- Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano is back to full strength after the team scratched him from his Wednesday start with a tight right hamstring, Adam Berry of MLB.com relays. Liriano, who threw a bullpen session Saturday, expects to start Tuesday in San Diego. “Everything feels normal,” Liriano said. “Ready to go on Tuesday. Everything went well today.” That’s welcome news for the Pirates, whose starting rotation isn’t particularly imposing on paper aside from Gerrit Cole and Liriano. In 11 innings this year, Liriano has posted a stellar 2.45 ERA, but his 7.36 BB/9 is unsightly and nearly twice his career number of 3.83.
The Pirates and right-hander Justin Masterson have agreed to a minor league contract, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (on Twitter). The Rowley Sports Management client underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder last September and didn’t sign in the offseason while rehabbing from the injury.
Masterson, who turned 31 last month, tallied just 59 1/3 innings in his return to the Red Sox last season after signing a one-year deal over the winter. That marked Masterson’s second consecutive injury-plagued season resulting in an ERA north of 5.50. Over the past two seasons, Masterson has logged a 5.79 ERA in 188 innings while dealing with knee problems and the aforementioned shoulder troubles.
Prior to those injuries, though, Masterson was an excellent and rather underrated contributor to the Indians’ rotation. From 2011-13, Masterson logged a 3.86 ERA with 7.5 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 and averaged 205 innings per season. Two of those years were particularly excellent, with Masterson turning in a sub-3.50 ERA each season. The hard-throwing side-armer is known for a power sinker which, when at its best, can both induce grounders and lead to quite a few missed bats. Masterson boasts a career ground-ball rate of 56.3 percent, and his ability to keep the ball on the ground undoubtedly held some appeal to the Bucs, who have had a good deal of success in recent years in revitalizing ground-ball pitchers whose stock is at a low point. It’s not clear at this time when Masterson will be ready to get into a big league game, but he’ll give the Buccos some insurance behind Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Jeff Locke and Juan Nicasio. Veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, currently in the bullpen, also represents a rotation option for manager Clint Hurdle.
The Pirates have shut down top catching prospect Elias Diaz due to concern over lingering soreness in his right elbow, tweets Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Diaz is seeking “multiple opinions” on the injury, but as Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets, there’s concern about structural damage. The 25-year-old Diaz spent last season at Triple-A Indianapolis, where he batted .271/.330/.382 in 363 plate appearances. Baseball America, MLB.com and Keith Law of ESPN rank Diaz as the Pirates’ No. 10, No. 8 and No. 14 prospect, respectively. Each of the scouting reports notes that his defensive prowess gives him a high floor, but his bat, too, has come around recently and given him a chance to be an everyday catcher at the Major League level.
More from the NL Central…
- There’s better news on injured Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang, as MLB.com’s Adam Berry tweets. Kang has been cleared to play extended Spring Training games without any restrictions or limitations. He’s played five innings on consecutive days to this point but can now take his progress another step further. Kang is recovering from torn ligaments in his knee suffered late in the 2015 campaign when he was injured on a takeout slide by then-Cubs utilityman Chris Coghlan.
- Turning to another Diaz within the NL Central, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes that the strong early play of Aledmys Diaz has probably taken away some playing time from Spring Training signee Ruben Tejada, who is nearing his regular season Cardinals debut after straining his left quadriceps in the team’s Grapefruit League finale. “We signed Ruben to give us depth,” GM John Mozeliak tells Langosch. “One of the things we wanted to do was allow Diaz to play. At the time, the thinking was to give him at-bats at Memphis and let him continue to grow. Well, guess what? That didn’t happen. He had to come here and now he’s getting a chance to play at the Major League level and he’s taking full advantage of that.”
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports spoke to Mozeliak, Cardinals outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker and agent Joe Bick (who represents Hazelbaker) about the 28-year-old’s improbable journey from being released by the Dodgers in May 2015 to being one of the biggest stories of the early 2016 season. While Hazelbaker, who entered play today 10-for-19 with two homers and two steals, is of course due to come back down to Earth, he did make some notable adjustments to his swing mechanics upon signing a minors deal with St. Louis last season, which may have contributed to the best minor league numbers of his career. Hazelbaker was a minor league free agent at season’s end and received quite a few offers, and Mozeliak admits that the club gambled somewhat by not promising him the 40-man roster spot Hazelbaker and Bick sought. The Cards did offer him a hefty minor league salary, and injuries to Tejada and Tommy Pham created an opportunity on the big league roster. After thinking his career could be over last May, Hazelbaker says he has a vastly different outlook on the game. “I treat every game like it’s my last,” says Hazelbaker. “The last diving catch I’m going to have, the last flyball, the last stolen base or at-bat … that’s kind of how I go about it now.”
- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and his staff could have assembled one of the most disciplined teams ever, writes Fangraphs’ August Fagerstrom. While these Cubs won’t walk as much as some clubs did during higher-offensive eras like the late 90s and early 2000s, walks in today’s game are exponentially harder to come by. Fagerstrom looks at the Cubs’ early walk rate and uses ZiPS and Steamer projections relative to those numbers for the rest of the league to note that the Cubs are three standard deviations above the mean and are as far from the second-place team (Oakland) as that team is from the 11th-place team. Wearing pitchers down with a disciplined approach has long been a trademark of Epstein clubs, Fagerstrom notes, and this year’s team is no exception.
Here are the day’s outright assignments and minor moves from around the league…
- The Pirates announced (on Twitter) that shortstop Pedro Florimon has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Indianapolis. However, because Florimon has been outrighted once before, he has the right to reject the assignment in favor of free agency. Florimon has 72 hours to decide whether he will accept and head to Triple-A or reject and seek another organization. The 29-year-old switch-hitter is an excellent defensive shortstop with a questionable bat, as evidenced by a career .199/.262/.295 batting line in 717 plate appearances. Florimon was the Twins’ everyday shortstop in 2013, based solely on his glovework, but he has just 111 MLB plate appearances since that time. He batted .245/.315/.367 for Indianapolis last season.
- In other Pirates news, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was among the reporters to tweet that right-hander John Holdzkom, who was placed on release waivers after being designated for assignment, has cleared those waivers and is now a free agent that is free to sign with any club.
Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano will miss his scheduled start tonight against the Tigers due to hamstring trouble, as Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes. The cause of Liriano’s hamstring issue isn’t yet known. Starting in his place will be Ryan Vogelsong, who lost in a three-way battle with Juan Nicasio and Jeff Locke for the Bucs’ last two rotation jobs coming out of camp. Here’s more from the NL Central.
- The Pirates have placed John Holdzkom on release waivers, a week after the righty was designated for assignment. Holdzkom went from independent baseball to a key role in the Bucs’ bullpen in 2014, recording a 2.00 ERA and 14 strikeouts in nine relief innings (his first and, to date, only taste of MLB action) to help Pittsburgh reach the postseason. Holdzkom battled injuries, a loss of velocity and control issues in 2015, however, and he pitched only 24 1/3 innings of minor league ball.
The Pirates surrendered the third-fewest runs in baseball last year, when center fielder Andrew McCutchen and left fielder Starling Marte lined up deeper than most at their respective positions, but the data-driven Bucs are experimenting with a shallower outfield alignment this season in hopes of allowing even less scoring. “Reviewing the numbers last year, there was so much collateral damage done in front of us last year — balls that fell in, extra bases that were taken by guys trying to get to balls,” manager Clint Hurdle said (via Adam Berry of MLB.com). “It was glaringly apparent that we could make an adjustment on our end, especially with the athleticism we have with our outfielders, and change the dynamic of what’s gone on as far as run prevention goes,” he continued. Both McCutchen and Marte have taken to the changes, according to Hurdle. “You give them the numbers, you show them the charts, you show them where damage is done or not done. They’re really good about understanding and trusting.”
- Fellow Pirates players say Gregory Polanco’s recent extension will help him perform better by protecting him from worry about his contract status, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. “I told [Polanco], just like when it happened to me, it’s good to get it out of the way,” says Andrew McCutchen, who received his own long-term deal in 2012. “I honestly think that’s kind of helped him. He’s going to be able to just go out and not worry. He’s financially set, and I’m looking forward to him being able to be the player that we know he can be.”
On this week’s podcast, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic joins host Jeff Todd to talk about A.J. Pollock’s injury, finding playing time for the D-backs’ glut of infielders, the possibility of adding to the payroll via the summer trade market, and the recent chatter about a new stadium. Following that, MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth hops on to discuss Gregory Polanco’s five-year, $35MM extension with the Pirates, his long-term upside, and Juan Nicasio’s 2016 outlook on the heels of a dominant spring and first start.
The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursday afternoons.
The Rays have claimed first baseman/outfielder Jake Goebbert off waivers from the Pirates, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Goebbert has been optioned to Triple-A Durham, according to Topkin.
Pittsburgh signed Goebbert, 28, to a Major League deal this offseason and carried him on the roster through Spring Training, but the club designated him for assignment late in camp in order to clear roster spot for the final wave of non-roster invitees that had made the club (Cole Figueroa, Matt Joyce and Cory Luebke).
Last season, the left-handed-hitting Goebbert spent the year with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, where he batted .294/.392/.452 with 10 home runs. While the Pacific Coast League is known as an exceptionally hitter-friendly environment, Goebbert has long shown a discerning eye at the plate, walking in 11.1 percent of his plate appearances since being selected by the Astros in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. Goebbert does have a bit of big league experience, having batted .218/.313/.317 in 115 PAs with San Diego in 2014. He’ll give the Rays some additional depth in the outfield corners and at first base, though neither of those is a particularly thin area for Tampa Bay’s big league club.