This Great Game Comebacker

The Month That Was in Baseball: March 2023

The WBC Was Wonderful—But it is Worth the Cost to MLB’s Regular Season?
The Best and Worst From Spring Training    So Long, Joe Pepitone

February 2023    Comebacker Index    April 2023

Wednesday, March 1

Where have you gone, Jackie Bradley Jr.? The answer is Kansas City, as the Royals have signed the former All-Star and Gold Glove outfielder to a minor league contract. The 10-year veteran will have to prove his way onto the Royals’ Opening Day roster, given his recent track record—batting .182 with 10 home runs and 67 RBIs over 265 games split between three teams (Milwaukee, Boston and Toronto) over the last two years. 

Dave Nicholson, an all-or-nothing slugger in a time when such players were relatively few and far between, passes away at the age of 83. Over a seven-year career spanning 1960-67, Nicholson played in 538 major league games and belted 61 homers, but he also struck out a ton—573 over 1,419 at-bats, including 175 SOs in 1963 which, at the time, set a major league mark. But when he connected, the ball went far—very far. No other player hit a longer measured home run at Chicago’s Comiskey Park than Nicholson, who in 1964 drilled a ball 573 feet out of the White Sox’ home ballpark. 

Thursday, March 2

Spring Training continues its unwanted rash of major injuries to crucial players. In Colorado camp, rising second baseman Brendan Rodgers may miss the entire season after dislocating his shoulder while attempting a diving stop on a grounder in Tuesday’s 6-4 loss to Texas. Though a doctor quickly ‘pops’ Rodgers’ shoulder back in place, a series of MRIs show that the damage is worse than initially feared. 

An extended loss of Rodgers would spell trouble for an inferior Rockies team that basically stood pat in the offseason after a last-place, 68-94 showing within a very tough NL West in 2022

Even when the Tampa Bay Rays know what’s coming, they still can’t beat up on Minnesota’s Kenta Maeda. The veteran pitcher, coming off a long layoff due to Tommy John surgery, is communicating his pitches with catcher Tony Wolters via the PitchCom device—which apparently has the volume up to full blast, allowing Tampa Bay batters can hear the pitch selections. And still, through two innings, the Rays fail to score off of Maeda—though they do get two hits. 

The game, won by the Twins, 4-2, is held at the Rays’ regular season home of Tropicana Field because their spring facility in Port Charlotte was badly damaged by Hurricane Ian. The Rays are splitting their exhibition home sked between the Trop and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, near Orlando. The gathering for this game draws 2,531 fans. 

Friday, March 3

It takes seven pitchers, but the Chicago Cubs no-hit the San Diego Padres in Peoria, Arizona, in the Spring Training’s first no-no since 2017; though records are hazy, the Cubs believe it’s their first-ever exhibition no-hitter. Justin Steele gets the fun started with two perfect innings, followed by six relievers who combine to walk five but allow no other baserunners. 

Saturday, March 4

Toronto slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will sit out the upcoming World Baseball Classic, which begins this coming week, due to right knee inflammation. Guerrero sustained the injury while running from first to second in the Blue Jays’ spring game on Friday; he was ready to play for the star-studded Dominican Republic, but will instead rest and stay with the team—which doesn’t want him to risk further aggravation of the injury. 

The situation underscores that the WBC, 17 years after its debut, still is secondary even to MLB Spring Training as more than a few star players prioritize the warm-up for the coming regular season. The timing of this year’s tournament is especially challenging, given that MLB hasn’t had a normal spring camp since 2019 and that there’s new rules (pitch clock, shift ban, et al) which players need exhibition play to get accustomed to; they won’t be used during the WBC. 

Sunday, March 5

Mike Clevinger can breathe a little easier. After an MLB investigation, the newly-signed Chicago White Sox pitcher will not face a suspension after allegations of domestic violence surfaced against him by the mother of one of his children. However, Clevinger has agreed to “evaluations by the joint treatment boards under the collective bargained policies, and to comply with any of the board’s recommendations,” per a released statement from MLB. 

Monday, March 6

Justin Turner, getting used to his new environs with the Red Sox after nine years with the Dodgers, is drilled in the side of the face by a fastball thrown by Detroit’s Matt Manning in Boston’s 7-1 spring victory. The veteran third baseman is seen bleeding after getting hit but appears alert; he’s taken to a local hospital where the team says he is “stable, alert, and in good spirits given the circumstances.” He’ll be ready for Opening Day. 

Tuesday, March 7

A disturbing report in the Philadelphia Inquirer says that a testing of the artificial turf used at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium found dangerously high levels of PFAS, a chemical developed by Monsanto that is known to cause various types of cancer. Six Phillies who played on that turf—Tug McGraw, Darren Daulton, Ken Brett, Johnny Oates, John Vukovich and David West—all ultimately died of brain cancer. 

There have been many stories over the years bubbling toward the surface of today’s fake turf containing cancer-causing substances; five MLB teams (Toronto, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Texas and Miami) currently use synthetic grass. Between that fact and the knowledge that nearly half of all MLB teams were playing on artificial turf by the early 1980s, one wonders if more investigation will reveal similarly high rates of cancer in former players—and whether the current ballparks using the turf will check in with its suppliers to make sure all is safe. 

Wednesday, March 8

The day’s Spring Training schedule is dominated by exhibitions featuring MLB teams and World Baseball Classic squads preparing for tourney play later this week. Team USA, showcasing an All-Star line-up with Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado—and 2022 batting champ Jeff McNeil batting ninth—can’t put it together in their first on-field foray at Scottsdale against the Giants, losing 5-1. Meanwhile out in Florida, the Dominican Republic—the Americans’ expected top rival—flatten the Braves, 9-0, despite missing Juan Soto, Wander Franco and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (who’ll miss the tourney due to injury). Venezuela, another top contender, fields Jose Altuve, Ronald Acuna Jr., Miguel Cabrera and Salvador Perez as they tip the Astros, 9-8. 

Altuve absorbs the weird feeling of facing his current MLB team, snapping out a single in three trips to the plate against Houston. Not as weird, but perhaps more eye-opening, is the pitching line from the Mets’ Max Scherzer against Nicaragua; in three innings, he gives up both of the game’s only runs on one hit (a home run from the Reds’ Chesler Cuthbert) and strikes out nine batters. 

With no pitch clock in use, most of the MLB vs. WBC games play close to three hours—with the Venezuela-Astros game checking in at three hours and 45 minutes. 

Thursday, March 9

New reporting from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal says that Aaron Judge, before re-signing with the Yankees, was given a last-minute temptation via a 12-year offer worth roughly $415 million from the San Diego Padres. The king-sized slugger thus began a whirlwind 24 hours in early December in which he would fly from Tampa to San Diego to Stockton, California (near his home in the Central Valley town of Linden) and finally to Maui—where he received a text from Yankee boss Hal Steinbrenner offering Judge the deal he would eventually accept, with the team captaincy as the cherry on top. And what about the Padres’ richer offer? Judge took it seriously, meeting with the San Diego brass at Petco Park for three hours. But as Judge left, Padres GM A.J. Preller felt like “a car salesman watching a shopper walk out of his showroom without completing a deal,” as Rosenthal writes. Preller’s intuition was right; Judge received a text from Steinbrenner after arriving in Maui, initiating final conversations with the Yankees that resulted in a deal with the incumbents. 

While Judge should be ready for Opening Day, newly-minted Yankee pitcher Carlos Rodon won’t. The former White Sock and Giant, who signed a six-year, $162 million deal with New York during the offseason, has a strained forearm muscle that will push his start to the 2023 regular season back to late April. 

Friday, March 10

Jesus Alou, part of the prolific Alou baseball family and outfielder of 15 seasons among four different teams, passes away at the age of 80. Though he didn’t put up the kind of gaudy numbers as his two brothers Felipe and Matty, Jesus was a solid ballplayer in his own right, batting .280 on 1,216 hits over 1,380 games, nearly half of those played for San Francisco in a tenure that lasted six years. Certainly one of his most memorable moments came after being called up in 1963, when he joined his brothers, both of whom also playing for the Giants, to be placed together in the outfield on September 15; it was the first time three brothers played in the same outfield in the same game. 

Saturday, March 11

Team USA opens its WBC tournament play with a 6-2 win over Great Britain before a crowd of nearly 40,000 at Phoenix’s Chase Field. The Brits take a quick 1-0 lead in the first thanks to a home run from the Dodgers’ Trayce Thompson—eligible to play for the Union Jack because his father was born in the Bahamas, part of the British monarchy. But American starter Adam Wainwright allows no further damage over four innings against a squad mostly comprised of minor leaguers, while his star-studded USA mates rack up five runs over the first four innings—two off of British starting pitcher Vance Worley, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2017—to establish the long-term pace. Nolan Arenado contributes on offense with three hits including two doubles, while making several sparkling plays defensively at third base. 

While Team USA manager Mark DeRosa is thrilled with his All-Star lineup, he’s frustrated by the lack of star talent in the rotation. While Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Lance Lynn and Nick Martinez make up a good set of American starters, there’s no Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Dylan Cease and Shane Bieber, among others. “If (the WBC) is going to go where it needs to go, then all teams, all countries want their so-called best players,” DeRosa lamented. “But I completely understand. Over the course of 162 (games) in the major leagues, you want your best players healthy, firing on all cylinders. It’s a big ask to get these guys rolling.” With those statements, DeRosa reveals why the WBC will likely never attain a World Cup-style stature. 

A couple of up-and-coming potential stars sign lucrative long-term contracts—continuing a growing trend of teams locking up prospects rather than to ink established veterans on pricey deals lasting well into their 30s, when they’ll likely be past their prime. The Arizona Diamondbacks give 22-year-old outfielder Corbin Carroll, who has 32 games and 104 at-bats to his major league resume, an eight-year deal worth $111 million, while Washington hands an eight-year pact worth $51 million to 24-year-old catcher Keibert Ruiz, who emerged as a starter behind the plate for the Nationals in 2022, batting .251 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs over 394 at-bats. 

Sunday, March 12

In the second game of its WBC tourney, Team USA is hammered by Mexico, 11-5, before a sellout crowd at Phoenix that feels pro-Mexico—only in part because El Tri is doing most of the cheering, building up an 11-2 lead until the Americans make the final score somewhat respectable. Washington’s Joey Meneses has the big day for Mexico, clobbering two home runs and a single with five RBIs. It’s Mexico’s third straight win against the U.S. in WBC play. 

In the same pool group, the Canadian team hammers Great Britain, 18-8, tying a WBC record for runs in a game. (The record will be broken a day later by Korea.) Because of mercy rules which state that a WBC game can finish early if a team is up by 10 runs after seven innings, or 15 runs after five, Canada does its damage over six innings as the home team—but Great Britain contributes with 16 walks. To put that in perspective, the all-time MLB regular season record for walks by one team in a nine-inning game is 18. 

Monday, March 13

Joe Pepitone, a three-time All-Star remembered more for being one of the first (if not the first) major league players to use a hair dryer in the clubhouse, passes away at the age of 82. The self-styled first baseman, whose slick defensive work won him three Gold Gloves, was also slick with the hair—whether it was real or fake. He admitted, when brought back to coach the Yankees in the early 1980s, that he had to trim back his toupee to comply with the team’s longstanding (and still active) ban against long or facial hair. Pepitone came to prominence with the Yankees just as they began a long-term decline in the 1960s, continually putting up solid, but not great, numbers; five times he hit at least 20 homers (peaking with 31 in 1966), and knocked in 100 runs for the 1964 AL champion Yankees. He collected only six hits in 39 career postseason at-bats, all coming during the 1963-64 World Series—both of which the Yankees lost. After his time with the Yankees, Pepitone bounced around with the Astros, Cubs and Braves over four years. He attempted a comeback in Japan in 1973, but hated the experience and left after less than a month; in 1976, he tried again with the Triple-A Hawaii Islanders, another unsuccessful stint that signaled the end of his pro career. Overall, Pepitone batted .258 in 1,397 major league games with 1,315 hits and 219 home runs. 

Trevor Bauer is now Japan’s problem. The controversial pitcher, embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal over the past two years and considered toxic by MLB teams which don’t want to deal with the unwanted PR heat they’d get by signing him, has agreed to a one-year, $4 million contract with Japan’s Yokohama BayStars. It will be interesting to see how Bauer—who seems to have an affinity for Japan given that he spells out his name on Twitter in Japanese kanji—will be received by teammates, fans and the public in general on the other side of the ocean. Doubly interesting; if he has a lights-out season in Japan, does an MLB team dare to reach out and bring him back to America? 

After getting spanked the day before by Mexico, Team USA takes it out on Canada, scoring 12 runs over the first two innings and resting from there to win in seven via the mercy rule in WBC action, 12-1. Mike Trout’s three-run homer caps a nine-run first inning; Trea Turner completes the damage an inning later. 

Out in Miami, Puerto Rico scores a run in the bottom of the eighth against Israel for a walk-off victory…of 10-0. How is that possible? The “winning” tally activates the mercy rule, in which a game ends if a team is leading by 10 runs in the seventh inning or later. But never mind that, here’s the somewhat historic part: Four Puerto Rican pitchers, led by starter Jose De Leon (5.2 innings), do not allow a single baserunner to reach base. It’s a perfect game, right? No, it’s not. A perfect game is perfect if it’s nine innings. This was eight. Slap on the asterisk. 

A day after Canada tied a WBC record by scoring 18 runs, Korea rewrites the record book anew—and needs only five innings to do it. In Tokyo, the Koreans rack up 22 runs and meet the standard for winning also by mercy rule (a lead of 15 or more after five frames), pummeling China, 22-2, in a Pool B game. All six of China’s pitchers take a battering—including starter Alan Carter, eligible for China because his mother was born there. 

Three games ended early by mercy rule…please, Rob Manfred, don’t get any crazy ideas about the regular season. 

Tuesday, March 14

It has come to pass for Diamond Sports Group—or Bally Sports, as fans better know them—as the regional sports network for 14 MLB teams files for bankruptcy. Those teams received their latest round of revenue payments, but it may the last they receive for quite a while as MLB figures out how to keep broadcasts going without disruption. Diamond’s parent owner, Sinclair, bought the RSNs from Fox in 2019 for $10.6 billion—but in doing so also inherited $8 billion in debt. 

Wednesday, March 15

It’s a big victory for Puerto Rico—and a massive loss for the New York Mets, and perhaps the future of the World Baseball Classic as we know it. Before an enthusiastic sellout crowd at Miami, PR/Mets closer Edwin Diaz finishes off a 5-2 win over the Dominican Republic to advance to the knockout round—and eliminates the heavily favored Dominicans in the process. But in the ensuing celebration, Diaz is surrounded by delirious teammates jumping up and down in unison—and collapses to the ground with what appears to be a major injury to his right leg. Diaz can barely move the leg; he ultimately has to be taken off the field in a wheelchair. It’s later determined that Diaz has a torn patellar tendon, knocking him out for the entire upcoming MLB season. 

Diaz’s injury, as fluke as fluke can get, still raises major questions. The intensity and pageantry of the WBC surely is more exciting than your typical Spring Training game—but is it really worth it? Three months from now, few will remember, and more will care less, who will have won the tournament. The MLB season still reigns supreme, head, shoulders, waists and kneecaps above the WBC. Diaz signed an offseason deal to become the highest-paid reliever in MLB history—and now, the Mets will not see him pitch until 2024. 

The Diaz injury is bound to shake up every MLB front office, holding their breath in hopes that one of their players participating in the WBC will survive without injury and be ready for Opening Day. But this is bound to make GMs think twice about letting go of top players, people they’re pumping tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in, for a preseason tournament which frankly means little. Contracts will be signed with provisions barring WBC play. Insurance policies will become top of mind. And the WBC will suffer as a result. 

It’s a shame. This WBC was building up to be the best yet. But an injury that could cripple an MLB contender’s chances, through no fault of its own, has returned the conversation to this: Is it really necessary? 

WBC players who are on a 40-man MLB roster must obtain insurance through a third-party firm that works with MLB, according to Larry Brown Sports. In Diaz’s case, that money will go to the Mets, though whether it will pay off the whole of the $17.25 million he’s owed for 2023 remains to be revealed. 

Team USA survives intact (and without injury) out of its pool, withstanding a challenge from Colombia and taking a 3-2 win at Phoenix. Mike Trout drives home all three runs for the Americans, the final two on a go-ahead single in the fifth inning. After a shaky start for USA pitcher Merrill Kelly, six relievers combine to shut down Colombia on just two hits over the final six innings. 

Thursday, March 16

MLB apparently hasn’t been satisfied with its crackdown on illegal substances allegedly being used by pitchers. So, it plans to crack down even harder. Noticing an increase in spin rates late last season, MLB has told umpires to be extra snoopy in checking pitchers out—and it has also notified teams to be ready for it, saying that they’ll be responsible for any substances discovered in any “Club” area—that is, the clubhouse, dugout, dugout tunnel, bullpen, and so on. 

Friday, March 17

Mexico advances to the WBC semis in Miami with a come-from-behind, 5-4 victory over Puerto Rico. Cruelly, the loss is tagged to Alexis Diaz, the younger brother of injured Puerto Rico teammate/closer Edwin Diaz. Taking the mound in the bottom of the seventh, Diaz gives up a double and two walks to load the bases with nobody out; all three baserunners will eventually score after his departure to give Mexico all it needs to advance. Defense is needed to stop a PR counterattack—and Mexico gets it from left fielder Randy Arozarena, who leaps high on the warning track to snare a deep fly in the eighth off the bat of Emmanuel Rivera. Mexico will play undefeated Japan on March 20, with the winner advancing to the WBC final. 

Saturday, March 18

It’s an exciting game, a big victory for Team USA—and another major loss to an MLB team as the Americans bounce back to defeat Venezuela in the WBC quarterfinal at Miami, 9-7. The U.S. builds up a 5-2 lead halfway through, capped by a solo home run by Kyle Tucker off Astros teammate Luis Garcia, but the Venezuelans strike for four runs to take the lead in the bottom of the fifth, then add apparent insurance on Luis Arraez’s second homer of the game. (Arraez has never had a multi-homer game in MLB.) But the Americans load the bases with no one out in the eighth off Angels reliever Jose Quijada, who’s replaced by Silvino Bracho; the first batter he faces, Trea Turner, belts a grand slam well into the left-field bleachers to put Team USA ahead for keeps. 

The game is marred by another serious injury to an MLB All-Star. Jose Altuve is hit by a Daniel Bard pitch and suffers a fractured thumb; he will miss significant time with the Astros, who are paying him $29 million this season. This, on top of the season-long loss of closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets after his freak WBC injury, will only put more pressure on MLB on how to maintain the WBC vibe—while protecting MLB teams at the same time. Right now, it’s not working. 

Sunday, March 19

Team USA eases its way to the WBC final with a commanding 14-2 romp of Cuba in Miami. The Americans score in each of the first six innings and are powered by four home runs, including two from Trea Turner, a night after his grand slam lifted the U.S. to this semi-final. St. Louis teammates Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas each allow a run through four innings of work to quell the Cuban team. 

The game features a couple more injury scares to star MLB players. Nolan Arenado is hit on the hand while at bat in the fifth, but x-rays reveal no fractures; later, Cuban/White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada collides behind the infield with left fielder Roel Santos, resulting in a bruised rib. Additionally, he undergoes a concussion protocol but is cleared. (Both will be recovered for Opening Day.) 

Super-agent Scott Boras appears to share some of the same concerns as other MLB execs and fans about the rash of injuries at the WBC. After seeing Jose Altuve, one of his clients, have his thumb fractured during Venezuela’s loss to the U.S., Boras tells USA Today’s Bob Nightengale: “The trouble I have with this whole thing is that an injury resulted in a divisional corruption of the competition at the major league level. When you lose a superstar talent like (Edwin Diaz), obviously we’re running into damaging Major League Baseball and the greatest pursuit for players, and that’s winning a World Series.” 

Better late than never: Jurickson Profar, one of the last available free agents from this past offseason, signs a one-year, $7.75 million deal with the Colorado Rockies. The nine-year utility man played a career-high 152 games with the San Diego Padres in 2022, batting .243 with 36 doubles, 15 home runs, 58 RBIs and 73 walks. 

Monday, March 20

Japan advances to the WBC final against Team USA with a 6-5 victory over Mexico, as Munetaka Murakami’s two-run double walks it off in the ninth against closer Giovanny Gallegos. The big news to start the game is the American debut of 21-year-old Raki Sasaki, who threw a perfect game last year in Japan—and followed that gem up with eight more perfect innings in his next start before being pulled due to his pitch count. Starting for Japan, Sasaki flashes a 102-MPH fastball but gets burned by a three-run, ice-breaking homer by Luis Urias in the fourth inning. The game stays 3-0 until the seventh, when Masataka Yoshida slams his own three-run shot to tie the game. After Mexico retakes the lead with a pair of runs in the eighth, Japan rallies for one in the bottom half of the inning, before Murakami’s game-winner in the ninth. 

Tuesday, March 21

The most successful World Baseball Classic yet ends with a dream duel to finish it, as Japan’s Shohei Ohtani strikes out Team USA and star Angels teammate Mike Trout for the final out in a 3-2 championship victory before a packed house in Miami. Trea Turner initiates the scoring in the second inning with his fifth homer of the tournament for Team USA, but Japan rebuts with a pair of runs off Arizona’s Merrill Kelly in the bottom half of the frame; they’ll hang onto the lead the rest of the way, with both teams trading a pair of solo homers (Kazuma Okamoto for Japan, Kyle Schwarber for the U.S.) That leads to the bottom of the ninth, where Ohtani—collecting a single and walk earlier as Japan’s DH—takes the mound in a bid to wrap up the title. He walks Jeff McNeil, but then gets Mookie Betts to hit into an easy double play, bringing it down to a final confrontation with Trout that seems hand-delivered from a Hollywood screenwriter. The two battle to a full count before Ohtani dispenses with his 100-MPH heater and snaps a slider outside that Trout fruitlessly chases, ending the game. 

Trout swings and misses on all three strikes; according to Codify’s Twitter feed, that’s happened to him only 24 times in 6,174 MLB career plate appearances. 

This is Japan’s third WBC title, having won it in each of the first two tournaments in 2006 and 2009. 

The 2023 WBC will be known as a turning point for the tournament. Unlike the previous five tourneys, people seemed turned on to this year’s event as never before; the action and fan support was intense and spirited, the players were totally into it, and social media response was firmly in favor of the WBC despite its warts. 

We have always been skeptical of the WBC because of its lax eligibility requirements, half-hearted participation rates and serious injuries which handicap MLB teams for the coming regular season. MLB will need to address these issues in time for the next WBC in 2026 in order to get everyone on board—because, admittedly, they now have a good thing going. 

Wednesday, March 22

The new pitch clock rule is a bit more complicated than we have been led to be believed. For the fifth time since spring camps opened, MLB sends a “clarification memo” to teams to clear up some of the murkier aspects of the timing procedures contained within the pitch clock. This memo even puts the heat on bat boys and bat girls to make sure they don’t waste time retrieving equipment during or in between at-bats. If they’re found to be slowing things up, teams will be advised by MLB to—ouch—fire them. 

Thursday, March 23

The Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins tears his ACL after taking an awkward step while backing into the outfield to field a ground ball during an exhibition game against Detroit, and will miss the entire regular season. Hoskins belted 30 homers during the regular season last year for the Phillies and added another six during the team’s run to the World Series. The loss of Hoskins will be a tough blow for a Philadelphia team already without Bryce Harper for the first half of the season. 

Want to buy the New York Yankees? According to Forbes, it will cost you $7.1 billion. That’s the value pinned upon the Bronx Bombers by the financial magazine/website, in its annual listing of MLB franchise values. The estimate on the Yankees is up 18% from last year; a distant second are the Dodgers ($4.8 billion) followed by the Red Sox ($4.5 billion), Cubs ($4.1 billion) and Giants ($3.7 billion). At the other end of the scale, the Miami Marlins are the least valuable ballclub, estimated to be worth an even $1 billion. 

Friday, March 24

St. Louis Cardinals/Team USA pitcher Miles Mikolas has agreed to a two-year contract extension for $32 million, plus a $5 million signing bonus and a $3 million raise for this upcoming season, which he is already contracted for $15.75 million. The 34-year-old Mikolas finished the 2022 season with a 12-13 record but a nice 3.29 ERA. 

Saturday, March 25

As Opening Day approaches, the list of established pitchers who won’t be ready continues to grow. Atlanta’s Kyle Wright, last year’s lone 20-game winner in the majors, will miss one and perhaps two starts to begin the year due to an ailing shoulder. And in Yankeeland, Luis Severino will likely begin the season on the Injured Lust due to a lat strain, raising to three the number of New York starters (along with Carlos Rodon and Frankie Montas) who won’t be ready on Opening Day. 

One player who will be ready this week is top St. Louis prospect Jordan Walker, who’s impressed the Cardinals enough in Spring Training that they’ve given him a spot on the Opening Day roster. Still just 20, Walker has never played any higher level than Double-A, where last year he hit .306 with 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, 22 steals and 100 runs scored. So far this spring, Walker is batting .295 with three homers—measured at 430, 450 and 470 feet. He’s a pretty bright guy, too; his high school GPA was 3.98. Keep an eye on him. 

Sunday, March 26

The Astros wrap up their Spring Training schedule on a high note—a very high one. Houston scores three in the first, five in the second, five in the fifth, two in the seventh and nine in the eighth to demolish the visiting Cardinals at Palm Beach, Florida, 24-1. Rookie catcher Yainer Diaz has the biggest day individually for the Astros, collecting a single, double, home run and six RBIs in three at-bats. The 24 runs are more than the Astros have ever scored in a regular season contest (that mark being 23 in a 2019 game against Baltimore). 

Monday, March 27

Chicago Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner is blessed with a three-year extension totaling $35 million, covering his final two years of arbitration and first season after becoming a free agent. The 25-year-old Oakland native emerged as a reliable everyday player for the Cubs last season, batting .281 with 10 home runs, 55 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. 

When some players retire, they sign a one-day contract with the team they spent the bulk of their career with as a symbolic gesture, never actually putting the uniform on. But Sergio Romo gets physical, using his one-day return and exit with the Giants to take the mound and pitch in relief during a 12-6 exhibition loss to Oakland before 30,254 at Oracle Park. The A’s don’t make life easy for Romo—who hasn’t pitched all spring—as he allows a walk and two hits to the three batters he faces. But the real party pooper is home plate umpire Nic Lentz, who assesses Romo with two automatic balls before he actually throws a pitch because of MLB’s new timing regulations. (Nic, this is an exhibition and a special moment for a retiring player. Let it go just this once.) 

The 40-year-old Romo pitched 15 years, collecting a 42-36 record, 3.21 ERA and 137 saves in 821 appearances. He’s remembered for his contributions to three world championship teams in San Francisco (2010, 2012 and 2014), and in the latter portion of his career as the first “opener” for the Tampa Bay Rays when they began utilizing the concept in 2018. 

Tuesday, March 28

The Cleveland Guardians become the latest team to lock up a promising young star, agreeing to a seven-year, $105 million extension for 2022 breakout second baseman Andres Gimenez. The deal includes a team option for an eighth year, which could raise the total value of the contract to $128 million. Acquired in the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to the Mets, the 24-year-old Gimenez batted .297 last season with 17 home runs, 69 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. 

Shohei Ohtani may not become a free agent until after this season, but he’s already raking in a ton a money. According to Forbes, the Angels’ star DH/pitcher will earn more than any other major leaguer when both salary and endorsements are figured in; his $65 million value tops a list that includes Mets ace Max Scherzer ($59.3 million), Yankees bopper Aaron Judge ($44.5 million), other Mets ace Justin Verlander ($43.3 million) and Ohtani’s All-World teammate Mike Trout ($39.5 million). 

Wednesday, March 29

It’s been a Comebacker tradition, whether the format is daily, weekly or monthly: At the end of every Spring Training, we let you, the baseball consumer, know who’s ready—and not—for Opening Day. This is all based on the numbers, which some will say need to be taken with a grain of salt as veterans and rooks alike are just warming up for the real games to come. But when the stats for some of these players and teams are that good—or that bad—it’s hard to just dismiss them as fluky. Enjoy

Ready: Trea Turner, Philadelphia. The $300 million man earned his pay in a March split between the Phillies and Team USA at the WBC, hitting .455 (20-for-44) with seven home runs and 18 runs batted in. 

Not Ready: Avisail Garcia, Miami. After a deflating 2022 season, this is not the spring the veteran outfielder wanted; he collected just seven hits in 49 at-bats with a pair of solo homers (leading to his only two RBIs), struck out 20 times, walked just once and grounded into three double plays. 

Ready: Corbin Carroll, Arizona. If Cactus League play is any indication, the Diamondbacks have made the right move spending big bucks to lock in the 22-year-old outfielder for the long term. In 46-at bats, Carroll hit .370 with six doubles, three triples, 15 runs, five steals and more walks (13) than strikeouts (eight). 

Not Ready: Jose Herrera, Arizona. Carroll’s teammate had nowhere near the same kind of numbers in March, with just two hits in 35 at-bats. But he’s making the Opening Day roster because of his superior defense as the DBacks’ back-up catcher. 

Ready: Matt Olson, Atlanta. The powerful first baseman followed up an exemplary first year with the Braves with an outstanding Grapefruit League effort, leading the majors with eight home runs to go along with 18 RBIs and a .426 batting average. 

Not Ready: Dansby Swanson, Chicago Cubs. The former Brave didn’t make a good first impression with Cubs fans in Mesa, batting just .122 in 41 at-bats. Yes, he walked 10 times, but the Cubs aren’t paying him $177 million to draw bases on balls. 

Ready: Mike Brosseau, Milwaukee. The fifth-year bench player made the most of his 32 at-bats in Arizona, notching 12 hits—six of them home runs—while driving in and scoring 14 runs each, stealing two bases and walking seven times.  Perhaps the majority of those at-bats came against scrubs late in games, but his numbers still make some people wonder how the Brewers will limit him to his usual 150-ish at-bats during the regular season. 

Not Ready: Andrew Knizner, St. Louis. Considered the heir apparent to Yadier Molina, Knizner’s awful March at the plate (six singles in 48 at-bats) likely makes the Cardinals feel better about having signed Willson Contreras. 

Ready: Bryce Johnson, San Francisco. No player took advantage of the newly expanded bases more than the young outfielder who attempted stole 12 bases—in 12 attempts. As speedy as he was, Johnson also did a good job reaching base, with a .310 batting average and .423 on-base percentage. Despite these impressive figures, Johnson was a last-minute deletion from the Giants’ Opening Day roster. 

Not Ready: Joe Perez, Houston. The young third baseman, with scant Triple-A experience, was probably not going to crack the Astros’ Opening Day roster—but a 0-for-17 camp ledger with seven strikeouts certainly didn’t help his already miniscule chances. 

Ready: Shane Bieber, Cleveland. Five spring starts, a 2-0 record, a 1.54 ERA, 25 strikeouts and two walks over 23.1 innings. The Guardians’ ace is good to go. 

Not Ready: Aaron Sanchez, Minnesota. It’s been over six years since Sanchez claimed an ERA title for Toronto, but this spring’s ugliness (0-4 record, 16.97 ERA) made those days seem more like light years in the past. 

Ready: Jared Shuster, Atlanta. The 24-year-old southpaw who’s never pitched a day at the major league level impressed enough in Grapefruit action (three runs allowed on seven hits over 18.2 innings) that he’ll get at least one early April start for the Braves while Kyle Wright recovers from shoulder issues. 

Not Ready: Jimmy Nelson, Los Angeles Dodgers. The injury-riddled veteran missed all of 2022, and is still not right going into 2023—as his 11 walks and no strikeouts over just 2.1 spring innings show. 

Ready: Yusei Kikuchi, Toronto. Could the 31-year-old Japanese native be the sleeper in the Blue Jays’ rotation? After allowing just two runs on nine hits through 20.2 exhibition innings, maybe. 

Not Ready: Adrian Sampson, Cubs. The five-year reliever has always been prone to giving up home runs, but his camp numbers were ridiculous; over 17.2 innings, he gave up 22 hits—half of them homers—and allowed 17 runs. He’ll begin the year demoted down to Triple-A. 

Ready: The Atlanta Braves’ offense. They led all major league teams with a .282 average and .836 OPS, averaged nearly six runs per game, and smacked 42 homers. 

Not Ready: The Miami Marlins’ offense. The Fishes’ bats were DOA last year, and it doesn’t appear anything will change in 2023 based on a terrible spring in which the Marlins were stuck in the spring statistical basement with a .224 average, 74 runs and 11 home runs. For perspective, the Washington Nationals were the second-worst in the latter two categories—with 108 and 18, respectively. 

Ready: The Houston Astros’ pitching. The defending champs easily led all MLB teams in March with a 3.30 ERA (the next best: 3.90 by the Cubs) and allowed a Spring Training-low 16 homers. 

Not ready: The Oakland A’s pitching. Spring-worst figures in a 6.35 ERA and 171 walks—well over five per nine innings. A’s fans wonder: When will the torture stop? 

Thursday, March 30

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 Astros 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. He’ll be listed as day-to-day. 

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, allowing 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 strikes 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 they 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 includes 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. 

Friday, March 31

Jake Cronenworth may be hitless in his first seven at-bats this season as San Diego loses its second straight home game to Colorado, 4-1, but the 29-year-old second baseman is being endowed with the latest generous contract from the Padres—a seven-year, $80 million extension that will cover his final two years of arbitration and first five of free agency. Cronenworth has been a stalwart in the Padres’ lineup since being named runner-up for the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2020, following that up with All-Star appearances in each of his past two seasons. 

The Astros avoid their second straight defeat to start the year, scoring six unanswered runs late in the going to defeat the visiting White Sox, 6-3. Yordan Alvarez’s bases-clearing double in the eighth gives Houston the lead for keeps; on the mound, Astros starter Cristian Javier allows a first-inning run, ending his streak of consecutive scoreless innings, begun late last year, at 26 innings.

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