Marlins, who will get a pitcher who finished 12th in Cy Young balloting last year after posting a 2.65 ERA, 5.3 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 over 187 innings.
- Orioles prospect Bobby Bundy (not to be confused with former top draft pick and fellow Orioles minor-leaguer Dylan Bundy) will have surgery for a knee injury Monday, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com tweets. It’s a tough break for Bundy, who emerged as a good starting pitching prospect in 2010 and 2011 but missed the entire 2013 season and chunks of 2012 and 2014 as well with a series of injuries. Bundy had pitched 15 innings of relief for Double-A Bowie this season.
Mariners righty Hisashi Iwakuma has been shut down for ten days to two weeks after experiencing continued upper back tightness, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. “He’s going to be pushed back, so to speak,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “His rehab has not gone as well as we thought it would have gone. He’s still experiencing some stiffness.” The longer Iwakuma is delayed, the more it begins to look like another arm might be a trade deadline consideration for Seattle.
- Meanwhile, the Red Sox rotation woes worsened last night with a rough outing for Justin Masterson. As Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com reports, manager John Farrell indicated that there is cause to believe there is more to be concerned with than the poor results. “The last two times out for Justin have not been anywhere close to what he’s shown this year — set aside prior to the start of 2015,” said Farrell. “Clearly, he’s not right. Whether that’s physical, whether that’s delivery-wise, the ball is not coming out of his hand as he’s shown the better part of the year. We’ve got to gather information, we’ve got to check on him in the morning, get a full workup, get a better assessment of where things are.”
- Of course, it’s far from clear that there is any realistic possibility of an outside addition to the Red Sox staff in the immediate future. As Alex Speier of the Boston Globe explains, utilizing the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, history teaches that starters (at least, impactful ones) are rarely dealt in the season’s first two months. Regardless, the club figures to be at or near a breaking point with its current starting five, and it would be surprising if internal replacements — Eduardo Rodriguez, most interesting among them — are not at least given a chance as the summer draws near.
- The Orioles are holding their breath after 20-year-old prospect Hunter Harvey left an outing with elbow tightness, as Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports. The rising Harvey, who is coming back from a shin fracture suffered this spring, already was shut down late last year with some elbow concerns and now is set for an MRI. His health and progress is critical to the organization, particularly with Dylan Bundy dealing with his own elbow problems and with the aforementioned Rodriguez shipped out at last year’s trade deadline.
While Yankees GM Brian Cashman has had his fair share of misses in terms of acquiring impact starting pitching both via trades and free agency, last night’s 16-strikeout performance by Michael Pineda and the 26-year-old’s brilliant start to the season serve help to erase some of those previous whiffs from his record, writes Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. Pineda has been every bit as good as Matt Harvey this season, Madden notes — the two have identical 2.72 ERAs — but with a fraction of the hype (though the 16 punchouts will likely balance some of that out). Manager Joe Girardi cited improvement in Pineda’s changeup, consistency in throwing strikes and improved maturity as reasons for Pineda’s breakout this season. Madden recalls both Cashman and his Seattle counterpart, Jack Zduriencik, calling the Pineda-for-Jesus Montero trade one of the toughest trades they’ve ever had to make, as each was parting with a potential future star. However, Montero’s future is questionable at best, as he’s moved off catcher and has yet to establish himself in the Major Leagues.
A few more notes from the AL East…
- Chad Jennings of the Journal News also discusses the Pineda trade, recalling that at the time the deal was made, one talent evaluator told him that the safest bet in the trade was Montero’s bat. Every Yankees person to whom Jennings spoke back in 2012 said that it’d be several years before it was clear whether or not the Yankees had “won” the trade, and Jennings notes that that does seem to be the case now. Jennings spoke with Pineda who admitted that he’s done quite a bit of growing up in the past three years.
- Orioles righty Kevin Gausman is currently on the disabled list and could be activated as soon as May 22, but when he does come off the DL, he’ll likely head to Triple-A and work as a starter, writes Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun. Orioles manager Buck Showalter worries that Gausman has been underutilized coming out of the bullpen this season. Gausman himself told Encina that the team has said they don’t want him to finish the season with 40-50 innings and then have to jump into the rotation in 2016. As Encina notes, both Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris are free agents at season’s end, which could pave the way for a rotation spot with Gausman’s name on it.
- Though Red Sox manager John Farrell is still maintaining that there will not be changes made to the rotation, his stance appears to have softened a bit, notes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. “Not at the present moment,” Farrell said when asked if changes were planned. “Now, that’s always up for review. We’ll see how we continue to progress through the rotation for another turn.” Farrell was specifically asked about the possibility of moving Joe Kelly, who has yielded 21 runs over his past 21 2/3 innings, to the bullpen, but Farrell said such a change hadn’t been “closely discussed.” The Sox may want to get new pitching coach Carl Willis’ take on the rotation before making any decisions, Abraham notes.
3:55 pm: The Orioles have confirmed the claim and announced they cleared a 40-man roster for Rondon by placing Matt Wieters on the 60-day disabled list.
2:37 pm: The Orioles have claimed right-hander Jorge Rondon off waivers from the Rockies, tweets CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. The Orioles will option Rondon, who was designated by the Rockies last Sunday, to Triple-A.
Rondon has had an up-and-down 2015. He was sparkling in five relief outings (6 2/3 innings) for Triple-A Albuquerque pitching to a 1.35 ERA, 5.4 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9. However, the 27-year-old’s two-game stint with the parent Rockies was nothing short of horrific including an appearance against the Padres where he failed to record an out while allowing seven earned runs on five hits and a pair of walks. Rondon’s skewed 2015 ERA reads 90.00 after being charged with a total of ten earned runs in just one official inning pitched for Colorado.
The Orioles may be tempted by Rondon’s velocity (an average of 95 mph touching 100 mph) and his career Triple-A line of 3.03, 6.9 K/9, and 4.0 BB/9 over four seasons in the Colorado and St. Louis organizations.
We touched on injuries earlier this evening, but two significant situations have popped up since — both regarding rehabbing Athletics pitchers. First, righty A.J. Griffin was forced out early from his simulated game with shoulder soreness, as John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group reports. Griffin’s injury was to his elbow, of course, and the club is hopeful that the shoulder pain only constitutes a minor setback. More troublingly, fellow Tommy John patient Jarrod Parker left his Triple-A rehab start in a scene that left observers seriously concerned about his arm, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Parker, who is said to have been overcome by pain after throwing a very wild pitch, walked off with assistance while clutching his surgically repaired right elbow — which is now on its third UCL. The Athletics‘ summer trade plans are virtually impossible to gauge anyway, but the inability of either of those pitchers to return to the rotation would certainly have an impact. Lefty Scott Kazmir has been talked about quite a bit as a possible trade candidate, though moving him could prove tough if the team is in contention and does not have replacements lined up.
- Another new arm issue cropped up for the Rays, too, who have placed lefty Drew Smyly on the 15-day DL with shoulder soreness, per Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune (Twitter link). Smyly, the key piece in last summer’s David Price trade, had already missed time early this year with a shoulder issue, which enhances the level of concern.
- Injured Orioles shortstop Everth Cabrera, who has struggled for Baltimore, is no longer capable of being optioned without consent as he has reached five years of service, Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun notes (Twitter link). With J.J. Hardy returning to action, Cabrera may not have an active roster spot when he returns, and his new service time status could well complicate the club’s decisionmaking.
- The Red Sox have hired away Carl Willis from the Indians to become their new pitching coach, Jim Massie of the Columbus Dispatch reports (h/t to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe). Willis had been the Triple-A pitching coach for Cleveland. He’ll be tasked with getting better production out of a starting staff that has struggled in the first five weeks of the season.
- Prized White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon is expected to receive only a spot start tomorrow, Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com reports. Manager Robin Ventura did leave some room open for Rodon to earn another start, however, saying: “the way it sits right now, he would still be back in the bullpen and getting us some innings there.” Regardless of how things progress in the near term, it seems that Chicago’s plan is to use Rodon in the pen to manage his innings, perhaps with the hope of having him as a starter down the stretch — assuming, at least, that the club can stay in the postseason picture.