2018 American League East Beat – March 4th
Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale has been one of the game’s elite pitchers for many years as evidenced by the 28-year-old left-hander being selected to six consecutive All-Star Games.
However, one of Sale’s few drawbacks is that he tends to wear down as the season goes on. He has a career record of 59-22 with a 2.74 ERA in 133 games before the All-Star break but a 32-36 mark and a 3.28 ERA in 127 second-half outings.
The Red Sox, under new manager Alex Cora and first-year pitching coach Dana LeVangie, are trying something new with Sale in hopes of keeping him strong throughout the season. Sale has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game and he will make no more than five exhibition starts rather than the usual six.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
“Kind of like a plane takes off, kind of that gradual buildup instead of just a heavy workload up front, and just maintaining that,” Sale told reporters of the new approach. “I’m confident, obviously, in the people I have in my corner and I’m confident in myself to be able to stay on track. It’s kind of weird doing something different, that I’ve never done, but like I said, I have faith and trust in everyone here and in myself to see this process through and make sure that we’re on the positive side of things.”
–Left-hander Drew Pomeranz left his Grapefruit League start Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals because of forearm tightness, though an MRI revealed no structural damage.
Nevertheless, the Red Sox will keep a close eye on Pomeranz. Losing him for any length of time could be a big blow in their hopes of winning a third straight AL East title as the 29-year-old has gone 20-11 with a 3.68 ERA in 46 games since being acquired from the San Diego Padres in a midseason trade in 2016.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are also taking it slow with one of their top starting pitchers as right-hander Luis Severino has not pitched in a Grapefruit League.
Severino worked a combined 209 1/3 innings last year in his first full major league season between the regular season and postseason as the Yankees advanced to the American League Championship Series. Thus, the Yankees do not want to push the 24-year-old too hard too early.
Severino pitched a three-inning simulated game Saturday at the Yankees’ spring training camp in Tampa. He struck out seven, allowed two hits and threw 37 of 47 pitches for strikes. He is likely to make his exhibition debut Thursday with a start against the Philadelphia Phillies.
In 2017, Severino finished third in the AL Cy Young Award balloting as he had a 14-6 record and 2.98 ERA in 31 starts.
Rookie manager Aaron Boone has yet to pick a starter for the opener against the Blue Jays on March 29 at Toronto. Severino would love the opportunity but isn’t focusing on it.
“For now, I’m not thinking about that,” he told reporters. “Working on my pitches.”
–Adam Lind was one of the more than three dozen players who took part in the Major League Baseball Players Association’s spring training camp for free agents in Bradenton, Fla. The first baseman/outfielder finally found a job Saturday when he signed a minor league contract with the Yankees that will pay him $2-million if he makes the major league team.
The contract seems like a bargain considering the 34-year-old Lind batted .303 with 14 home runs and an .875 OPS in 116 games for the Washington Nationals in 2017. However, he faces an uphill battle in making the team as starting first baseman Greg Bird is also a left-handed hitter and the Yankees are already so overstocked with outfielder that they have Jacoby Ellsbury on the trading block.
Tampa Bay Rays
Following the trade of key veterans during the offseason and into the early stages of spring training, the Rays appear to be tanking following four losing seasons in a row. Not so, says owner Stuart Sternberg, who thinks his team could even contend this year.
“There’s no way of knowing, but I do think we’ve been sold short,” Sternberg told reporters when asked how many games he thought the Rays could win in 2018. “I know we are in tremendous shape, as good of shape as we’ve ever been as an organization, for the next five years, and that starts opening day.”
The Rays traded third baseman Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants and right-handed reliever Brad Boxberger to the Arizona Diamondbacks over the winter. Three more veterans were dealt after spring training began with right-hander Jake Odorizzi being shipped to the Minnesota Twins, right fielder Steven Souza being traded to the Diamondbacks and left fielder Corey Dickerson being sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The MLBPA field a grievance against the Rays and three other teams — the Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics and Pirates — accusing them of violating terms of the basic agreement between management and labor by not properly spending their revenue-sharing receipts to improve the major league roster.
–The Rays did spend $4 million on veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez by signing him to a one-year contract as a free agent.
Gomez will replace Souza in right field after spending the bulk of 11-year career as a center fielder. The Rays have two-time AL Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier in center.
The 32-year-old Gomez hit .255 with 17 home runs, 13 stolen bases and an .802 OPS last season in 105 games with the Texas Rangers.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays added a potentially key piece to their bullpen by signing right-hander Seung Hwan Oh to a one-year, $2-million contract as a free agent.
Oh tentatively agreed to a deal with the Texas Rangers in February. However, the 35-year-old balked at signing when the Rangers asked to rework the deal following the results of a physical examination.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays had kept in touch with Oh’s representatives throughout the winner. He can make an additionally $500,000 in performance bonuses and will likely join righty Ryan Tepera as the primary set-up men for closer Roberto Osuna.
“(The front office) has been throwing his name around for a while, his and many other guys, and then things just kind of fell in place,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters. “I’ve heard nothing but great things. I’ve seen him a couple times on TV and really liked what I saw when he was pitching key roles for the Cardinals.”
Oh had an outstanding rookie season with the Cardinals in 2016, recording 19 saves with a 1.92 ERA in 76 games. Though he had 20 saves last year, his ERA rose to 4.10 in 62 games.
The South Korea native had 357 saves over a combined 11 seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization and Nippon Professional Baseball. He gained two exceptionally cool nicknames during that time — The Final Boss and Stone Buddha.
–Ace right-hander Marcus Stroman may begin the season on the disabled list as he has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game because of shoulder inflammation. An MRI showed no structural damage, but he is likely running out of time to be ready to pitch on opening day.
Stroman was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 33 starts last year. The 26-year-old has pitched more than 200 innings each of the last two seasons.
John Perrotto has been a professional sports writer since 1982 and has covered a multitude of sports, including MLB, NFL and college football and basketball. He has been a member of the Baseball Writers' Association since 1988, a Hall of Fame voter since 1997 and has covered 21 World Series and two Super Bowls. He is a graduate of Geneva College, the birthplace of college basketball, and lives in Beaver Falls, Pa., the hometown of Joe Willie Namath.
He also writes The Perrotto Report (theperrottoreport.com), newsletters that concentrate on Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates.