Spring training reports


Wire Reports



FILe - In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen throws a pitch during workouts at the Reds spring training baseball facility, in Goodyear, Ariz. With Billy Hamilton gone, the Reds have to decide who will play center field. They've got an assortment of candidates, including reliever Michael Lorenzen. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

FILe - In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen throws a pitch during workouts at the Reds spring training baseball facility, in Goodyear, Ariz. With Billy Hamilton gone, the Reds have to decide who will play center field. They've got an assortment of candidates, including reliever Michael Lorenzen. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)


FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray (54) and Tanner Roark pause during workouts at the Reds spring training baseball facility, in Goodyear, Ariz. Gray agreed to a trade from the Yankees after deciding he wanted to be part of the Reds' attempt at a resurgence. Now they have to figure out where he fits in the rotation. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)


Reds begin quest to fill center field with Hamilton gone

By GARY SCHATZ

Associated Press

Friday, February 22

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — The Cincinnati Reds begin their search for a center fielder this weekend when they open spring training play. They have some intriguing options to replace Billy Hamilton, including the rare combination of a reliever who also plays the outfield.

Hamilton, who was among the NL’s top defensive center fielders, struggled to hit and has signed with the Royals. Right fielder Scott Schebler is the leading candidate to move to center, where he played 16 games last season, but first-year manager David Bell is exploring some other options. He could try rookie Nick Senzel at the spot, or let newcomers Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp get some time there.

He’s also getting reliever Michael Lorenzen ready to both pitch and play center field during spring training games, an unusual arrangement that has required changing his daily workout routine.

Lorenzen was accustomed to it at Cal State Fullerton, where he played center and sometimes closed games. The Reds drafted him as a pitcher in 2013. He has lobbied for a dual role in the major leagues.

“Just pitching doesn’t seem natural to me,” Lorenzen said.

Bell wants Lorenzen to get ready to pitch during the first half of camp, then will use him in the outfield in the later games and see what happens.

“We will have him pitch an inning and stay in the game (in the outfield),” Bell said. “It’s exciting. I have to slow myself down. I think it’s cool that he’s preparing himself the way he is.”

Instead of doing conditioning work with the other pitchers, Lorenzen will be working out with the outfielders more often.

“We’ve come up with a pretty good plan,” Lorenzen said. “It’s them trusting that I’m a good enough athlete to maybe not do all the (pitchers’) conditioning. Running down balls in the outfield is conditioning.”

Bell’s other intriguing option is Senzel, who played third base at Tennessee. The Reds had him work out in the outfield in the offseason, getting the 23-year-old ready to try a new position.

“It is a challenging position,” Senzel said “You’re covering a lot of ground. You have to cover the gaps.”

Bell thinks that Senzel’s speed will give him good range in the outfield. The challenge will be learning the nuances of the position. One of Senzel’s biggest challenges will be learning to communicate with the other outfielders when the ball’s in the air, something he’s never done in his career.

“I’m going to be learning it in the big leagues,” he said. “I think that puts a more challenging aspect on it.”

GRAY SCRATCHED

Sonny Gray was scratched from his planned start against the Indians on Saturday because of a sore pitching elbow. He expects to resume throwing next week and Tanner Roark, acquired from Washington, will start in his place.

“It is nothing I’m overly worried about. I’ve dealt with this in the past,” Gray said Friday. “I’ll start throwing in a couple of days. I wanted to go out there and throw the first game of spring but it was everyone’s decision not to push it.”

Gray, a 29-year-old right-hander, was acquired from the New York Yankees last month and agreed to a $38 million, four-year contract with the Reds.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Indians reloading bullpen after down season, departures

By THERESA SMITH

Associated Press

Thursday, February 21

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Dan Otero is a man of words. Not just because the steady reliever fills out crossword puzzles, but because he chooses words carefully, as in politely noting the operative word for the Indians’ bullpen status is “reconfiguration” as opposed to “rebuild.”

Following an injury-plagued, sub-par 2018 performance and the loss of career saves leader Cody Allen and left-handed virtuoso Andrew Miller to free agency, the three-time defending AL Central champions are intent on improving the back end of their bullpen.

Cleveland relievers had a 4.60 ERA last season, a substantial drop from a successful run — 2.89 in 2017, 3.45 in 2016, and 3.12 in 2015 and 2014.

Otero is confident the corps can return to past form.

“We have all the pieces here to be a successful bullpen,” he said Thursday in the clubhouse on a rare rainy day at camp. “And most, if not everyone, was here last year at some point and in some capacity. And everyone has had prominent success in the big leagues, maybe not sustained as much as we like, but everybody has had prominent success.”

That number includes former two-time All-Star Tyler Clippard, who agreed Wednesday to sign a minor league deal, pending a physical. Clippard’s expected arrival boosts the non-roster pitcher number to 12, nine of whom have MLB relief experience.

“Any time you get a chance to get a major league pitcher … it’s kind of hard to not want to bring him in,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We’re really excited to bring him in and get a look at him and see where it could go. He’ll go right into that mix of that group competing for bullpen spots.”

With 15 more relievers on the 40-man camp roster, evaluating the best bullpen candidates before the March 28 season opener at Minnesota will be incredibly challenging for Francona, beginning his seventh season with Cleveland.

“You can make some really bad mistakes with looking at ERAs, things like that,” he said. “For guys that have track records, it is a little easier because you can go back and say, ‘Is this the same guy? Is his velocity down?’”

Francona used Otero as an example. In spring training 2016, his ERA was over 6.0, but “every groundball found its way through the infield,” Francona said. “But we thought he pitched very well.”

Otero wound up with 1.53 ERA, the best in the ‘pen.

The skipper also pointed out that in spring training games, the late-inning batters — facing Francona’s bullpen candidates — are often long shots to make rosters.

“They’re facing No. 99; we don’t know who they are,” Francona said. “That might be the biggest at-bat of their life. They’re going to call home after that at-bat and tell mom and dad that they faced Tyler Clippard. It’s hard. You try to see who can pitch to a scouting report.”

As for combining the eye test with spin rates from data collecting technology Francona said, “it’s just another way of getting to the answer; you try not to guess. There is really good technology out there that we use and believe in.”

The human element is always part of the equation, as players who are more comfortable tend to perform better. That might be the case for Adam Cimber and closer Brad Hand, who were acquired last July from San Diego.

“It’s human nature, you’re not introducing yourself to people, you are reacquainting yourself,” Francona said.

As Hand revealed, he made a quick adjustment, in part, because he’s changed teams previously, from the Marlins to San Diego in 2016. In contrast, Cimber had only known the Padres.

“When you leave your first team, that’s as close to family as you are ever going to get in a professional setting,” Francona said. “So, the first time it can be a little challenging, especially in the middle of the year.”

While Allen and Miller left massive holes, Francona does have some reliable arms coming back he knows he can count on.

Veteran left-hander Oliver Perez was solid during most of his 51 appearances last season after he signed in June following his release while in the minors with the Yankees. Nick Goody and Tyler Olson, two dominant relievers from 2017, might factor in with bounce back years, and Jon Edwards showed promise in brief appearances late last season.

Edwards said he is focusing on spin efficiency, among other aspects, in spring training. Certainly, Indians relievers seek a return to past dominance.

“There’s an eagerness among guys, including myself, to pick that up and show we can help the team win and be a stabilizer at the back part of the game,” Edwards said.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Jake of all trades: Indians counting on new arrival Bauers

By GABRIELLA KREUZ

Associated Press

Friday, February 22

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — The Cleveland Indians are heading into the 2019 season missing some big bats from last year’s lineup. They hope Jake Bauers brought one from Tampa.

Bauers, who came over in a December trade with the Rays, is being counted on to help fill the power void left with the departures of sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso in trades and the Indians’ decision not to re-sign All-Star Michael Brantley as a free agent.

As the three-time defending AL Central champions contend with unusually chilly and wet weather that has dumped an inch of rain on this arid area the past two days — significant for a region that typically only gets about eight inches a year — the 23-year-old Bauers has been getting in work to make sure he sprays the ball around this season.

“I’m trying to use the whole field again, trying to stay left center-center field and open everything up as opposed to just kind of pulling the ball too much,” said Bauers, who batted .201 with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs in 96 games after being brought up by the Rays last season.

This year, Bauers is optimistic he can make an impact in all facets of the game.

“Getting on base, maybe taking the extra base when I can, driving in runs, basically just doing whatever the situation calls for,” the easygoing Bauers said while sipping coffee in the clubhouse on Friday. “I think that’s what I was taught at a young age and it’s something I’m fairly good at.”

Bauers can play first base and he’ll be one of several candidates to get a shot in a crowded outfield, a topic he discussed in a recent meeting with Indians manager Terry Francona.

“We talked a lot about playing first base or left field and what the mix is going to be like,” said Bauers, who spends down time during camp hiking with his 9-month-old Golden Retriever-Cocker Spaniel mix, Praxton. “They just have some things to figure out. I’m sure as we get deeper into the spring, we’ll sort that all out.”

Bauers has displayed versatility, so what’s his biggest strength?

With eyebrows raised, the self-proclaimed bad surfer from Huntington Beach, California, took in the question along with a deep breath.

“Knowing how to win,” he said after a short pause. “I think that’s an underrated thing in today’s game. I think the things you can’t put on paper aren’t valued as much as they could be.”

Bauers could also help the Indians in another vital area. The loss of Brantley, starter Josh Tomlin, All-Star catcher Yan Gomes and closer Cody Allen has created a vacuum in the clubhouse and dugout.

“We’ve lost some guys that had terrific leadership qualities,” Francona said. “Guys like Tomlin, Brantley, there’s no getting around that. We don’t need to anoint leaders. The best way to lead is by example.”

If Bauers can produce offensively the way he did for the Rays after his call-up last June, he’ll be leading in no time.

Bauers batted .252 with five home runs in his first 36 games last season before the All-Star break. His numbers dipped toward the end of 2018, but the potential is evident.

He’s eager to show his new teammates what he can do, and anxious to start at first when the Indians open their Cactus League season on Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds.

“I think I got those excited butterflies when I think about it,” said Bauers, who will bat second.

NOTES: Bench coach Brad Mills pulled a fast one on Francona. With the help of general manager Mike Chernoff, Mills orchestrated a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the USS Tito, a makeshift wooden boat that was constructed outside the Indians’ complex. The Under Secretary of the U.S. Navy, Thomas Modly, was flown in for the event and took pictures with Francona, who was given his own captain’s hat. Asked for remarks upon receiving his ship, Francona chuckled, “I’m humiliated.” … Adam Plutko will start Cleveland’s opener against Cincinnati. For the Reds, Tanner Roark fills in for Sonny Gray, who was scratched with elbow stiffness.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Mets ace DeGrom makes spring debut, heater hits 97 mph

Monday, February 25

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — After one exhibition start, Jacob deGrom has a 9.00 ERA. No worries, because all other signs are positive for one of the top pitchers in the major leagues.

“Still plenty of time to hopefully get that down,” the New York Mets ace said Sunday with a few laughs.

The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner tossed one inning and gave up Tyler White’s RBI single on a 97 mph fastball in a 10-1 loss to a split squad of Houston Astros.

DeGrom allowed two hits and threw 14 of his 17 pitches for strikes.

The 30-year-old righty made his spring training debut after posting a 1.70 ERA season. Often throttled by a lack of run support, he went 10-9 for the fourth-place Mets.

Even after such a dominant season, deGrom isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I was nervous today going out there for the first time,” the lanky pitcher said.

DeGrom said he began playing catch in October just a few weeks after the season ended, keeping his arm active by tossing the ball with his father. He has thrown regularly in the offseason, just a couple of times a week, since taking more time off after the lengthy 2015 campaign because of the World Series.

DeGrom later developed nerve damage in 2016 and had season-ending surgery in September.

“I just feel like when I play more catch and keep my arm moving it seems to feel batter when I come to spring training. If there’s no break, maybe it will stay the same,” he said.

DeGrom had a few obstacles a year ago that prevented him from getting the opening day nod from manager Mickey Callaway. DeGrom left camp to be with his wife for the birth of their daughter and then battled back stiffness after his return, delaying his progress even further.

Good friend Noah Syndergaard made the start instead of him and beat St. Louis in the opener.

DeGrom said his goal this year is to work on consistency and limit the running game better.

“I want to try and eliminate those starts that got out of hand. It’s a little bit easier said than done,” said deGrom, who allowed a leadoff double to Tony Kemp.

“I’m trying to keep the focus on the pitch I’m about to throw, not the pitch I’ve just thrown that was a homer or whatever happened,” he said. “I was a little bit frustrated today. I felt like I made a pretty good pitch to Kemp there, a high fastball that he got to. That’s frustrating. But it’s constantly learning to try and let that stuff go.”

Said Callaway: “He’s poised to go out there and dominate again, in my opinion.”

New catcher Wilson Ramos caught deGrom for just the second time this spring.

“It’s an exciting moment for me because I’m trying to know him better,” Ramos said. “In the beginning of spring training, everybody wants to attack the hitter. He did it today and did it very well.”

NOTES: LF Tim Tebow nearly made a diving grab on a foul fly behind the Mets’ bullpen after a long run, but the ball popped out of his glove when he landed. The next half-inning, he hit a long fly that easily beat Kemp in left, but center fielder Myles Straw made a spectacular diving grab in the gap for the out. … Callaway called the catching position “an open competition” when it came to the backup spot and said Travis d’Arnaud needed to match up his footwork with his arm. … Callaway said pitching coach Dave Eiland has a “solid plan” for new closer Edwin Diaz in terms of spring appearances.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Column: Players finding payoffs are changing in baseball

By TIM DAHLBERG

AP Sports Columnist

Thursday, February 21

Manny Machado’s new $300 million contract put a stop — at least temporarily — to a growing chorus of player complaints that major league teams were conspiring to do deep damage to the free agent market.

It did nothing, however, to change the new reality of baseball. And that’s something players should be worrying about between now and 2021, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires and the threat of labor action looms.

No longer do major league executives reflexively chase the latest bauble on the market. Analytics that have changed the field of play have changed the front office, too.

“Markets change,” commissioner Rob Manfred said the other day before Machado signed with the San Diego Padres. “We’ve had a lot of change in the game. People think about players differently. They analyze players differently. They negotiate differently.”

Indeed they do. But things have changed so quickly that the players’ union seems to have been taken off guard.

When players last negotiated a contract in 2016 the most pressing issues were more days off and private chefs in every clubhouse. With salaries rising every year, their attention was on work life issues.

After a second straight season where owners expressed little interest in some free agents, though, the trends have set off some alarms among players and the players’ union.

There’s increasing chatter about the possibility of trying to reopen the collective bargaining agreement to make some adjustments.

Sure, Machado got a 10-year contract and Bryce Harper will get something similar. But those contracts are just for a few elite players, while others will remain unsigned or settle for far less.

It’s one reason baseball salaries were down slightly last season for the first time since 2010.

From the standpoint of owners the equation is simple: Why take the risk on long-term contracts for millions of dollars when there are replacement players available for the major league minimum of $555,000?

Use two of them in a platoon and the numbers might be close enough to a Machado or Harper. Or load the bullpen with minimum wage arms and have them throw as hard as they can for as long as they can and then bring in a new bunch.

“All veteran players of a certain age are being affected by this analysis, which is not just widespread but fairly consistent across most clubs,” said former New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, now an Oakland Athletics senior adviser. “The math is the math.”

That math is unsparing in baseball these days. A sport that always valued numbers has embraced new metrics like WAR (Wins Above Replacement) even more and front offices are using them to evaluate risk and reward in the free agent market.

Add in the higher luxury tax imposed in the latest collective bargaining agreement and high payroll clubs like the Red Sox, Dodgers and Yankees are watching every dollar they spend.

Still, it’s hard not to laugh when Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts — whose team is valued at $2.9 billion by Forbes — opens spring training by saying his team didn’t pursue any high priced free agents because there is no money to spend.

Even more laughable was the suggestion by Pirates owner Bob Nutting that it doesn’t make sense to add a big free agent because it could cause an imbalanced payroll that might make other players unhappy.

No one — at least outside the union — is saying that major league ballplayers are underpaid either. At an average salary of $4 million a year they’re well compensated for what they do.

They’re also not going to be walking picket lines any time in the future. But even the possibility of labor trouble — at a time attendance is already declining — should scare baseball enough to at least have a discussion about where the game is going.

Expand that discussion to include issues like a pitch clock, the use of relievers and the shift and there’s plenty of potential for owners and players to come together for the good of the game.

Or wait three years until owners have a full blown revolt on their hands.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Rain, rain, go away! 1st MLB spring training game washed out

By CARRIE MUSKAT

Associated Press

MESA, Ariz. (AP) — The spring training season started with a splash. Just not the kind fans hoped for.

In the first major league exhibition game of the year, the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics were rained out Thursday. The Mariners roughed up Jerry Blevins and led 5-0 in the middle of the second inning when it was called — so in a game where the stats don’t count, they really won’t count.

“We have our feet wet now, literally,” Athletics manager Bob Melvin said.

The Cactus League opener was rained out after Major League Baseball had 54 regular-season postponements last year, the most since 1989.

The Athletics and Mariners started early to give them time to prepare for their upcoming trip to Japan, where they’ll play regular-season games on March 20-21 at the Tokyo Dome.

Dylan Moore, one of six players in the Mariners’ starting lineup who was new to the organization, hit a two-run double in the second off Blevins. Shed Long hit two doubles and Domingo Santana had a sacrifice fly.

“Give them credit for their first at-bats of the spring in those type of conditions,” Melvin said. “They all had good at-bats.”

It was an unseasonably cool 50 degrees at the start of the exhibition opener at Hohokam Stadium. Marco Gonzales pitched one inning for the Mariners before the rain came.

“We had a pretty good idea it was going to rain, but I’m really glad we got Marco out there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That was the goal today. We were hoping to get two innings out of him, but the rain didn’t quite hold off long enough. But good start, a lot of good things.”

Ichiro Suzuki, at 45 expected to play for the Mariners in the opening series in Japan, wasn’t in the lineup for Seattle. He was hit on the right foot by a pitch from Felix Hernandez during batting practice on Wednesday.

The Mariners and A’s are set to try again Friday in Peoria, though the weather forecast isn’t much better.

The Grapefruit League season is scheduled to begin earlier in the day when Philadelphia plays Tampa Bay in Port Charlotte, Florida.

NOTES: The 20-second pitch clock that will be tried out across in spring training was not used in the Mariners-A’s game.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

FILe – In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen throws a pitch during workouts at the Reds spring training baseball facility, in Goodyear, Ariz. With Billy Hamilton gone, the Reds have to decide who will play center field. They’ve got an assortment of candidates, including reliever Michael Lorenzen. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122387542-17e5a59fee384f1796acd29e9ee424a2-1.jpgFILe – In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen throws a pitch during workouts at the Reds spring training baseball facility, in Goodyear, Ariz. With Billy Hamilton gone, the Reds have to decide who will play center field. They’ve got an assortment of candidates, including reliever Michael Lorenzen. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

FILE – In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray (54) and Tanner Roark pause during workouts at the Reds spring training baseball facility, in Goodyear, Ariz. Gray agreed to a trade from the Yankees after deciding he wanted to be part of the Reds’ attempt at a resurgence. Now they have to figure out where he fits in the rotation. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122387542-d408c348a4d14e6ea92aa243f4b6d1b0-1.jpgFILE – In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray (54) and Tanner Roark pause during workouts at the Reds spring training baseball facility, in Goodyear, Ariz. Gray agreed to a trade from the Yankees after deciding he wanted to be part of the Reds’ attempt at a resurgence. Now they have to figure out where he fits in the rotation. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

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