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  • MLB notebook: Trump will not throw out first pitch
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    President Donald Trump will not participate in the longstanding tradition of presidents throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals Opening Day games due to a scheduling conflict.

    • Trump, who was inaugurated on Jan. 20, was extended an invitation by the Nationals but declined, a team spokesman told ESPN.

      Washington opens its season on Monday against the Miami Marlins.

      Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush threw out ceremonial first pitches at Nationals games previously.

      --The Cleveland Indians finalized a five-year contract with club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons with infielder Jose Ramirez.

      Ramirez's deal is worth $26 million guaranteed and includes a $2 million signing bonus, Cleveland.com reports. He could make as much as $50 million over the life of the deal.

      The 24-year-old Dominican Republic native's salary will jump from $571,400 in 2017 to $2,428,600 in 2018. The club options are worth $11 million and $12 million, respectively.

      --Outfielder Peter Bourjos was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations after an impressive spring training with the Chicago White Sox.

      The deal opens playing time for one of the White Sox's top prospects, Jacob May.

      The Rays needed outfield help because Colby Rasmus is headed for the disabled list to start the season.

  • Phillies season preview: Young team still rebuilding
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    The question surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies is how much of an improvement will they make in 2017 as their rebuilding process under general manager Matt Klentak continues.

    • And if Klentak's moves in the offseason are any indication, the Phillies plan on competing a bit more when the season kicks off next week in Cincinnati.

      Klentak, hired at the end of 2015 to lead the Phillies into a rebuilding stage, has taken the long view for the organization overall but elected to fill holes with veterans this offseason instead of giving immediate playing time to younger players.

      Still, the plan is the same, to keep moving forward while developing younger talent.

      "I have been very pleased and encouraged in my year and a half with the Phillies," Klentak told MLB.com last week. "From our ownership group, to our president, to me, to our baseball operations group, to (manager) Pete Mackanin and his staff, everybody is on board with that. To me, that's the sign of a healthy organization, when there's continuity in the direction we're trying to head. That's the main reason why I'm so bullish on our future."

      The future looks bright, but what about the present?

      The Phillies, after owning the worst record in baseball in 2015, had an eight-win improvement in 2016, finishing the year 71-91. Slow and steady is the plan.

      Klentak decided to surround young slugger Maikel Franco's middle-of-the-order bat with some veteran help. The Phillies signed Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders in the offseason and will start the season with the two manning corner outfield spots, positions where the Phillies struggled mightily to find offense in 2016. The two figure to bat second and fifth, respectively, in the Phillies' Opening Day batting order, providing support to center fielder Odubel Herrera -- an All-Star last season -- and the third baseman, Franco.

      The Phillies are also counting on the steady improvement of their leadoff man, second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who led the team with a .294 batting average and .371 on-base percentage last year. If he can improve his base running ability -- he was caught stealing 13 times in 30 attempts last year -- the Phillies will have a bona fide leadoff hitter capable of scoring close to 100 runs.

      While Philadelphia's offense was in the bottom half of the league in 2016, its starting pitching staff was in the middle of the pack and is largely unchanged in 2017. The addition of Clay Buchholz -- despite his spring training struggles -- adds veteran depth and inning-eating abilities to a staff with young arms.

      Jeremy Hellickson, who agreed to a $17.2 million qualifying offer, will again lead the staff and start Opening Day in Cincinnati and will again see his name in trade talks as the trading deadline approaches. Continued improvements from Vince Velasquez, 24, and Jerad Eickhoff, 26, and a bounce-back year from Aaron Nola, 23, will put go a long way. Nola, the seventh overall pick in 2014, had his season cut short with UCL and flexor tendon injuries to his (right) throwing arm.

      Where Klentak upgraded best, it seems, is in the bullpen. Phillies relievers ranked 28th in ERA last year, so Klentak added veterans Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek to the fray.

      "You can see it in their eyes," Mackanin, the manager, told reporters in Clearwater at the beginning of spring training. "They feel like they're going to be a better team this year."

      How much better remains to be seen.

      "I believe if we play good baseball, and we play around .500 to get started ... I'd love to start off quick," Mackanin told reporters. "I think as we do that, and prove to ourselves that we're an improved team, I think there's no telling what can happen down the stretch."

  • Yankees season preview: Rebuilding with youngsters
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    It was a quiet offseason for the New York Yankees, unless you consider all the talk about young players in the minor leagues who are on the verge of making the majors to be noise.

    • For the Yankees, they're hoping the talk eventually leads to positive results for a team that has grown stale and boring to many fans. It has been nearly five years without a playoff victory and the old way of doing business -- signing veteran free agents to lengthy contracts -- is a thing of the past for now.

      "I'm optimistic about this season, because I think there's a good mixture and there's a lot of talent in that room," manager Joe Girardi said. "Sometimes with young players you have to manage how they handle certain situations, whether it's struggling for a couple of weeks and how they respond, but we're up for that task. I think we have good veteran leadership in there that will help the young players through that."

      Last year, the Yankees stumbled to a 9-17 mark, hovered around .500 leading into the non-waiver trade deadline. It could turn out to be one of the best things to happen to the Yankees since it accelerated a rebuilding program.

      By the end of July, the Yankees decided to pull the plug, getting Gleyber Torres from the Chicago Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, acquiring Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield from the Cleveland Indians for Andrew Miller and other highly touted prospects from the Texas Rangers for Carlos Beltran

      Shortly after shedding three of their most productive veterans, the Yankees called up catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez struggled during spring training last season but electrified the Yankees so much that they climbed back into wild-card contention.

      To review, Sanchez hit 20 home runs, drove in 42 runs and produced an OPS of 1.032 in only 53 games. He was so productive that some thought he could have won Rookie of the Year, an award he finished second in the voting to Detroit Tigers' right-hander Michael Fulmer.

      Sanchez will be joined by another player, who produced in a similar matter in 2015. Greg Bird hit 11 home runs in 178 at-bats and was scheduled to be now-retired Mark Teixeira's backup before injuring his shoulder.

      Now he is the regular first baseman and putting on a power show in spring training.

      Sanchez and Bird are part of a team in the midst of completing a transition from veterans to youngsters.

      There are still plenty of veterans but the real interest lies in seeing how the youth movement unfolds and combines with the goal of staying in contention.

      The Yankees may miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons but if a youth movement goes according to plan, postseason games could return to the Bronx sometime soon.

  • Trump declines Nationals' Opening Day first pitch offer
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    President Donald Trump will not participate in the longstanding tradition of presidents throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at Washington Opening Day games due to a scheduling conflict.

    • Trump, who was inaugurated on Jan. 20, was extended an invitation by the Nationals but declined, a team spokesman told ESPN.

      Washington opens its season on Monday against the Miami Marlins.

      Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush threw out ceremonial first pitches at Nationals games previously.

      William Howard Taft was the first president to throw out a ceremonial first pitch for the Washington Senators in 1910. Thirteen presidents in all have thrown out ceremonial first pitches for the Nationals and Senators franchises.

  • Indians INF Ramirez lands five-year deal
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    The Cleveland Indians finalized a five-year contract with club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons with infielder Jose Ramirez.

    • The deal was completed after Ramirez passed his physical on Tuesday.

      Ramirez's deal is worth $26 million guaranteed and includes a $2 million signing bonus, Cleveland.com reports. He could make as much as $50 million over the life of the deal.

      The 24-year-old Dominican Republic native's salary will jump from $571,400 in 2017 to $2,428,600 in 2018. The club options are worth $11 million and $12 million, respectively.

      Ramirez signed with the Indians as an amateur free agent in 2009 and made his major league debut in 2013. He played parts of three seasons with the club before playing his first full season in 2016.

      In 152 games last year, Ramirez hit .312 (176 for 565) with career-high totals of 11 home runs, 76 RBIs, 44 walks and 22 stolen bases.

  • Rays acquire OF Bourjos from White Sox
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    Outfielder Peter Bourjos was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations after an impressive spring training with the Chicago White Sox.

    • The deal opens playing top for one of the White Sox' top prospects, Jacob May.

      May, 25, is batting .339 this spring and entered the 2017 Opening Day roster mix when Charlie Tilson went down with a stress reaction in his foot. Tilson isn't expected to play until June.

      The Rays needed outfield help because Colby Rasmus is headed for the disabled list to start the season.

      Bourjos, a Chicago native, signed as a free agent two weeks before spring training began and quickly entered a battle for the starting centerfield job. He hit .313 (15-48) with four doubles, three triples and three RBIs over 19 Cactus League games this spring.

      Bourjos played the entire 2016 season with Philadelphia, hitting .251 (89-355) with 20 doubles, seven triples, five home runs, 23 RBI and 40 runs scored in 123 games.

      The switch-hitting May was a third-round pick in the 2013 draft.

  • Twins season preview: Little change on field
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    A new, and younger, front office leads a Minnesota Twins franchise that was long known for its organizational stability.

    • On the field, though, in Year One of the new regime, the Twins will look very similar.

      The top of the power structure changed with the hiring Derek Falvey as the chief baseball officer and the subsequent addition of Thad Levine as general manager after the club parted ways with longtime GM Terry Ryan last July.

      The shakeup was inevitable after Minnesota slipped precipitously in 2016 following a surprisingly 2015 that saw the Twins challenge for a playoff spot until the last few weeks.

      Falvey comes to Minnesota after nine seasons with the division rival Cleveland Indians in which he was most recently the assistant general manager. Levine spent 11 years as the Texas Rangers' assistant general manager.

      Little occurred over the winter in terms of player movement. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe was released, and Kurt Suzuki signed with the Atlanta Braves as a free agent.

      The one addition made to the major league roster was Jason Castro. The catcher hit just .210 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI for the Houston Astros last year, but the Twins rave about his ability behind the plate, particularly in regard to pitch-framing.

      "Catching was a focus of ours, and Jason was a target early on, and not just from a player's standpoint," Falvey told MLB.com after the signing. "A lot has been made about his defense, but we really look into the background of these guys. It's important for the culture of our team. He checked every box and then some."

      The biggest priority for Falvey -- who helped identify many of the Indians' young starters -- and Levine is finding pitching for a team that allowed the second-most runs in the majors last season and had the highest ERA from starting pitchers.

      The Twins will have Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Hector Santiago back in the rotation to start the season, but they were still undecided on the fifth spot as spring training headed into its final week. Improvement across the board is the hope. The same goes for a bullpen that will be largely unchanged aside from left-handed newcomer Craig Breslow, who made the team as a non-roster invitee.

      A model organization in the early 2000s, Minnesota lost more than 90 games in five of the past six seasons and hit rock-bottom with 103 losses last year. The surprise of 2015 -- when the Twins went 83-79 in manager Paul Molitor's first season -- appears an aberration. In a division loaded with the defending American League champion Indians, the 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals and the perennially tough Detroit Tigers, contending in 2017 would be unlikely, although Molitor's crew wasn't expected to compete heading into 2015, either.

      Minnesota should score runs. The Twins were 16th in the majors in runs last season with Brian Dozier's surprise 42 homers leading the way. However, until Falvey and Levine can solve the pitching issues, the Twins won't be a consistent contender.

  • Brewers season preview: Quantity if not quality
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    The Milwaukee Brewers don't have a collection of superstars on their roster this season -- and as such, they more than likely won't be challenging the Cubs for the National League Central crown -- but they do have is something very important for a team in the midst of a massive rebuilding process:

    • Strength in numbers.

      Unlike most rebuilding squads, the Brewers believe they have legitimate major league players at every position at the big league level, and if any of those players can't hold their own, the minor league system is primed with prospects waiting for their chance.

      "I think we have a number of players who have a chance to be a part of this organization for a long time, both from a talent-level perspective and a major-league-experience perspective," general manager David Stearns said. "We have a lot of younger players, players who are just beginning their major league careers, and because of that, we have the ability to keep them here for multiple years going forward."

      The Brewers went 73-89 a year ago, good for fourth in the NL Central and a five-game improvement over 2015. That number might have improved significantly had the starting pitchers not stumbled out of the gate in April. However, optimism is high after the pitching staff closed the season strong, combining for a major-league-best 3.13 ERA over the final 39 games.

      "It's a great stepping off point, a great building point for us because they showed that that level is in them," manager Craig Counsell said of his pitchers. "But now we have to do it for a longer stretch. And if we do it for a longer stretch, how we prevent runs -- pitching and defense -- is the start of that. How we prevent runs will be a big factor in what the ceiling of this team is this year."

      Improved pitching, combined with a young offense that led baseball with 181 stolen bases and produced 181 home runs, could make for an exciting 2017 campaign.

      Ryan Braun will once again anchor that offense. The Brewers' longest-tenured player is back for an 11th season, despite being the subject of multiple trade rumors during the winter. He posted a .305/.365/.538 slash line with 30 home runs and 91 RBIs last year.

      "I expected Ryan to be back, as I said over and over," Counsell said. "I expected Ryan to hit third, and I'm very happy that I get to continue writing his name.

      "He played at a high level last year. He's going to play at a high level this year. It's what he's done, and I think it's what he'll continue to do."

      Most important for Milwaukee, Braun was healthy last year.

      He came to camp fresh off back surgery, but thanks to a plan that he created with Counsell and the team's medical staff, Braun appeared in 135 games in 2016.

      "I feel a lot better this year than I have in a long time," Braun said. "So certainly the goal is to play more than the (135) games I played last year. I think the goal is always to be somewhere over that 150 range. Obviously, there is a long ways to go, but certainly, though, the goal is to play in more games that I did last season."

      Count Braun among those impressed with the influx of young talent into the organization.

      "The energy has been really good," Braun said. "The competition is a great thing for everybody. It should inspire everybody to become the best version of themselves and to understand that they need to reach their potential and continue to have success to establish themselves as big-leaguers. The overall talent level, athleticism and size. That's what really stands out."

  • Enthralling WBC broke up spring monotony
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    The baseball season is nearing.

    • You can see it in the starting lineups that are being marched out each day in spring training games. They are looking more and more like the lineups you will see next week when the season begins. And yet still the games are not as compelling as the World Baseball Classic games were the previous few weeks.

      So, the time for ripping the World Baseball Classic is over.

      It has its issues. General managers dread it because they worry about a star player getting injured. Players shrug it off because they believe -- correctly -- that it holds no meaning close to the postseason. Even management and the players' union seem a little lukewarm on the thing. And it probably doesn't get nearly the attention in the United States that it deserves because it goes up against the NCAA Tournament.

      But it beats the living daylights out of spring training baseball, the version we saw three weeks ago as well as the incarnation we are seeing now. And for this reason, all in baseball, so worried about bringing in the next generation of fans with all the pace-of-game rule changes, need to start emphasizing the event.

      Maybe you watched your favorite team in some spring training games.

      New York Yankees fans recently got to see ace Masahiro Tanaka twirl five scoreless innings and first baseman Greg Bird hit a couple home runs. New York Mets fans saw Zack Wheeler throw five shutout innings. Boston Red Sox fans watched inspired play from a slimmed-down Pablo Sandoval. No question, it whets the appetite for the regular season.

      However, still there are players in a game that may not play in the big leagues this season, players whose names you hear for the first time, and it takes some air out of the balloon.

      Then there was the WBC. Maybe it doesn't get all the biggest stars right now. No Mike Trout, no Bryce Harper and no Noah Syndergaard in this last one. But the games were played with near All-Star-team-caliber players. They were played passionately by players who cared about competing for their country. And the games were so much more compelling with players who deeply care about their performance because of their patriotism.

      Maybe you got a chance to see the World Baseball Classic finale last Wednesday night, and you glimpsed something special. Team USA, behind six scintillating no-hit innings from Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, beat Puerto Rico 8-0 to capture its first title in the fourth tournament.

      The Americans popped their USA jerseys and celebrated as if they won a playoff series. They took a victory lap around Dodger Stadium to thank those in the 51,000-plus crowd who remained -- riveted -- by the performance.

      "It was the most fun I've ever had playing baseball," said Team USA outfielder Christian Yelich of the Miami Marlins.

      Like tearful Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals, many of those on Team Puerto Rico stayed on the field and consoled one another rather than retreating to their clubhouse. They applauded the Americans, many of them their Major League Baseball teammates. And the players from Team USA came to them, between the third base dugout and the third base line, and embraced them.

      The Major League Baseball postseason has none of this, but isn't there room, too, for some of the collegial feelings we saw here?

      The signature play of the tournament was the Orioles' Adam Jones of Team USA robbing Baltimore teammate Manny Machado of a home run in the Americans' (virtual) quarterfinal win over the Dominican Republic. This was spectacular by any measure in any game. And it was cute how they tipped their hats to one another right after the play and something Orioles fans will be enthralled to hear and read about when they are back in camp.

      The WBC is not pretending to be the playoffs. But isn't it better than Grapefruit League action to see a lineup in which the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton is batting eighth for Team USA against Dominican Republic starter Ervin Santana of the Minnesota Twins? And playing in a game where the participants feel it is truly worth celebrating after a victory?

      "Now, after what we've done, the way everybody is buzzing about it on Twitter, and all of the attention it's getting, you're going to see everybody in the league want to play in the next one," Team USA reliever Pat Neshek of the Philadelphia Phillies said after the final. "Everyone's going to want to be part of this.

      "So maybe now the WBC has some momentum. Because it's only played every four years, we'll see if that is sustained to the next one."

      When a spring training game ends, many of the starters already have left the stadium. We know they are excited about the coming season, and we'll see that when it starts. But even they aren't crazy about spring training games.

      The WBC was exciting and a nice change of pace. Let's hope it gets more attention next time.

  • Royals season preview: One last title chase
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    SURPRISE, Ariz. -- After advancing to the World Series in 2014 and '15, the Kansas City Royals finished 2016 at .500.

    • The 2017 season will be a last hurrah for several of the Royals' core players of the championship seasons, as they will become free agents.

      Those eligible to hit the open market after this season are first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and left-handed starter Jason Vargas. The Royals traded closer Wade Davis and speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson, both who can declare for free agency after the 2017 season, during the offseason.

      "I don't think it will be a distraction," Royals manager Ned Yost said of having so many players in their free agent year.

      The 2017 Royals will look a lot like the 2016 Royals. Moustakas missed most of last year with a knee injury. Right-hander Yordano Ventura died in a vehicle accident in the Dominican Republic in late January, leaving a hole in the rotation and in the Royals' hearts.

      The starting pitching has no bona fide ace, but left-hander Danny Duffy could be close to ascending to that. He will be the Opening Day starter after going 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA last season.

      "I felt like Dayton (Moore, general manager) did a wonderful job in the offseason, especially considering what happened (Ventura's death)," Duffy said.

      Raul Mondesi, the son of the former big league slugger by the same name, defied the odds and won the second base job.

      "The kid can impact a game in a lot of ways," Yost said. "I knew this kid was talented. But he had to mature and grow up and believe in his abilities.

      "As long as he realizes that all he has to do is do something every day to help us win a game. It's not about the batting average. It's about the defense. It's about the base running, maybe putting down a bunt. Maybe it's getting a hit and stealing second."

      Jorge Soler, who was acquired from the Cubs for Davis, was having a rough spring. But just before breaking camp, Soler sustained an oblique injury, and he will begin the season on the disabled list. Paulo Orlando will replace him in right field.

      Nathan Karns, who was acquired in the Dyson deal, will be the No. 5 starter.

      Free agent signees Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Brandon Moss should help the Royals contend. Hammel, a 15-game winner last season for the Cubs, is slotted to start the third game. Wood, a left-hander, will be in the bullpen after Karns was awarded the final rotation slot. Moss brings power to the designated hitter position, and he can also play the outfield and first base.

      Alex Gordon, who broke his right wrist last year in a collision with Moustakas and hit a puny .220, had a good spring. He likely will bat leadoff when the season opens.

      Kansas City plays six of their first nine games against the Minnesota Twins and the Oakland A's, so a good start is imperative.

      If the Royals remain healthy, they have the talent to return to postseason. If they appear to be out of contention in late July, Moore could trade some of the pending free agents for young players.

  • MLB notebook: Nationals let Nathan go
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    Despite showing effectiveness in spring training, veteran right-hander Joe Nathan was released by the Washington Nationals on Monday.

    • Nathan posted a 3.86 ERA in 12 spring appearances for the Nationals as he attempts to fully return from a second Tommy John surgery. The 42-year-old signed a minor league contract with the Nationals in January, and Monday was the deadline for him to exercise an opt-out clause.

      Nathan pitched 6 1/3 innings with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs last season. He underwent surgery in April 2015 after throwing only four pitches with the Detroit Tigers and also underwent the procedure in 2010.

      Nathan is eighth all time with 377 saves.

      --Left-hander Scott Kazmir will start the season on the disabled list with an unspecified left hip injury, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

      Roberts also said shortstop Corey Seager will remain in Arizona through Friday to work on his swing after recovering from a strained oblique.

      Kazmir, 33, missed most of the last two months of the 2016 season with back and neck issues. He finished with a 10-6 record and 4.56 ERA in 26 starts.

      Seager, 33, will miss the first two games of the Freeway Series in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday and Friday to get more at-bats in minor league games. He will rejoin the team on Saturday for the final Freeway Series game at Dodger Stadium.

      --Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Soler was diagnosed with a grade one oblique strain, and he likely will begin the season on the disabled list.

      Soler was injured chasing a pitch out of the strike zone Sunday in a minor league spring training game and underwent an MRI exam Monday.

      The injury-prone Soler missed nearly two months with a strained left hamstring last season before returning to help the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series since 1908. Soler was obtained in the offseason for closer Wade Davis and struggled to a .143 average (7-for-49) with two homers in 17 exhibition games.

      --Veteran first baseman James Loney was released by the Texas Rangers.

      Loney, who was competing for the backup first baseman job behind Mike Napoli, batted .174 during spring training. The 32-year-old signed a minor league contract with Texas in January, but the team signed Napoli a month later.

      Last year, Loney batted .265 in 366 plate appearances for the New York Mets.

  • Nathan, 42, fails to land job with Nationals
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    Despite showing effectiveness in spring training, veteran right-hander Joe Nathan was released by the Washington Nationals on Monday.

    • Nathan posted a 3.86 ERA in 12 spring appearances for the Nationals as he attempts to fully return from a second Tommy John surgery. The 42-year-old signed a minor league contract with the Nationals in January and Monday was the deadline for him to exercise an opt-out clause.

      "There's 29 other teams," Nathan told reporters. "I knew every time I took the mound this spring, it wasn't just to try to make this club but showcase for other teams. It was important for me to get out there, even yesterday, in a spot where they probably already knew I wasn't going to make this team."

      Nathan pitched 6 1/3 innings with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs last season. He underwent surgery in April 2015 after throwing only four pitches with the Detroit Tigers and also underwent the procedure in 2010.

      Nathan is eighth all time with 377 saves. He has four seasons with at least 40 saves and in his last full season Nathan had 35 saves and a 4.81 ERA in 62 appearances with Detroit.

      Nathan began his career as a starting pitcher with the Giants in 1999. After spending 2001 in the minors, he was moved to the bullpen and began closing games in 2004 with the Minnesota Twins.

      Washington also released Matt Albers, who made 10 scoreless appearances during spring training. Albers signed a minor league deal with the team in January after posting a 6.31 ERA in 58 appearances for the Chicago White Sox last season.

      In 452 appearances with the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians and White Sox, Albers has a 4.38 ERA.

  • Royals' Soler may start season on DL
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Soler was diagnosed with a grade one oblique strain Monday and will likely begin the season on the disabled list.

    • Soler was injured chasing a pitch out of the strike zone Sunday in a minor league spring training game and underwent an MRI on Monday.

      Although the tests showed Soler's injury to be the least serious, he continued to be hampered by nagging injuries in his brief career.

      In 2014 as a minor leaguer with the Chicago Cubs, he missed more than two months with strains in both hamstrings. He also injured his oblique in 2015 and missed more than three weeks late in the season.

      Soler also missed nearly five weeks with a left ankle sprain in 2015 and last season missed nearly two months with a strained left hamstring before returning to help the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908.

      Soler was obtained in the offseason for closer Wade Davis and struggled to a .143 average (7 for 49) with two homers in 17 exhibition games.

  • Cubs season preview: Core returns for champs, plus a few new faces
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    The World Series champion Chicago Cubs return their core but didn't rest on any laurels as they open a new season with a title to defend for the first time since 1909.

    • Chicago not only has the ingredients for a second straight 100-plus victory season and National League Central title but enough to possibly make it back-to-back World Series appearances for the first time the opening decade of the 20th century.

      These 21st century Cubs start with the reigning NL Most Valuable Player (third baseman Kris Bryant), a World Series MVP (second baseman-outfielder Ben Zobrist) and not one but three Cy-Young caliber starting pitchers and four hurlers with 15 wins or more.

      Chicago also had one of baseball's best defensive groups with five Gold Glove finalists, a plus-282 run differential that was by far the best in the majors, and was tough to beat at home, going 57-24 at Wrigley Field for a franchise record for wins there.

      While the Cubs rate the early edge, manager Joe Maddon recognizes the road back will be full of challenges.

      "It's hard, it's a gauntlet, you just don't win the National or the American (and) play seven games and go home," Maddon said earlier this spring. "There's so many things that can play a role -- injuries will play a role, hot and cold. The year before when we lost to the Mets, (Daniel) Murphy could not have been hotter and their pitching staff couldn't have been better."

      Chicago won the NL Central with a big league-best 103-58 record, took three of four from the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series and beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games for the NL championship.

      In the World Series, the Cubs rallied from a 3-1 World Series deficit with three consecutive victories, including a memorable 8-7 win in 10 innings in Game 7 over the host Cleveland Indians.

      By necessity, the Cubs had to replace an outfielder (Dexter Fowler) and closer (Aroldis Chapman), who signed free agent deals with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees, respectively.

      They brought in 31-year-old outfielder Jon Jay from the San Diego Padres and right-handed closer Wade Davis, also 31, in a trade that sent Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals.

      Any rookie breakthrough onto the 25-man Opening Day roster may be be a long shot, but infielder/outfielder Ian Happ appears closest.

      The Cubs open as the favorite to win another NL Central title, but Maddon warns that challengers abound.

      "I think there's a lot of parity," Maddon said. "You look at our division, Cincinnati and Milwaukee had tough years last year. But I'm here to tell you, heads up on Milwaukee. Pittsburgh will be back, maybe St. Louis."

  • Cardinals season preview: Looking for a rebound
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    By this time last year, the wheels were already falling off the St. Louis Cardinals' wagon. From injuries to players and even a valued coach, spring training was an unmitigated failure, setting the stage for the team's first playoff miss since 2010.

    • Manager Mike Matheny's team appears far more ready to succeed this spring, thanks to a re-emphasis on fundamentals and the addition of former Chicago Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler. That move not only aids St. Louis across the board, but weakens its Central Division rival a little bit and could help close some of last year's 17-game gap between the teams.

      Fowler's arrival helps shore up the middle of a defense that even with perennial Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina, showed serious weaknesses last year. Randal Grichuk wasn't quite as good in center as the team hoped, so he moves over to left with Stephen Piscotty staying in right.

      The club hopes that Aledmys Diaz will continue the improvement he flashed at shortstop over the year's last four months, when he cut down on errors and looked like he could be at least a league-average defender, if not slightly above average. Jhonny Peralta has looked more comfortable at third, while Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko should form a platoon that will get the job done at second. Matt Carpenter is locked into first base.

      Peralta's thumb injury early in spring training last year was the first shot across the bow. Another one was the news that third base coach and valued defensive guru Jose Oquendo had to sit out the season with knee problems. Some felt Oquendo's absence had a negative impact on a defense that not only made more errors, but failed to execute simple fundamentals that cost the Cardinals multiple games.

      Bad defense had a ripple effect. It forced the starters to throw extra pitches, which in turn left more innings for the bullpen to cover. Neither was as good as it had been in previous seasons, and the combination was especially toxic at Busch Stadium, where a team mismatched for its ballpark finished with a losing record.

      If St. Louis can catch the ball more consistently, its starting rotation should bounce back. Carlos Martinez has won the No. 1 spot in the rotation, a position befitting his ability, and Adam Wainwright is the No. 2 man, a better spot for him at this stage of his career. Mike Leake, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha fill out the rotation.

      Leake, a sinkerball pitcher who was most affected by last year's subpar defense, actually started trying for strikeouts because he wasn't sure his teammates could make plays behind him. This spring, Leake has led the staff in innings and is producing a plethora of groundouts, looking more like the guy the Cardinals spent $80 million on before 2016.

      "When he is making good pitches like he has almost all spring, and guys make plays, we have seen a lot of zeros," Matheny told mlb.com. "Staring at a complete game every time he gets out there with his style of pitching."

      Seung Hwan Oh is the closer this year with Kevin Siegrist as the primary setup man. Trevor Rosenthal is slated for a role similar to what Andrew Miller filled for Cleveland last postseason. The club thinks he could work multiple innings at high-leverage spots prior to closing time, shortening games and getting the game to Oh with a lead.

      Matheny said after last year's 162nd game that a lot of teams were happy the Cardinals didn't make the postseason, because they could have given playoff teams fits. No one will ever know if that was true, but based on the signing of Fowler and a return to emphasizing the fundamentals that so mysteriously disappeared last summer, St. Louis could be back as an October mainstay.

  • White Sox season preview: Rebuilding starts here
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox watched last fall as the crosstown rival Cubs snapped a 108-year championship drought.

    • Now, the White Sox will try to follow the same blueprint as their neighbors to the North. General manager Rick Hahn made no secret that a rebuilding project was underway this offseason when he shipped ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox and speedy outfielder Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals in exchange for a handful of talented prospects.

      More deals could be in store before the trade deadline for the White Sox, who are focused on long-term success much more than their win-loss total in 2017. Left-hander Jose Quintana, closer David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier are among the veterans who could be shipped to contending teams in the coming months as Chicago continues its youth movement.

      To lead the effort, the White Sox hired Rick Renteria to replace Robin Ventura as manager. The 55-year-old posted a 73-89 record as Cubs skipper in 2014 but was fired after Joe Maddon became available the following winter.

      Hahn praised Renteria's ability to connect with younger players and teach proper fundamentals.

      "We're going to have a team where your identified priorities are teaching, holding guys accountable and building something for the future," Hahn told the Chicago Tribune. "Ricky and his staff, in my opinion, can very much handle a team that's ready to win, and I fully expect them to be in place when this team is ready to win. But in a lot of ways those were the first moves publicly saying this is what we're doing."

      Most of the team's top prospects will open the season in the minor leagues. As the year progresses, fans might expect to glimpse the franchise's future with the arrivals of second baseman Yoan Moncada, left-hander Reynaldo Lopez, and right-handers Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech. Homegrown catching prospect Zack Collins and right-hander Zack Burdi could reach the majors sooner than later, and right-hander Carson Fulmer should be back soon after a brief big-league stint in 2016.

      As the White Sox await an influx of young talent, the major league roster features a couple of young building blocks including shortstop Tim Anderson. As a rookie in 2016, Anderson hit .283 with nine home runs, 30 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 99 games.

      Renteria will look for leadership in a group of veterans that includes Jose Abreu and Frazier at the corners of the infield. Quintana is the quiet leader of a starting rotation that also includes young left-hander Carlos Rodon, up-and-down right-hander James Shields and journeyman right-hander Miguel Gonzalez.

      In all likelihood, Chicago will miss the playoffs for the ninth season in a row. But thanks to Hahn's trades and Renteria's arrival, the franchise is hopeful that its rebuilding project will lead to brighter days on the South Side.

      "I'm really happy to be here," Renteria told CSN Chicago. "I'm happy to be in the situation we're in. The organization is taking the step that is hopefully leading us as many organizations have done over the last six or seven years, trying to create something more sustainable over time. The foundation is being laid both with the players and the way they're going about doing everything. So hopefully it will be something good for us."

  • Indians season preview: Roster loaded for another Series run
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    The American League champion Cleveland Indians reported to spring training with a roster that on paper was stronger than the one they used to get to the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, before losing to the Chicago Cubs last year.

    • Because of that, there wasn't much competition for jobs in camp. It was mostly a case of monitoring the progress of the returning injured players, ramping up the healthy players for the start of the season and evaluating the progress of selected prospects that will start the season in the minor leagues, but could be summoned to the major league club during the season.

      The biggest question at the start of camp was the health of All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley, who missed virtually all of the 2016 season with a shoulder condition that required two separate surgeries. The news on Brantley was good. He began playing in spring training games in late March, and there was growing optimism that he could begin the season on the major league roster -- or at least join the team shortly after Opening Day.

      That's great news for a lineup that already was bolstered by the addition of free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Cleveland was able to sign him to a three-year, $60 million contract, to the astonishment of many, including Indians officials themselves.

      Encarnacion gets plugged into the cleanup spot in the batting order, replacing Mike Napoli, who was both popular and productive hitting out of the No. 4 spot last year.

      Napoli had a career year in 2016, hitting 34 home runs with 101 RBIs. However, Encarnacion, who at 34 is a year younger than Napoli, has averaged 39 home runs, 110 RBIs and a .912 OPS over the last five years. The Indians were second in the American League in runs scored last year. With the addition of Encarnacion and the return of Brantley, who in 2014 finished third in the American League MVP voting, Cleveland's offense could be even more prolific this year.

      The Indians will begin the season missing one of the key members of that lineup. Second baseman Jason Kipnis will begin the season on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. The team projects Kipnis will return to the lineup by mid-or-late April.

      The loss of Kipnis in the first few weeks of the season means third baseman Jose Ramirez will likely move to second base, which was his original position as a minor leaguer. The leading candidates to replace Ramirez at third base are minor leaguers Giovanny Urshela, Yandy Diaz and Erik Gonzalez.

      The pitching staff is about as good as it gets in the American League. Last year's staff led the league in strikeouts, and was second in the league with a 3.84 ERA. The starting rotation and bullpen return intact. Terry Francona, the 2016 American League Manager of the Year, is one of the most skilled bullpen handlers in the majors. He proved it last year in the playoffs, when he redefined postseason bullpen usage by using his top relievers in a variety of situations.

      The Indians this year will benefit by having a full season of Andrew Miller, the midseason acquisition last year who was virtually unhittable in a combined 36 appearances for Cleveland in the regular season and postseason. Miller, who was voted the MVP of the AL Championship Series, and closer Cody Allen anchor the back of the bullpen.

      "Our goal this year is to pitch them a lot without pitching them too much," Francona said. "It's a fine line."

      The rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin all won 11 or more games last year. Kluber, who in a combined 38 starts in the regular season and postseason, had a record of 22-10 with a 2.96 ERA. The durable Kluber has averaged 33 starts and 224 innings in each of the last three years. Whether there will be any effect from throwing a career-high 249 innings last year remains to be seen.

      Carrasco was bothered by some swelling in his elbow during camp. The condition is not thought to be serious, but it did set Carrasco back a few days and Francona said Carrasco will remain in Arizona to make another start when the Indians break camp before rejoining the team.

      It's possible Carrasco could start the season on the disabled list, but he would likely be back by mid-April. The Indians won't have to adjust their rotation because, due to off-days in April, they can get through the first week or so of the season with four starters.

      Overall, the Indians are about as complete a team as there is in the American League. There are no glaring holes in the roster, there's a good mix of veterans and younger players who, following last year's march to Game 7 of the World Series, are battle-tested for another postseason run.

      The Indians are a heavy favorite to win the Central Division, and appear to be well positioned to return to the World Series, which they haven't won since 1948.

  • Tigers season preview: Avoiding injuries crucial for veteran team
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    Staying healthy to remain a contender was the Detroit Tigers' winter mantra heading into the 2017 season.

    • Then midway through spring training, right fielder J.D. Martinez suffered a sprain to the Lisfranc ligament in his right ankle that will sideline him 3-to-4 weeks dating from March 24. And it could be longer for him to work his way back into baseball shape.

      So much for an injury-free season.

      "No question our lineup is better with J.D. Martinez's bat in it," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But we will deal with it. When you think about it, it's three to four weeks from (March 24) and 10 days of that are while we're still in spring training.

      "So if it goes four weeks, that's only 2 1/2, three weeks of missed time in season."

      Couple that with uncertainty in center field and Detroit will open the season April 3 in Chicago against the White Sox having big question marks in two of the three outfield positions.

      The Martinez injury could prompt the club to hand the center field job to rookie JaCoby Jones, although it would prefer he show at Toledo he has learned the strike zone and can lay off slow stuff away from the plate.

      The club entered the last week of spring training not fixed on whether a platoon of left-handed hitting Tyler Collins and right-hander Mikie Mahtook would work.

      One other candidate, 2015 regular Anthony Gose, was returned to the minors March 26 and will attempt to convert to pitching while he plays the outfield. Gose threw 97 mph in high school.

      Detroit elected to stand pat under a policy of not letting payroll rise after just missing out on the playoffs in 2016. The Tigers want to get younger and more athletic over the next two to three seasons.

      One of those ways likely involves letting J.D. Martinez become a free agent with no compensation after this season or trading him at mid-year. Losing Martinez, third baseman Nick Castellanos and starting right-hander Jordan Zimmermann for more than a month each last year hurt Detroit, along with substandard pitching from high-priced Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey and Mark Lowe, who was released March 25.

      Getting rid of center fielder Cameron Maybin, limited to 94 games by injury, saved money but created the current problem at that position.

      Zimmermann has a neck condition the Tigers feel is manageable but losing him opened a spot for Michael Fulmer to have a Rookie of the Year career beginning.

      Any rotation headed by Justin Verlander can't be downplayed. Fulmer will draw more attention from opponents this season but he's a Verlander disciple and has the pitches to minimize a sophomore falloff.

      Sanchez and Pelfrey dropping the ball in 2016 created spots for Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, both of whom have bright futures.

      Despite a declaration to "take the 12 best pitchers" out of spring training, a late surge by Sanchez following a mechanical adjustment (getting his arm further away from his head) might induce Detroit to keep him and use Boyd's last option. The Tigers owe Sanchez more than $21 million over the next two years and logically would like to get something back on that instead of releasing him.

      "We're in the business of winning baseball games," Ausmus said. "We're going to make decisions that help us win baseball games. It will sort itself out in the next week."

      At any rate rotation depth, established depth, is something Detroit will have that was absent a year ago at this time and becomes a strength as the Tigers try to overtake overwhelming AL Central favorite Cleveland while staving off Kansas City.

      Spring training was tough on the Tigers in terms of wins because it lost a lot of high-profile players to the World Baseball Classic.

      And first baseman Miguel Cabrera came out of the WBC with a sore back, not returning to the lineup until March 26.

      Detroit exercised an option on closer Francisco Rodriguez's contract as it waits for either Bruce Rondon, whose velocity was down in the spring, or Joe Jimenez, who will open the season in the minors, to show closer capabilities.

      Ausmus will continue to deal with the worst baserunning team in baseball and a station-to-station offense that has base-cloggers Cabrera and Victor Martinez as its 3-4 hitters.

      Any lineup featuring those two plus Castellanos, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez (when he returns) as its top six is going to score runs, though.

      Upton has had a big spring and looks ready to build on the strong last two months he had in his first year with the Tigers. Castellanos, probable to replace Maybin as the second-place hitter, appears to have matured into a prime-time bat.

      There are questions in the bullpen but for the first time in recent seasons Detroit may have options in the minors who could be ready before June.

      "We have a really good baseball team," general manager Al Avila said. "I don't know why people keep saying it's an old club. Yeah, every year we are getting older but J.D. Martinez in right field and Justin Upton in left (both turn 30 in August) are in the prime of their career. If you are 29, that's when you should be at your peak and both are at that point.

      "Then you look at the older guys, Kinsler and Cabrera, and look how they produced -- not like washed-ups. They continue to produce like they are in their prime."

      Detroit hopes the fact Cleveland has overshadowed it will be a plus for the Tigers, who got mauled by a 14-4 margin by the Indians in 2016.

      "I've never walked into a spring-training locker room and not felt we had a chance to win it," Verlander said. "I don't know if anybody else who has been in the game as long as I have can say that. Pretty special."

  • Loney released by Rangers
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    Veteran first baseman James Loney was released by the Texas Rangers on Monday.

    • Loney, who was competing for the backup first baseman job behind Mike Napoli, batted .174 during spring training.

      The 32-year-old signed a minor-league contract with Texas in January, but the team signed Napoli a month later.

      Last year, Loney batted .265 in 366 plate appearances for the New York Mets. Loney spent his first seven seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who traded him to the Boston Red Sox in 2012. He spent the next three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays before joining the Mets.

      In 1,443 regular season games, Loney has a .284 batting average with 108 home runs and 669 RBIs.

  • MLB roundup: Scherzer looks sharp against Mets
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    Max Scherzer looked ready for the start of the season, going five scoreless innings and fanning seven as the Washington Nationals blanked a split New York Mets squad 6-0 on Monday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Bryce Harper belted a two-run homer and a solo shot while Trea Turner cracked two solo homers. Tim Tebow started in left field for the Mets and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

    • Red Sox 11, Orioles 9

      Sandy Leon homered twice, including a grand slam, in a nine-run fifth inning as Boston outscored Baltimore in Sarasota, Fla. Steve Selsky also homered for the Red Sox and Mitch Moreland was 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Cedric Mullins and Johnny Giavotella belted homers for the Orioles and Mark Trumbo was 3-for-4 with a run.

      Mets (ss) 5, Marlins 0

      T.J. Rivera's three-run homer capped a five-run sixth that lifted a New York split squad to a win over Miami in Jupiter, Fla. Zack Wheeler tossed five shutout innings for New York, giving up just two hits and fanning three. Tom Koehler whiffed seven in 5 2/3 innings and didn't allow an earned run for the Marlins.

      Giants 14, Reds 2

      Madison Bumgarner fanned nine in seven innings as San Francisco routed Cincinnati in Scottsdale, Ariz. Jae-Gyun Hwang belted his fifth homer of the spring for the Giants and Gorkys Hernandez went 3-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. Stuart Turner cracked a solo shot for the Reds.

      Royals 10, Athletics 3

      Jason Vargas pitched seven solid innings and got four homers of support from the Kansas City offense in its win over Oakland in Scottsdale, Ariz. Mike Moustakas, Paolo Orlando, Brandon Moss and Alcides Escobar each went deep for the Royals. Matt Chapman slugged a solo shot for the Athletics.

      White Sox 5, Dodgers 2

      Melky Cabrera, Yolmer Sanchez and Todd Frazier each cracked homers as Chicago subdued Los Angeles in Glendale, Ariz. Yasmani Grandal stroked a two-run single in the first inning for the Dodgers, who were shut down after that by Derek Holland. He scattered five hits in six innings, getting the win over Hyun-Jin Ryu.

      Angels 4, Diamondbacks 2

      Jesse Chavez breezed through six shutout innings for Los Angeles, giving up three hits and fanning three in a win over Arizona. Albert Pujols paced the Angels' offense, going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, and Shelby Miller lasted 4 1/3 innings for the Diamondbacks, fanning four.

      Rangers 6, Rockies 5

      Mike Napoli homered and doubled as Texas held off Colorado in Surprise, Ariz. Robinzon Chirinos added three hits, including two doubles, for the Ranger. Delino DeShields and Jurickson Profar also contributed two hits each. Alexi Amarista homered and went 2-for-4 for the Rockies.

      Padres 12, Mariners 2

      Wil Myers and Ryan Schimpf each clouted two-run homers off Yovani Gallardo in the first inning as San Diego routed Seattle in Peoria, Ariz. Jabari Blash cracked his seventh homer of the spring for the Padres and Luis Sardinas also homered. Tuffy Gosewisch belted a solo shot for the Mariners.

      Pirates 4, Twins 1

      Adam Frazier and Andrew McCutchen each homered in a three-run first inning as Pittsburgh dumped Minnesota in Bradenton, Fla. Ivan Nova fanned six in four innings in earning the win for the Pirates. Miguel Sano touched him for a solo shot in the second. Phil Hughes lasted six innings for the Twins, allowing six hits and four runs.

      Braves 11, Tigers 3

      Freddie Freeman was 3-for-4 with three RBIs as Atlanta banged out 19 hits in a rout of Detroit in Orlando, Fla. Dansby Swanson was 3-for-3 with three runs, and Tyler Flowers added three hits and two RBIs. Daniel Norris was the unlucky recipient of the Braves' all-out assault, giving up 13 hits and nine runs in three-plus innings.

      Cardinals 3, Astros 2

      Carlos Martinez tuned up for his first Opening Night start by going five innings in St. Louis' win over Houston in West Palm Beach, Fla. Martinez also knocked in the eventual winning run after Kolten Wong tripled in the second to tie the score at 2. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann drove in runs for the Astros.

      Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1

      Tommy Joseph went 4-for-5 with a two-run homer as Philadelphia dusted Toronto in Dunedin, Fla. Freddy Galvis added two hits and two RBIs for the Phillies. Vincent Velasquez got the win with five innings of work, striking out seven. Russell Martin drove in the Blue Jays' only run with a solo homer.

      Indians 4, Cubs 3

      Willson Contreras hit two solo homers, but it wasn't enough for Chicago in a loss to Cleveland at Goodyear, Ariz. Abraham Almonte homered for the Indians, who got 5 2/3 innings of two-run ball from Danny Salazar. Cubs starter Jon Lester gave up four runs in six innings.

  • Dodgers LHP Kazmir to open season on DL
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    Left-hander Scott Kazmir will start the season on the disabled list, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Monday.

    • Roberts also said shortstop Corey Seager will remain in Arizona through Friday to work on his swing after recovering from a strained oblique.

      Kazmir, 33, will go on the disabled list with an unspecified left hip injury. He averaged just 84 mph and topped out at 87 mph against the Texas Rangers on Sunday in his first start in three weeks.

      Kazmir missed most of the last two months of the 2016 season with back and neck issues. He finished the season with a 10-6 record and 4.56 ERA in 26 starts.

      "As far as the potential disabled list, it's looking like he'll start the season on the DL," Roberts said. "I told him we've got to figure this out. It's not his arm, but we've got to get to the bottom of it. It's something with the hip. We just can't understand why there's just no velocity. Don't know if it's a strength thing or what."

      Seager, 33, will miss the first two games of the Freeway Series in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday and Friday to get more at-bats in minor league games.

      Seager will rejoin the team on Saturday for the final Freeway Series game at Dodger Stadium.

      Seager, who hit .308 with 26 home runs and 72 RBIs in 157 games last season, is expected to be ready to play on Opening Day next Monday against the San Diego Padres.

      "Corey's healthy and it's just ramping up the at-bats," Roberts told reporters from spring training in Phoenix. "We want him to feel comfortable in the batter's box. Tomorrow he'll be off, Wednesday he'll log four to five or six (innings). I would expect him to miss the two games in Anaheim. For me, realistically, he'll be back for the last game at Dodger Stadium."

  • Reds season preview: Time to speed up rebuilding
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    CINCINNATI -- How much longer?

    • That's the question on the minds of many Cincinnati Reds fans going into the 2017 season. While most pundits agree the Reds still are a year or two away from being reasonably close to wrapping up their rebuilding process, there are a few pieces of the puzzle that should fit better this summer.

      For one thing, the everyday lineup is pretty much set now that the club dealt Brandon Phillips to the Atlanta Braves and handed the second base job to talented prospect Jose Peraza. It's still possible that shortstop Zack Cozart could be traded, which would open up the position for 23-year old Dilson Herrera. There is not much suspense left in the batting order.

      Center fielder Billy Hamilton is coming off a breakout year offensively. Left fielder Adam Duvall was a National League All-Star who hit 33 home runs and drove in 103 runs in his first full season in Cincinnati. And, Joey Votto was, well, Joey Votto, hitting .408 after the All-Star break.

      The Reds' rebuild focuses mostly on young pitching, and if you trust the scouting reports, they have an abundance of quality arms.

      Over the past two seasons, rookies started 166 of 324 games for Cincinnati, including a club-record 110 in 2015. And, there are several young arms that could crack the rotation this season, including left-handers Amir Garrett and Cody Reed, who's coming off a rough major league debut last year but had a strong spring.

      Heading into the final week of spring training, as many as seven pitchers were vying for three spots in the rotation, a testament to the Reds' pitching depth and how they performed in the spring.

      "I'm not looking at 2017 to be a replay of 2016, because we say it's a rebuild," manager Bryan Price told MLB.com. "I'm looking for 2017 to be a significant improvement over 2016. In order to do that, you have to have pitching depth in the rotation and bullpen. I think we've satisfied some of those issues we had last year. Now we have to stay healthy."

      That's been an issue. Cincinnati's retooling process might be further along if it hadn't been for injuries. In the past three seasons, 36 different players have made 57 separate appearances on the disabled list. That streak of bad luck will extend into this season.

      Right-hander Homer Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105 million contract in 2014, will begin the year on the DL again after undergoing forearm and elbow surgeries last year. Raisel Iglesias who could be the club's future closer, came down with back issues and a sore elbow late in spring training. Anthony DeSclafani, the projected Opening Day starter, will begin the season on the DL and catcher Devin Mesoraco is being brought along slowly after hip and shoulder injuries limited him to just 16 games in 2016.

      Due to injuries, 34-year old veteran right-hander Scott Feldman will get the start on Opening Day, a move more out of necessity than one intended to be part of the grand plan. That said, Feldman has made two prior Opening Day starts: in 2010 for Texas and 2014 for Houston.

      "His experience and the way he commands the strike zone, I think really makes him the best candidate," Price told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He's exactly the guy we were looking for and targeted -- a veteran guy with presence that commands the zone and has a veteran savvy that will serve us well. That will work well in an Opening Day environment."

      If the pitching holds up and the club can get healthy, the Reds could surprise some folks by improving on last year's 94-loss performance. It won't be easy.

      Perhaps the biggest obstacle confronting Cincinnati in its quest for contention is the NL Central itself. The defending world champion Chicago Cubs have a core of young players locked up for the foreseeable future. The St. Louis Cardinals are perennial contenders.

      The Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers are trying to beat Cincinnati to the finish line with rebuilds of their own, but the Reds still have 19 games each against the Cubs and the rival Cardinals. Not an easy task.

      Price and the entire coaching staff were brought back for 2017, but beyond that is anyone's guess. Dick Williams, who assumed the general manager's chair in taking over for Walt Jocketty, will want to see improvement in his first season at the helm.

      "The last couple of years, we were preaching that we would have to make tough decisions, trade players, restock the system," Williams told MLB.com. "I think people are starting to see the fruits of that labor. We're starting to get some of these exciting young players opportunities. This year, we'll learn about what those guys can do."

  • Pirates season preview: McCutchen switch, Kang status keys
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    There were a few surprises in training camp for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the biggest ones came before it started.

    • Andrew McCutchen was not traded and moved from center field to right after a subpar season, and Pittsburgh was able to re-sign right-hander Ivan Nova to remain an important part of the starting rotation.

      Still, there are a lot of questions surrounding a club that missed the postseason last year after a three-year run of playoff appearances and plays in the National League Central Division with the defending Worlds Series champion Chicago Cubs and perennially strong St. Louis Cardinals.

      The most impactful news in March for the Pirates was the status of third baseman and power hitter Jung Ho Kang, who remained in South Korea and on the restricted list after a DUI arrest. It was unclear when or even if Kang would join the Pirates.

      David Freese looks to inherit third base with Kang missing. Freese is part of a movement in which manager Clint Hurdle is keen on having a lot of interchangeable parts. That is, bench players and even some starting fielders who can plug in at different spots.

      Opening Day starter Gerrit Cole, 26, was slowed by three injuries last year but will be counted on to serve as the staff ace. Nova and Jameson Taillon have locked down spots in the rotation. Chad Kuhl has a strong inside track on the No. 4 spot.

      The fifth spot, however, is up for grabs, and going into the final week of spring no one had jumped way out in front. Tyler Glasnow seemed to be coming on, but he still needed to beat out Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison and Trevor Williams. It's entirely possible that competition will bleed into the season.

      "Everybody had an opportunity to go create separation, and that hasn't really happened in my mind," Hurdle said. "They've all competed. We have our own thoughts and our own measurements that we'll use. The good part is we've got depth, and they know it."

      The bullpen returns fairly intact but Tony Watson, who inherited the closer role after stalwart Mark Melancon was traded last season, had a rough spring.

      The outfield could be more than solid after the big switcheroo, which was made to get Starling Marte's substantial skill and arm into center fielder, where former NL MVP McCutchen regressed last season. Gregory Polanco moves from right to left.

      "We went through the process as thoroughly and as respectfully as we could," Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington told mlb.com. "(McCutchen) wants to stay in center field, and he believes he's a center fielder, but again, I can't say this enough: Without Starling Marte, this is not a move we make."

  • A's season preview: Little change from 93-loss club
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    The Athletics have a new slogan this season: "Rooted in Oakland."

    • Note the absence of the letter "u" -- as in "Routed in Oakland."

      That would be last year's mantra.

      Actually, the A's were pretty much routed everywhere last season. They lost 93 games, just the second time in the past 19 years the fell more than 88 times -- topped only by the 94 defeats they took in 2015.

      They fielded sloppily (third worst in the American League), pitched poorly (second worst) and hit worst of all (dead last) last season.

      And how did they respond? By jettisoning their most potent hitter, Danny Valencia, to the Seattle Mariners for -- you guessed it -- a minor league prospect.

      In fact, you might actually recognize the A's this season, which often isn't the case on Opening Day.

      However, for a team coming off a 93-loss season, familiarity is not necessarily a good thing.

      The projected rotation of Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs and Raul Alcantara did a majority of the pitching before tens of thousands of empty seats in meaningless August and September games at the Coliseum last season.

      And the most recognizable A's pitcher of all, ace Sonny Gray, returns ... well, when his lat strain will allow.

      Meanwhile, a majority of the batting order -- Stephen Vogt, Ryon Healy, Khris Davis, Marcus Semien and Yonder Alonso -- won't need an introduction to A's fans this season, either.

      So, a last-place team is banking its improvement on a glorified DH/pinch hitter in right field (Matt Joyce), a one-hit World Series wonder (Rajai Davis), a third baseman no longer good enough to play for the Minnesota Twins (Trevor Plouffe) and a banished relief pitcher from across the San Francisco Bay (Santiago Casilla).

      Things are so bleak in Oakland this spring, manager Bob Melvin admitted during camp that the club's primary goal this season was to escape last place.

      With Gray already hurt, Valencia gone and arguably the worst defense in baseball, that is mighty pie-in-the-sky stuff.

  • Angels season preview: Bounce-back anticipated
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, March 27, 2017

    An enterprising screenwriter could find abundant material for an old-fashioned soap opera by studying the Los Angeles Angels' past three seasons.

    • Act One found the Angels compiling the major league's best record in 2014, only to be swept in the American League Division Series by the eventual World Series winners, the Kansas City Royals.

      In Act Two, the club recovered from the unceremonious dismissal of outfielder Josh Hamilton before the 2015 season because of a drug and alcohol relapse, the midseason firing of general manager Jerry Dipoto and a summer collapse to miss a playoff spot by one game.

      The drama intensified in Act Three, with season-ending injuries claiming five starting pitchers and two closers before the Angels won nine of their final 11 games last year to avoid finishing last in the AL West.

      However, the upcoming episode of As The Halo Turns promises to be the most intriguing yet.

      General manager Billy Eppler navigated owner Arte Moreno's financial restrictions during the offseason to fill significant holes without relinquishing significant talent. Eppler acquired outfielders Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere, second baseman Danny Espinosa, catcher Martin Maldonado and infielder Luis Valbuena while collecting pitchers off waivers.

      Maybin will become the 20th Angel to start in left field since Opening Day 2015, with Revere in reserve. Espinosa replaces the dedicated, yet overmatched, Johnny Giavotella. Maldonado brings a reputation as a superior pitch-framer. Valbuena provides missing left-handed power.

      Fangraphs.com was so impressed that it projected the Angels as a wild-card contender. Eppler agreed.

      "We have the potential to be in the playoffs," he told the Los Angeles Times.

      Eppler explained the rationale for his acquisitions.

      "In a perfect world, you have elite defense up the middle," he told Fangraphs.com. "I think everybody has noticed that the position players who have walked in the door have all been solid average, or better, defensively. That's something that is important to us."

      Espinoza and Maldonado join center fielder Mike Trout and shortstop Andrelton Simmons up the middle. Complementing Trout and Simmons on offense are designated hitter Albert Pujols, right fielder Kole Calhoun and third baseman Yunel Escobar.

      But one plot complication already has developed. Valbuena, projected to be the starting first baseman, will be out four to six weeks with a strained right hamstring. Valbuena had season-ending surgery on that muscle last August.

      Nevertheless, for Eppler's view of the club's potential to become reality, the Angels must get solid pitching.

      Indications from the starters this spring appear positive. Right-handers Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker are impressing after recovering from serious injuries. Richards relied on injections of stem cells and platelet-rich plasma to avoid Tommy John surgery. Shoemaker sustained a fractured skull and cranial bleeding after a batted ball hit him in the head in September, but he has been dominant in spring training.

      However, the bullpen remains a work in progress, especially after closer Huston Street strained his back March 3. Right-handers Cam Bedrosian and Andrew Bailey are competing to fill Street's role, while competition elsewhere remains wide open.