- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Didi Gregorius' early history of offensive production will never be confused with that of, say, Jurickson Profar, because he hasn't hit more than seven homers for any team, and his on-base percentage has been modest. This is part of the reason why the Diamondbacks' swap with the Reds in December for Gregorius drew some industry-wide shrugs. He has been seen as a very good defender, and also as someone who might be challenged offensively in his career.
But part of the reason why sports are fascinating is that you never really know what will happen next, and there are signs that Gregorius is going to be better than expected at the plate. Sure, he had a nice debut for the Diamondbacks on Thursday, clubbing a home run on the first pitch he saw, and added two more hits in Colorado Friday night. But even before that, Gregorius had seemed to become more of a threat at the plate, with his good showing in the Arizona Fall League, spring training and Triple-A this year.
"I think he's going to hit," a rival evaluator, who saw Gregorius in person earlier in the spring, said Friday. "His swing looks to me like he's in and out of the zone real quick, but he's got lots of strength and lots of bat speed."
In other words: The left-handed hitting Gregorius has some tools to work and improve with, and his defensive skills demonstrate he learns and adapts. "I was really impressed with how he set himself defensively," the evaluator said. "He made his throws according to the speed of the runner, even though he's got a great arm, he does this thing where he seems to stutter-step when he [attacks] a ground ball. He almost goes through the baseball. He's an impact defender."
Arizona general manager Kevin Towers recalled Friday that when he saw Gregorius play last fall, the young infielder swung the bat effectively. "There were some holes in the swing, but there definitely was bat speed and there was pitch recognition," he said. "We never really had a question about whether he was going to hit."
Towers felt good, too, about what he had heard when he checked Gregorius' background. Mike Bell, the Arizona farm director, had talked with David Bell, his brother, who had managed in the Reds' farm system and knew Gregorius -- and he talked about the shortstop's tremendous mental makeup. And the defense.
"He can really, really play short," said Towers. "A 70 arm (on the scouts' scale of 20 to 80), and he can make body-control plays. He's got really soft hands, and he got a lot of range . . . A tremendous kid, and he's got no fear."
Gregorius was called up to the big leagues after Willie Bloomquist and then Aaron Hill went down with injuries. The Diamondbacks had hoped to get Gregorius a few more weeks in the minors, but now he is here, perhaps prepared to pitch in more at the plate than expected.
By the way: Towers said center fielder Adam Eaton could be back in the first or second week of May -- Eaton, coming back from an elbow injury, just started throwing -- and that Jason Kubel will be back soon.
• Arizona lost Game 1 of its series in Colorado.
• On Friday's podcast, Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore talked about the decision to trade top prospect Wil Myers, and Justin Havens of ESPN Research runs through the peripherals for the early-season starts of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Cole Hamels and David Price.
• The Rangers lost All-Star Matt Harrison through the break. They will have to rely on rookies while they wait for help to arrive, writes Todd Wills. The Rangers have Colby Lewis and others on the mend, and general managers say this is a terrible time of year to try to make a trade because teams covet their depth and only offer overpriced pitchers who aren't really that good.
Case histories suggest that Harrison may not be back until mid-August, writes Gerry Fraley.
• By the middle of Friday's Matt Harvey-Stephen Strasburg matchup, Mets fans chanted, "Harvey's better." On Friday, he was, finishing hitters off repeatedly with power in the upper half of the strike zone, as Justin Verlander does. Dwight Gooden watched from the first row, as Zach Schonbrun writes.
From Elias: Harvey is the first pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) to win each of his first four starts of a season while allowing no more than 10 combined hits in those four games.
Dating to last season, Harvey has had five straight games in which he's pitched at least seven innings, allowed one run or fewer and four hits or fewer. The only other pitcher to do that in the past 25 seasons was Randy Johnson for the 1997 Mariners.
If Harvey's stat line looks familiar, that's because it should. It resembles that of Strasburg's first four starts of 2012.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Harvey won:
A) He retired 14 of 17 left-handed hitters (two hits, one walk). Lefties are 6-for-60 with five walks against Harvey this season. Bryce Harper was 0-for-3 against Harvey, and 0-for-6 against him for his career.
B) Off-speed pitches netted 12 outs and yielded only two baserunners. Harvey got half of those outs with his slider, which he threw 26 times -- the most of any start in his career.
C) Harvey said before the game that he was psyched to face Strasburg, and it showed. He averaged a career-high 96.3 mph on his fastball.
Strasburg lost the duel of aces, but maybe the most troublesome inning of the night for the Nationals came when the Mets teed off on Drew Storen. Washington needs Storen to be good, and so far, he has not been, allowing 10 hits (four for extra bases) in 6 1/3 innings, after a challenging spring.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Halladay beat the Cardinals:
A) The rain-shortened game was Halladay's 67th career complete game, most among active pitchers (next-most: CC Sabathia, 35).
B) All about the sinker: Halladay threw 47 percent sinkers, his most in a start since the beginning of 2009 (Cardinals hitters went 1-for-11 against it).
C) Halladay threw 40 percent sinkers to lefties, his third-most in a start since the start of 2009 (Cardinals lefties went 1-for-9 against it).
D) He threw 59 percent sinkers when he was behind in the count, his most in a start since the beginning of 2009 (Cardinals hitters were 1-for-7 when they were ahead in the count).
• The most-asked question in baseball in the first few weeks might be: Is Mike Scioscia going to get fired?
Only Angels owner Arte Moreno can answer that. But the consensus in baseball seems to be that firing Scioscia would be one of the most pointless dismissals in recent memory, because the perception among rival evaluators is that it wouldn't change anything. The Angels need pitching -- they're starving for pitching -- and their farm system is regarded as one of the sparsest in the game. "It's a mess," one high-ranked executive with another team said. "I mean, it's terrible."
That's not Scioscia's department, and that doesn't really fall on GM Jerry Dipoto, either, because Dipoto only joined the Angels 18 months ago and hasn't had much of a chance to rebuild the team's player development. And ultimately, the decision to spend almost $400 million (and surrender draft picks) on Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton when both players were already into their 30s belonged to Moreno, not his GM or his manager.
Last night, everything went right for the Angels.
• Joey Votto failed to reach base for the first time this season and struck out on three uncomfortable swings in the ninth inning. Right now, it just looks as if his timing is off.
• When the Giants are at home, they always seem to find a way to win the close games, and they did it again on Friday, on a walk-off.
• One scout has been very impressed with the early-season speed of Carl Crawford. "I've gotten the fastest times I've seen from him since his first years with Tampa Bay," the scout said.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Cubs claimed Julio Borbon partly because of the cost -- almost zero risk, and perhaps some reward -- and because his OBP numbers from the minors intrigue them.
Dings and dents
2. That's five straight losses and counting for the Indians.
3. The Mariners racked up a whole bunch of strikeouts.
5. The Astros showed some pop.
7. Ex-Jays hurt the Jays again.
The Rays held a players-only meeting.
The White Sox have hitting and defense issues.
When the Braves lose, it's always a shutout.
The Brewers beat the Cubs and have now won five straight, and maybe this is what Milwaukee is going to be this year -- a crazy, streaky team. The Brewers' pitching is thin enough to make them vulnerable, but their lineup, with Ryan Braun in the middle and newcomer Jean Segura and others doing damage, makes them dangerous. Hang on for the ride.
Alfonso Soriano has been swinging a lighter bat. He's always swung one of the biggest bats in baseball, and this switch makes you wonder if he would've been a different hitter in the past decade had he made this change earlier.
The Dodgers will play a doubleheader today.
• The Royals were in Boston Friday during the manhunt.
• There is sad news about the passing of Willie Mays' wife, as Chris Haft writes.
• Buck Showalter took a well-earned shot at Rex Ryan.
• The challenge for those who survived the Boston Marathon bombings with life-altering wounds, and for those who lost loved ones Monday and Friday, is only beginning.
And today will be better than yesterday.