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The Nationals activated Denard Span from the disabled list and inserted him into the starting lineup for this afternoon’s game against the Phillies, reports MLB.com’s Bill Ladson. To make room for Span on the roster, Michael Taylor was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse despite slashing .271/.314/.500 in 51 plate appearances this season. “He is one of our future players and needs to play every day,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said in explaining the reasoning behind Taylor’s demotion. “We got to see Michael Taylor become a player for us right in front of our eyes. I thought he handled himself brilliantly with some youthful mistakes. The ability level is there. The usefulness of putting it to a Major League setting was there and he took to it very well.”
Elsewhere in the NL East:
- The Phillies have told teams over the past year Chase Utley will not waive his no-trade clause, but ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in an Insider piece (subscription required) the second baseman, facing a long rebuild in Philadelphia, may have a change of heart like former teammate Jimmy Rollins. Olney also notes rival evaluators believe Cole Hamels wants out of Philadelphia, as well.
- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez isn’t too concerned with Jim Johnson being roughed up in his last two appearances (four runs, six hits, and two home runs allowed) and will keep the right-hander in the role of the 8th inning setup reliever, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’ll see how it plays out,” said Gonzalez. “But from what I saw in Spring Training, and other than these two outings here, I think he’s been fine. We always have a tendency to say what’s the matter with a guy as soon as he gives up something.“
- Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters, including MLB.com’s Joe Trezza, closer Jeurys Familia will remain in that role when Bobby Parnell and Vic Black join the club after completing their rehab assignments. “Certainly, right now Jeurys Familia has pitched well enough,” Collins said. “He is that guy until those other guys show us they’re ready.” Collins adds, in a perfect world, Parnell would be the closer with Black and Familia slotted for the 8th and 7th innings, respectively. Black’s return may be delayed as Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com tweets the right-hander will undergo a MRI of his shoulder/neck area.
Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully is celebrating his 65th anniversary in the booth tonight. His first game was at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park featuring Robin Roberts against Don Newcombe. Incidentally, Roberts is also in the Hall of Fame while Newcombe is often discussed as a snub. Here’s more from around the league.
- The Blue Jays did little to address an obvious bullpen problem over the offseason, writes Mike Wilner of Sportsnet.ca. However, the club might have lucked into a valuable solution in the form of Liam Hendriks. The 26-year-old is averaging 93 mph with his fastball – up about two mph from his career norm. Through six innings, he’s allowed two hits and one walk while recording nine strikeouts. Before anybody anoints Hendriks the closer, it’s worth noting that he has a low 5.3% swinging strike rate. At some point, that rate will either increase, or his strikeout rate will decrease.
- The Nationals must learn to thrive under walk year pressure, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. When Jayson Werth entered his walk year with the Phillies, then-manager Charlie Manuel advised him to test free agency (in more colorful language). Now the Nationals have four key players on the road to free agency. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span could all leave after the season, which gives 2015 a make-or-break feel for Washington. Werth and Max Scherzer have advice for their new teammates – acknowledge all the sources of pressure.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the game.
- The Dodgers have announced that they’ve outrighted lefty David Huff, who has accepted an assignment to Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers designated Huff for assignment on Wednesday after he made one four-inning start for them. The 30-year-old has a 5.06 ERA, 5.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in parts of seven seasons with the Indians, Yankees and Giants in addition to the Dodgers.
- The Yankees have outrighted righty Joel De La Cruz, then sent him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 25-year-old posted a 4.44 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 121 2/3 innings in the high minors last season. The Yankees selected his contract last week, but he did not appear in a game before they optioned him back to the minors.
- The Red Sox have signed righty Denny Bautista to a minor-league deal, Matt Eddy of Baseball America tweets. The 32-year-old Bautista last appeared in the big leagues with the Giants in 2010 and previously pitched for the Orioles, Royals, Rockies, Tigers and Pirates. He pitched in Mexico in 2014 (struggling with his control, also a problem in his big-league days) and in Korea from 2011-2013.
- The Padres have signed former Astros third-round pick Jonathan Meyer, Eddy tweets. Meyer had been an infielder in the Astros’ system, but the Padres will use him as a catcher. The 24-year-old hit .215/.274/.280 at Double-A and Triple-A last year before Houston released him.
- The Nationals are having infielder Emmanuel Burriss join the team, James Wagner of the Washington Post tweets. It’s not clear how the Nats will make room for Burriss on their 25-man roster, although Yunel Escobar suffered a groin strain against the Phillies on Friday. (MLB.com’s Bill Ladson tweets that Burriss is not listed on the Nats’ lineup card today, and Wagner notes that Burriss could simply be with the team as insurance in case the Nats need to make a move.) Burriss, a D.C. native, was hitting .286/.359/.486 in 39 plate appearances with Triple-A Syracuse. The Nats re-signed him to a minor-league deal last November. The 30-year-old appeared in parts of five seasons with the Giants from 2008-2012, hitting .243/.304/.269 in 801 plate appearances.
APRIL 17: Stammen’s surgery will be Sunday, tweets Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com. Stammen has been told that his ligaments look good, but the timetable for his return is still uncertain, per Kolko. James Wagner of the Washington Post tweets that Stammen believes he will miss the remainder of the season.
APRIL 16: An MRI performed on the right elbow of right-hander Craig Stammen has revealed a torn flexor tendon that will require surgery to repair, the Nationals announced on Thursday. The unfortunate news could very well sideline Stammen for the remainder of the 2015 season, although manager Matt Williams has said the timeline will depend on the extent of the damage in the elbow (via CSN Washington’s Chase Hughes).
The 31-year-old Stammen has spent parts of the past seven seasons with the Nationals, and after struggling as a starter for the team in 2009-10 has emerged as a durable, reliable bullpen cog. From 2012-14, Stammen averaged 81 innings per season, tallying a 2.93 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 as an important member of the Nationals’ relief corps. He joins a long list of injured Nationals that currently includes bullpen-mate Casey Janssen as well as Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Nate McLouth. Rendon and Span, at least, are projected to return to the club later this month.
The Nationals have seen their bullpen depth take a hit since the end of last season. Tyler Clippard was traded to the A’s in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Rafael Soriano (who struggled late in the year but was a generally reliable closer for much of the year prior) was not re-signed, and Janssen has yet to debut due to shoulder troubles. Blake Treinen has been moved into a prominent bullpen role in the earlygoing, and the team has also received contributions from Aaron Barrett, Tanner Roark and rookie Rafael Martin (who whiffed five hitters in an impressive two-inning debut).
Giancarlo Stanton connected on his first homer of the season tonight — a two-run blast off Mets righty Dillon Gee that marked the 155th round-tripper of his career. The home run had particular significance for Stanton, who now moves past Dan Uggla into sole possession of the Marlins‘ all-time franchise home run record. Given his 13-year contract, one can expect that Stanton will occupy the top spot on that list for quite some time.
Another Marlins item and some news from around the division…
- Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto had two hits in the team’s win yesterday and started again on Thursday, and the top prospect could be ticketed for a more significant role on the team moving forward, writes MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Manager Mike Redmond said he spoke with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is earning $7MM in 2015, about the division of playing time already. “I think it’s always a touchy situation anytime you have conversations with guys, and you have to give them a break,” Redmond explained. “…[W]e’re trying to win ballgames. If giving Salty a few extra days here or there helps him and helps us, then it will be worth it.”
- The Nationals have had quite a bit of bad luck in terms of injuries early in the season, but Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post tweets that GM Mike Rizzo is focusing on internal options to patch up the bullpen. Of course, Janes’ tweet did come prior to the announcement that Craig Stammen may be lost for the season, but the Nats likely were prepared for bad news on Stammen at the time of her tweet.
- Without a left-handed reliever in the bullpen beyond Jake Diekman, the Phillies could use an upgrade in that area but are short on internal options, writes MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. seemingly expressed a bit of frustration that lefty relief option Andy Oliver elected free agency rather than remaining with the club when he didn’t make the Opening Day roster. Zolecki writes that Oliver would’ve been on a short list of potential call-ups, and Amaro spoke candidly about the 27-year-old Oliver’s decision to leave: “We offered him a pretty good deal to come back. He just decided to go somewhere else. I think it was a very foolish move on his part, but that’s OK. He had a choice. He had that right.”
- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez spoke with Steve Phillips and Todd Hollandsworth of MLB Network Radio about the conversations he had with president of baseball operations John Hart prior to the finalization of the Craig Kimbrel trade (audio link). Gonzalez learned of the strong possibility of a trade 48 hours prior to its completion, and he called that time “maybe the toughest two days.” Gonzalez said it was difficult to see Kimbrel leave because of his talent and what he meant to the organization, and he also discussed the conflict he felt as a manager. “I’m going to have to put on two different hats here,” said Gonzalez. “You’re asking me to trade the best closer in the game, and you’re asking me to win ball games and I’m in the last year of my contract. But then you’re telling me the reasons of why we’re doing it and why it’s going to help the organization. … I took a step back and digested for a day and a half — I think it was going to happen whether I said yes or no — but I said, ‘You know what John, this is what’s best for the organization. This is what we have to do.'”
The Nationals relief corps took another blow yesterday when righty Craig Stammen was placed on the 15-day DL with stiffness in his right forearm. Stammen will undergo an MRI soon and he told reporters (including CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman) that he is at least somewhat worried that it could be a more serious elbow injury. Nats GM Mike Rizzo also told the media, including Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, that the club is going with internal bullpen options for the time being. Rafael Martin and Taylor Jordan were called up to replace Stammen and the recently-designated Xavier Cedeno, and Martin made an impressive MLB debut Wednesday, recording five strikeouts over two innings of work against the Red Sox.
Here are some more bullpen items from around baseball…
- Cubs righty Neil Ramirez could also be facing some bad injury news, as he left Wednesday’s outing after just three pitches with a shoulder problem. Ramirez will undergo an MRI today, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reports. The reliever’s status has a bigger-picture impact on the rumored promotion of top prospect Kris Bryant on Friday. If Ramirez needs some DL time, the Cubs could promote a reliever and continue with a 13-man pitching staff rather than call up Bryant and thin out an already heavily-worked bullpen.
- Right-hander Cody Martin is off to a strong start, and the Braves rookie reliever tells MLB.com’s Mark Bowman that he is partially motivated by the fact that Atlanta didn’t protect him in the Rule 5 Draft last winter. “That was tough, but I knew I belonged [on the roster] and belonged in the big leagues….I took it as a challenge to prove them all wrong, especially all the teams that didn’t pick me in the Rule 5 Draft,” Martin said. “It all worked out pretty good. I’m where I need to be right now.”
- Arquimedes Caminero enjoyed a strong Spring Training and earned a spot in the Pirates bullpen. As Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan writes, the hard-throwing Caminero might be another reclamation success story for Bucs pitching coach Ray Searage, who encouraged the righty to simplify his delivery. The result has been the fastest average fastball in the game this season, as Caminero is averaging 98.9 mph according to Fangraphs’ measurements.
Mets third baseman David Wright injured his hamstring on a stolen base attempt in the ninth inning of tonight’s contest against the Phillies and appears DL-bound. The team has announced that Eric Campbell is on his way to New York in case a roster move needs to be made, and both ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin (link) and Newsday’s Marc Carig (link) have indicated that a trip to the DL seems inevitable. Wright will have an MRI tomorrow morning before a decision is made, but he sounds likely to join a growing list of injured Mets. Michael Cuddyer, who left tonight’s game after being hit on the hand by a pitch, sounds like he may return to the lineup as soon as tomorrow, via Rubin (on Twitter).
More NL East news as today’s games come to a close…
- Denard Span is on the comeback trail to the Nationals, as the team announced today that he began a rehab assignment at Double-A Harrisburg tonight. Span was expected to be sidelined until mid-May following core muscle surgery, but he’s ahead of schedule in his rehab. Teammate Nate McLouth also received some positive news, as an MRI showed no structural damage in his surgically repaired shoulder, tweets CSN’s Mark Zuckerman. McLouth has been cleared to resume a throwing program.
- The reworked delivery of Marlins right-hander Carter Capps has caused some controversy, as the home plate umpire in his first appearance at Triple-A this year deemed it illegal and negated his first two pitches, stating that Carter broke contact with the pitching rubber too soon. As the Miami Sun Sentinel’s Juan C. Rodriguez writes, the issue has been resolved, as the Marlins have contacted Major League Baseball to receive clarification, and Capps will be allowed to continue on with his delivery. The 24-year-old was recalled by the Marlins yesterday and made his 2015 debut with the team last night. (Those interested in seeing Capps’ delivery can check out this video from last night’s game coverage, in which the Braves commentators liken the delivery to that of former Atlanta righty Jordan Walden.)
- Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron also examined Capps’ delivery and likened it to that of Walden, though he rightly notes that Capps’ hop-step brings him even closer to the mound than Walden does. Cameron points out that it doesn’t seem that there’s anything in the rulebook’s definition of “legal pitches” that would prevent Capps from doing this. Capps has long struggled against lefties, Cameron notes, and he wonders if the change in delivery will help with that problem, as his 97 mph average velocity, released closer to the plate, will certainly make it more difficult to pick up. Cameron speculates that if Capps can have success against lefties with this type of delivery, it may not be long before some fringy relief prospects begin emulating Capps and Walden, making the delivery more common.
Cedeno earned a spot on the team out of camp when fellow southpaw Jerry Blevins was surprisingly dealt away late this spring. The 28-year-old has made five appearances already in 2015, allowing two earned runs over three innings while striking out four and walking two batters. He has filled some temporary pen shortages over the last two years in D.C., but was out of options this season and so had to be added to the active roster heading out of camp. That seemed unlikely until the team traded Blevins.
Righty Rafael Martin will take his place on the active roster for the time being. Martin, 30, is a veteran minor leaguer who has yet to see any MLB action. The Nationals signed Martin out of the Mexican League in 2010, before his age-26 season, and he has bounced up and down the system since. He turned a corner in the upper minors last year, when he worked to a 1.39 ERA over 58 1/3 innings with 10.2 K/9 against 1.9 BB/9. He was particularly nasty in 33 2/3 Triple-A frames, allowing just three earned runs and striking out more batters (42) than he allowed on base (27) by hit or walk.
Of course, the move will leave the Nats’ pen with just one lefty, Matt Thornton. The team does have veteran Rich Hill and well-regarded youngster Matt Grace available at Triple-A, however, and apparently feels comfortable with those options.
Yoan Moncada made his debut in a Red Sox uniform yesterday, though it was not as publicized as the one he’ll eventually make in the big leagues. As David Dorsey of News-Press.com reports from extended Spring Training, Moncada’s coaches and teammates have been impressed with his work ethic early on. While literally only one fan was on hand to see it — Mr. Tony Medina of Fort Myers will have a unique story if Moncada lives up to his contract — the young Cuban banged a stand-up triple in his first plate appearance (video available at the above link).
Here’s the latest from the eastern divisions, featuring some other offseason storylines:
- Nationals GM Mike Rizzo confirmed that he held offseason talks with the Red Sox about starter Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reports. Nothing ever materialized despite what “looks like a reasonable matchup on paper,” said Rizzo, who explained that the teams had serious discussions over realistic scenarios. “I don’t think we laughed away any of [the offers],” Rizzo said. “We took them all serious. We were fortunate to be in a position where we didn’t have to move the player and if we would’ve got the right deal we would’ve. The right deal is in the eye of the beholder and we felt like we needed to get legitimate value for who Zimmermann was, and not the fact that he has one year left of control.”
- The Orioles never pursued lefty Andrew Miller this offseason beyond a single “touch-base” conversation, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports. That was, of course, not due to any dissatisfaction with Miller’s services down the stretch, but merely reflected the reality that he was going to (and did) command a significant commitment in free agency. Miller — who discussed his free agent experience on a recent episode of the MLBTR Podcast — has continued to dominate since joining the division-rival Yankees, including a lock-down 1 2/3 inning appearance last night at Baltimore.
The 30-year-old Jimenez pitched just two-third of an inning in the early stages of the 2015 season but has been up and down with the Phillies in each of the past two seasons. Jimenez has worked to a very strong 2.67 ERA in 33 2/3 innings dating back to 2013, though his ratios of 5.3 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 and 4.27 FIP tell a less favorable story than his bottom-line results. Jimenez has been more effective against lefties than righties, but he hasn’t exactly dominated same-handed hitters; lefties have batted .238/.310/.357 against him in 143 big league plate appearances.
Jimenez was the only lefty in the bullpen behind setup man Jake Diekman, and the loss of Mario Hollands to Tommy John surgery removed another option for Philadelphia. They’ll likely hope that Jimenez can clear waivers and remain in the organization — an outcome that has already happened twice in the past calendar year.