What’s Happening in Baseball Today

The First Pitch: March 31, 2023

On Opening Day 2023, the Cubs’ Marcus Stroman pitches six innings of shutout baseball to earn the W at Chicago against Milwaukee, 4-0. But he also goes down as the answer to a future trivia question: Who was the first pitcher to commit a pitch clock violation in a regular season game? Stroman takes too long in the second inning to deliver a 1-2 pitch to the Brewers’ Christian Yelich and is penalized with an automatic ball; Yelich will go on to walk, placing baserunners at first and second with no outs, but Stroman gets out of the jam allowing no runs. The game is one of five shutouts on the day, tied with 1943 (and the deadened balata ball) for the second most ever on Opening Day. The record remains six, from 2015.

The Astros begin their defense of the 2022 World Series trophy by having their record-tying streak of 10 Opening Day wins snapped at Houston by the White Sox, 3-2. A slim 1-0 lead is squandered late in the going, as Yasmani Grandal’s solo homer in the eighth inning evens up the score, followed by Andrew Vaughn’s two-run double in the ninth off Astros closer Ryan Pressly.

In his first official game as an Astro after nine years with the White Sox, Jose Abreu has a single in four at-bats against his former team.

In a seesaw opener at St. Louis, the Cardinals break a tie or come from behind in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings—but can’t respond in the ninth after the visiting Blue Jays notch two runs on George Springer’s fifth hit of the day to claim a 10-9 victory. The Cardinals’ pain of defeat is compounded in the eighth inning when a 102-MPH pitch from Jordan Hicks ricochets off the kneecap of catcher Willson Contreras, playing his first regular season game for St. Louis; he limps off the field, and X-rays later show no fractures, but the length of any absence is still to be determined.

The Cardinals’ Tyler O’Neill, rebounding from an awful 2022 season, belts a two-run homer in the third inning; it’s the fourth straight Opening Day in which he’s gone deep, tying a major league record shared with three catchers—Yogi Berra, Gary Carter and Todd Hundley.

Springer’s five-hit performance is one of two on the day; Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman also collects five in the Orioles’ 10-9 victory at Boston. It’s the first time there have been multiple five-hit games on Opening Day in the modern (post-1900) era.

Aaron Judge says “sorry, not sorry” to the Giants, who came very close to signing him last Fall. In his first at-bat of the season, the re-signed Yankee slugger belts a 422-foot homer to left-of-center, initiating the scoring in New York’s 5-0 home win over San Francisco. Gerrit Cole fires six shutout innings with 11 strikeouts, setting the Yankee record for most K’s in an Opening Day game before the end of the fourth inning; his Giants counterpart, Logan Webb, rings up 12 strikeouts of his own to set a San Francisco O.D. mark. Overall, there are 32 punchouts between both teams—setting an all-time first-game record.

The defending NL champion Phillies find Jacob deGrom, in his official Texas debut, no mystery at all as they build up a 5-0 lead after three-and-a-half innings at Arlington. But the Rangers quickly bounce back and then some, piling up nine runs in the bottom of the fourth—all after the Globe Life Field roof is closed due to unexpected shower activity—and hold on to outlast the Phillies, 11-7. It’s noted that in all of last season, the Phillies never gave up more than seven runs in an inning—while the Rangers never scored more than seven.

It appears that Colorado closer Daniel Bard—so good in 2022 to cap an unlikely comeback from major control issues that kept him out of baseball for seven years—is having a relapse. Bard announces that he is going on the Injured List to deal with anxiety issues after a rough March in which he struggled both in Spring Training for the Rockies and at the WBC for Team USA. Between those two squads, Bard threw 6.2 innings, allowed 11 runs on nine hits—and walked nine. He also hit two batters—including Jose Altuve, leading to a fractured finger that will keep the Astros’ second baseman out of regular season action for nearly three months.

“It’s a hard thing to admit, but I’ve been through this before,” Bard tells reporters. “From my experience, knowing myself, I think just taking a step back, taking time to work through things, get it right, is the best approach.”

MLB has struck a deal on the first collective bargaining agreement with minor league players, which will at least double salaries and, by 2024, provide housing for Double-A and Triple-A players. Players in lesser leagues will not be afforded with those same conditions, but will get free transportation to ballparks and eat more nutritional meals at team clubhouses as agreed to by a “joint clubhouse nutrition committee.” The agreement, which will last five years and include a no-strike/no-lockout clause, will reduce from seven years to six the ‘reserve period’ in which a minor leaguer will be property of an organization before he can declare free agency.

Congrats, Your Box Score Line Was the Best (Hitters Edition)

5-2-4-5—C.J. Cron, Colorado
The Rockies’ lone, legitimate slugger has done most of his damage at Coors Field—as Colorado players will typically do—but he was a mile high in a dominant performance at sea level in San Diego, smashing two home runs, a double and single along with five RBIs in a 7-2 win over the Padres.

Congrats, Your Box Score Line Was the Best (Pitchers Edition)

6-1-0-0-0-6—Luis Castillo, Seattle
The 30-year-old right-hander was almost perfect for six innings during Seattle’s 3-0 home win over Cleveland. Allowing just one baserunner—an infield single that began as a line drive that skimmed off the back of his head. In 12 starts since being traded to the Mariners last summer, Castillo is 5-2 with a 2.90 ERA.

It Was Whatever-Something Years Ago Today

1995: Just hours before the first scheduled regular season game of the year featuring replacement players, future Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor orders MLB owners to reactivate the expired collective bargaining agreement until a new one can be agreed to. This allows players to end the most crippling work stoppage to date, lasting 232 days and wiping out the 1994 postseason

1998: The Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays play their first game ever, with neither winning. The DBacks fall at home to Colorado, 9-2, in the first official game at brand-new Bank One Ballpark (later Chase Field); the Devil Rays get walloped by the Tigers, 11-6, in the first regular season game played at Tropicana Field—which had opened eight years earlier. 

1998: The Milwaukee Brewers, playing as a National League team after 29 seasons in the American League, lose at Atlanta to the Braves, 2-1. It’s the first time a major league team has switched circuits since 1892.

Shameless Link of the Day

Our newest Opinion piece lets you know what we think of baseball’s new rules for 2023.

You Say It’s Your Birthday

Born on this date is Negro League Hall of Famer Mules Settles (1901), one-third of the Pirates’ 1926 “ABC AffairCarson Bigbee (1895), 1890s pitcher/outfielder Jack Stivetts (1868) and 14-year second baseman of 1,641 hits Bill Hallman (1867).

A special Bushers Birthday Salute to Chick Brandom, who seemed too good to be random with just 32 major league appearances (half of them in the short-lived Federal League), posting a 2.08 ERA over 108 innings.

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