Mets and Pirates reportedly close to Ike Davis deal

New York Mets' Ike Davis takes off his helmet after he flied out during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Word has broken on Twitter from a number of sources that the Mets and Pirates have agreed to a trade that would send the first baseman to Pittsburgh.

The exact terms of the deal, including what players the Mets would receive in return, as well as any other players headed to Pittsburgh, have yet to be released.

Davis has been in the doghouse in New York for quite some time. He essentially lost the first base job to Lucas Duda earlier this season and since the Mets have an overabundance of players at that position, Davis has become expendable.

In 2010, Davis burst onto the scene with a .264 average, 19 home runs and 71 RBI and a .351 on-base percentage. Davis was hobbled with an ankle injury for most of 2011 and played in just 36 games. He bounced back to hit 32 home runs and drive in 90 runs in 2012, but his average dipped to .227 and his on-base percentage dropped to .308. It was a tale of two halves that year, as he struggled mightily pre All-Star break but looked like a different player in the second half. Last season, Davis again got off to a cold start, was optioned to Triple-A for a spell and finished with a .205 average, nine homers and 33 RBI in 103 games.

The Mets were looking to trade Davis during the offseason, but they couldn’t find any suitors. Pittsburgh had always been at the top of the list of teams reportedly interested in Davis’ services. The Pirates could use the left-handed power bat, who’d be a significant upgrade over Travis Ishakawa.

Dominic Smith, a left-handed hitting first baseman, was the Mets’ top pick in the 2013 draft. He figures to be the Mets’ first baseman of the future, so perhaps the Mets are best served getting something in return for Davis now while they have the chance.

Update: The Mets will receive right-handed relief pitcher Zack Thornton and a player to be named later in return for Davis.

Here’s what we know about Thornton. A 25-year-old (he turns 26 next month), Thornton was picked in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Oregon by the Oakland A’s. He spent three years in the A’s system, reaching High-A, before he was scooped up by the Pirates in 2013. Thornton jumped from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A last year, striking out 90, walking 12 and allowing 58 hits in 75 1/3 innings. He was available in the most recent Rule 5 draft – meaning any team could have picked him, with the stipulation he stick on the 25-man roster for the entire 2014 season – but 29 clubs passed him over. He’s had a minor league track record of throwing strikes and issuing few walks, but I’m not sure how useful that is in a major league bullpen when you’re trying to get hitters out with men on base in the seventh and eighth innings.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman now reports that the player to be named later is “fairly significant,” so we’ll wait and see who that is before we make any grades on this trade.

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Previewing the Yankees-Rays series

New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia gets the ball from first baseman Kelly Johnson during the third inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox Friday, April 11, 2014, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

It’ll be CC Sabathia vs. David Price tonight at Tropicana Field as the Yankees and Rays begin a four-game series in the Florida. The Yankees currently sit in first place in the AL East at 9-6, one half game in front of Toronto (8-6). Tampa Bay is 7-8, one game in front of last-place Boston (6-9) in the division.

Obviously, it’s still very, very early in the season, but this could be a key series for the Yankees against a Tampa Bay team that has had its share of pitching injuries already in 2014. Not that the Yankees are going to lock up a playoff berth or that the Rays are going to fall out of the race this weekend, but it’s a big series for both sides. Let’s take a look at what to expect this weekend.


CC Sabathia (1-2, 6.63 ERA) vs. David Price (2-0, 2.91 ERA)


Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.59 ERA) vs. Erik Bedard (0-0, 4.56 ERA in one relief appearance)


Ivan Nova (2-1, 5.94 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (1-1, 4.50 ERA)


TBA vs. Cesar Ramos (0-1, 7.50 ERA in five appearances, one of which was a start)

  • Tampa Bay has been hit hard by injuries to the starting rotation. Jeremy Hellickson is out until June or so after elbow surgery. Matt Moore has a partially torn UCL and has opted for Tommy John, so he’ll miss the rest of the season. Alex Cobb recently went down with a strained oblique and will miss six to eight weeks. That means the Yankees will only see two of Tampa’s top five starters this weekend. Veteran lefty Erik Bedard joins the rotation this weekend. Bedard has been hampered by injuries and poor performance since his breakout season in Baltimore in 2007. Cesar Ramos has been a situational lefty with control issues for the bulk of his career, but he’s been pushed into action with the injuries.
  • The Yankees are currently listing Sunday’s starter as TBA after a Tuesday rainout forced a doubleheader on Wednesday against the Cubs. With a day off on Monday, the Yankees could opt to go mix-and-match out of the bullpen, perhaps using Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and Adam Warren for three innings apiece or so instead making any roster moves to call up a starter. It’ll be interesting to see how Girardi plays it, but the Yankees should be able to muster some sort of offense against Ramos, especially if they can drive up his pitch count.
  • Tonight’s game is going to be challenging for the Yankees. Price has owned the Yankees in his career (9-4, 3.65 ERA), well, except for giving up Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Sabathia is struggling out of the gate, having allowed a league-leading (or league-worst) five home runs through three starts. He’s 11-13 with a 3.78 ERA all-time against Tampa Bay.
  • Despite all the pitching injuries, Tampa Bay’s problem early in 2014 has been the offense. Matt Joyce is the only regular hitting over .300. Joyce (2) and Ben Zobrist (3) are the only Rays with multiple home runs so far, and Zobrist hit a pair in one game in Cincinnati earlier this season. It hasn’t just been hits and extra-base hits that have been lacking for Tampa Bay. Zobrist, Joyce, Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings are the only Rays with on-base percentages above the .300 line so far. So the Rays aren’t taking their walks either. That could be good news for Sabathia, as long as he’s throwing strikes and getting ahead.
  • Expect plenty of infield shifts this series. Rays manager Joe Maddon was one of the early innovators when it came to defensive shifts. Now, practically every team in baseball is using an overshift multiple times per game. The Yankees, in fact, have adjusted to the times. Through games of April 12, the Yankees were second in baseball, having shifted 79 times. Only Houston had shifted more through the first few weeks of the season. I don’t know what the counter move is, offensively, to combat these shifts, but I’d bet that Maddon is again an innovator. Perhaps we’ll see Matt Joyce do something interesting to try to get on base this weekend.
  • Joe Girardi will have to make some choices when it comes to the lineups this weekend. Derek Jeter returned to action last night against Chicago, but how many games is Girardi willing to play Jeter on the artificial turf in the Trop? I would guess that he’ll start one game at short and get some chances to DH, especially with three lefty starters for Tampa in the series. That, however, would likely leave Alfonso Soriano on the bench, unless Girardi wants to rest one of his starting outfielders, all of whom have hit well so far. Carlos Beltran has been red-hot lately, but I could see him getting a day off during this series as Girardi tries to keep him fresh and off the turf. Brian Roberts has avoided the DL so far with his back problems, but I wonder just how much time he’ll see this weekend. The Yankees have Scott Sizemore as another infield option now, so that buys them some time with Roberts.
  • The Yankees might add Mark Teixeira back to the lineup on Sunday, the first day he’s eligible to return from the DL. That would help out the infield a bit, allowing Kelly Johnson to move back to third base and leave Dean Anna, Yangervis Solarte, Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts and Scott Sizemore in a giant platoon between second base and shortstop. Adding another switch-hitter to the middle of the lineup allows Girardi to get a little more creative trying to balance his left-handed and right-handed hitters.
  • After Monday’s off day, the Yankees head to Fenway Park for a 3-game series in Boston. David Robertson should be back in the bullpen on Tuesday night. The Yankees have to be pleased with how his replacements handled their roles in his absence. After that, it’s back to the Bronx for a nine-game homestand against the Angels, Mariners and Rays.

The Mets wrapped up a three-game sweep in Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon, as Dillon Gee struck out three, scattered three hits and walked none over seven innings in a 5-2 victory over the Diamondbacks. It wasn’t even that close for the Mets, as Jose Valverde allowed back-to-back home runs to Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt in a non-save situation in the ninth inning.

Gee only needed 72 pitches to go seven innings. He was perfect through 4 2/3 innings, allowing his first baserunner on a Martin Prado double.

Lost in the shuffle of all the talk about young pitchers in the Mets’ organization, Gee is 1-0 with a 5.01 ERA through four starts. He’s been stung a bit by the Mets’ bullpen woes. But his secondary stats are terrific. In 26 2/3 innings, Gee has allowed 19 hits, seven walks and struck out 17. He has allowed five home runs. With Matt Harvey out for the season, Bartolo Colon getting rocked in his last start in Anaheim and the Mets’ starting pitching studs still years away in the minors, the club needs a big year out of Gee. Other than the home runs, he’s delivered so far.

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Mets heating up and getting hurt in Arizona; Yankees rearrange roster

New York Mets' Juan Lagares, center, is greeted by teammates after he scored on a single hit by Omar Quintanilla during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Mets have won two straight in Phoenix after getting crushed in the series finale against the Angels on Sunday.

That doesn’t mean they’ve been able to avoid injuries.

Curtis Granderson crashed up against the outfield fence in Monday’s win, won’t hit the DL. His whole left side is essentially bruised, but he plans to return to the lineup on Friday when the Mets begin a 3-game set at home against Atlanta.

Juan Lagares, on the other hand, is headed to the DL with a pulled right hamstring. Kirk Nieuwenhuis took his spot on the roster and went 3-for-5 with three RBI – including a 2-run home run off Bronson Arroyo – in his season debut. Nieuwenhuis might not be around for long, however, as Chris Young is due back from his stint on the DL when the Mets return to New York on Friday.

The Lagares loss is a big blow, not only because of the skills he brings defensively in center field. Lagares was hitting .314 with five extra base hits and seven RBI through 13 games. Granderson could play center with Lagares out, being flanked by Eric Young Jr. and Chris Young. Or the Mets could send Andrew Brown down to Triple-A and keep Nieuwenhuis as a center field option. Either way, losing Lagares really hurts the Mets, both in the field and at the plate. Chris Young will certainly get an opportunity right off the DL to prove that he belongs in the lineup on a daily basis.

Jenrry Mejia pitched well for the Mets last night, striking out three, walking two and allowing two hits over five scoreless innings, but he left the game early with a finger blister after throwing just 77 pitches. Gonzalez Germen followed with three one-hit innings in relief, and Kyle Farnsworth pitched a scoreless ninth to close the game.

The Mets made a move to shore up the pitching in the meantime – Bartolo Colon is also battling some back spasms – outrighting lefty John Lannan and recalling Diasuke Matsuzaka from Triple-A. The Mets say Dice-K will be used out of the bullpen for now, but he could see a spot start if Colon or Mejia aren’t ready for their next turn. With an off day on Thursday, the Mets will have some options when it comes to rotation rest. Lannan has a choice to accept assignment to Triple-A or elect free agency. Lannan didn’t pitch particularly well in a relief role this season and might have a chance to stick somewhere else as a starter.

Dice-K went 3-3 with a 4.42 ERA in seven starts with the Mets last season. He was 0-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts for Las Vegas this season, striking out 12, walking six and allowing seven hits over 12 innings. He’s made just one relief appearance in his professional career in the U.S.

Dillon Gee faces Brandon McCarthy this afternoon as the teams conclude the series in Phoenix. Arizona, at 4-13, has the worst winning percentage in baseball. The Mets, 7-7 heading into the series finale, will have a chance to make up some ground on Atlanta this weekend. The Braves sit in first place in the NL East standings at 9-4 prior to tonight’s game against the Phillies.

The Yankees used Monday’s off day and Tuesday’s rainout to make some roster moves of their own. Catcher Francisco Cervelli landed on the 60-day disabled list with his hamstring sprain, forcing the Yankees to recall John Ryan Murphy as Brian McCann’s backup for at least the next two months.

Murphy really struggled in spring training – he went 2-for-26 with one home run and five RBI – but the Yankees’ front office has been high on him for a while. Cervelli was rumored to be on the trade block in spring training because the Yankees felt Murphy could be a contributor at the big league level. He played in 16 games at the end of the 2013 season when rosters expanded.

With Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts also day-to-day with injuries of their own, the Yankees sent reliever Shane Green back to Triple-A. In his place, they called up Scott Sizemore, formerly of Detroit and Oakland. Sizemore will wear Robinson Cano’s old number, No. 24.

Sizemore had some brief success with the A’s as a second and third baseman, but he’s twice torn the ACL in his left knee. He’ll help lighten the load on Jeter and Roberts for now, joining a crowded infield mix with Yangervis Solarte, Dean Anna and Kelly Johnson as well.

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka delivers in the first inning of the first game of an interleague baseball doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs at Yankee Stadium in New York, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees play a doubleheader today against the Cubs after Tuesday’s rainout. Masahiro Tanaka just pitched a gem over eight innings and Shawn Kelley is on to try to earn the save in the ninth. I’ll have more on Tanaka after the PITCHf/x results are posted.

OK, so the data is in. Tanaka threw 107 pitches over eight innings, striking out 10, walking one and allowing just two hits in a 3-0 victory. Through his first three starts, he’s struck out 28 hitters, a new Yankees club record. He’s walked just two batters through those three starts.

Tanaka is averaging 11.45 strikeouts per nine innings and has gotten a 50 percent ground ball rate, which is what you’d like to see from a pitcher with such heavy stuff as his. He’s also stranded 77.5 percent of runners on base.

The Cubs lineup that Tanaka faced today was pretty putrid, so it’s not wise to make too much of one start. Still he has faced a tough Baltimore lineup in Yankee Stadium and a power hitting Blue Jays team in Toronto in his MLB debut.

If there is one thing that’s been impressive about Tanaka early on, it’s been his consistency, even with this small sample size. He’s struck out 8, 10 and 10. He’s allowed 6, 7 and 2 hits. He’s walked 0, 1 and 1. He gave up three runs in each of his first two starts and held the Cubs scoreless over eight today.

I’m not saying Tanaka will strike out 10 batters per game all season long, but the fact that he’s been this consistent over three starts is a very positive sign that he’ll be competitive on the mound all year long. With the injury problems the Yankees have faced in the infield and bullpen this year, getting an almost guaranteed solid start every fifth day will be a huge boost for the Yankees’ postseason chances.

Michael Pineda pitches the nightcap at 7 p.m. against Chicago’s Travis Wood.

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Banged-up Yanks survive Red Sox; Colon hit hard in LA

New York Yankees Carlos Beltran gestures after hitting a seventh-inning double in the Yankees 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Sunday, April 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The game of the week certainly lived up to the billing this time, as the Yankees topped Boston, 3-2, in an exciting game on Sunday night.

But there were plenty of postgame questions for Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

With Derek Jeter on the bench for a second straight game (strained right quad) and Brian Roberts also unavailable (lower back) the Yankees had a very short bench. So when Francisco Cervelli, who was playing first base, was taken out with a hamstring strain, that meant the Yankees had no backup catcher behind Brian McCann. They also needed to find a new first baseman.

So in came Carlos Beltran from right field to play first…for the first time in his life. Beltran did fine, making a few putouts on ground balls. His replacement in right field, Ichiro, also came up big with a crashing-to-the-wall catch that robbed David Ortiz of a base hit late in the game.

There were also some close calls for the Yankees injury-wise. Rookie Yangervis Solarte took a shot…ahem…below the belt on a close play at first base. He came up limping but remained in the game. Brian McCann took a ball off his right hand after Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was hit by a pitch. McCann stayed in the game – really, he had no choice – and x-rays were negative. Cervelli broke his hand on a similar play last year.

So the Yankees certainly have some moves to make in the coming days. They have a home off day Monday and host the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.

Cervelli has been placed on the disabled list with his hamstring strain. I’d imagine he’ll miss three to four weeks with an injury like that, so the Yankees have called up Austin Romine to serve as McCann’s backup for the time being. They’ve also optioned reliever Shane Greene to Triple-A Scranton, opening up another roster spot. With Jeter and Roberts both day-to-day, it might make sense to call up another infielder, particiularly one who can play the corner spots. Scott Sizemore and Russ Canzler would be the likely candidates to bolster the bench. The only problem with that idea is that neither Sizemore nor Canzler are on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees would have to DFA or release someone to open up a spot. It’s tough to see who the Yankees would take off the 40-man at this point. And yes, Alex Rodriguez still has a place on the 40-man while he serves his season-long suspension. Young pitcher Bryan Mitchell, who has some ugly minor league stats, might be the one to go. Zoilo Almonte, who’s had a cup of coffee in the outfield before, looks like the most expendable position player.

The New York Post wonders if reserve infielder Brendan Ryan, currently on the 15-day DL, could be shifted to the 60-day DL. That would open up a 40-man spot, and put Ryan on track for a mid-June return. That seems the most likely move, although I wonder if Cashman could also find something via a trade today and have a new player in New York by game time on Tuesday night.

You knew from the beginning that injuries were going to be a key storyline for the Yankees in 2014. I just didn’t figure that they’d already be totally decimated by April 13.

Lost in the shuffle of last night’s injury news was the performance of David Phelps out of the bullpen in a big spot in the eighth inning.

Ivan Nova pitched 7 1/3 innings, giving up eight hits, striking out four and walking none in an impressive start. Matt Thornton came on to retire David Ortiz thanks to Ichiro’s spectacular catch. Then came in Phelps, immediately gave up a double to Napoli, walked Daniel Nava and hit A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch to load the bases with two away.

New York Mets third baseman David Wright grabs his equipment after being ejected during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif., Sunday, April 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Mike Carp then pinch-hit for Ryan Roberts. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, after a bunch of foul balls, Phelps got Carp swinging on an 84-MPH curveball low and inside. Phelps did a little fist pump as he danced off the mound. Shawn Kelley got two strikeouts and a line drive to center field in the ninth to pick up the save.

It was a big performance for Phelps in a huge spot. He’s typically been used as a mop-up guy or in a spot starting role in his brief big league career. But with closer David Robertson on the DL, the Yankees have had to slide everyone in the bullpen up an inning or so from their normal roles. So that means Phelps and Adam Warren are going to get to challenging assignments late in close games. Phelps certainly proved that he was up to the task on Sunday, even if he had to pull a Robertson (hit, walk, HBP) to get out of trouble. On top of Nova’s strong start, it was another encouraging sign for a team that needed something positive in a game that was mostly otherwise full of bad news.

Just about the only moment from Sunday’s Mets-Angels game worth mentioning was David Wright‘s tirade from the dugout after Travis d’Arnaud was called out looking at strike three by home plate umpire Toby Basner in the top of the seventh inning.

“You are the worst!” TV cameras caught Wright screaming just before he was ejected.

Daniel Murphy was also ejected as the Mets’ frustrations with the home plate ump boiled over.

The Angels ran away with this one early, as Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Raul Ibanez hit back-to-back-to-back homers in the bottom of the first inning off Bartolo Colon. Colon gave up nine runs on 11 hits over five innings. He walked two, struck out three and threw 81 pitches before Terry Collins couldn’t take anymore. The Angels went on to win, 14-2.

The Mets stay out west, as they take on Arizona tonight. It’ll be Zack Wheeler against Josh Collmenter at 9:40 p.m. EST. The Diamondbacks are in last place in the NL West at 4-11, but Mark Trumbo has hit six homers already for Arizona.

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Pineda accused of using pine tar; Mets bullpen impressive in win at ATL

New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in New York. Pineda pitched for the first four innings with a dark substance on the lower palm of his pitching hand, but it was gone by the fifth. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees received a terrific start from Michael Pineda last night, as he went six innings and struck out seven in a 4-1 victory at Yankee Stadium.

The talk, however, shifted to an image captured on Red Sox television that showed a smudge on his pitching hand. Red Sox broadcasters wondered if it might have been pine tar. Suddenly, Pineda found himself at the middle of a baseball-doctoring controversy that zoomed around social media last night.

After the game, Pineda and Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi denied that Pineda had been doctoring the ball and left it at that.

Of course, reporters at the stadium went and asked some folks on the Boston side what they thought about the images viewers had seen on TV. And what the Red Sox said tells you a great deal about just how big of a “controversy” this really is.

Sports Illustrated’s Strike Zone blog has all the quotes here, but I’ll summarize.

Red Sox manager John Farrell: “I can’t say it’s uncommon, that guys would look to create a little bit of a grip. Typically, you’re not trying to be as blatant.”

Red Sox pitcher Chris Capuano: “You’ve got to have a grip on the baseball and know where it’s going,” said Capuano. “I just think you don’t want to flaunt it.”

To a fans’ perspective, when we think of pitchers putting something on the baseball, we think of Gaylord Perry and his penchant for using the spitball. These days, however, pitchers aren’t really doctoring the balls that much anymore – that we know of. Maybe it’s the increased video presence in the stadiums that doesn’t let them get away with it anymore. Still, this has been an issue every once in a while in the big leagues. In fact, both Boston’s Clay Buchholz, who started against Pineda on Thursday, and Jon Lester were accused on television of using substances on the mound in 2013. If they were using anything – Buchholz was using sunblock in a domed stadium – they were doing it to improve their grip, not to alter the flight of the ball.

The Red Sox never protested during Thursday’s game. Umpires never intervened. So this will probably just fade away after Pineda’s next start, when he’ll be much more careful to conceal any stickying agents he might use.

But maybe baseball ought to think about addressing this issue next. Every time you see the back of a mound on TV, you see the rosin bag sitting there. Baseball has made some effort to give players a legitimate option for drying/adding some tack to their fingers. Why are pitchers opting to use other things, such as sunblock and pine tar, instead? Is it really having any effect on how pitches reach the catcher? Or are pitchers just getting a little bit more control with a firmer grip?

It’s going to get pretty tiring if every baseball broadcast turns into constant close-ups of pitchers every time they move their hands.

On another Yankees topic, Girardi opted to use Michael Phelps for 2 1/3 innings to close out the game. He earned the first save of his career.

I don’t think it’s a trend that’s going to last all that long, but with Shawn Kelley pitching shakily since David Robertson landed on the DL, it might make sense for Girardi to use his long relievers in that role, even in close games. One, he plays to those pitchers’ strengths and two, he gives the rest of the bullpen a night off. Cesar Cabral threw 13 pitches to record two outs in the seventh inning. He should be available tonight if necessary. Phelps, who threw 34 pitches, probably is due for a few days off. But everyone else should be good to go tonight.

Speaking of bullpens, the Mets’ relief corps came through in a big way in last night’s 6-4 win in Atlanta.

Jenrry Mejia struck out seven over five innings, but he also allowed four runs on seven hits, including a pair of home runs.

Enter Carlos Torres, who struck out three and allowed one hit over two innings of scoreless work. Kyle Farnsworth pitched a scoreless eighth and Jose Valverde needed just seven pitches to record three outs in the ninth and collect his second save.

Juan Lagares put the Mets ahead with an RBI single in the seventh and David Wright added an RBI double to make it a two-run game in the eighth.

It’s only been nine games, but Lagares is hitting .303 with a .351 on-base percentage. He has two doubles, one triple, one home run and six RBI. The Mets knew Lagares would be an asset with his defense in center field, but he’s showing that he deserves to stick in the lineup as he continues to hit – and get big hits.

It’s still very early, but I’d have to say that Lagares has been the Mets’ biggest pleasant surprise in 2014.

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Yanks’ bullpen blows it; Mets comeback falls short

New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka reacts after second baseman Brian Roberts (not pictured) made a play to get out Baltimore Orioles' Ryan Flaherty (not pictured) to end the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 9, 2014, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The New York teams suffered a couple of tough one-run losses on Wednesday night.

We’ll start with the Yankees. Baltimore scored three runs in the top of the second inning on a Jonathan Schoop home run off Tanaka, but that was all the offense the Orioles would get against the Yankees’ big free agent acquisition. Tanaka settled down and finished with 10 strikeouts over seven innings.

The Yankees came back to tie the game with solo homers by Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson in the bottom of the second and an RBI groundout by Alfonso Soriano in the fourth.

Matt Thornton and Adam Warren navigated the top of the eighth, handing things over to the Yankees’ new closer, Shawn Kelley, in a tie game at the top of the ninth. Kelley gave up four straight hits and then a sacrifice fly to Chris Davis to open the inning. Despite a Brian Roberts sac fly in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees lost, 5-4.

The Yankees have to be pretty pleased with Tanaka’s effort. Obviously, the Schoop home run was a big blow, but if that was the only mistake he made over seven innings, that’s still a great start. Really, it was just a disappointing effort by Kelley, who almost certainly won’t see any action tonight after throwing 30 pitches in the ninth. One wonders if the pressure of the ninth inning got to him – or if it was just the killer Baltimore lineup. Either way, he won’t be in the ninth inning role for long, as closer David Robertson should be back off the DL later this month.

Still, for a Yankees team that needs to win every game it can this season, especially against a division rival in the AL East, it’s a loss that’s going to sting for a while. They’ll start a series at home against Boston tonight. Clay Buchholz squares off against Michael Pineda.

The Mets, playing in Atlanta, were on the opposite side of things on Wednesday night. Atlanta’s Jason Heyward led off the bottom of the first with a solo home run off Zack Wheeler. Wheeler looked good until a five-hit inning in the bottom of the fifth led to three more Braves runs.

Braves starter Ervin Santana held the Mets to three hits, striking out six and walking none over eight innings. Atlanta went to Jordan Walden to start the top of the ninth in a non-save situation. Walden walked Eric Young, struck out David Murphy and allowed a single to David Wright before the Braves called in closer Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel walked Curtis Granderson, got Lucas Duda to strike out swinging and then gave up a two-run single to Juan Lagares followed by an RBI single by Travis d’Arnaud. Ruben Tejada struck out swinging with runners on the corners to end the game.

Like the Yankees’ game, there were some positives to take from this one. Wheeler wasn’t totally terrible (5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 6 K, 0 BB) and Juerys Familia pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen, followed by a scoreless frame from Gonzalez Germen.

And the Mets’ young hitters – Lagares and d’Arnaud – hitters the club needs big at-bats from, came through in the clutch. Kimbel, who’s been one of baseball’s best closers in recent seasons, was just too much for Tejada in the game’s final at-bat.

A win would have pulled the Mets into a tie with Atlanta in the NL East at 4-4. Instead, the Mets slink back to last place, tied with the Phillies at 3-5.

Jenrry Mejia gets the start tonight at Turner Field against Atlanta’s David Hale, who will make his fourth career start. Hale pitched five scoreless innings at Washington on April 4 in his first start.

Finally, some interesting words from Dr. James Andrews today over on the Big League Stew blog at Yahoo!

Check out that link for the full scoop, but I’ll summarize here.

Andrews, who has treated, evaluated and performed surgeries on many professional athletes, has been asked lately about the surge in Tommy John surgeries. Andrews says the key moving forward is to better identify problems in the arms of young pitchers.

Here’s his big quote:

“You can’t prevent ‘em,” Andrews said. “We can probably cut down the early injury rate. But kids that are playing and throwing so hard and are so competitive in professional baseball, you realize the dollar sign that’s on top of them, pushing them so hard. So you’re not going to prevent all of them. It’s like trying to prevent ACL injuries in the knee — it’s impossible.”

I caught up with some pitchers on the Warwick baseball team earlier this week. I was asking about what pitches they threw and how long it had taken them to develop their repertories, and they mentioned how they didn’t start throwing curveballs until they were on the jayvee team in high school. With pitch counts and breaking balls on the minds of Little League coaches these days, it will be interesting to see how many pitchers in professional baseball have arm injuries 10 years from now. I wonder if more caution on the youth baseball level will ever make pitchers healthier when they reach pro ball or if these injuries are just an inherent part of the sport.

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Colon owns the Braves; Solarte stays hot

Image via CBS Sports:

Bartolo Colon showed why he was worth a two-year contract this offseason in last night’s game in Atlanta. Colon, who basically throws just fastballs with a velocity topping out just over 90 miles per hour, limited the Braves to just six hits – five singles and one double – over seven shutout innings in a 4-0 win.

Colon pounded the strikezone, firing 69.7 percent of his fastballs for strikes, as well as 76.4 percent of his sinkers for strikes. He threw four changeups and nine sliders, according to He didn’t walk a single batter.

Without any blazing fast stuff, Colon isn’t going to get strikeouts on mere power alone anymore. But he’s so consistently in the strikezone that he’s almost always ahead in the count, which draws some poor swings when he’s locating on the edges. His strong start allowed the Mets to give most of the bullpen a night off. Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde pitched one scoreless inning apiece.

Perhaps even better for Mets fans in this game was the team’s young hitters coming through. Ruben Tejada had two hits and two RBI and Travis d’Arnaud also had two hits. Tejada is batting .286 and getting on base at a .400 clip through his first seven games. He’s made one error in 25 chances in the field as well, so all-around, he’s been a big step up from his 2013 performance so far. It’s a small sample size, but it’s a positive sign for a player like Tejada who really needed a hot start in 2014, a make-or-break season for him.

As for d’Arnaud, those two hits were his first of the year. That brings his average up to .105. He’s not exactly expected to be the second coming of Mike Piazza, but d’Arnaud did hit 21 homers in his last full season, when he played in 114 games for Toronto’s Double-A affiliate. He also hit .311 overall that season. d’Arnaud obviously did something right behind the plate last night to get that kind of game out of Colon, but he’s got to start picking it up with the bat rather quickly. With Chris Young on the DL, the Mets need a right-handed bat after Granderson in the order.

The Mets send Zack Wheeler to the mound against Ervin Santana tonight in Atlanta.

The Yankees were blown out on Tuesday by Baltimore, losing 14-5. Ivan Nova got rocked early and the Yankees gave up a total of 20 hits to Baltimore batters.

Yangervis Solarte did continue his hot streak at the plate, going 2-for-4 with two more doubles. He has six doubles through his first seven major league games, which the Elias Sports Bureau says hasn’t happened since 1900. Solarte is hitting .458 and slugging .708 so far.

Solarte is still seeing mostly fastballs at the plate, as 49.5 percent of the 107 pitches he’s seen have been fastballs this year. Add in 7.7 percent knuckleballs from his at-bats against R.A. Dickey and you start to realize that we’re dealing with a very small amount of data here.

The Yankees face Miguel Gonzalez and Baltimore tonight. Gonzalez does throw a curve, slider and a splitter in addition to his fastball – FanGraphs doesn’t show him using a change-up – so I’d expect to see the Orioles go with some more breaking stuff against Solarte tonight. Will he hit those too? Time will tell, but he’s certainly proven to be a more than adequate replacement with Mark Teixeira on the DL. When Teixeira and Brendan Ryan return from the DL, Solarte will probably have his at-bats cut into, assuming he isn’t sent to Triple-A. He’s earned the benefit of the doubt at third base so far.

With David Robertson landing on the DL, the Yankees have recalled both Cesar Cabral and Shane Greene from Triple-A. Catcher Austin Romine was also sent down to make room, as the Yankees will carry 13 pitchers and 12 position players for the time being.

For Greene, it will be his major league debut and his first time pitching above the Double-A level. A 15th round draft pick in 2009 out of Daytona Beach Community College, Greene has worked his way up through the Yankees’ minor league system. He split 2013 between High-A Tampa of the Florida State League and Double-A Trenton, going 12-10 with a 3.38 ERA in 26 starts and one relief appearance. He gave up more hits (175) than innings pitched (154 1/3) but he did strike out 137 against 30 walks. Greene is a sinker-slider-changeup pitcher, which makes him a valuable commodity out of the bullpen if he can get groundballs, especially with men on base. I’m not sure if he winds up as a reliever moving forward, but this will help limit his innings early in the year.

Cabral, a lefty, had a cup of coffee in the Yankees’ bullpen at the end of last season. He was signed by Boston in 2005 out of the Dominican Republic. He was a Rule-5 draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2011, but didn’t stick on the roster, so he wound up back with Boston. He was then snatched up by Kansas City in the 2011 Rule-5 draft and the Yankees purchased his rights two days later. He’s had some injury problems in the past, as he didn’t pitch at all in 2012. He had 30 innings scattered around the Yankees’ minor league system last year. Cabral did have a nice spring, pitching 9 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed four hits, walked six and struck out 10. Obviously, that’s too many walks over that span, but Cabral might finally get his chance in the majors this year. He’ll be especially valuable against the lefties in the AL East: Chris Davis, David Ortiz and Adam Lind come to mind.

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Nunez traded to Minnesota

New York Yankees third baseman Eduardo Nunez snags a grounder during a spring exhibition baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., Thursday, March 27, 2014. This afternoon, he was traded to Minnesota for young left-hander Miguel Sulbaran. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Even more late-breaking news from Yankee Stadium this afternoon.

The Yankees have traded infielder Eduardo Nunez to Minnesota for LHP Miguel Sulbaran. Nunez, designated for assignment at the end of training camp, had his roster spot taken by Yangervis Solarte. The Yankees had 10 days to try to work out a trade or release Nunez. The Twins, with plenty of holes in a lackluster lineup, gets an instant starter in the infield with Nunez. We’ll see if his defense ever improves or if he can hit at all in the Twins’ spacious new outdoor ballpark.

Sulbaran, who turned 20 last month, is a left-handed pitcher from Venezuela. He’s been a starter for most of his four-year minor league career, going 9-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 20 starts (he also made seven relief appearances) in the Midwest League last year. That’s a full-season Class A league, basically one step up from the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League, a short season Class A club.

Sulbaran came up with the Dodgers. He was acquired by Minnesota as the player to be named in the trade that sent Drew Butera to Los Angeles, so he actually spent time with two different Midwest League clubs in 2013.

Sulbaran is just 5-foot-10, but scouts have said his fastball sits in the low 90s and that he also mixes in a slider and a curve. His minor league stats are impressive: less than one hit per inning, 3.48 strikeouts for every walk and 10 home runs allowed in 239 2/3 minor league innings. You can expect those numbers to drop off a bit as he moves up through the minors.

On the surface, I’m not sure if Sulbaran sticks as a starter. Of course, he’s got a long way to go to make the major leagues. Perhaps he becomes a situational lefty out of the bullpen – and even that would be nice haul for Nunez, whose time had come to an end in New York. Since Sulbaran is only 20 years old, the Yankees will have plenty of time to watch him develop in the minors. For the Twins, the trade will have much more immediate benefits. Nunez will probably start out in Triple-A Rochester (N.Y.) for now, but he should challenge Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon for at-bats before long and he might make veteran bench player Jason Bartlett expendable.

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More closer problems in New York; Robertson to the DL

New York Yankees closer David Robertson delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros in the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, April 3, 2014, in Houston. The Yankees won 3-2. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Some breaking news from Joe Girardi’s postgame press conference following the Yankees’ win over the Orioles this afternoon.

David Robertson, used in three of the final four games of the Yankees’ season-opening six-game road trip, has been placed on the disabled list with a grade 1 strain of his right groin.

Last night, Mets closer Bobby Parnell opted for Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his throwing elbow. He’ll miss the rest of the 2014 season.

We’ll see how long Robertson is on the shelf, but right now it sounds like he could be back sometime later this month once his DL stint is up.

Shawn Kelley picked up the save today in Robertson’s absence, the first of his career. Kelley is coming off two solid years of set-up relief duty and he did strike out 71 hitters in 53 1/3 innings in 2013, so he might have the stuff for the job. He’s primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, used mostly against right-handed hitters. That slider drifting away is a tough pitch for them to hit. The question is, will Kelley have the mental aptitude for the role?

The only other candidate currently in the Yankees’ bullpen is Matt Thornton, who has 23 career saves over 11 seasons. Thornton, however, is useful as a lefty specialist, so I don’t see Girardi moving him out of that role.

Cesar Cabral, a lefty, and Preston Claiborne, a righty, are the two mostly likely options for the Yankees to call up to fill Robertson’s spot.

It’s quite possible that the Yankees just decide to kind of do things by committee until Robertson returns. Thornton may stay in the game to get a lefty for the final out. Kelley may be in there if it’s a righty.

With a number of bullpen guys who have very recently been starters – Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Dellin Betances – perhaps Girardi could bring one of those guys in during the seventh inning and let them go three innings to close out the game. On one hand, you’re saving the rest of the bullpen for another day, which is always a positive, even if the pitcher in question has to sit out two or three days to rest. On the other, it’s been fairly historically proven that bullpen guys like having a certain role. The 7th inning guy. The 8th inning guy. The lefty specialist. The Bill James theory of simply using the best pitcher available in a given situation just has never seemed to work for any team that’s tried the closer-by-committee thing for any stretch of time.

There’s certainly some room here for Girardi to experiment and try some new things, but I’ll bet he’ll use Kelley as the de facto closer for now. There may be some day-to-day adjustments depending on Kelley’s workload, but the Yankees are likely to get similar results out of Kelley as they would have out of Robertson, especially if this only lasts for 15 days. But we’ll see just how soon Robertson gets back to action.

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Jeter’s last opening day is Solarte’s first; Parnell opts for TJ surgery

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter warms up on the field before the Yankees home opener baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, at Yankee Stadium in New York, Monday, April 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees and Baltimore Orioles are currently underway in the Bronx Bombers’ home opener at Yankee Stadium. It’s the final home opener for Jeter, who will retire at the end of this season.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to take a look back at the Yankees’ first road trip of the year, a 3-3 swing through Houston and Toronto.

The obvious standout player so far has been Yangervis Solarte, who stole Eduardo Nunez’s spot on the roster with a great spring training. Solarte has carried that hot bat right into the regular season, as he’s hitting .471 with four doubles and five RBI in his first 17 at-bats of the season.

Losing Mark Teixeira to the disabled list with a hamstring injury might have been a problem for the Yankees if Solarte wasn’t playing this well. Joe Girardi, for now, can put Kelly Johnson at first and leave Solarte to get most of the at-bats at third base until Teixeira gets back. That might be a while.

I’m not sure how sustainable Solarte’s success will be. He did hit very well in the minors last year, playing for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate. He also hit well in spring training. However, a quick look at his player card tells me a few things.

Solarte has been feasting on fastballs so far. He’s batting .800 and slugging 1.200 when he’s connected with a four-seam pitch this season. He’s only seen a handful of breaking pitches. Solarte also made a start against R.A. Dickey and the knuckleball, so you kind of have to throw that game out the window because it’s such a rare pitch.

It’s easy to see why pitchers would try to get by with fastballs against Solarte. He’s a rookie, having never played in the big leagues before. He’s hitting at the bottom of the lineup. Pitchers might as well try to economize and throw him fastballs in the zone and save their good stuff and their energy for the veterans at the top of the Yankees’ lineup. So I’d expect Solarte will start seeing some more breaking balls and changeups and we’ll start seeing him make some more outs.

But Solarte certainly has an inside track on some playing time over the next few weeks, so we’ll have much more data to work with by the end of this Yankees’ homestand. At the time of this post, Solarte is already 1-for-1 with a single in Monday’s game.

In Mets news, closer Bobby Parnell has opted for Tommy John surgery after learning of a partial tear in an elbow ligament after his opening day meltdown. So that leaves Parnell on the shelf for all of 2014. He’ll be back sometime early in 2015, even if he doesn’t make the opening day roster.

Parnell had the option of resting the elbow and trying to rehab his way back, but if that course was unsuccessful, he would have faced this decision in July or August, setting his return back to late in 2015. So it’s a decision made with an eye toward the future. Parnell will be a free agent after the 2015 season, so there’s no doubt he wants to come back healthy next year, pile up the saves and get paid after that.

As I had mentioned last week, the loss of Parnell doesn’t really mean all that much to the Mets on the field this year. The Mets had, at best, fringy aspirations of a wild card berth. Parnell, even if he had a great year, probably gets 70 innings or so on the mound. With Jose Valverde in the bullpen, the Mets already have someone with closer’s experience who will be a more than competent fill-in. Of course, that leaves the middle relief a bit thin.

The real trouble here is that the Mets lose a valuable trade chip as they continue to rebuild for the future. Parnell would have been quite attractive at the deadline to teams looking for late-inning help. I’m not saying the Mets would’ve received a Zack Wheeler-type return, but they could have picked up a piece or two to help them contend in 2015 and beyond.

Instead, they’ll have to wait until next year to move Parnell, if they decide to do so at all. As an impending free agent, Parnell will command less on the trade market in 2015. If the Mets have any intent of contending next year, they’re probably going to stick with their closer anyway.

Also in Mets’ news, Lucas Duda has apparently won the majority of first base duties over Ike Davis, at least for now.

Davis, however, is 4-for-8 at the plate through the Mets’ first six games, including a walk-off, pinch-hit grand slam against the Reds. Duda is 2-for-14, but both of his hits were home runs.

The problem here is that both Duda and Davis bat left-handed, so there’s no natural platoon between the two. Josh Satin might actually be the right-handed hitting platoon piece for those two.

With a crowded outfield situation already, Duda, who has played the corner spots in the past, won’t get any playing time there.

On a National League club, a little duplicity isn’t the worst thing in the world. Whoever is on the bench will certainly be useful in pinch-hitting spots. Still, barring any injuries, I would expect the Mets to trade one of these two before the July deadline.

With the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira on the DL, how about an Eduardo Nunez for Ike Davis trade? Who says no first?

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    Will Montgomery

    Will Montgomery covers boys' soccer, girls' basketball, boys' and girls' swimming and diving, boys' lacrosse and baseball (including the Hudson Valley Renegades) for and the Times Herald-Record. Prior to joining the TH-R in November ... Read Full
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