- The Dodgers got some good news today as X-Rays on Max Muncy’s ankle came back negative, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register (via Twitter). Muncy is suffering from a mild ankle sprain, but he should be available to pinch-hit. Muncy has perhaps been even better than usual this season with a 165 wRC+ while handling 72 percent of the workload at first base and 12 percent of the playing time at second.
The Dodgers got some good news today as Cody Bellinger and Zach McKinstry have both re-joined the team from the injured list, per MLB.com’s Juan Toribio (via Twitter). DJ Peters and Sheldon Neuse have been optioned to Triple-A to create the necessary roster space.
Bellinger has been out for all but four games of the 2021 season. He suffered a stress fracture of his fibula in the first week of the season. The former MVP had just 21 plate appearances before hitting the injured list. With his return, Chris Taylor can return to a super-utility role.
While the Dodgers are no doubt thrilled to get Bellinger back in the lineup, they haven’t missed a step with Taylor in Bellinger’s place: Taylor has posted a 146 wRC+ this season. The reverberant effects, however, have left the Dodgers a little short-handed at times, leading to the signing of Albert Pujols and continued use of Max Muncy at second base. Muncy has continued to prove himself capable at the keystone. Regardless, the Dodgers will enjoy the options available to them now that Taylor is once again freed up to move around the diamond.
McKinstry, 26, had been perhaps the story of the season for the Dodgers before he, too, went down with an injury. The infielder/outfielder was slashing .296/.328/.556 before landing on the injured list with an oblique strain.
On the whole, the Dodgers have had to flex their tremendous depth early on this season. They’ve done so successfully. With McKinstry and Bellinger back in the fold, they again appear to have perhaps the deepest and most versatile collection of position players in the game.
Peters, 25, will benefit from more regular playing time as he returns to Triple-A. In 34 plate appearances with the parent club, Peters hit .192/.382/.385, good for a 96 wRC+. Neuse, 26, has yet to figure it out at the dish this season, posting a 47 wRC+. Both players figure to find their way back to the bigs at some point this season.
- The Dodgers are hopeful that slugger Cody Bellinger will return from the injured list on Saturday, manager Dave Roberts told Juan Toribio of MLB.com and other reporters. Los Angeles has gone nearly the entire season without Bellinger, who suffered a hairline fracture in his left leg and hasn’t played since April 5. Nevertheless, the reigning World Series champions have more than held their own in Bellinger’s absence, having won eight straight to improve to 30-18.
We took a look last week at some of the minor league pacts that have paid the most dividends, focusing in on position players in both leagues. Unsurprisingly, given the lack of offense throughout baseball as a whole at the moment, there are even more success stories on the pitching side of the coin. Some of these are products of small sample size, particularly for the many relievers on the list, but at least for our initial check-in on this subject, the early returns have been strong.
- Ian Kennedy, RHP, Rangers: We’re nearing Memorial Day weekend, and Kennedy is tied for the American League lead in saves — just as everyone expected! The 36-year-old righty isn’t just scraping by and narrowly escaping in a bunch of three-run leads, though. He’s tallied 19 1/3 innings and allowed just four runs, all while recording a terrific 31.1 percent strikeout rate and a tiny 5.4 percent walk rate. If Texas remains near the bottom of the AL West standings, he’ll be an appealing trade target for bullpen-needy clubs.
- Drew Steckenrider, RHP, Mariners: A quality setup man with the 2017-18 Marlins, Steckenrider’s time in Miami was derailed by injuries — most notably a 2019 flexor strain. He looks to be back on track in his new surroundings, however, having tossed 18 1/3 innings of 2.45 ERA ball with a 29.2 percent strikeout rate and an 11.1 percent walk rate. The walks are a bit elevated, but he’s helped to combat that with a career-best 54 percent ground-ball mark. The Mariners (or another club) could control Steckenrider through 2023 via arbitration as well, which only adds to the value.
- Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Dodgers: The Dodgers just placed Nelson on the injured list due to a forearm issue, so there are (once again) some obvious health question marks with Nelson. There’s no ignoring how effective he’s been thus far, however. Nelson’s 39.1 percent strikeout rate is the ninth-best among all MLB relievers, and he’s paired that with a pristine 2.41 ERA. Like Shaw, he’s walked too many batters (13 percent), but the former Brewers ace has shown high-leverage, late-inning potential with L.A.
- Bryan Shaw, RHP, Indians: Shaw was an iron man in the Cleveland ’pen but flopped in Colorado after signing a three-year, $27MM contract going into 2018. Back in his old stomping grounds, he’s tallied 19 innings with a pristine 1.42 ERA. The 33-year-old has issued 13 walks, so he’ll need to cut back on the free passes if he hopes to continue this success, but Shaw’s strikeout and ground-ball percentages are among the best of his career (29.3 percent, 57.5 percent, respectively).
- Lucas Luetge, LHP, Yankees: Luetge’s last MLB appearance prior to his Yankees debut came with the 2015 Mariners. The now-34-year-old southpaw signed minor league deals with five organizations before making it back to the show, which is remarkable in and of itself. That he’s been one of the Yankees’ best relievers, however, makes his story all the more incredible. Luetge, who entered 2021 with all of 89 MLB frames under his belt, has a 2.95 ERA and a 19-to-3 K/BB ratio in 21 1/3 innings for the Yankees thus far. Considering the injuries to Zack Britton and Darren O’Day, Luetge’s unexpected contributions have been a godsend. If he can keep this up, he’ll be arbitration-eligible this winter and controllable through the 2024 season.
- Hyeon-jong Yang, LHP, Rangers: Yang, a former KBO MVP, could’ve returned to that league on a guaranteed deal but refused to give up on his aspirations of playing in the Majors, even if it meant taking a non-guaranteed pact. He’s 21 1/3 innings into the realization of that lifelong goal, and the Rangers are no doubt pleased with their decision. Yang, 33, opened the season with the Rangers’ alternate site group but had his contract selected in late April. He now owns a 3.38 ERA, and while his pedestrian strikeout and walk rates might point to some possible regression, he’s induced plenty of weak contact (average 87.4 mph exit velocity, just a 13.1 percent line-drive rate). An 11.2 percent swinging-strike rate suggests there could be more K’s to come, as well.
- Chi Chi Gonzalez, RHP, Rockies: Gonzalez’s numbers don’t stand out that much, but he’s eating innings and delivering roughly league-average run-prevention numbers when adjusting for his home park (102 ERA+, 99 ERA-). Through nine appearances, seven of them starts, Gonzalez is carrying a 4.54 ERA. He’s totaled 41 2/3 innings for a Rockies club that has gone the whole season without lefty Kyle Freeland. Gonzalez has rattled off consecutive quality starts and helped the Rox get through the first two months of the season. The secondary marks aren’t great, but average innings have value — especially in 2021 when teams are so conscientious about their pitchers’ workloads.
- Nabil Crismatt, RHP, Padres: Crismatt had just 8 1/3 innings of MLB experience (all with the 2020 Cardinals) when he arrived in Padres camp this spring. He’s more than doubled that total in 2021 already, pitching 17 2/3 innings of 2.55 ERA ball with a hefty 52.2 percent grounder rate. Crismatt is an oddity in today’s game, sitting under 89 mph with a fastball that is only seldom used due to the fact that he throws his changeup at a whopping 46.5 percent clip. It’s weird, but so far — it’s worked.
- Anthony Bender, RHP, Marlins: A 26-year-old rookie who never pitched above Double-A with the Royals or Brewers before joining the Marlins on a minor league deal this winter, Bender is sitting 97.4 mph with his heater and has tossed 8 2/3 shutout innings to open his career. He’s whiffed 36.7 percent of his opponents against a 3.3 percent walk rate. Small sample? Sure, but Bender also rattled off 8 1/3 shutout frames during Spring Training, too. Not bad for a guy who posted a 5.48 ERA with the independent American Association’s Milwaukee Milkmen in 2020.
- Heath Hembree, RHP, Reds: After a rough 2020 season, Hembree has bounced back early in 2021. His 4.15 ERA through 13 frames is nothing special, but his strikeout rate is sitting at a career-high 33.3 percent after plummeting in 2020. His 6.3 percent walk rate is a career-best, and his 13.1 percent swinging-strike rate isn’t far off from his peak years in Boston. Hembree’s velocity is also up to 95.2 mph after dipping to 93.9 mph in 2019-20. It’s early, but those are some encouraging indicators.
- Zack Littell, RHP, Giants: Littell hasn’t spent much time with the Giants yet, but he’s chucked 10 2/3 innings and held opponents to just one run on eight hits and three walks with nine punchouts. His 94.8 mph average fastball velocity is a career-high, as is his 48.3 percent grounder rate. The former Twins righty only has a year of big league service and could be controllable for several years if he figures it out in San Francisco.
- Deolis Guerra, RHP, Athletics: It’s hard to believe Guerra just turned 32, given that he was one of the pieces traded from the Mets to the Twins way back in 2008’s Johan Santana trade. He’s bounced around the league in journeyman style but is enjoying a nice run with the A’s to kick off the ’21 season. In 20 2/3 frames, Guerra has a 3.92 ERA with a pedestrian K-BB% but intriguing levels of weak contact induced.
- JT Chargois, RHP, Mariners: Like Littell, Chargois hasn’t seen much time in the bigs yet, but he’s sporting a 9-to-1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings for Seattle. He’s had multiple chances with the Twins and Dodgers in recent years but never found much consistency. Chargois also mustered only a 5.81 ERA pitching for Japan’s Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2020. Still, it’s a nice start to his 2021 season.
- Brad Boxberger, RHP, Brewers: The right-hander, who’ll turn 33 this week, has hurled 17 1/3 innings so far in Milwaukee and pitched to a 4.15 ERA but with a more impressive 17-to-3 K/BB mark. As with many relievers early in a given season, the bulk of the damage against Boxberger came in one appearance (against the Cardinals). He’s been unscored upon in 16 of his 19 outings so far in 2021.
- Ervin Santana, RHP, Royals: The Royals love their reunions more than any team in baseball, and Santana is somewhat improbably back to “smelling baseball,” as he likes to say, for a second stint in Kansas City. He’s only allowed four runs in 15 1/3 innings (2.35 ERA), but he’s also only picked up eight strikeouts against four walks. His fastball is sitting 93 mph again after living at 89-90 in 2018-19, but the red flags are plentiful: 13.1 percent strikeout rate, 91 percent strand rate, .213 BABIP, 45 percent opponents’ hard-hit rate.
- Paolo Espino, RHP, Nationals: The Nats quietly re-signed the now 34-year-old Espino before the calendar even flipped to November last year. So far, it’s been a worthwhile reunion, as he’s held opponents to four runs on nine hits and a walk with eight strikeouts in 14 innings (2.57 ERA). Espino won’t keep this up if he can’t miss some more bats and/or induce far more grounders, however. He’s currently benefiting from a .175 BABIP and an 83.3 percent strand rate, while his 26.6 percent grounder rate will make it to limit home runs. Still, the Nats have 14 innings of decent results to show for the deal.
As with the position players, some of these strong starts will fade. There are a few at the back of the list that look particularly difficult to sustain, but there also look to be some genuine bargains unearthed among this group. Some will likely result in trades (Kennedy), but it’d make for a fun story to follow should any of the controllable arms (e.g. Bender, Crismatt) ultimately emerge as long-term pieces for the clubs who gave them their best career opportunities to date.
Former catcher Erik Kratz recently levied some eyebrow-raising allegations of sign-stealing against a couple of National League teams while a guest with John J. Filippelli and Kevin Sullivan on Curtain Call of the YES Network. When asked for his opinion about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Kratz said, “I can tell you that a team that has been to the World Series often recently, we caught them doing something almost similar.”
Since the Dodgers are the only team to have been to the World Series multiple times in recent years (besides the Astros), it seems Kratz is implying the Dodgers took part in some kind of sign-stealing during the 2018 season. He did not expound any further about their specific actions in this podcast, and did not name the Dodgers directly.
Robert Murray of The Athletic wrote in October 2018 during the NLCS between the Dodgers and Brewers, “There is concern among some Brewers that the Dodgers are using video to pick up their signs,” adding, “Others in the organization are unsure.” That article made clear that the Brewers understood that stealing signs from the dugout or basepaths was fair play, while the use of technology would be crossing a line – the commonly held stance on the issue. Murray reported that the Brewers told MLB’s video room security people of their suspicions, but “The security personnel responded that they had not detected anything.”
On the recent podcast, Kratz made a more specific claim against the Rockies, saying, “…And I can also tell you, cause I don’t really care, I don’t know anybody over there: the Colorado Rockies were doing the exact same thing in 2018…They used to take a Theragun and bang it on their metal bench. And they were doing the exact same thing from the TV. So, there you go. If you think no one else was doing it, you are wrong. The difference is, the Astros may have taken it a little too far.”
Kratz’s point on the whole seemed to be that he thought the Astros were being singled out for actions that were more widespread throughout the game. Certainly, the treatment of sign-stealing as a singular instance of misconduct has been a concern expressed elsewhere. That said, Kratz’s comments are certain to require some follow-up by MLB, given the specific allegations.
For context, Kratz was a member of the Brewers during the 2018 season. The Brewers played both the Rockies and Dodgers that postseason, defeating Colorado in the NLDS and falling to Los Angeles in a seven-game NLCS. He was also a member of the Astros briefly during the 2016 season, prior to the time of the sign-stealing allegations.
Kratz last played in 2020 in a part-time capacity for the Yankees. He made the decision not to play in 2021, presumably ending his playing career. Over 11 years since 2010 when he made his debut as a 30-year-old for the Pirates, Kratz played for nine teams, slashing .209/.256/.355 over 951 plate appearances.
The Mariners claimed infielder Travis Blankenhorn off waivers from the Dodgers, as per a team press release. Blankenhorn has been assigned to Triple-A.
This is the second time this month that Blankenhorn has changed teams on the waiver wire, as he was previously designated for assignment by the Twins and then claimed by the Dodgers. Blankenhorn’s time in the Dodgers organization consisted of just three games at Triple-A Oklahoma City before Los Angeles also DFA’ed him on Friday.
A third-round pick for Minnesota in the 2015 draft, Blankenhorn has hit .256/.324/.429 over 1955 career plate appearances in the minors, mostly playing second and third base but also seeing some time at first base, shortstop, and in left field. Only six of Blankenhorn’s 468 minor league games have come at the Triple-A level. He also has two MLB appearances on his resume, appearing in exactly one game with the Twins in both 2020 and 2021.
Mookie Betts was a late scratch from today’s game due to a sore left shoulder, per the Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya (via Twitter). It makes sense for the Dodgers to be cautious with Betts, given that he has dealt with a number of smaller injuries so far this season. He has played in 38 of their 46 games so far this season. When in the lineup, he hasn’t been his usual MVP-level self, though he’s still managed to produce 29 percent better than average with a .258/.366/.452 line at the plate. While we’re here, let’s get some other health updates from Los Angeles…
- The Dodgers may soon see their other MVP outfielder return to the lineup. Cody Bellinger could be “seven or eight” days from returning, per Jorge Castillo of the LA Times (via Twitter). Bellinger played in just four games before a lower leg stress fracture sent him to the shelf. Centerfield has been a patchwork effort without Bellinger, mostly handled by the ever-useful Chris Taylor. Taylor has been excellent in Bellinger’s place, and he’ll be put to use elsewhere around the diamond when Bellinger returns.
- Tony Gonsolin looked great in his first rehab assignment today, tossing three scoreless innings while allowing just one hit, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register (via Twitter). He’ll start again in another five days in the hopes of soon joining the Dodgers’ rotation. Though Gonsolin started the season in the bullpen, Dustin May’s injury has opened up a rotation spot.
- Brusdar Graterol is also nearing a return. Per Plunkett, Graterol threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Friday, and if he throws another successful one on Tuesday, he could begin a rehab assignment soon after. Graterol made just three appearances after getting a late start to the season.
The Dodgers have placed Jimmy Nelson on the injured list with right forearm inflammation, per the team. Phil Bickford has been recalled to take his roster spot. Bickford was only recently claimed off waivers from the Brewers.
A starter for most of his career, Nelson has transitioned to a new role this season, and a valuable one at that. He has tossed 18 2/3 inning in 16 appearances with a 2.41 ERA/1.86 FIP for the Dodgers. Though he has induced just a 37.1 percent groundball rate and walked more batters than they’d like with a 14.3 percent walk rate, Nelson has posted a career-best 39 percent strikeout rate.
Bickford was twice made a first round pick, first coming out of high school in 2013 and then again as the 18th overall pick of the Giants in 2015. The Brewers acquired him in 2016 along with Andrew Susac for lefty Will Smith. He made just one appearance with the Brewers in 2020 and one again in 2021. In his last full season of work, Bickford posted a 2.48 ERA across 32 2/3 innings during his second stint in High-A.
The Dodgers have selected the contract of veteran right-handed reliever Nate Jones from Triple-A Oklahoma City, per a team announcement. Infielder Travis Blankenhorn, whom L.A. recently claimed off waivers from Minnesota, was designated for assignment in order to create a spot on the 40-man roster for Jones.
Jones, 35, had a strong spring showing with the Braves but was rocked in his 10 1/3 innings for Atlanta during the regular season. Lack of command was his primary downfall, as Jones issued 10 free passes in that time. The Braves released him earlier this month, and he quickly inked a minors pact with the Dodgers.
Jones allowed four runs in three innings with the Dodgers’ Triple-A club, but he also had a 6-to-1 K/BB ratio there. The improved control seemingly was enough for the Dodgers to give him a look at the big league level. It helps, of course, that Jones has a lengthy track record at the big league level. The veteran hurler was somewhat quietly a high-quality member of the White Sox’ bullpen from 2012-19. He battled numerous injuries along the way, but whenever Jones was healthy enough to pitch, he was generally sharp. In 291 1/3 frames with the South Siders, he pitched to a 3.12 ERA with a 26.5 percent strikeout rate.
Blankenhorn, 24, was a third-round pick of the Twins back in 2015. He’s tallied four plate appearances with the Twins since Opening Day 2020, representing his lone MLB experience. Last year’s canceled minor league season meant Blankenhorn missed what would’ve been his first taste of Triple-A action, so the six games he’s played there in 2021 are his first at that level. He hit .278/.312/.474 with 18 dingers and 11 steals at Double-A in 2019. Given the heavily pitcher-friendly nature of that setting, Blankenhorn’s slash line was good for a hearty 125 wRC+.
The Dodgers will have a week to trade Blankenhorn or attempt to pass him through outright waivers. He has a minor league option remaining beyond the 2021 season and has ample experience at second base and third base, so it’s not out of the question that another club with some infield needs might look to place a claim or pick him up in a small trade.
Cody Bellinger and Zach McKinstry will each begin Triple-A rehab stints today, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told MLB.com’s Juan Toribio and other reporters. Bellinger played in just four games this season before suffering what was originally thought to be a left calf contusion, but later diagnosed as a hairline fracture in his left leg. Considering the long layoff, Bellinger’s rehab stint figures to be more than just a game or two, but the team didn’t put any sort of timeline on a potential return.
McKinstry went on the 10-day injured list on April 23 due to a right oblique strain, which interrupted a very impressive start to the season for the rookie utilityman. McKinstry had a .296/.328/.556 slash line and three home runs over his first 58 plate appearances, and saw time at four different positions (second base, third base, both corner outfield spots). Getting both Bellinger and McKinstry back soon will be an enormous help to a Dodgers team that has already had even its considerable depth tested by a long list of injuries.