Hope springs eternal, and the outset of spring training in mid-February often elicits warm, fuzzy feelings from baseball fans everywhere.
And then some injuries happen. And more injuries happen. And by late March, organizations, fans and fantasy players are left to bite their fingernails and hope the guys their teams are planning to rely on don’t fall victim to spring injuries.
Late last week it was Scooter Gennett, and on Sunday Jose Ramirez put a scare into Indians fans when he had to be carted off the field after fouling a ball off his left leg during a Cactus League game. Ramirez hit his left knee and dropped to the ground, but was diagnosed with a left knee contusion after X-rays came back negative.
“I mean, he’s day-to-day,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He has a bruise. Obviously, he had a pretty good bruise. You could tell by the way he reacted. So, I think the trainers feel like if we can get ahead of this thing the first 24 hours, rather than having him jump on a flight, we can maybe, like I said, get ahead of it a little bit.”
If there’s a team that deserves a bit of good luck in the injury department this spring, it’s the Tribe. They sustained the first major injury of spring training when Francisco Lindor suffered a calf strain, and more recently, Jason Kipnis was felled by the same injury. Neither is expected to be ready when the regular season begins this week.
For Ramirez, though, it sounds as though he’ll be OK, if not for Opening Day, at least for game action shortly thereafter. The third baseman will not travel for the team’s exhibition games in Texas on Monday and Tuesday, but he’ll meet the team in Minnesota, where the Indians will open regular season play, later this week.
Braves Trio Turns Heads
Exciting young pitching is winning out in rotation battles across the league, and on Sunday, the Braves were the latest team to hand starting spots to intriguing young arms to begin the year.
Kyle Wright, Max Fried and Bryse Wilson will all begin the year in the Braves’ rotation after all three had strong springs. Fried and Wilson had ERAs of 2.35 and 3.29, respectively, and Wright, while he posted a 7.11 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, struck out 18 batters in 12 2/3 innings.
“We talked about the depth early in camp,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We didn’t know we’d be dipping into it this early, but it’s good we have all those guys. They have all pitched really well. I feel good about it. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
The good news for some came at the expense of others. The Braves were in a position to reward three rotation spots to unproven arms because both Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman are expected to begin the year on the injured list. Additionally, Touki Toussaint, another candidate for a rotation spot, was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett on Sunday.
The excitement may be short-lived, though. Although Gausman, who’s been set back by right shoulder soreness, will start the year on the IL, he is expected to be back for a start on April 6, missing just one turn in the rotation, and Foltynewicz could also return in April after right elbow issues cost him a few weeks of Grapefruit League action.
While in the rotation, for however long it may be, all three of Wright, Wilson and Fried hold appeal as streaming options against weaker opponents and could evolve into players worth owning in mixed leagues depending on how they pitch in the early going. Like the Marlins rotation and the Brewers’ trio of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, the Braves’ group is one to watch.
Holland Named D'backs Closer
Nary a save has been blown in the 2019 baseball season and we’ve already got our first closer change.
Not a change, perhaps, but a surprise if nothing else after Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo on Sunday said it will be Greg Holland, and not Archie Bradley as anticipated, closing games for the D’backs to start the year. Yoshihisa Hirano was also believed to be in the mix for the job.
“It was a hard decision for me,” Lovullo said. “It really was. These guys were very effective, they were getting after it. But I felt like with Holland at the very, very back end with that experience factor it was something I strongly considered."
It’s déjà vu all over again for fantasy owners, who last spring were drafting Bradley as a mid-tier closer before Lovullo pulled the rug out from under them and anointed Brad Boxberger the closer. Owners this year aren’t quite as bought-in -- he’s being taken as the 182nd player off the board in NFBC drafts since the start of the year, around guys like Arodys Vizcaino and Alex Colome -- but the scenario is still all too familiar for Bradley believers.
For Holland, 2018 was a tale of two teams. With the Cardinals, the right-hander struggled immensely, but following his release in late July the Nationals enjoyed two strong months from Holland. In the season’s second half, Holland posted a 1.19 ERA and 1.01 WHIP while striking out more than 29 percent of batters faced.
Closer jobs are finite and a pitcher with a history of success like Holland has deserves the benefit of the doubt, so fantasy owners prospecting for saves should bid early and often for Holland’s services.
Quick Hits: X-rays on Wilson Ramos' right hand came back negative. Ramos had to exit Sunday's game after a ball in the dirt bounced up and caught him in the hand. He managed to avoid a serious injury, though, and will be ready to roll come Opening Day … Rhys Hoskins (shoulder) took batting practice and hit off a high-velocity pitch machine Sunday. The plan for Hoskins -- who is making "steady improvement" with his left shoulder, according to Phillies manager Gabe Kapler -- to return to action Monday. Unless he suffers a setback, the slugger will be ready to roll on Opening Day … Braves manager Brian Snitker on Saturday confirmed that Ronald Acuna will begin the season in the cleanup spot. Acuna's huge second half last season came with him batting leadoff, but Snitker referred to the young outfielder as "a run-producer, and I just think he’s got a chance to drive in a lot of runs and be in the middle of a lot of things hitting there." The skipper added that Acuna will be "free to run all he wants," which has to be of comfort to fantasy owners. Acuna does ultimately figure to steal fewer bases while hitting fourth, but it sounds like he could still run plenty and will have many more RBI opportunities. Ender Inciarte will bat leadoff versus righties and Ozzie Albies will be at the top of the lineup against lefties … The Orioles will decide when Alex Cobb (groin) is re-evaluated Monday whether he'll be ready to start Opening Day. Cobb exited his final spring training start Saturday with a right groin injury. While the ailment is considered mild, we're obviously working with a tight window here. "If he feels nothing ... he’ll at least play catch and do something," manager Brandon Hyde says. "If not, we’ll take the necessary steps to do the next best thing." If Cobb isn't ready to start Opening Day, Andrew Cashner will get the nod … Indians signed INF/OF Brad Miller to a one-year contract. Miller makes sense as a placeholder at second base while Jason Kipnis (calf) is sidelined, and after that he could serve as a utility player. The 29-year-old is coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons but slugged 30 home runs for the Rays in 2016. He could have some deep league value … Jung Ho Kang hit his MLB-leading seventh home run of the spring in Sunday's tie with the Orioles. He now leads all hitters, both Cactus and Grapefruit league participants, in homers, edging Aaron Judge with days left in the spring calendar. Of course, that means virtually nothing, but it is an indication that Kang is locked in and ready to hit dingers when the real games start despite nearly two years away. He's hit himself squarely back into mixed-league relevance and is a great CI option, if not a back-end starting third baseman … Indians manager Terry Francona said Sunday that Hanley Ramirez is expected to make the Opening Day roster. The only way it would change is if the Indians make an addition from outside the organization prior to Opening Day. Ramirez had been scuffling this spring before belting two home runs and doubling on Friday, which may or may not have locked him onto the roster. The 35-year-old looks to be in line to receive the lion's share of playing time in the designated hitter spot for the Tribe … Chris Paddack will start Monday against the Mariners, seemingly lining him up to start the third game of the regular season for the Padres on Saturday versus the Giants. Matt Strahm is starting Tuesday, which would appear to line him up to start Sunday against the Giants. They will follow Opening Day starter Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi, who will get the second game. The fifth spot in the Padres' rotation remains up for grabs. It's a rotation filled with uncertainty but also one with upside, especially when it comes to Paddack … Orioles optioned C Chance Sisco to Triple-A Norfolk. Despite a strong spring, Sisco will give way to the combination of Pedro Severino and Jesus Sucre behind the plate. He should get an opportunity at some point during the upcoming season … Astros signed RHP Justin Verlander to a two-year, $66 million contract extension. Verlander had been set to hit the free agent market next winter but is now locked up through 2021. The right-hander turned 36 last week but posted arguably his best season to date in 2018 with a 2.52 ERA and 290/37 K/BB ratio across 214 innings. Verlander will start Opening Day against the Rays on Thursday.