videoThe best part of Leon Roberts’s job happened again on Tuesday night, when George Springer was summoned into the manager’s office in Colorado Springs. Springer probably had some idea of what was to come, said Roberts, the hitting coach the Oklahoma City Redhawks.

The word passed down from the Houston Astros’ front office reached the Oklahoma City manager Tom Lawless late in the game, and Springer had been pulled out for the ninth inning. At the time he was 3-for-4 with four RBI and four runs scored -- in other words, just another day for Springer, who had batted .353 with an OPS of 1.106 for the Redhawks.

When players are told they’re going to the big leagues, Roberts said, they usually react in one of two ways: Either they break down and cry, or they are speechless. Springer, said Roberts, was “more shocked and subdued. But he was playing like his hair was on fire.”

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videoEarly-season numbers that catch your eye:

51.1
That is the ground ball percentage of Prince Fielder this season, a significant increase over past seasons. Fielder hit his first home run of the season Tuesday night, but it goes without saying that if he is generating ground balls, the Rangers are not going to get what they banked on.

His ground ball rate is higher than that of Jimmy Rollins and 138 other hitters currently qualified for the batting title.

Fielder's home run Tuesday was his longest since last May, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

2.110
That's Mike Trout's OPS in the first inning this season.

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"Sunday Night Baseball" felt like a screenplay that would've been rejected because of implausibility, with all its elements and characters and plot twists crammed into one evening, in one of the most interesting regular-season games you will ever see.

Before the first pitch, a future Hall of Famer was held out of the lineup for the second straight day, and then word broke that Dustin Pedroia, who played almost the entire 2013 with a torn thumb ligament, has a bad left wrist that will be tested in Boston today.

After the first pitch, there was all of the incredible defensive play by superlative outfielders, with Jackie Bradley Jr. throwing out Jacoby Ellsbury to Brett Gardner throwing out Bradley to Daniel Nava's catch to Ichiro Suzuki's Spider-Man impersonation.

Because Francisco Cervelli got hurt, Carlos Beltran had to play first base for the first time in his career, and because Pedroia is hurt, Mike Carp had his first-ever game action at third. John Farrell became the first-ever manager ejected while challenging replay, after a call was overturned (more below).

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Matt WilliamsChuck Myers/MCT/Getty ImagesSaturday's game was not the first time Matt Williams was upset with a call this season.
As managers discussed instant replay prior to the season, they were generally circumspect, understated in their public comments. You got some eye rolls, and privately, some expressed concern, particularly with the challenge system.

But less than two weeks into the start of the regular season, frustration with the system is beginning to boil over, as it did with Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams on Saturday.

Williams challenged an out call of Nate McLouth on a throw to first base, and the replay on the Nats’ broadcast appeared to indicate that the ball wasn’t quite in Freddie Freeman's glove when McLouth’s foot hit the base; in other words, McLouth appeared to be safe. You can see it here, over and over, because the challenge decision lasted four minutes. And McLouth was called out.

Williams was befuddled, as James Wagner of the Washington Post reported. From his story:

“I’m extremely frustrated by the process at this point,” Williams said. “Because if they’re seeing the same feed that we’re seeing, I don’t know how he’s out. I don’t know how Nate is out if they have the same feed that we have, so that’s frustrating because I thought he was safe. We’ve looked at it 100 times since then, and we believe he was safe. And if that is a safe call, then we maintain our challenge. … Again, I’m frustrated by the first one, though, because I see him as safe. And we have the same technology and the same video. I don’t know about that one. That frustrates me.”


Earlier in the day, in New York, the Red Sox challenged a call on Dean Anna, and while Boston appeared to be right, the Sox's challenge was rejected. MLB acknowledged later that the call was wrong.

Boston manager John Farrell was perplexed. “We had probably five angles that confirmed his foot was off the base, and when the safe call came back, it certainly raises questions on if they're getting the same feeds we are, the consistency of the system," Farrell said. "Yeah, it makes you scratch your head a little bit on why he was called safe."

What the managers want, above all else, is reliability, some degree of predictability. They don’t want to feel as though there is a roll of the dice when they’re issuing a challenge, and that they have no idea what the replay officials are looking at. They want to know that each challenge will be treated in the same way, with an expected outcome.

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Kyle Lohse, Carlos Gomez, Khris Davis Getty ImagesKyle Lohse, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis have all been major contributors this season.
Last September, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin stood and watched the remnants of the 2013 Brewers take batting practice on a Saturday. No Ryan Braun. No Aramis Ramirez. No Jean Segura. But what Melvin conveyed, amid the tatters of a lost season, was hope.

He liked the projected lineup for 2014, he said, with Khris Davis probably moving into a starting role. He thought Yovani Gallardo -- who seemingly never really recovered from the WBC in 2013 -- would bounce back. Melvin seemed intrigued by what the Brewers could be, and so far, that vision has been borne out.

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John FarrellAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJohn Farrell didn't make any issue of questions about a substance on Michael Pineda's hand.

The Red Sox have been there and done that with the accusations of pitchers using foreign substances, from Clay Buchholz's shiny forearm and game-day wet look to the green stuff seemingly wedged into the leather of Jon Lester's glove last October. They were probably disinclined to cast any stones at Michael Pineda Thursday night, as Pineda pitched the first innings with his right palm covered by something that looked an awful lot like leftovers from George Brett's bat three decades ago.

Pineda wasn’t alone in substance scrutiny Thursday: An Astros pitcher sprayed his arms before his start Thursday, as Evan Drellich writes. At the very least, pitchers should and probably do know that they are being watched in high definition in the way that golfers are being scrutinized for rules violations. This is a pitchers' version of jaywalking in 2014, and while a whole lot of folks may cross the line, they might want to strive for subtlety.

But another reason the Red Sox may have not said much is

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Matt MooreAP Photo/Orlin WagnerRays starter Matt Moore left Monday's game early with elbow soreness.
The Rays aren’t sure whether starter Matt Moore will need surgery, as Marc Topkin writes. But given what we saw the other night, with Moore recoiling from a pitch the way that Braves starter Kris Medlen did in March, it would surprise no one if it turns out he faces Tommy John surgery, and an uncertain future.

Looking back, it’s a good thing Moore signed that $14 million deal back in 2011.

Many of baseball’s best young players have been taking deals that buy out their first or second years of free agency, with an option year or two attached. Chris Archer did this recently, locking himself into a six-year deal that could become an eight-year deal and guarantees him $25.5 million. So did the Pirates' Starling Marte, who signed a six-year, $31 million deal.

This has spurred a lot of debate within the industry if the players are conceding too much, if they are leaving money on the table.

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Stephen Drew and Kendrys MoralesGetty ImagesStephen Drew and Kendrys Morales will need a few weeks to get ready after they sign.
Vin Mazzaro could be a useful reliever for a lot of teams, but he cleared waivers Tuesday and a couple of executives speculated that part of the reason for that is Mazzaro makes more than minimum wage -- $950,000.

"Once you go to spring training, you’ve spent almost all the money you’re going to spend," said one GM. "There aren’t many teams with a lot of extra money lying around."

Maybe the Dodgers have a big budget, or the Yankees. But most teams have little wiggle room in their budget. Which brings us to Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, two veteran free agents who remain unemployed.

To review: Both players -- represented by agent Scott Boras -- rejected $14.1 million qualifying offers from the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners, respectively, and continue to wait. And wait. And wait.

There might be one small upside to waiting this long. Now that the season has started, neither can be given another qualifying offer by the next team he signs with, which means each could be a free agent without restriction after the 2014 season.

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Matt HarveyAP Photo/Jeff RobersonShorter games could help prevent injuries to star pitchers like Matt Harvey.
LOS ANGELES -- A high-ranking executive melded all of the lingering issues of the era into one conversation, as if listing a recipe for change.

The games are often played too slowly, he noted. The audience of Major League Baseball is aging, with polls indicating that the youngest generation expects faster and fastest in what it consumes.

At the same time, the exec said, teams are struggling to find enough good pitching -- and, at the same time, the number of injuries is skyrocketing. If oblique strains were the prevalent injury two years ago, ulnar collateral ligament strains are the ailment du jour. Top prospect Jameson Taillon of the Pirates is the latest pitcher to be headed for Tommy John surgery; maybe he'll bump into Bobby Parnell along the way.

The executive went for his punch line, a thought so far outside the box that it either represents the absurd, or the future.

"I think they ought to change the games to seven innings," he said.

Seven innings? You mean, in each game? Seven innings instead of nine?

"Seven innings," he said again, and he went on to explain that if baseball adopted this, it could represent a tonic for all the problems he sees.

Seven innings instead of nine would mean the games would finish closer to two-and-a-half hours than three hours or longer.

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DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

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Tropicana FieldAP Photo/Chris O'MearaThe Rays have drawn big crowds to Tropicana Field for certain games, but that hasn't been the norm.
On one side of the country, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., met with Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman to discuss the team’s lingering unhappiness with the current ballpark situation, as detailed by Christopher O'Donnell. On the other side of the country, the Oakland Athletics postponed a game, despite the fact there was no rain falling and no rain in the forecast: The field had been left uncovered the night before and was deemed unplayable, as John Hickey writes.

The Athletics’ situation could have happened in just about every other park in the sport. In the time I covered the New York Yankees, I remember a similar situation developing at Legends Field before a spring training game, with the groundskeepers scrambling to prepare the dampened field early in the morning before George Steinbrenner arrived. They had left the tarp off the field overnight, and a passing shower had thoroughly drenched it.

But between this and the ongoing sewage issues, and the field conditions that develop when the NFL's Raiders start playing games, Oakland’s park situation continues to be an embarrassment for all of Major League Baseball, not just the Athletics. As Bill Shaikin noted on Twitter on Friday, it’s now been five years since commissioner Bud Selig formed a committee to study Oakland’s ballpark options, and nobody -- not the other owners, not the commissioner -- have deemed it important enough to make it a priority item for the industry.

Which is their prerogative. If baseball’s owners and Selig don’t feel the need to strong-arm the Giants into making the best possible territory deal they can make and carve out a home for the Athletics in San Jose, Calif., that’s their choice. Until Major League Baseball -- the teams and the central office -- places the Athletics’ status at the top of its to-do list and prepares all the necessary horse-trading, nothing will change.

But when stuff like this happens -- when sewage is running under the feet of players, coaches and umpires -- the fault lies with the whole of MLB, not just plumbers or groundskeepers. This is a glaring case of benign neglect.

The Rays’ situation with St. Petersburg is like a marriage that is all but over besides the legal union. After their Opening Day spread of 31,042 fans, the Rays have drawn crowds of 11,113, 10,808, 9,571 and 14,304 in keeping with the recent tradition of support. Some small-market and mid-market teams have seen their attendance rise and fall according to how much the fans believe in ownership's investment in the team -- the Padres are a perfect example of this -- but the Rays have been a model of consistency in their incredible and improbable success, and yet the attendance continues to drift downward.

The franchise vies with the St. Louis Cardinals for the title of best-run baseball operations department, having won at least 90 games in all but one of the past six seasons, despite working on a shoestring budget while maintaining residence in the hyper-competitive American League East. The team has tried to reboot the fan experience at Tropicana Field, repeatedly. The Rays have tried to make the marriage with St. Petersburg work, but it’s not working.

From O’Donnell’s story:

The Rays are under contract to play at the Trop through 2027 but say they need to explore sites for a new stadium because of low attendances at the city-owned facility. The city has so far refused, saying it has to protect the investment of taxpayers who paid millions of dollars to bring Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg.

“I think we made good progress today,” Kriseman said. “We’re having very open and honest dialogue with each other.”

The hourlong unannounced meeting, the second Kriseman has had with the team since taking office in January, was at the Trop ahead of the Rays’ game against the Texas Rangers.

Kriseman said both sides have agreed to keep talks confidential. Talks in 2013 between the Rays and former Mayor Bill Foster stalled after city leaders claimed that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had instructed the Rays not to offer the city any compensation if it broke its contract.

“Both sides have agreed we are going to keep our conversations in confidence and private so we can continue to have a solid element of trust in each other, so we can make progress,” Kriseman said.

Despite a winning team in recent years, the Rays’ average attendance of just more than 18,000 was the lowest in the league in 2013.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has suggested several times in recent years that baseball’s other 29 owners were growing restless with the Rays’ lingering stadium problem. Richer teams such as the New York Yankees have to subsidize less profitable teams, including the Rays, through revenue-sharing payments.


Maybe there’s a more tenable site in the Tampa area. Maybe Montreal could be an option. Maybe Portland, or Nashville.

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Bobby ParnellElsa/Getty ImagesMets closer Bobby Parnell is expected to miss considerable time with a torn elbow ligament.
The Pirates' Jameson Taillon, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, is the latest to go through the process of having his elbow checked. The Mets, who have been models of restraint in the handling of their young pitchers, announced that closer Bobby Parnell has a partially torn elbow ligament.

From Tim Rohan’s story:
The Mets are often asked what reasons they have to be optimistic. Lately, their unequivocal response has been starting pitching. It is their obvious strength, now and for the future. They consider Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero precious assets. The Mets plan to be cautious with them, bring them along at the right pace and eventually ride them to relevance.

Much depends on how the Mets develop these promising pitchers.

That was why it seemed particularly concerning when the Mets announced Tuesday that Bobby Parnell, their closer, had a partly torn ulnar collateral ligament. Parnell will try rehabilitation to avoid Tommy John surgery, but if he has the operation, he will be the third Mets pitcher to have it in about nine months, following Jeremy Hefner and Harvey. Jenrry Mejia had it in 2011.

Every case is different, but general manager Sandy Alderson indicated that the Mets would review how they handled pitchers and their rehabilitation programs. He called the pitching injuries an "industrywide problem." Several top-flight pitchers had the operation during spring training this year, including the Atlanta Braves' Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, who each had it for a second time.

"It's something we constantly look at," Alderson said Wednesday. "But I don't think we have -- or the industry has -- any solid answers. That’s for sure."


Alderson speaks the essential truth: The industry has been trying to find solid answers and they don’t have much to show for it. They’ve been constructing pitch counts and innings limits and adhering to them closely, doing everything they can to develop pitchers while protecting them at the same time, and pitchers continue to break down.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it's possible that the constricted pitch counts have made little to no difference. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s possible that the innings limits have made little to no difference.

The one conclusion that a lot of general managers have reached is that there is no one-size-fits-all set of rules, no magic formula.

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After the Giants lost Tuesday night by a run scored on a call that everybody now knows was wrong, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said all the right things, as Andrew Baggarly writes. From his story:
Even with expanded replay, A.J. Pollock was allowed to be safe twice in an inning when he appeared -- once conclusively appeared -- to be tagged out. Major League Baseball officials expected the replay system would require some tweaks. If the impetus behind this confusing tangle of rules is to get calls right, an overhaul might be more in order.

Not that Bochy, after getting buffaloed in a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, is calling for that.

"I'm fine with how they are," said Bochy, all but handed a lit match when asked about the replay procedures. "We'll see how it goes. We're in our second game now. Ask me deeper in the season. I may say something, may have an opinion."


I haven't talked to Bochy since the call was made, so I don't know what he's really thinking. But after having talked with a lot of other managers and club executives, this much is evident:

1. Just about everybody is excited about the new and improved form of instant replay.

2. A whole lot of them believe the system would be better without the managers' challenge built into it.

It is through the managers' challenge that the pivotal run was allowed to score on an understandably botched call Tuesday night.

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Clayton KershawAP Photo/Gregory BullClayton Kershaw is maintaining a pitching routine, but he may not be starting for a while.
SAN DIEGO -- Clayton Kershaw wants to maintain the five-day regimen that has defined his professional life, and Sunday was the day he was supposed to take the mound, stare toward home plate and cut up the strike zone with his slider and curveball and fastball.

But he can’t really throw the way he needs to, can’t really cut loose, because of a problem with the teres major muscle in his back. So Kershaw -- who was placed on the disabled list Saturday -- decided to simulate the physical exertion required in a start. Early in the afternoon, he ran sprints across left field in Petco Park, one after another, 25 in all; he held a stopwatch, to aid in the timing of his work.

But by 1 p.m. -- four hours before the scheduled first pitch -- a lot of the heavy lifting of his day was over. All he can do is work and heal and wait and root for his teammates, because he cannot pitch right now and there is much uncertainty about when he will pitch again.

"Whatever it is, we're going to take the time to get it right," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

Andrew Cashner, who started against the Dodgers on Sunday night, suffered an injury similar to Kershaw's two years ago and missed two months. Jurickson Profar, the Rangers second baseman, also has been dealing with the same sort of problem that ails Kershaw, and he will miss a lot of the first half of this season.

Those timelines don’t necessarily apply to Kershaw, but

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What could derail the Dodgers? 

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
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A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Kenley Jansen, Juan UribeAP Photo/Rick RycroftEleven of ESPN's MLB experts have picked the Dodgers to win the World Series.
SAN DIEGO -- The votes are in, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were picked by more folks at ESPN than any other team to win the World Series; 38 of the 44 ESPN experts who cast ballots chose the Dodgers to win the NL West. Las Vegas is picking them as well, by a solid margin.

Those facts are understandable. When you attend a Dodgers workout, it’s like watching batting practice the day before the All-Star Game, with big names all over the place. Heck, even their coaches -- Don Mattingly, Davey Lopes, Mark McGwire, John Valentin, Tim Wallach and Rick Honeycutt -- are former stars.

The Dodgers have baseball’s highest payroll, and so for the first time in 15 years, some team other than the New York Yankees will have that title. The Yankees can testify to the Dodgers that this is the blessing and the curse of having a high payroll, and L.A.’s payroll dwarfs that of its division rivals:

Los Angeles: $235 million
San Francisco: $154 million
Arizona: $112 million
Colorado: $95 million
San Diego: $90 million

The Diamondbacks and Padres stretched their payrolls this year in their effort to break into the postseason, and yet both teams will spend less than half of what the Dodgers will spend. And presumably, the Dodgers will have more room for in-season growth in deals than any of the other NL West teams.

I voted with the majority: I picked the Dodgers to win the NL West because their talent reflects their payroll; they are absolutely stacked. Their pitching staff is the deepest in the National League, with a bunch of former closers serving as setup men for Kenley Jansen at top dollar. As soon as Matt Kemp returns, Mattingly will have to decide which of his four star outfielders he will have to bench out of Yasiel Puig, Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford.

But let’s try to imagine the plausible scenarios in which the Dodgers don't win the NL West.

1. Hanley Ramirez and/or Clayton Kershaw are greatly limited by injury

Kershaw will start the season on the disabled list, but the Dodgers don’t believe his injury is serious. Ramirez is healthy, which is a good thing, because the Dodgers are much less of a team when he’s not on the field, as we saw last season. As he’s gotten older and has missed a lot of games:

Games missed by Hanley Ramirez
2010: 20
2011: 70
2012: 5
2013: 76

The Dodgers could lose any of their four outfielders and they would probably be fine, given their depth at that position. They have good defensive catchers behind A.J. Ellis. They would miss Adrian Gonzalez, but have some alternatives.

But if Ramirez goes down, it’s a huge problem for the Dodgers, who are thin in middle infielders. If Kershaw goes down, well, it'd be like the 1962 to '66 Dodgers losing Sandy Koufax.

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