By Mark Bowman / MLB.com | @mlbbowman | April 24th, 2016
ATLANTA -- After learning that he would realize his dream to pitch in the big leagues, Braves right-hander Aaron Blair flew from Charlotte to Atlanta on Saturday morning and arrived at Turner Field a short time later, only to be told that he would need to experience his final hours of anticipation away from the stadium.
When Blair returned on Sunday morning to get his first true taste of being a big leaguer, he took advantage of the chance to show why he stands as a highly-regarded prospect. But the damage he incurred at the start and end of his debut proved costly enough for the Braves in a 3-2 loss to the Mets.
"It was good to get out there to make my debut," said Blair, who ranks as the No. 54 overall prospect by MLBPipeline.com. "You only make it once. It was a special day for me and my family."
As his parents, fiancée and approximately 20 other friends and family members settled into their seats, Blair encountered immediate trouble, surrendering a single to three of the first five batters he faced. Michael Conforto's sacrifice fly gave the Mets a first-inning lead and also accounted for the first out recorded by the promising 23-year-old, who seemed unfazed by his rocky beginning.
"I actually wasn't too hyped or too anxious, especially after the third pitch, giving up a base hit and then fifth pitch, base hit," Blair said. "I kind of had to settle in real quick and it was fun."
Blair's fastball gained a little more life in the second inning and he benefited from a couple double-play groundouts that helped keep the Mets scoreless until the sixth inning. Curtis Granderson drew a one-out walk in the sixth and Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a single before Blair's debut concluded with an elevated changeup that Conforto bounced over the right-center-field wall for a go-ahead double.
While manager Fredi Gonzalez felt Blair tired in the sixth, veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynskifelt the young pitcher lost the aggressiveness he had possessed while limiting the Mets to just one hit from the start of the third inning through the end of the fifth.
"I wouldn't say I got tired," said Blair, who was charged with three runs and six hits over 5 1/3 innings. "I'd just say fastball command got away from me."
This has been a whirlwind week for Blair, who cemented his candidacy to replace Williams Perez in Atlanta's rotation when he tossed seven hitless innings against Durham on Tuesday. Blair got the sense that he would make his debut on Thursday, when Triple-A Gwinnett pushed Mike Foltynewicz's start back a day until Sunday, which is when Blair would have been scheduled to next pitch for the G-Braves.
Blair has been on a fast track to join the Braves since early December, when he was included in the blockbuster trade that sent Shelby Miller to the D-backs. He impressed during each of the three starts he made for Gwinnett this year and now, he'll have a chance to prove he is capable of taking the ball once every five days for Atlanta for a long time.
But regardless of what transpires over the next few years, Blair will never again experience the thrill of running out of the dugout to realize that childhood dream of becoming a big league pitcher.
"It's something I'll never forget," Blair said. "I'm truly blessed to have had the opportunity."
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com | @wwchastain |
ST. PETERSBURG -- Heading into the final days of camp, the big question facing the Rays was where they would add an extra player to their roster: In the outfield or the bullpen?
Since Tampa Bay opted to begin the season with a four-man rotation, it had the luxury of placing another player elsewhere. The club ended the suspense on Saturday, when it announced the composition of their 25-man roster.
Left-hander Dana Eveland was selected to the Major League roster, giving the bullpen eight members, and outfielder Mike Mahtook was optioned to Triple-A Durham.
"We decided to go with the extra reliever to strengthen our 'pen and give us a little more length in the 'pen," said Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman. "We felt that was more important than the extra position player -- especially given the versatility of the other position players on our roster."
By Chris Abshire / Special to MLB.com | March 31st, 2016
HOUSTON -- The Astros didn't even wait until they arrived in Houston to solve one of their two open roster spots for Opening Day.
Utility infielder Matt Duffy earned the nod, manager A.J. Hinch said Thursday, meaning the Astros will carry 13 position players and 12 pitchers for the first several series. Hinch said he informed Duffy -- who kept the knowledge quiet even in pregame interviews before an exhibition game against Milwaukee -- on the plane ride from Florida on Wednesday night.
Tyler White beat Duffy out for the starting first-base job, but by all accounts, Duffy's spring was solid. While his average dipped, Duffy still posted a .725 OPS with three homers and seven RBIs in 47 spring at-bats.
"He balances out our bench pretty well." Hinch said. "As a right-handed hitter who can play first and third -- we've introduced left field to him, too -- he's versatile enough, has power, puts up a good at-bat, and we have some left-handedness at third base and the outfield.
"We just felt like he was a good guy to start the season with the left-handed relievers we're going to face in the first few series. His efficient swing off the bench makes sense."
It's a seminal moment for Duffy, though it won't be his MLB debut. The former 20th-round pick was a September callup last season and recorded three hits and three RBIs in just eight at-bats.
It's clear this will be a bench role for the third baseman by trade, with pinch-hit duty, extra-innings work and platoon situations likely to dictate his playing time. Evan Gattis' eventual return in April could also make Duffy's time in the Majors short-lived, barring further injuries.
For now, it also means the Astros are going with Duffy's bat over a couple of bullpen arms competing for a final long relief spot. Wandy Rodriguez, Michael Feliz and James Hoyt are the contenders for the gig, Hinch said.
"We're going to meet here today and tomorrow and go through it one more time," Hinch emphasized Thursday. "You pound your head against the wall because there's not a bad choice between the three of them."
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Looking to bolster the Mariners' bullpen depth heading into the season, general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired right-hander Nick Vincent from the Padres on Wednesday for a player to be named.
Vincent, 29, posted a 2.35 ERA in 23 innings over 26 appearances in four stints for the Padres last year, and he has a career 9-6 record and 2.63 ERA in 161 games over four seasons with San Diego.
Dipoto said Vincent will take the final spot in the Mariners' bullpen, meaning right-handed candidates Donn Roach, Blake Parker and Mayckol Guaipe will open the year with Triple-A Tacoma.
The Mariners' seven-man bullpen will consist of closer Steve Cishek and fellow right-handers Joaquin Benoit, Tony Zych, Joel Peralta and Vincent, along with lefties Vidal Nuno and Mike Montgomery.
Vincent joined the Mariners immediately on Wednesday, having to just walk across the Peoria Sports Complex the team shares with the Padres, but Dipoto said he wouldn't be asked to pitch in the afternoon's game against his former team.
Vincent, a San Diego native, said he was "still a little in shock" after getting traded by the team that drafted him in the 18th round in 2008, but eager for a chance to help his new team.
"I don't know what my role is going to be here, but I'm going to attack guys," Vincent said. "They call me 'the Bulldog' on the mound because I'm 5-10, 5-11 and 175 pounds. I'm not a big guy, but I'm not afraid of anybody who goes up there. I have the bulldog mentality. Everybody has doubted me my whole career, so that's been the end result."
Vincent has allowed five runs in 8 1/3 innings in nine Cactus League outings this spring and posted a 3.04 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings in Triple-A El Paso last season. The Long Beach State product has 161 strikeouts in 150 2/3 innings in his big league career.
"He has really dominated right-handed hitting, and there's no reason to expect that to change," Dipoto said. "He's very cutter-centric and has a very usable fastball. He's got some history in the big leagues, and it gives us a nice upgrade and additional depth in the bullpen. We were looking for that and needed it, based on what happened through the course of this spring. This is a nice solution. And fortunately, he only has to walk across the parking lot to take part."
The bullpen took some hits early in camp with injuries sidelining right-handers Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook, while lefty Charlie Furbush won't likely be ready until at least May as he deals with continued soreness in his shoulder.
But Dipoto is not looking to make any further additions before Opening Day on Monday in Texas.
"I feel we have five solid Major League relievers from the right side, and with Nuno and Montgomery, that gives us two lefties -- one with power and one with unique matchup ability vs. lefties," he said. "That's a seven-man bullpen we're pretty comfortable with."
The Mariners' 40-man roster is full with Vincent's addition, so one move will need to be made to open a spot for when Peralta -- a non-roster invitee -- is added by Sunday. One possibility is putting Scribner on the 60-day disabled list, since Dipoto said his recovery from a strained lat remains slow. The club is hoping Furbush can start throwing in about three weeks.
Roach was the likely candidate to earn the final bullpen spot prior to Vincent's acquisition as he's had an outstanding camp and "opened a lot of eyes," according to Dipoto. But he'll now head to Tacoma and resume working as a starter to provide additional depth there.
By Greg Johns / MLB.com | @gregjohnsmlb | March 30th, 2016
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com | @LangoschMLB |
JUPITER, Fla. -- With a commitment that came out of his desire to plant long-term roots in St. Louis, Kolten Wong agreed to a five-year contract extension that also includes a club option for a sixth year. The deal covers all three years of Wong's arbitration-eligible seasons, as well as at least one year of free agency. Wong, who debuted with the Cardinals in 2013, was slated to become arbitration-eligible after this season.
The Cardinals, who announced the extension at a Wednesday morning news conference, did not disclose financial terms of the deal.
"For them going and drafting me and giving me the chance to come up and, after what happened [in 2013], to still continue to believe in me, I wanted to show them I wanted to be there," Wong said. "I didn't want to see what I could go and do in free agency. I wanted to be a Cardinal. If there was any chance that I could do it, I told them, 'Let's try to get that done.'"
Wong had his agents approach the club about a potential extension about a month and a half ago. The Cardinals, who have made it a priority to extend players whom they believe will be a part of the team's future core, agreed that the time was right.
"When you think about all the things we deal with on the free-agent market and sometimes on the trade market, having someone who has a desire to want to be a part of the Cardinals and remain here is something that is very important to [owner Bill] DeWitt [Jr.] and myself," general manager John Mozeliak said. "He is added to a list of a lot of other players that have made that commitment to this organization."
The Cardinals have hosted these sorts of news conferences regularly in Spring Training. Wong agreed to his extension at about the same point in his career as Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig when they agreed to long-term deals. Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molinaalso signed their most recent contract extensions during the spring.
Wong, a first-round pick in the 2011 Draft, has been the team's everyday second baseman for the past two seasons. He has a career slash line of .250/.303/.374 and has shown flashes of power and speed that the organization believes can become more prominent features of his game.
"To me, I don't believe he's begun to tap into what kind of player he can be," manager Mike Matheny said. "We're still figuring that out. But you see all the pieces in place for this to be the kind of player that makes a big impact on this organization. I'm excited to watch how this continues to grow."