That’s two Opening Days down and one to go. Or maybe it’s two.
Regardless, while Major League Baseball insists on making its opening week more complicated than the Starks vs. the Lannisters, there’s nothing complicated about the fact that Wednesday's unveiling of Marlins Park was less than triumphant for the team formerly known as Florida.
Things went from bad (The Fray inspired National Anthem), to sad (Muhammad Ali’s heartbreaking appearance alongside a preening Jeffrey Loria) to ugly (the Marlins’ performance), all in a matter of moments.
Looking to prove he’s over the shoulder woes that limited him to nine starts in 2011, Josh Johnson turned in one of the flatter performances of his post-Tommy John career. His velocity (92-94 MPH) was there, but his feel and movement were not. He surrendered 10 hits, or as many as he allowed through his first four outings (27 innings) last season.
Whereas Johnson was routinely unhittable before landing on the shelf last May, he served up hangers and lifeless fastballs as his Cardinals counterpart Kyle Lohse stunned what the Marlins hope will become the faithful with six no-hit innings.
That is not to say Johnson got any help from his defense. Hanley Ramirez’s shift from shortstop to third got off to an exceedingly poor start, as he inexplicably failed to run down a routine grounder before not bothering to cut off a throw on David Freese’s two-run single in the first. He was casual at best and laissez faire at worst.
Left fielder Logan Morrison was more focused than Ramirez, but it didn’t necessarily produce better results. LoMo took a number of poor routes, and looked overmatched by his new ballpark’s cavernous dimensions (which Lance Berkman is not a fan of).
And oh those dimensions. They robbed Giancarlo Stanton of not one, but two home runs, and suggested the hype about Marlins Park was all wrong: it’s not going to play big out in center, it’s going to play Polo Grounds.
The good news, of course, was that it was only one game. It’s quite possible Johnson — aided by 2-3 spectacular plays from Ramirez and a Stanton bomb — will toss seven scoreless his next time out. At least for one night, though, the Marlins looked to be as much of a work-in-progress on the field as they are off of it.
One day after we learned Andrew Bailey’s injured thumb will sideline him through at least the All-Star break, we learned who will get the first crack at replacing him.
Manager Bobby Valentine bucked conventional wisdom and decreed long-man Alfredo Aceves will get the ball if a save situation arises against the Tigers this afternoon, leaving Mark Melancon to set up.
Aceves should be effective — he turned in a 2.61 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 0.6 HR/9 across 114 innings last season — but will be seeing his versatility go to waste. Aceves recorded more than three outs in 31 of his 55 appearances (four starts) last season. Melancon did so just nine times in 71 games.
The move leaves the Red Sox down a potential starting option should injury befall the rotation, and with Andrew Miller as their long-man. If Melancon shines in the eighth and Aceves is less than dominant in the ninth, it might not be long before we see another role reversal in Beantown.
After a month of hilariously unnecessary intrigue, the Giants announced that, yes, they will be bringing Brandon Belt north with them to San Francisco.
Manager Bruce Bochy even went as far as to hint that Belt could begin the year as the Giants’ everyday first baseman. Of course, a platoon with Brett Pill has also been alluded to, but we’ll worry about that another day.
Why the decision was so hard for a team that scored a National League worst 570 runs last season is a mystery. Two weeks shy of his 24th birthday, the Giants’ 2009 fifth-round pick is a career .343/.457/.596 hitter through 825 minor-league plate appearances, and has nothing left to prove in the Pacific Coast League. Although concerns exist about Belt’s swing (he’s had trouble with inside fastballs), he’s earned the right to sink-or-swim for a club that had been set to start 35-year-old Aubrey Huff, who’s coming off a .246/.306/.370 2011, at first base. Huff’s show will now be taken to the outfield.
Whether or not Belt will actually get a legitimate chance to establish himself or again have the rug pulled out from under him is anyone's guess, but there’s no guesswork in what must be done if he’s still on your league’s wire: add him.
Opening Day III: Open Hard With A Vengeance
If the Marlins were shaken by their rocky reintroduction, they won’t have long to dwell on it. That’s because they’re one of 14 teams set to take part in Opening Day, Phase III this afternoon.
They’ll head to Cincinnati, where the Reds will keep Mat Latos in mothballs and roll with 2011 ace Johnny Cueto.
Elsewhere, Justin Verlander and Jon Lester will square off in Detroit, Stephen Strasburg will take the ball for the Nats at Wrigley Field and Johan Santana will make his first appearance since September 2, 2010 against the Braves.
Somewhere in between, Roy Halladay will mow down the Pirates, Toronto and Cleveland will meet up near Lake Erie and the Dodgers will visit San Diego on their final Frank McCourt-marred Opening Day.
It’s good to be back.
National League Short Hops: Stephen Drew (ankle) was officially placed on the disabled list. He's without a return date. … Jon Niese signed a five-year, $25 million extension, buying out his arbitration years and locking him up through age 30. It’s a shrewd move for a team that should find itself back on the rise before the deal runs out. … Zack Greinke hired an agent, signaling that though he may not be a lock to hit the open market next winter, he’s certainly not close to signing an extension. The Brewers are going to have to pony up to keep their co-ace. … John Lannan emailed the media, saying he believed it would be best for both he and the Nationals were he to be traded. His $5 million salary won’t make it easy. … Troy Tulowitzki (elbow) played in Colorado’s exhibition loss to the Mariners. He’ll be all-systems-go against the Astros Friday. ... Bryan LaHair (back) is "50-50" to play against the Nationals. At worst, he’ll make his 2012 debut this weekend.
American League Short Hops: Nick Johnson officially made the Orioles. Until he gets hurt, he’s worth an AL-only league trial. … An MRI revealed Kyle Farnsworth’s elbow injury to be only a strain. He could end up spending the minimum 15 days on the disabled list, but for now, Joel Peralta will head a ninth-inning committee in Tampa. … Farnsworth’s teammate Sean Rodriguez learned he will be the Rays’ primary shortstop. A slap hitter with decent speed, he’s worth an own in all AL-only leagues. … Josh Beckett insisted his thumb is “fine,” and will start on Saturday against the Tigers. … Andy Pettitte turned in a scoreless frame in the Yankees’ exhibition win over the Mets. He’ll spend April in the minors.