Major League Baseball
MLB News Wire
  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Hundley settles in as Rockies' regular catcher
    By The Sports Xchange

    After several years, the Colorado Rockies finally reached the point where they were willing to sacrifice power at the plate for defense behind it.

    • That is the quick explanation of why they signed free agent Nick Hundley, 31, to a two-year, $6.25 million contract, acquiring him to be their primary catcher. Hundley supplants Wilin Rosario, 26, who has far more power than Hundley but struggled for three years defensively with the finer points of a difficult position.

      In 83 games last year with the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles, Hundley, hit .243 with a .273 on-base percentage, a .358 slugging percentage, six homers and 22 RBIs. The numbers are in keeping with Hundley's career output of .238/.294/.386 with 52 homers and 214 RBIs in 560 games.

      Hundley began his career in the Padres organization. He had to learn on the fly about the stuff and personalities of the Orioles' pitchers after being traded early last season. This year, Hundley will have all of spring training to settle in with a new team and familiarize himself with the Rockies' pitchers.

      "It's my job to get acclimated to them, not their job to get acclimated to me," Hundley said. "It's not my job to be a pitching coach and change anybody. If I come in and start talking about mechanical adjustments after catching 10 pitches, you're going to lose credibility really quick. I'm here to catch these guys and get the most out of them, but it starts with being quiet and learning."

      Hundley had four passed balls and four errors in 63 games behind the plate for the Padres and Orioles last season. He threw out 13.9 percent (5-for-36) of the runners attempting to steal. In 516 career games, Hundley has been charged with 32 passed balls and 36 errors.

      Rockies manager Walt Weiss praised Hundley.

      "(He possesses) the ability to handle a pitching staff, to command the game," Weiss said. "There's a physical toughness and a mental toughness that we really like. There's a servant mentality."

      Rosario was charged with 12 passed balls and seven errors in 96 games catching last season. In 2012, his first full season in the big leagues, Rosario was charged with 21 passed balls in 105 games behind the plate, and he had nine passed balls in 106 games in 2013.

      In 321 career games, Rosario has been charged with 45 passed balls and 30 errors.

      Last season, he threw out seven of 44 runners attempting to steal (15.9 percent), down from 31.9 percent in 2012 and 26.4 percent in 2013.

      Rosario hit 28 homers in 2012 and 21 the following year. Last season, Rosario dealt with Type B influenza early in the season, causing him to lose nine pounds and go on the disabled list. He also dealt with a sprained left wrist for much of the season. Rosario wound up hitting .267/.305/.435 with 13 homers in 362 at-bats.

      Rosario has played nine career games at first base, including seven starts, and understandably looked rough around the edges. He will get work at first base during spring training as well as catch.

      Last season, a member of the Rockies organization said Rosario ideally should be as far from the ball as possible on defense. Since there is no designated hitter in the National League, it was suggested that Rosario, who has well above average arm strength, should play right field.

      "It's not a priority," Weiss said of Rosario getting time in right field this spring. "It's difficult to learn two new positions -- first base and the outfield -- particularly for a guy who has virtually never done it. So we don't want to put too much on his plate."

      Rosario gives the Rockies a right-handed power bat who has done considerable damage against left-handed pitchers, compiling a .328 average with a 1.009 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 30 homers in 357 at-bats vs. southpaws.

      Justin Morneau, the regular first baseman, is a left-handed hitter, so there os a chance for Rosario -- if he gets up to speed at first base defensively -- to spell Morneau against some left-handed pitchers. Last season, Morneau hit .341 with a .927 OPS and 14 home runs in 372 at-bats against right-handed pitchers. Against lefties, Morneau hit .254 with a .665 OPS and three homers in 130 at-bats.

      "In my heart, I know I'm still a catcher," said Rosario, who nonetheless realizes that becoming adequate at first base could work to his advantage. "I want to learn, and I want get time to play and practice. I feel like I can play first, I can catch, and maybe I can play the outfield, too. It gives me more opportunities to get (at-bats)."

      As they look to set their roster as the spring unfolds, the Rockies must decide whether to keep three catchers.

      In addition to Hundley and Rosario, Michael McKenry, who is out of minor league options, showed last year he can work well with pitchers, and he hit .315/.398/.512 with eight homers and 22 RBIs in 198 at-bats. McKenry doesn't throw particularly well, catching eight of 42 baserunners attempting to steal for a 19 percent success rate, right in line with his career mark of 19.1 percent (40-for-209).

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Rodriguez enjoys first day in Yankees' camp
    By The Sports Xchange

    On his first official day back with the New York Yankees after a yearlong suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, Alex Rodriguez blasted a few balls out of the park during batting practice at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla., and generally appeared at ease with the attention surrounding his return.

    • "It was fun," Rodriguez said. "I'm happy to be here."

      Rodriguez, 39, drew the loudest cheers Thursday, heard no boos from fans and also bantered with the media who surrounded his locker.

      "It was like going to Disney World," Rodriguez aid.

      Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira was impressed with Rodriguez's swings. He hit three balls over the fence in 32 swings.

      "I saw his batting practice today," Teixeira said. "Not many guys are hitting the ball like he is right now. First day is always kind of a breaking in time for most guys. He looked great out there today, and hopefully that continues."

      While Rodriguez was enjoying his return, his bosses weren't as thrilled. Both general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi are already tired of answering questions about the slugger.

      "I don't really want to talk about the Alex stuff like this anymore," Cashman said. "At some point, hopefully, you guys can let it go too. ... I don't feel like dealing with it too much longer.

      "I just don't want to talk about the same stuff we covered already. I feel like we've been there, done that. I feel like we're going back to stuff that's already been asked, which I feel is a waste of time.''

      Cashman did confirm that Rodriguez will be on the roster for Opening Day.

      "He's got a three-year contract," Cashman said.

      Most of the questions to Girardi from reporters after the Yankees' first full-squad workout were about Rodriguez. Asked whether he was happy to see Rodriguez in camp, Girardi finally became agitated.

      "I don't understand what kind of question that is, to be honest," Girardi said. "He's a player of ours. Of course, I want him back."

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Blue Jays take chance on LHP Santana
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Toronto Blue Jays are hoping two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana can return to the mound after signing the oft-injured veteran to a minor league contract on Thursday with an invitation to spring training with the major league club.

    • Santana, who turns 36 next month, hasn't pitched in the majors since August 2012 with the New York Mets. Since then, his left shoulder has been through two surgeries.

      Last year while pitching in the minor leagues for the Baltimore Orioles' organization, Santana tore his left Achilles tendon in June. He returned to the mound in January during the Venezuelan Winter League and retired six batters in a row during one appearance.

      A four-time All-Star, Santana won the American League Cy Young in 2004 and 2006 pitching for the Minnesota Twins. He has a 139-78 career record with a 3.20 ERA and the only no-hitter in Mets history.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Brewers bring back K-Rod
    By The Sports Xchange

    Reliever Francisco Rodriguez is back with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    • "K-Rod" agreed Thursday to a two-year deal with a team option for a third year. He will be paid $13 million over the first two years, according to FOX Sports.

      He should help solidify a bullpen the Brewers tried to improve via trade until talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon deteriorated.

      The Miami Marlins were also in the bidding for Rodriguez.

      The 33-year-old Rodriguez closed 44 games for the Brewers in 2014, when he earned his fifth All-Star selection.

      In four seasons with Milwaukee, Rodriguez is 12-13 with a 3.11 ERA and 57 saves.

      He was acquired by the Brewers from the New York Mets in July 2011.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Cardinals' Wainwright diagnosed with muscle strain
    By The Sports Xchange

    St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has an abdominal strain that should not cause him to miss significant time during spring training.

    • Wainwright returned to St. Louis from the Cardinals' camp for an examination by Dr. Michael Brunt on Thursday and received a diagnosis that caused a sigh of relief for the team.

      The 35-year-old right-hander is to avoid running and lifting weights for a few days but is able to throw.

      "Based on all the different studies and what the doctor saw, he feels this was the best news we could have gotten," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said.

      Wainwright was injured Monday when he placed a 45-pound weight on a rack. The strained muscle doesn't affect his pitching but bothers him when he runs or lunges.

      "In the end, I feel good about what we know, and I know Adam is relieved," Mozeliak said.

      Wainwright was to return to spring training camp later Thursday. He's likely to make three or four starts in exhibition games to prepare for the Cardinals' regular-season opener against the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field on April 5.

      "I think we can take the foot off the gas on the bullpen session," Mozeliak said. ''We'll discuss what that strategy looks like in conjunction with the medical staff, but based on what I've been told, having him continue to throw is OK."

      Wainwright finished the 2014 season with a 20-9 record and a 2.38 ERA.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    MLB notebook: Brewers bring back K-Rod
    By The Sports Xchange

    Reliever Francisco Rodriguez is back with the Milwaukee Brewers.

    • "K-Rod" agreed Thursday to a two-year deal with a team option for a third year. He will be paid $13 million over the first two years, according to FOX Sports.

      He should help solidify a bullpen the Brewers tried to improve via trade until talks with the Philadelphia Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon deteriorated.

      The Miami Marlins were also in the bidding for Rodriguez.

      The 33-year-old Rodriguez closed 44 games for the Brewers in 2014, when he earned his fifth All-Star selection.

      In four seasons with Milwaukee, Rodriguez is 12-13 with a 3.11 ERA and 57 saves.

      He was acquired by the Brewers from the New York Mets in July 2011.

      ---Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders was on crutches Thursday and could be out until July with a freak knee injury that requires surgery.

      Saunders tore the meniscus in his left knee Wednesday, when he stepped on a sprinkler head in the outfield while shagging fly balls.

      "I just tried to walk off the field and not draw any attention to myself. Then, when I got into the training room, my knee felt like it was getting tight on the inside," Saunders said. "I've never had any issues with my knees, so that's when I knew that something was wrong."

      He said this is the first time he has had a knee injury -- but had two stints on the disabled list in 2014 with oblique and shoulder issues -- and will seek a second opinion before determining a course of action.

      Saunders was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in an offseason trade. The 28-year-old hit .273 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 2014.

      ---Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto shed no new light on reported off-field issues and said outfielder Josh Hamilton is at home rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

      "I'm not going to get into any kind of situation or information regarding Josh Hamilton," Dipoto said Thursday in Tempe, Ariz. "He's not here in camp with us. He is at home rehabbing from a surgery and I'm going to leave it at that."

      Hamilton met with MLB officials in New York about an undisclosed disciplinary issue on Wednesday. According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Hamilton had a relapse of cocaine use.

      From 2003 to 2005, Hamilton was suspended from baseball for cocaine and alcohol addiction. He was reinstated but subject to ongoing drug testing and had alcohol relapses in 2009 and 2012.

      --- St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has an abdominal strain that should not cause him to miss significant time during spring training.

      Wainwright returned to St. Louis from the Cardinals' camp for an examination by Dr. Michael Brunt on Thursday and received a diagnosis that caused a sigh of relief for the team.

      The 35-year-old right-hander is to avoid running and lifting weights for a few days but is able to throw.

      Wainwright was injured Monday when he placed a 45-pound weight on a rack. The strained muscle doesn't affect his pitching but bothers him when he runs or lunges.

      --- Masahiro Tanaka intensified his workout at a Thursday morning bullpen session in Tampa, Fla., and the New York Yankees liked what they saw from their right-handed ace.

      Tanaka did not limit pitch selection and threw 40 pitches with pitching coach Larry Rothschild observing.

      "I feel that I'm on the right track," Tanaka said through an interpreter, adding that he was clear to throw split-finger fastballs, his most effective pitch in his 2014 rookie season. "Going through the workouts and going through the bullpen today also, it does give me confidence that I'm moving in the right direction."

      Tanaka said the only discomfort he has felt is considered normal after pitching workouts. He also threw a brief bullpen session Sunday.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Comeback players for all 30 MLB teams
    By The Sports Xchange

    A pair of 31-year-old, former Most Valuable Player award winners head the list of players seeking a bounce-back season in 2015.

    • Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is attempting to shake off a quadriceps ailment that kept him out for the majority of last season and left him ineffective when he was on the field.

      The Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer saw his production drop sharply in 2014 after his full-time switch to first base, a move that was intended to help keep him healthy and productive at the plate.

      A look at the most notable players seeking a comeback with each team this spring, according to The Sports Xchange's network of baseball correspondents:

      NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

      ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: The D-backs invited long-time major league catcher Gerald Laird to camp on a minor league deal, and he appears to have a chance to make the team. A 12-year veteran, Laird, 35, is the most experienced of a catching corps that starts Tuffy Gosewisch and Rule 5 pick Oscar Hernandez. In 52 games for the Braves last year, Laird hit .204 with no homers and 10 RBIs. He is a career .244 hitter in the big leagues, but he has thrown out 35 percent of the runners who attempted to steal against him.

      COLORADO ROCKIES: RHP John Axford will bring a power arm and plenty of experience to the bullpen, if he makes the club. He signed a minor league contract and would earn a $2.6 million base salary in the big leagues with an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses. Axford, who turns 32 on April 1 and has pitched in 343 games, has swing-and-miss stuff and plenty of experience closing with 116 career saves. Axford's fastball still sits in the 94-95 mph range, and last year his ground-ball percentage was 54 percent. However, command can be an issue for Axford, who averaged 10.4 strikeouts and 5.9 walks per nine innings last year.

      LOS ANGELES DODGERS: The Dodgers' bullpen was their weakness in 2014. The new front office tried to address that by collecting as many alternatives and as much depth as possible. RHP Sergio Santos is in that group. Santos, 31, signed a minor league contract and received a non-roster invitation to spring training, where he will vie for a spot in the bullpen. A 30-save closer for the White Sox in 2011, Santos struggled since then, bottoming out with a disastrous 8.57 ERA in 26 appearances for the Blue Jays last season.

      SAN DIEGO PADRES: After missing all of last season following his second Tommy John surgery, RHP Josh Johnson re-signed with the Padres as a minor league free agent. He says his rehab is ahead of schedule, and the Padres hope Johnson might be ready in the first half of June. If he is, the former Marlins ace would be a nice addition to the San Diego rotation. "It would be like adding a top-of-the-rotation starter in a late-July trade," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said. Johnson, 31, was an All-Star in 2009 and 2010 before his arm woes began.

      SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: The Giants are a far more productive team when CF Angel Pagan resides at the top of the batting order. That is a bit scary to consider when you recall the club won a championship in 2014 while Pagan was laid up with a back injury. It is critical for Pagan to stay healthy and get on base at or near the same clip (on-base percentages of .338, 334, .342 the past three seasons) as before he got injured if the Giants, who lost about 20 percent of their run production in the free agent exports of 3B Pablo Sandoval and OF/1B Michael Morse, are going to take some of the pressure off their shaky pitching staff.

      NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

      CHICAGO CUBS: RHP Edwin Jackson, signed through 2016, endured baffling, hard-luck runs the past two years and looks for redemption in his 13th major league season. Jackson, 31, went 8-15 in 2013 and 6-15 with a 6.33 ERA in 28 games last year. He basically was shut down after Aug. 20 after allowing seven runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings against the Giants, but he made two brief appearances in September. Jackson has had past success, especially under new Cubs manager Joe Maddon, going a 14-11 record in 2008 with the Rays.

      CINCINNATI REDS: The condition of 1B Joey Votto's quadriceps remained a mystery throughout the final 76 games of last season, all of which he missed. Votto sat out a total of 99 games with a distal quad strain in his left leg. When he played, Votto batted .255, far below his .310 career mark. Votto, 31, ranked second on the club with 47 walks, but due in part to his limited action, Cincinnati ranked near the bottom of the NL in on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. The Reds are holding their breath that Votto can regain the form that led him to the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player award.

      MILWAUKEE BREWERS: RF Ryan Braun was in the spotlight last season, when he returned from a 65-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy. Braun, 31, appeared to handle the boos and jeers just fine, but a nagging thumb injury led to career lows in batting average (.266), home runs (19) and RBIs (81). Not long after the season, Braun underwent a procedure that froze a nerve in the base of the thumb and has reported no further issues. The Brewers hope it holds up because not only is the 2011 NL MVP the lynchpin to their offense, he also is due $118 million over the next six seasons.

      PITTSBURGH PIRATES: LHP Clayton Richard is confident his shoulder woes are behind him and that he is ready to return to the big leagues. He compiled a 46-47 record in six major league seasons with the White Sox (2008-09) and Padres (2009-13) while posting a 4.33 ERA in 147 games, 129 of which were starts. In 2013, he had a 2-5 record with a 7.01 ERA in 12 games with the Padres before he was injured. Richard, 31, returned to pitch in the minor leagues last year and was largely ineffective.

      ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: LHP Jaime Garcia, who has one year left on his contract, wants to make the team in spring training. Garcia, 28, is a proven winner and innings-eater when he takes the ball every fifth day. And that is the problem ... when he takes the ball. Garcia has battled injuries most of the past two seasons, making just 16 starts. It is foolish to count on Garcia as a 32-start guy at this point, but with some uncertainty about the back end of this rotation, the Cardinals aren't excising him from their plans just yet.

      NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

      ATLANTA BRAVES: LHP Wandy Rodriguez was signed to a minor league contract, and he will try to show he is healthy enough to compete for the open slot as the fifth starter. The 36-year-old veteran pitched just half a season with Pittsburgh in 2013, and got into only six games for the Pirates last year, finishing 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA. The Braves signed him after a deal with Philadelphia fell through this winter. Rodriguez has a career 91-94 record with a 4.06 ERA in 258 games (248 starts).

      MIAMI MARLINS: The conditions could be right for Jhonatan Solano, 29, to make the team as a non-roster invitee. He is a native of Colombia, and he would be playing in a city with a majority Hispanic population, including lots of fellow Colombians. Also, his brother, Donovan Solano, is a reserve infielder on the Marlins, which should add to his comfort level. Jhonatan Solano posted a modest .602 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 36 big-league games for Washington in 2012-13 before spending all of last season in the minors. He will be challenging perhaps the most vulnerable Marlins veteran for a job -- backup catcher Jeff Mathis (.537 OPS last year).

      NEW YORK METS: RHP Buddy Carlyle actually came back last year, when he posted a 1.45 ERA over 27 relief outings -- more games than he appeared in between 2009 and 2013 combined. The Mets probably didn't expect Carlyle to return after outrighting him off the roster last Oct. 31, but he didn't find any big league offers before agreeing to a minor league deal with the Mets in January. The Mets like Carlyle, who will be the beneficiary if a reliever gets hurt and has to miss Opening Day.

      PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: OF Jeff Francoeur was once one of baseball's rising stars, driving 103 runs in 2006 and 105 in 2007 for Atlanta in his first two full major league seasons. However, Francoeur is now considered a "4A" player at 31, not quite good enough to play regularly in the major leagues but too good to be playing in the minor leagues. Francoeur has played in just 91 major league games over the last three seasons. He will get a chance to resurrect his career with the Phillies, and he could wind up being the right-handed-hitting side of a platoon in right field with Grady Sizemore.

      WASHINGTON NATIONALS: OF Nate McLouth has a lot to prove. He was signed to a two-year contract by the Nationals prior to 2014 but batted only .173 with a .517 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 139 at-bats over 79 games last year, hitting six doubles and one home run. His season ended after right shoulder surgery on Aug. 21 to repair a labral tear. The Nationals hope McLouth, 33, can recapture some of the magic that made him an All-Star with the Pirates in 2008 or at least come close to his .258 average with the Orioles in 2013.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

      HOUSTON ASTROS: RHP Dan Straily, once deemed ascendant by the Athletics, is seeking to rebound following a rough seven-appearance stretch with the Cubs last season. Straily, 26, finished 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA over 27 starts with Oakland in 2013, but after his trade to Chicago last July 5, he posted an 11.85 ERA while making just one start over the final three months. The Astros view Straily as a viable candidate for the fifth spot in their rotation. They hope to see the pitcher who went a combined 12-9 with a 3.94 ERA in 34 starts for Oakland in 2012 and 2013.

      LOS ANGELES ANGELS: RHP Matt Lindstrom, 35, was signed to a minor league deal, and he enters camp as a non-roster player, but he could crack the Opening Day roster if he has a good spring. Lindstrom has a 3.47 ERA and 51 saves in eight big league seasons, including spending time as a closer for the Marlins, Astros and White Sox. Last season with the White Sox, Lindstrom went 2-2 with a 5.03 ERA and six saves in 35 games. He likely will have to beat out RHP Vinnie Pestano for one of the final spots in the bullpen.

      OAKLAND ATHLETICS: INF Andy Parrino, a non-roster veteran, is a .179 career hitter in 114 major league games, but his glove could earn him a job with the A's if SS Marcus Semien, the projected new starter, falters in the field. Parrino, 29, spent three stints with the A's last season and started 15 games, including 11 at shortstop. He made just one error at shortstop and had a .972 fielding percentage. Parrino hit .274 with seven home runs and a minor league career-high 57 RBIs for Triple-A Round Rock and Sacramento last season.

      SEATTLE MARINERS: INF Rickie Weeks had a slow fall from grace with the over the past two-plus seasons, but Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik believes Weeks may have a little more left in his 32-year-old bat. The former Brewer hit 21 home runs in 2012 but managed just 18 total homers and 53 RBIs over the past two seasons. He won't challenge 2B Robinson Cano for a starting spot but could prove valuable as a utility infielder and pinch hitter off the bench.

      TEXAS RANGERS: Anyone remember how good Juan Carlos Oviedo was as a late-inning reliever? Well, maybe you remember him as Leo Nunez, the right-hander who totaled 92 saves from 2009-11 while pitching for the Marlins. Tommy John surgery and issues with his name change helped keep him out of the majors the next two seasons, but he showed flashes of what he could do last year with Tampa Bay. He posted a 3.69 ERA in 32 games and had 26 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings of work. Nunez, 32, could be just what the Rangers need in a young bullpen that could use a veteran stabilizing force or two.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

      CHICAGO WHITE SOX: RHP Brad Penny is making yet another effort at a big-league comeback -- this time with the White Sox. Penny, 36, signed a minor league deal with Chicago after a disappointing 2014 season in which he went 2-1 with a 6.58 ERA in eight appearances (four starts) with the Marlins. That was his first major league action since an unsuccessful, 22-game stint as a reliever for the Giants in 2012. A strong spring could give Penny a chance at a job as a starter or long reliever.

      CLEVELAND INDIANS: RHP Anthony Swarzak could squeeze his way into the bullpen with a strong training camp. The 29-year-old veteran signed a minor league contract with the Indians after pitching in the big leagues with the Twins for the last five years. In 50 appearances for Minnesota last year, Swarzak went 3-2 with a 4.60 ERA. The Indians need bullpen depth in the majors and in Triple-A. Swarzak and LHP Scott Downs, 38, appear to be the two strongest such candidates to fill that void.

      DETROIT TIGERS: RHP Joel Hanrahan, 33, was paid $1 million by the Tigers last year while working his way back from Tommy John surgery, although he did not appear in a game at any level. He signed a minor league contract for similar money with various release clauses this year. Hanrahan saved 40 and 36 games for Pittsburgh in 2011 and 2012 but only pitched nine games for Boston in 2013 before needing the surgery. He was throwing in the low 90s when the Tigers signed him last year but couldn't get healthy enough to pitch in minor league games.

      KANSAS CITY ROYALS: While the rotation appears set, RHP Joe Blanton will get a chance to make a comeback, likely starting the season with Triple-A Omaha. Blanton, 34, retired last May after compiling a 5.06 ERA in two starts with the Athletics' Triple-A Sacramento club following a spring training release by the Angels. Blanton last pitched in the majors in 2013 with the Angels, and it was ugly, 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA. Blanton, however, did have some productive seasons with the A's and Phillies before that, and he has a 4.51 ERA in 1,567 career innings. He provides insurance should a starter falter or if there is an injury.

      MINNESOTA TWINS: When the Twins moved Joe Mauer from catcher the first base, the hope was it would keep Mauer's prolific bat in the lineup more often. Mauer, who turns 32 a couple weeks into the season, had a nightmare of a first season at first base, hitting a career-low .277 with only four home runs -- the fewest he hit in a full season in his career. The Twins don't expect him to suddenly turn into a major power source, but a slash line around his career averages .319/.401/.459 would do a lot to bolster the middle of Minnesota's lineup.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

      BALTIMORE ORIOLES: C J.P. Arencibia gives the team some veteran depth behind the plate since there are still some questions about whether C Matt Wieters will be ready for Opening Day. C Caleb Joseph and C Nick Hundley shared the regular job for the final five months last year, and the team didn't get much offense there. Arencibia, 29, struggled with the Rangers in 2014, hitting .177 in 62 games and getting sent down to Triple-A, but he has worked with the Orioles' new hitting coach, Scott Coolbaugh, who also comes from the Rangers.

      BOSTON RED SOX: While the Red Sox have key players returning from surgeries, they also have a pitcher trying to regain his form to claim a spot in the rotation. RHP Justin Masterson, traded by Boston in the deal that brought DH Victor Martinez from Cleveland, endured an injury-plagued season with Cleveland and St. Louis last year, going 5-8 with a 5.88 ERA in 28 games (25 starts). He rejoined the Red Sox in December, signing a one-year, $9.5 million deal. Masterson, 30, was an All-Star for the Indians in 2013, going 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA.

      NEW YORK YANKEES: Before undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2012, RHP Scott Baker was a fairly effective pitcher for the Twins. From 2007-2011, he went 55-37 with a 3.98 ERA in 821 innings. After missing all of 2012, Baker made three starts for the Cubs in 2013, then went 3-4 with a 5.47 ERA in 25 appearances (eight starts) for the Rangers last year. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal in January, and he would earn $1.5 million if he makes the major league roster. If he can stay healthy, Baker, 33, may get a shot at cracking the rotation or serving as a long reliever.

      TAMPA BAY RAYS: RHP Ronald Belisario fits the profile of the kind of veteran reliever the Rays tend to remake. The 32-year-old is coming off a terrible season with the White Sox: 4-8 with a 5.56 ERA in 66 1/3 innings. However, he was 13-8 with a 3.24 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 139 innings for the Dodgers in 2012-13. That was enough for Tampa Bay to invite him to big league camp on a minor league contract. With rehabbing LHP Jake McGee unlikely to return before late April, there should be a spot or two open in the Rays' bullpen. Don't be surprised if Belisario grabs one of them and rebuilds his value this season.

      TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Back surgery limited OF Andy Dirks, 28, to 14 minor league games in 2014. The Blue Jays claimed him off waivers from the Tigers in the offseason, did not tender him a major league contract and signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring camp. He could be valuable as a left fielder. Michael Saunders (knee) could miss significant time after he was injured Wednesday. Already, Saunders was considered an option in center because rookie CF Dalton Pompey isn't guaranteed the job. Dirks batted .322/.370/.487 with eight homers and 35 RBIs in 88 games with the Tigers in 2012. He played 131 games with Detroit in 2013, batting .256/.323/.363 with nine homers and 37 RBIs.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Angels GM pleads fifth on Hamilton
    By The Sports Xchange

    Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto shed no new light on reported off-field issues and said outfielder Josh Hamilton is at home rehabbing from surgery.

    • "I'm not going to get into any kind of situation or information regarding Josh Hamilton," Dipoto said Thursday in Tempe, Ariz. "He's not here in camp with us. He is at home rehabbing from a surgery and I'm going to leave it at that."

      Dipoto said Wednesday that Hamilton was in New York for a meeting with baseball officials.

      Hamilton had shoulder surgery in early February. He met with MLB officials about an undisclosed disciplinary issue on Wednesday. According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Hamilton had a relapse of cocaine use.

      Manager Mike Scioscia said losing the potential a slugger like Hamilton brings will impact the depth of the lineup. For now, the plan in the outfield would include newly acquired Matt Joyce -- who came to the team in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays -- and Colin Cowgill platooning.

      "Cowgill is a teriffic left fielder," Scioscia said. "We can match him up."

      Dipoto said the Angels would remain focused on winning, regardless of what's next for Hamilton, who is owed $90 million over the next three seasons -- $25.4 million for 2015, $32.4 million in 2016 and $32.4 million in 2017.

      "We've got a nice mix of veterans and young players that will keep it together," he said.

      Hamilton missed 73 games last season. Hamilton batted .263 with a .331 on-base percentage, a .414 slugging percentage, 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 89 games. The power numbers were his lowest since 2009.

      From 2003-05, Hamilton was suspended from baseball for cocaine and alcohol addiction. He was reinstated but subject to ongoing drug testing and had alcohol relapses in 2009 and 2012.

      Hamilton came to the Angels in 2013 after signing a five-year, $125 million contract. He won the American League MVP award in 2010 and played in two consecutive World Series with the Texas Rangers.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Tanaka throws as Yankess weigh six-man plan
    By The Sports Xchange

    Masahiro Tanaka intensified his workout at a Thursday morning bullpen session in Tampa, Fla., and the New York Yankees liked what they saw from their right-handed ace.

    • Tanaka did not limit pitch selection and threw 40 pitches with pitching coach Larry Rothschild observing.

      "I feel that I'm on the right track," Tanaka said through an interpreter, adding that he was clear to throw split-finger fastballs, his most effective pitch in his 2014 rookie season. "Going through the workouts and going through the bullpen today also, it does give me confidence that I'm moving in the right direction."

      Tanaka said the only discomfort he has felt is considered normal after pitching workouts. He also threw a brief bullpen session Sunday.

      "The arm speed was there. You could see he dialed it up today," Rothschild said Thursday. "He's progressed at a routine you'd like him to progress at. Everything was good."

      Rothschild said earlier this spring that the Yankees could try a six-man rotation, helping Tanaka and CC Sabathia, who is recovering from knee surgery, additional rest days.

      "We do have the opportunity that if we need a sixth starter at times, we'll probably run him out there," Rothschild said Thursday. "If they can handle it and we're comfortable with it, we may go with it. Otherwise, we'll try to figure out how to get them through the first two months. It's not just Masahiro; there are three or four guys in that group."

      Tanaka is on pace to be ready for Opening Day should manager Joe Girardi choose to give him the nod.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Blue Jays OF Saunders hurt in sprinkler mishap
    By The Sports Xchange

    Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders was on crutches Thursday and could be out until July with a freak knee injury that requires surgery.

    • Saunders tore the meniscus in his left knee Wednesday, when he stepped on a sprinkler head in the outfield while shagging fly balls.

      "I just tried to walk off the field and not draw any attention to myself. Then, when I got into the training room, my knee felt like it was getting tight on the inside," Saunders said. "I've never had any issues with my knees, so that's when I knew that something was wrong."

      He said this is the first time he has had a knee injury -- but had two stints on the disabled list in 2014 with oblique and shoulder issues -- and will seek a second opinion before determining a course of action.

      Saunders was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in an offseason trade. The 28-year-old hit .273 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 2014.

      General manager Alex Anthopoulos said Thursday he made some calls Wednesday to find out who else could be available.

      A few National League West teams have a surplus of outfielders. The San Diego Padres are reportedly shopping Carlos Quentin, but his injury history is likely enough for the Blue Jays to keep looking. The Los Angeles Dodgers could be looking to deal after a flurry of trades in the offseason.

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015
    Dodgers gambling at back of rotation
    By The Sports Xchange

    GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers' new front-office troika of president Andrew Friedman, vice president Josh Byrnes and general manager Farhan Zaidi are making it clear they are not afraid to take some risks.

    • The Dodgers have already swapped out the back of their starting rotation, replacing veterans Dan Haren (traded) and Josh Beckett (retired) with a pair of free agents who have to be considered gambles.

      Right-hander Brandon McCarthy has a history of shoulder problems in his past, although he did pitch 200 innings for the first time in his career last year. Lefty Brett Anderson, meanwhile, is recovering from back surgery and has pitched fewer than 45 innings each of the past three seasons and no more than 112 since his rookie season due to a long list of injuries.

      Behind those two, the Dodgers have added depth -- but that depth has its own issues.

      Right-hander Brandon Beachy was signed to a one-year contract with a club option for 2016 despite the fact that he is rehabbing from a second Tommy John surgery and won't be ready to pitch until mid-season.

      "If you just talk about the ceiling for a guy like this, even just based on his performance before he got hurt, he's mid-rotation or better type guy," Zaidi said of Beachy, who was 14-11 with a 3.23 ERA in 46 career starts for the Atlanta Braves. "That upside is obviously very appealing to us and other teams that were pursuing him as well."

      Left-hander Erik Bedard and righty Chad Gaudin are also in camp on minor-league contracts. Bedard has three shoulder surgeries in his past while Gaudin sat out the entire 2014 season after undergoing neck surgery last February and failing a physical with the Philadelphia Phillies.

      "The average team uses 10 to 12 starting pitchers over the course of a season," Zaidi said. "It's not just about your first five guys."

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    Report: Angels' Hamilton admits drug relapse
    By The Sports Xchange

    Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton, a former drug addict and alcoholic, admitted to Major League Baseball officials Wednesday that he had a relapse involving cocaine, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported.

    • Hamilton confessed to a "binge that involved cocaine" several months ago, according to Heyman. He reportedly did not fail a drug test, and he could be treated as a first-time violator of baseball's drug policy.

      Earlier Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Angels were anticipating potential penalties involving Hamilton, who is also recovering from right shoulder surgery.

      "I can say that Josh is going to meet with league officials in New York," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto told the Times. "At this point, I have no other information to offer."

      Hamilton, 33, had an operation to repair the AC joint in his right shoulder Feb. 4 after trying all offseason to rehab the joint without surgery. He could sidelined for two to three months. He was rehabbing at home in Texas and was not been at the Angels' spring training complex.

      From 2003-05, Hamilton was suspended from baseball for cocaine and alcohol addiction. He was reinstated but subject to ongoing drug testing and had alcohol relapses in 2009 and 2012.

      Hamilton came to the Angels in 2013 after signing a five-year, $125 million contract. He won the American League MVP award in 2010 and played in two consecutive World Series with the Texas Rangers.

      Last year, Hamilton batted .263 with a .331 on-base percentage, a .414 slugging percentage, 10 homers and 44 RBIs in 89 games. The power numbers were his lowest since 2009.

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    Brewers' Braun eyes bounce-back year
    By The Sports Xchange

    PHOENIX -- The last few seasons have been unpleasant, to say the least, for Ryan Braun.

    • First there was the lingering cloud of the Biogenesis investigation that tainted his 2011 MVP campaign and hovered over him in 2012 before culminating in a 65-game suspension that ended his 2013 season in July.

      When he returned to the Milwaukee Brewers last spring, all eyes were on Braun, who showed no signs of rust in the first half of the season but faltered down the stretch because of a nagging injury to his right thumb.

      An offseason procedure to freeze the problematic nerve seems to have solved the puzzle and a healthy Braun arrived at Maryvale Baseball Park on Wednesday ready to turn the page and move forward.

      "I'm excited about it," Braun said during a late-afternoon session with reporters. "So far, it feels great. Everything so far has gone as well as I could have possibly hoped. Hopefully, over the next few weeks, it continues to do the same and we can stop talking about it at some point in the near future."

      The injury remains a leading topic of discussion as the Brewers try to move past a colossal late-season collapse that left them on the outside looking in on the playoffs despite spending 150 days atop the National League Central.

      Braun's struggles were a big factor. He posted career lows with a .266 batting average, 19 home runs and 81 RBIs.

      By September, the thumb was so bad that Braun all but disappeared. He hit just .210 with a home run and five RBIs in the Brewers' final 23 games.

      Braun said Wednesday that he feels the best he has since early in 2013 before the injury happened in a May game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The only changes he made this offseason were starting to take swings a little earlier than usual. He doesn't anticipate altering his approach on the march to Opening Day.

      "I don't think I'll be limited or anything," Braun said. "I'll have to be conscious about how many extra swings I take and stuff like that, but aside from that, I should be able to do everything."

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    MLB notebook: Angels' Hamilton could face MLB discipline
    By The Sports Xchange

    Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton was meeting with Major League Baseball officials on Wednesday in New York about a possible disciplinary issue, according to a report.

    • The Los Angeles Times reported that the Angels were anticipating potential penalties involving the injured Hamilton.

      "I can say that Josh is going to meet with league officials in New York," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto told the Times. "At this point, I have no other information to offer."

      Hamilton is sidelined for two to three months after offseason shoulder surgery. He is rehabbing at home in Texas and has not been at the Angels' spring training complex.

      In 2003-2005, Hamilton was suspended from baseball for cocaine and alcohol addiction. He was reinstated but subject to ongoing drug testing and had alcohol relapses in 2009 and 2012.

      Hamilton came to the Angels in 2013 after signing a five-year, $125 million contract.

      ---St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright said he doesn't believe his abdominal pain is the sign of a serious injury.

      Wainwright said he began feeling the twinge in his abdomen Feb. 16 while returning a 45-pound barbell back to the weight rack. He went through multiple issues without any sign of the issue but has experienced pain while running or quickly changing direction laterally.

      "I think it's strictly precautionary," he said. "It helps the training staff to be like, 'OK, this is exactly what we're treating.' And it helps me with peace of mind knowing that there is nothing wrong. What I have been told is that there is a very high possibility that we're going to get up there and go, 'All right, lay low for another couple days and you'll be good.'"

      ---Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was critical Wednesday of Major League Baseball's new pace-of-play rules for the 2015 season.

      Ortiz seemed almost amused by the requirement that batters keep one foot in the box at all times and said he's not going to change his ways at the plate.

      "Is that new?" Ortiz asked. "It seems like every rule goes in the pitcher's favor. After a pitch, you got to stay in the box? One foot? I call that (ridiculous)."

      Informed that the proposed fine for stepping out of the box during an at-bat is $500, Ortiz said, "Well, I might run out of money. I'm serious. I'm not going to change my game. I don't care what they say. My game, it's not like I go around and do all kinds of stupid (stuff). But I have to take my time and think about what that (pitcher) is going to do next. I'm pretty sure every single hitter at this level is on the same page."

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    Red Sox's Ortiz not a big fan of new rules
    By The Sports Xchange

    Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was critical Wednesday of Major League Baseball's new pace of play rules for the 2015 season.

    • Ortiz seemed almost amused by the requirement that batters keep one foot in the box at all times and said he's not going to change his ways at the plate.

      "Is that new?" Ortiz asked. "It seems like every rule goes in the pitcher's favor. After a pitch, you got to stay in the box? One foot? I call that bull----.

      "When you come out of the box, they don't understand you're thinking about what the (pitcher) is trying to do. This is not like, you go to the plate with an empty mind. No, no, no. When you see a guy, after a pitch, coming out of the box, he's not just doing it. Our minds are speeding up.

      "I saw one pitch, I come out, I'm thinking, 'What is this guy going to try to do to me next?' I'm not walking around just because there are cameras all over the place and I want my buddies back home to see me and this and that. It doesn't go that way.

      "When you force a hitter to do that, 70 percent you're out, because you don't have time to think. And the only time you have to think about things is that time. So I don't know how this baseball game is going to end up."

      Informed that the proposed fine for stepping out fo the box during an at-bat is $500, Ortiz said, "Well, I might run out of money. I'm serious. I'm not going to change my game. I don't care what they say. My game, it's not like I go around and do all kinds of stupid ----. But I have to take my time and think about what that (pitcher) is going to do next. I'm pretty sure every single hitter at this level is on the same page.

      "They put their rules together, but they don't talk to us, as hitters, how do you feel about this? You know what I'm saying? Why don't you come and ask questions first. And then we can get in an agreement. But then you got to do this just because you say so. Oh buddy, it doesn't work that way. Trust me."

      Ortiz believes the players should be consulted on any rule changes.

      "It doesn't matter what they do, the game is not going to speed up. That's the bottom line," he said. "When you argue for a pitch and they got to review it, that takes some time. Is that our fault? No. It's their fault. But we still got to play the game.

      "This game has been going on 100 years. It's the nature of the game. I don't care who you are, you're not going to change it. That is our nature. Pitch comes through, you come out of the box, you go back in it."

      Ortiz is upset because he believes the new rules will affect hitters more than pitchers.

      "How about all the pitchers who go around the mound and do all that bull----," Ortiz said. "What about that? Why don't they tell the pitcher, 'Throw the pitch and stay on the mound. Don't move.' If they're going to do it on us, they should do it on the pitchers, too. We're not the only ones in the game, you know what I'm saying?"

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    Rangers' first order of business: Who's hitting where?
    By The Sports Xchange

    SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Texas Rangers don't have many position battles to figure out this spring, with the exception of left field.

    • But what Texas does have to figure out is the batting order.

      The Rangers have two potential leadoff men in center fielder Leonys Martin and right fielder Shin-Soo Choo. They have two options for the No. 3 spot in third baseman Adrian Beltre and first baseman Prince Fielder. And they also have to figure out where Elvis Andrus, who has batted near the top of the order the last couple of seasons, fits.

      For new manager Jeff Banister, that's what the Cactus League games, which begin March 4, are for.

      "We talk a lot about the structure of the lineup and where guys hit best and really what it comes down to is you have three guys that you really like (who are) right in the middle of your lineup that really drive your run-scoring opportunities," said Banister, who mentioned only Fielder and Beltre for those three spots. "You'd like for those slots to stay as consistent as you possibly can."

      Choo led off for the Rangers 96 times last season but can hit in other spots in the lineup, which could give Martin the edge for the leadoff spot. Martin hit .298 in 35 games as the No. 1 hitter and also stole 31 bases.

      The plan last season was for Fielder to hit third, but injuries limited him to 42 games. Beltre was the cleanup hitter 130 times. Banister said Fielder and Beltre have the skill to hit either third or fourth.

      "Eventually you want to be able to structure your lineup so they're familiar with where they are in the lineup and have some synergy with each other going into the season," Banister said.

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    Yankees 3B Headley getting acquainted with A-Rod
    By The Sports Xchange

    Although position players were not due in New York Yankees camp until Wednesday, several have already reported early.

    • Alex Rodriguez showed up two days early by appearing for his physical on Monday. He hit six home runs in a round of batting practice at the team's minor league complex.

      Also showing up early was Chase Headley, who is Rodriguez's successor at third base. Headley has held that unofficial title since being acquired from the San Diego Padres on July 22 and now officially gets that distinction for the next four years after re-signing for $52 million.

      On Tuesday, Rodriguez and Headley capitalized on being early arrivals. They became acquainted with each other while running, hitting and fielding ground balls at third base.

      Headley returned to the Yankees after a steady two-plus months. When the Yankees acquired him for third baseman Yangervis Solarte and a low-level pitching prospect, Headley had been experiencing difficulties with his back and was a .229 hitter.

      In 58 games for the Yankees, who also used him occasionally at first base, Headley batted .262 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. He also had a .371 on-base percentage in those games and that was similar to his peak years in San Diego.

      Headley had not talked to Rodriguez until Tuesday and it seemed like a typical first meeting between new teammates as opposed to one that might end up on the back page.

      "As a player, you experience different things in your career," Headley said to reporters in Tampa. "And I've been around long enough that there's been different sets of circumstances that I've dealt with, and this is just another one. As far as a teammate, I expect him to be great.

      "I've heard great things from other guys, and every interaction that I've had with him has been positive. Hopefully here in a few days everything will calm down and we'll start talking about baseball, but you know, obviously you expect to answer the questions about him. But from my point of view, it's business as usual."

      Headley has several new teammates to get acquainted with. It's just that any interaction with Rodriguez will take prominence.

      "Really, he's another teammate," Headley said of A-Rod. "And (I'll do) anything I can do to help him, and I'm sure he feels the same way. That's what's important. We're going to try to win a lot of games."

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    Braves CF Upton hopes to rebound, start new chapter
    By The Sports Xchange

    B.J. Upton hit a combined .198 with 324 strikeouts in his first two seasons with the Atlanta Braves, doing nothing except getting former general manager Frank Wren fired for the blunder of giving the center fielder a five-year, $75.25 million contract as a free agent.

    • Now the team can only hope that new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer will get Melvin Upton Jr. back to a semblance of what he was under his old name while with the Tampa Bay Rays.

      Upton joined camp workouts three days earlier than required for position players having discarded his nickname for official use and hopefully started to regain his batting stroke.

      The 30-year-old claimed that going to his birth name had nothing to do with starting a new chapter, but the Braves certainly want to see something other than the hitter he was the past two seasons.

      Seitzer spent time with Upton in Arizona and Florida over the winter and both think that strides have been made. A quick fix is unlikely, though.

      "I don't want to build expectations to where everybody has him under a microscope," Seitzer said. "That's going to happen anyway. But this is a process to build this kid back to where he was a few years ago."

      The Braves still owe Upton $46 million, but manager Fredi Gonzalez won't be under the same pressure to put him in the lineup every day like he was while Wren was around. Rookies Eury Perez and Todd Cunningham are options in center. So could be veteran Eric Young Jr.

      Seitzer wants Upton to shorten up his swing and concentrate on working the middle of the field. Of course, that was the same message from former hitting coach Greg Walker. Seitzer, though, claims there has already been some progress.

      A lot of progress is needed. Upton has a .279 on-base percentage and .314 slugging mark with the Braves.

      By any name and at any price, that isn't satisfactory.

      "I'm in a good spot, mentally," Upton said. "I know what I need to do."

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    D-backs' Hill looks to recapture second base
    By The Sports Xchange

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Diamondbacks entered spring training without a set middle infield combination, but Aaron Hill believes he is more than capable of recapturing second base.

    • "I feel great, and I know I have a couple of years left," Hill said. "Whether it's with these guys or someone else, I'm an everyday second baseman for a couple of more years. Right now, I feel awesome, and that's all I can go on. Obviously you can't predict the future, but right now I know I have plenty of good years left."

      Hill has been Arizona's starting second baseman since he arrived in a trade with Toronto in August 2011, but he played sparingly last September when the D-backs wanted to see youngsters Chris Owings at second base and Didi Gregorius at shortstop. Gregorius was moved to the New York Yankees in the offseason, but the D-backs are high only on slick-fielding Nick Ahmed this season. They have said Owings will play, whether at second base or shortstop, and the other job is up for competition.

      "The best guy plays every day," Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said of his ideal scenario. "If Aaron Hill comes in and he is back to Aaron Hill that his baseball card says on the back ... If he's the best guy at that position, he'll be our second baseman."

      Hill has had a steady, productive career. Since his first full season in Toronto in 2006, he has averaged 30 doubles, 16 home runs and 63 RBIs. That includes 2008, when he missed the final four months with concussion symptoms, and 2012, when he missed 11 weeks with a fractured bone in his left hand.

      Hill finished in the top four among National League second basemen in doubles (26), homers (10) and RBIs (60) despite limited playing the last month of 2014, although his OPS (.654) was a career low. Advanced defensive metrics also indicated his range had declined.

      "I love where I am physically. Speed-wise. Explosive-wise," Hill said. "Everything got to a point where I feel like I haven't been in a couple of years. I wasn't trying to lose weight. I got faster and stronger and I just happened to lose weight."

      Hill played through a wrist injury last season, although he told no one.

      "That's no excuse," Hill said. "You always have things, but I'm never going to blame that. There are always bumps or bruises. You just keep going. As far as last year, it was a tough year. It was a tough year on the team. It was a tough year on the fans. It was a tough year on everybody. It's good to go through those times, because you look back on it and say, it is past, you can learn from it. But it's never easy."

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
    Rookies to watch for all 30 MLB teams
    By The Sports Xchange

    While political relations between the United States and Cuba are warming, the pipeline of Cuban talent to the major leagues already is red hot.

    • Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu won the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2014, and several other Cuban defectors could find themselves playing major roles as rookies in 2015.

      Boston Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Raisel Iglesias and Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman/outfielder Yasmany Tomas are among this year's most heralded rookies.

      A look at the rookies to watch for each team this spring, according to The Sports Xchange's network of baseball correspondents.

      NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

      ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: 3B/OF Yasmany Tomas, the Cuban who signed a Jose Abreu-like $68.5 million free agent contact in early December, impressed the Diamondbacks brass in his workouts in the Dominican Republic. The front office feels he can fit at third base despite his relative inexperience at the position. Tomas, 24, will not be forced into the spot and could move to the outfield, but that is definitely Plan B. Even Plan C. Tomas, 24, played outfield for the Havana Industriales for most of the past seven years.

      COLORADO ROCKIES: RHP Eddie Butler and RHP Jon Gray, Colorado's two best pitching prospects, are likely to contribute at some point during the season. However, neither is expected to open the season with the Rockies. Butler, 23, mostly struggled in his brief taste of the big leagues last season but has strengthened his legs through diligent offseason work that should better enable him to repeat his delivery. He finished 6-9 with a 3.58 ERA in 18 starts for Double-A Tulsa. Gray, 23, went 10-5 with a 3.98 ERA for Tulsa last year, but he was shut down for the final 10 days and playoffs due to shoulder fatigue.

      LOS ANGELES DODGERS: The Dodgers' three blue-chip prospects -- OF Joc Pederson, SS Corey Seager and LHP Julio Urias -- all are in big-league camp. However, only Pederson has a shot at making the Opening Day roster. Pederson, 22, tore it up in the Pacific Coast League last year, turning in the first 30-30 season in that league in more than 80 years. The doors are open to him starting the season as the Dodgers' primary center fielder. However, his performance as a September call-up gave the Dodgers reason to be cautious. Pederson went 4-for-28 (.143) with 11 strikeouts in his first taste of big-league pitching.

      SAN DIEGO PADRES: INF/OF Cory Spangenberg, the Padres' first-round pick (10th overall) in the 2011 draft, will be part of the competition to fill the third base job. Spangenberg, 23, hit .290 with a .313 on-base percentage in 62 at-bats with San Diego last September after batting .331 with a .365 on-base percentage, in 66 games for Double-A San Antonio. He remains a long shot to grab the everyday job. Spangenberg, who also plays second base and center field, likely will start the season with Triple-A El Paso.

      SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: It is distinctly possible the Giants will begin the 2015 season without a rookie on the 25-man roster. Several promising young pitchers appear to be at least a year away, including LHP Ty Blach, who went 8-8 with a 3.13 ERA as a starter for Double-A Richmond last season. The thing that gives Blach, 24, a slight edge over his fellow rookies this spring is that he is more experienced than most and he is left-handed. Bullpen-savvy Giants manager Bruce Bochy might decide he needs a left-handed long reliever, and Blach could be that guy.

      NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

      CHICAGO CUBS: 3B Kris Bryant ripped through minor league pitching in 2014, hitting 43 home runs and compiling a .325 batting average in stints at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa as he claimed Baseball America's minor league player of the year honors. Bryant, 23, also struck out 162 times. He might not make his Cubs debut until late April, a move that has more to do with delaying his future arbitration eligibility and free agency than the team's needs in 2015. Mike Olt is projected to start the season at third.

      CINCINNATI REDS: RHP Raisel Iglesias was signed by the Reds on June 27 to a seven-year, $27 million contract, and the Cuban defector wowed observers during his stint in the Arizona Fall League. He showed solid command of his breaking ball, changeup and fastball, which consistently was at 93-94 mph. The offseason trades of RHP Mat Latos and RHP Alfredo Simon created a void in the rotation, and Iglesias appears to be on the fast track to filling one of those spots.

      MILWAUKEE BREWERS: Technically, Jimmy Nelson exhausted his rookie status last year but all eyes are on the 25-year-old right-hander as he opens the season in the Brewers' rotation. Nelson dominated at the Triple-A level last year (10-2, 1.46 ERA, 114 strikeouts) but went just 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA in 14 appearances (12 starts) with the Brewers. To make room for Nelson, the Brewers shipped their last home-grown pitching prospect, RHP Yovani Gallardo, to the Rangers for a handful of prospects. It is Nelson's time to shine.

      PITTSBURGH PIRATES: INF Jung-Ho Kang is a rookie, but the 27-year-old has plenty of professional experience. He played for nine seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization, and he hit .306 with 40 home runs in 117 games for the Nexen Heroes last year. The Pirates signed Kang to a four-year, $11-million contract as a free agent Jan. 16 and also paid a $5 million posting fee to the Heroes. While Kang will begin the season as a utility player, it seems likely the Pirates will find a regular spot for him in the lineup if he proves the power he showed in Korea can translate to the major leagues.

      ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: LHP Marco Gonzales won four games for St. Louis in the final month of the 2014 season, then picked up two more victories in the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. Gonzales is battling RHP Carlos Martinez for the No. 5 spot in the rotation this spring. The team's top pick in the 2013 draft, Gonzales is at his best when he can get ahead in the count and use his changeup as his out pitch. If Gonzales doesn't win a spot in the rotation, he could make the Opening Day roster as a reliever.

      NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

      ATLANTA BRAVES: Christian Bethancourt is already penciled in as the regular catcher this season. The 23-year-old from Panama hit .248 with a .274 on-base percentage, no homers and nine RBIs in 31 games for Atlanta last season. He spent the bulk of 2014 with Triple-A Gwinnett, batting .283 with a .308 on-base percentage, a .408 slugging percentage, eight homers and 48 RBIs in 91 games. Bethancourt possesses a rocket arm and is viewed as an adept game manager.

      MIAMI MARLINS: The rookie most likely to help the Marlins this year is LHP Justin Nicolino, 23, who went 14-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 28 starts for Double-A Jacksonville last year. Nicolino has phenomenal control -- just 20 walks in 170 1/3 innings in 2014 -- but he is far from overpowering. The other rookie to watch is C J.T. Realmuto, who hit .299 with a .461 slugging percentage last season in Double-A. Both players likely will start the season in Triple-A and await a call to the majors, which could happen if the Marlins have an injury to one of their starting pitchers or catchers.

      NEW YORK METS: There is no room in the rotation for RHP Noah Syndergaard, and even if there were, the Mets would send him down to Triple-A Las Vegas to prevent him from becoming eligible for arbitration prior to 2019. However, he is the latest can't-miss pitching prospect developed by the pitching-rich Mets, and spring training will provide a glimpse at someone who should help no later than August. Syndergaard, 22, went 9-7 with a 4.60 ERA in 26 starts for Las Vegas last year.

      PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: The Phillies selected LHP Andy Oliver from Pittsburgh and INF/OF Odubel Herrera from Texas in the Rule 5 draft in December at the winter meetings. Oliver, 27, went 3-4 with 13 saves and a 2.53 ERA in 48 games for Triple-A Indianapolis last season, while Herrera, 23, hit a combined .315 with 21 stolen bases in 125 games with high Class A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco. Both players must be kept in the major leagues all season or being offered back to their original teams for half the $50,000 draft price. In a season in which the Phillies are unlikely to contend, they might keep both players.

      WASHINGTON NATIONALS: OF Michael A. Taylor could find himself in the mix sooner than expected. Since LF Jayson Werth may not be ready for Opening Day after right shoulder surgery in early January, Taylor might serve as the understudy early in the season. Washington would like to see him get more at bats at Triple-A, but Taylor is already major-league-ready as a plus defender. He homered in his first big league game Aug. 12 in New York against the Mets and hit .205 in 39 at-bats for the Nationals last season. Taylor was the Double-A Eastern League MVP and also played in 12 games with Triple-A Syracuse.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

      HOUSTON ASTROS: RHP Mark Appel redeemed himself following a controversial promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi last season, finishing 1-2 with a 3.96 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 39 innings with the Hooks. Appel was roughed up at high Class A Lancaster (2-5, 9.74 ERA over 12 starts), but, as the Astros' top pitching prospect, was promoted nonetheless and subsequently showcased flashes of his potential. While competition is stiff for the fifth and final spot in the rotation, Appel is in the mix.

      LOS ANGELES ANGELS: LHP Andrew Heaney was traded twice in the offseason, first from the Marlins to the Dodgers, then from the Dodgers to the Angels. Heaney, 23, has a good chance of making an immediate impact in the rotation after ascending from Double-A at the start of last season and reaching the majors. He went 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA in seven games for Miami last year after going 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A. Heaney will get some competition in camp from rookie RHP Nick Tropeano, who came to the Angels in a trade with the Astros for C Hank Conger.

      OAKLAND ATHLETICS: INF/OF Mark Canha came to the A's from Colorado in a Dec. 11 trade just hours after the Rockies selected him from the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft. The A's must keep him on their 25-man roster all season or offer him back to Miami, which means he likely will get every opportunity to stick. Canha, 26, hit a minor league career-high .303 with 20 home runs and 82 RBI for Triple-A New Orleans last season. He also walked 57 times and had a career-high .384 on-base percentage. Canha's right-handed pop and versatility could help him make the Opening Day roster.

      SEATTLE MARINERS: 1B D.J. Peterson could be a ready-for-prime-time answer to the biggest question mark in the Mariners' batting lineup. Veteran Logan Morrison provided some big hits but has struggled with consistency and health for most of his career. Peterson, the 12th overall pick in the 2013 draft, is a natural third baseman, but he saw some time at other positions last season and could be the Mariners' first baseman of the future. Having turned 23 in December, Peterson could be on the verge of making his major league debut.

      TEXAS RANGERS: OF Delino DeShields Jr., whose father was a standout for the Expos, was nabbed by the Rangers from Houston in the Rule 5 draft. Deshields, 22, was a first-round pick for Houston in 2010 but only made it as high as Double-A. He hit just .236 last year for Double-A Corpus Christi but had 11 home runs and 57 RBIs. He is the favorite to win the backup job in center field and could be a huge tool off the bench too because of his speed. He had 54 steals in 114 games last season, and he cracked the 50-steal mark in each of the past three seasons.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

      CHICAGO WHITE SOX: The question is when -- not if -- LHP Carlos Rodon will join the staff. The team drafted Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick in 2014, and he made three starts for Triple-A Charlotte (0-0, 3.00 ERA) by season's end. In six starts for lower-level farm teams last year, Rodon had no decisions and a 2.84 ERA. Overall, he struck out 38 and walked 13 in 24 2/3 minor league innings. Rodon, 22, could challenge RHP Hector Noesi for the fifth starter's job during spring training.

      CLEVELAND INDIANS: Francisco Lindor was ticketed for shortstop on the major league team ever since the Indians selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Lindor, 21, could be the Indians' best all-around shortstop since the heyday of Omar Vizquel. The switch hitter batted .276 with 11 home runs, 62 RBIs and 28 stolen bases in a combined 507 at-bats at Triple-A Columbus and Double-A Akron last year. Only 165 of those at bats came at Columbus, so Indians officials already stated that Lindor will start the 2015 season at Columbus to finish off his development. He is expected to get the call to Cleveland by the All-Star break.

      DETROIT TIGERS: RF Steven Moya, 23, is the most prominent rookie in Detroit's camp, but he is likely to open the season at Triple-A Toledo. Moya batted .375 in 11 games for Detroit last September following an Eastern League MVP season at Erie, where he hit 35 home runs and drove in 105 runs while posting a .276 average. A rookie with a better chance of making the Opening Day squad is C James McCann, 24, who could win the battle to be Alex Avila's backup.

      KANSAS CITY ROYALS: LHP Brandon Finnegan went from being a 2014 first-round draft pick out of TCU to pitching in the World Series. He became the first player to pitch in the College World Series and the World Series in the same year. Finnegan, 21, posted a 1.20 ERA in seven regular-season September games and was not in awe in the playoffs. The Royals view him as a potential frontline starter, but he will he be too valuable as a left-handed setup man for the Royals to send him to the minors this spring.

      MINNESOTA TWINS: RHP Alex Meyer is the rookie with perhaps the best chance to come north with the Twins. At 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Meyer throws his fastball in the high 90s and is regarded as the best pitching prospect to come through the Twins organization in years. "We'll see him this year (in the big leagues), I'm almost sure of that, unless something freaky happens injury-wise," manager Paul Molitor told KSTP-TV in December. The Twins will give Meyer a chance to win the fifth starter job during the spring, but Molitor hasn't ruled out keeping Meyer in the bullpen to start the year. Long term, Meyer possesses the stuff to lead the rotation.

      AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

      BALTIMORE ORIOLES: RHP Dylan Bundy, 22, appears all the way back from Tommy John surgery performed in 2013, going 1-3 in nine Class A starts last year with two teams. However, the Orioles probably want him to begin the season in the minors and come up later this season. A first-round draft pick in 2011, Bundy reached the majors for a brief stint in September 2012. He missed all of the following season, then eased his way back into action in 2014 while striking out 37 and walking 16 in 41 1/3 innings.

      BOSTON RED SOX: OF Rusney Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal out of Cuba last August, appeared in 10 games for the Red Sox in 2014. His development could have something to do with the success of the team this year. He showed flashes during his time in Boston, batting .333 with two homers and six RBIs, his quick rise to the big leagues coming after having not played competitively for a year and a half. He also stole three bases, so the potential is clearly there for a multitalented guy.

      NEW YORK YANKEES: Most of the Yankees' positional prospects are further down in the minor league system, but 2B Rob Refsnyder will get a long look in exhibition games. A fifth-round pick out of Arizona in 2012, Refsnyder produced a .297 average in the minors and batted .344 against left-handed pitching last season. If he produces in spring training, it is possible the Yankees would begin the season with a neophyte at second base, and that is not something they often do.

      TAMPA BAY RAYS: OF Steven Souza Jr. was the biggest part of the Rays' return in the three-team trade that sent former Rookie of the Year Wil Myers to the Padres. By Opening Day, Souza likely will have taken Myers' spot as the starting right fielder. If Tampa Bay is going to provide Evan Longoria with any lineup protection, Souza might be the best bet. That is a lot of pressure on a 25-year-old rookie with a whopping 26 major league plate appearances. Souza is coming off a monster year in Triple-A (.350 average, 1.022 OPS, 18 home runs and 75 RBIs in 96 games). He will compete for playing time with David DeJesus, Brandon Guyer and Kevin Kiermaier.

      TORONTO BLUE JAYS: RHP Aaron Sanchez, 22, and LHP Daniel Norris, 21, are candidates for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, although Sanchez's immediate future could be in the bullpen, where he began his major league career. Sanchez showed enough last season that there is a possibility that he could take the closer spot. Norris went 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA at three minor league levels from Class A to Triple-A last season and was 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA in five major league outings (one start). Sanchez, 22, was 3-7 with a 3.95 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last year and was 2-2 with a 1.09 ERA and three saves in 24 relief outings in the majors.

  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015
    Mets, Harvey in agreement on next steps of recovery
    By The Sports Xchange

    It remains to be seen if New York Mets right-hander Matt Harvey can beat the odds and regain his ace form in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. But Harvey has already authored one surprise -- a low-key start to his first spring training with a reconstructed right elbow.

    • Harvey isn't much for subtlety, but his quiet entrance to Port St. Lucie was an indication he's ready to fit in and help the Mets in their attempt to return to relevance.

      "I'm excited to be here and be able to do everything, like everybody," Harvey said. "Not be on my own program."

      The battle between Harvey and the Mets over his program was a season-long storyline last year, when the alpha male ace chafed at the restrictions the Mets tried placing on him, on and off the field.

      First the Mets tried shielding Harvey from interviews and placed his locker at the very back of the home clubhouse at Citi Field. The Mets also initially insisted Harvey do his rehab in Port St. Lucie, per club protocol.

      Harvey, who is the Mets' player representative, reminded the Mets that the collective bargaining agreement means a team can't have a player rehabbing at its spring training complex for more than 20 straight days without his consent. So Harvey spent many homestands with the Mets, and did so while dressing at a locker in the front of the room.

      The Mets eventually eased on their no-interview-policy as well, but Harvey still managed to annoy the organization by conducting an in-game interview with ESPN Radio during which he said he hoped to pitch in a major league game in 2014 -- which ran counter to New York's plans to keep him out of any game action entire season.

      The Mets won that battle by slowing up Harvey's rehab in the late summer, which meant the closest he got to real competition was a September mound session at Citi Field.

      But all that is well in the past, and Harvey and the Mets are in agreement that the only thing worth thinking about is 2015.

      "I think some of that stuff was all made up," Harvey said. "Internally, we were fine. Everything was good. Once the year was over, it's time to play and get ready for the season. So that was the main focus."

  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015
    Red Sox continue offseason momentum with more signings
    By The Sports Xchange

    With spring training just underway, the Boston Red Sox already continued the momentum of their busy offseason with three more big signings.

    • Manager John Farrell, who won a World Series in his first season in Boston before finishing last in 2014, was extended for two more years. General manager Ben Cherington was also extended. That was a deal that was actually struck last spring but not announced until now.

      But the truly big news was the apparent signing of another major Cuban prospect, infielder Yoan Moncada, who was to receive a whopping $31.5 million signing bonus.

      Not bad for a 19-year-old kid.

      "High-ceiling players, you have to take risks on, but especially young players," Red Sox owner John Henry said after arriving at camp. "If there's one thing I know, it's that until the deal is done, it's not done.

      "There's no deal yet. If it were to happen, would I be uncomfortable? No. We did an analysis, and you take risks with every player. More and more we prefer to take risks with younger players rather than older ones."

      It's not clear where Moncada, seen as a five-tool player, fits into the team's future, but that can wait. For now, he's likely to spend at least this season in the minor leagues and his future position will be decided ... in the future.

      On Cherington, the owner said, "I remember thinking that we wanted to announce them both at the same time, but I think Ben's deal was done in May or June last year. When it's your deal, if you're Ben, the last thing you want to do is talk about your deal. That's the kind of guy he is. He doesn't like to talk about personal things."

      Asked about the Farrell extension, Cherington said, "We wanted to get something done with him prior to spring training. We almost made it. This gets the question out of the way."

  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015
    MLB notebook: Aaron supports Rodriguez in return
    By The Sports Xchange

    Alex Rodriguez has a lot of detractors, but Hank Aaron doesn't appear to be one of them. The former Atlanta Braves slugger with 755 career home runs told Newsday that he's pulling for the New York Yankees third baseman to make a successful return after serving a yearlong suspension over a performance-enhancing drug scandal.

    • Rodriguez is in spring training camp with the Yankees, but the 81-year-old Aaron expects the long layoff from baseball to hurt Rodriguez, who turns 40 this summer.

      "I wish him well, but I just don't know," Aaron said. "When you're (away) from playing the game the whole year and go out and then have to face kids that are throwing 90 mph, it's a tough thing."

      ---As a player, Manny Ramirez was feared as well as quirky and flamboyant. He also was suspended twice later in his career for violating the league's policy on substance abuse. But now Ramirez is making a name as a pretty good minor league coach. On Tuesday, the Cubs announced that Ramirez would be a hitting consultant for the big-league club.

      Ramirez spent last season as a player-coach for Iowa, Chicago's Triple-A team. He earned rave reviews at Iowa, which prompted Tuesday's announcement.

      The Cubs also tabbed Kevin Youkilis to scout parts of California. Youkilis' responsibilities will include working with minor league hitters.

      ---The Texas Rangers obtained left-handed reliever Edgar Olmos off waivers from the Seattle Mariners and placed second baseman Jurickson Profar on the 60-day disabled list Tuesday.

      Profar underwent shoulder surgery on Monday. Olmos took Profar's spot on the 40-man roster.

      Olmos was drafted by the Marlins in 2008 and was with the franchise until he was claimed by Seattle during the offseason. Last week, the Mariners designted Olmos for assignment. Between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans last year, Olmos posted a combined 3-3 record with three saves and a 4.06 ERA in 51 appearances. Olmos' only major league experience came in 2013 when he pitched five innings in five games, logging an 0-1 record and giving up four earned runs.

      ---A mild left intercostal strain will keep New York Mets first baseman Lucas Duda from swinging a bat for more several days.

      Duda is hoping that rest and a cortisone shot will help promote healing. He has not taken any cuts for several weeks.

      Duda joined the team for infield practice on Tuesday. Throwing doesn't bother him, and he said he's also spending time in the batting cage following pitches. Last year, Duda led the Mets with 30 home runs and 92 RBIs.

      --St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright is on his way back to St. Louis after abdominal pain has limited his workouts.

      Wainwright has an appointment with a specialist Thursday. He already was on a delayed throwing schedule, but at least now, the team can get an idea what's causing Wainwright pain.

      Wainwright has not had any soreness or discomfort in his elbow as he looks to bounce back from surgery, which removed a bone spur and cartilage. Wainwright will see Dr. Michael Brunt at Washington University.

      ---Relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain and the Detroit Tigers agreed on a one-year deal that keeps the 29-year-old in Motown.

      The team announced Tuesday that the deal is worth $1 million plus incentives.

      Chamberlain struck out 59 in 63 innings and compiled a 3.57 ERA in his first season with the Tigers. In eight big-league seasons, the right-hander has a career 3.81 ERA

      ---The anticipated deal between the Baltimore Orioles and infielder Everth Cabrera has been finalized.

      CBSSports.com reported Cabrera's contract is worth $2.4 million plus incentives. The two sides were close to a deal last week.

      Cabrera struggled last season with San Diego. He was the Padres' starting shortstop but batted only .232. In 2013, he was All-Star for San Diego. He most likely will be a utility player for the Orioles, who already have J.J. Hardy penciled in at short.

  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015
    Zito tries to make A's with fewer pitches
    By The Sports Xchange

    Veteran left-hander Barry Zito hopes less is more when it comes to his pitching repertoire as he tries to revive his major-league career with the Oakland A's, the team that drafted him.

    • Zito has eliminated the cut fastball from his arsenal. He'll concentrate on throwing fastballs, curves and changeups, the three pitches he relied on during his first four seasons with the A's from 2000-2003 when he went 61-29 with a 3.12 ERA, won a Cy Young Award and made two All-Star teams.

      Zito started tinkering with the cut fastball later in his A's career and relied on it heavily with the San Francisco Giants from 2007 to 2013.

      "I think my delivery just degraded slowly over the years," Zito said after his first spring-training throwing session. "I'm getting back to fastball, curveball, changeup. That late (movement) into righties, things that really made me who I was.

      "The more I threw the cutter, the less feel I had for the changeup, the less spin I had on my fastball. I think the cutter messed a lot of things up."

      Zito went 102-63 with a 3.55 ERA in seven seasons with Oakland. He went 63-80 with a 4.62 ERA in seven seasons with San Francisco.

      Zito signed a minor-league contract with the A's this year after sitting out the 2014 season.

  • Tuesday, February 24, 2015
    Astros bulk up back of bullpen
    By The Sports Xchange

    Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch appears averse to the notion of a closer competition yet acknowledged that the signings of right-handers Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek open the door for late-game, high-leverage options in addition to incumbent closer Chad Qualls.

    • In Gregerson and Neshek, the Astros welcome two experienced relievers capable of finishing games, although both lack the extensive closing experience on Qualls' résume.

      Qualls saved 19 games for the Astros in 2014 to bump his 11-year career total to 70, which includes the 24 saves he amassed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009.

      Gregerson has 16 saves in his past three seasons (including a career-best nine with the San Diego Padres in 2012). Neshek had the only six saves of his career during his All-Star run with the St. Louis Cardinals last year.

      Both served primarily in setup roles a season ago, but Hinch has made clear that he aims to explore all options during camp -- and that includes right-hander Josh Fields and lefty Tony Sipp.

      "I've told these guys I'm going to communicate with them as decisions are starting to be formed," Hinch told MLB.com. "When you have resumed guys like Qualls and Gregerson and Neshek -- and I know Sipp closed out some games last year and Fields has done it in the past -- there's less need to sort of try out."

      Thus, Hinch views the process more as an evaluation than a competition, with all five pitchers capable of handling the chore. In all likelihood, the job falls to Qualls, whose reliability last season (excluding his bizarre struggles against the Oakland Athletics) makes him the leading candidate to win a job that isn't necessarily up for grabs.

      Qualls, to his credit, welcomes the additions and the competition and gave every indication that he is available for duty no matter the role. While there is plenty of debate regarding the functionality of the closer-by-committee approach, the Astros at least have a number of legitimate major league relievers on hand to help Hinch cement his decision.

      "I know we have a lot of good arms in the back of the pen with Luke, Pat and Josh," Qualls told MLB.com. "We'll just go out there and throw up zeros and try to preserve some wins for the starters."