King Felix looks shakier than ever, Trea Turner goes for the cycle, Danny Duffy dares everyone, and Eric Thames did it again.
The Tuesday Takeaway
After two seasons of slipping velocity, miscellaneous injury struggles, and other various signs of the aging process, Felix Hernandez is no longer the ace that was once crowned king. He’s still, for the most part, recognizably himself—just less consistently and often less effectively and simply less so. But decline in and of itself is neither interesting nor surprising; it’s the how and the when that provide that color. For Felix, this year seems potentially key to answering both. Were last season’s career-worst numbers truly the beginning of the end, or just an anomalous spike on a gentle downward slope? His first four starts of the season didn’t do so much to provide context there, but his fifth was a discouraging nod toward the former.
The return for Jonathan Papelbon, Pivetta has gotten off to a hot start this year.
The Situation: Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola was placed on the 10-day DL as the result of a strained lower back. The Phillies have called up 24-year old pitching prospect Nick Pivetta to start on Wednesday.
The Background: Pivetta was a 2013, fourth-round selection of the Washington Nationals out of New Mexico Junior College. He was then traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in July, 2015 for Jonathan Papelbon. Added to the 40-man roster following the 2016 season, Pivetta is off to one of the hottest starts in MiLB, throwing 19 innings, allowing only 12 hits, two earned runs, two walks, against 24 strikeouts, with an 0.95 era with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. His hot start combined with his scheduled turn in the rotation lines up perfectly for Pivetta as the logical choice to get this opportunity.
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Consider this a renewed request not to use "Bae-llinger."
The Situation: Joc Pederson is on the DL with a groin strain and the Dodgers could use a left-handed center field bat to pair with Enrique Hernandez. So they called up…a first baseman? Yes, but this first baseman also plays center (and left) field. And mashes dingers.
The Background: Bellinger was the fourth-round pick of the Dodgers in 2013 as an Arizona prep and signed for $700,000. He was drafted as a first baseman, where he played exclusively for the first two season of his pro career. The Dodgers aggressively assigned Bellinger to Advanced-A in 2015 and started playing him occasionally in center field as well. Bellinger broke out in a big way, socking 30 home runs. He proved it was no Cal League mirage last season, mashing his way through Double-A while spending time at all three outfield spots in addition to first. He got off to a hot start in Albuquerque this year, batting .343/.429/.627 at the time of his call up.
When a rested bullpen so often beats a tired starter, it's time to stop treating early exits as a sign of weakness.
There’s something about knocking the opposing starter out of the game that feels right, even if you aren’t scoring runs. It means you’ve removed the opposition’s best option for that day; it means you’ve created havoc; it means the other team has to get through more innings with inferior options, and those inferior options are going to be tired for the subsequent games in the series. Knocking out the starter is a mile marker on the way to victory, the baseball equivalent of field position—it doesn’t mean you’ve made it, but you’re getting there.
Domenic Mazza, LHP, San Francisco Giants (Low-A, Augusta): 9 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 9 K
That’s right a perfect game. This was also a Maddux, as he accomplished the feat in 85 pitches. Mazza is not a prospect, he is a strike throwing, mid-to-upper 80s arm. It helps to have quality off-speed you can throw for strikes. While this was the first mention of Mr. Mazza on these pages, it might take more moments like this to garner more mentions.
Making the most of Marte, who has been suspended for 80 games because of PEDs.
Starling Marte is suspended. From baseball. For 80 games. He did the steroids.
If you own Marte in redraft leagues, this is extremely bad. Odds are he was your second- or third-round pick. At best, he’ll probably end up playing in about 60 games this season. And you can’t even stash him on the DL. You are, to use an industry term, screwed.
Big names from the prospect world enter the morass of utility players and middle relievers.
A couple of notable call-ups are mixed in with the usual cast of utility players and middle relievers in today’s column. Hang the garland, pop the champagne and fire up the band—it’s a banner week here at the Deep League Report.
Eric Thames continues to crush baseballs, Justin Turner makes a baserunning blunder, and the Bears beat the Steelers.
The Monday Takeaway
MLB’s attack on baseballs continued Monday, with Eric Thames leading the charge. The Brewers’ first baseman connected on two more long balls, bringing his season total to 10. And somehow even more impressive than that, they were his sixth and seventh homers against the Reds. Thames is currently on pace to hit 80 home runs. No one is able to keep up that kind of pace, but for now Thames’ at-bats are must-see TV.
Once the home of plodding sluggers, left field is now being treated much differently by managers.
The left fielder has become an endangered species. That's an odd statement to make, but the data say it’s true, and the reasons why tell us some interesting things about where the game of baseball is going. And it starts in this graph right here:
Closing situations in Washington and Anaheim remain fluid. Also: Is it time to worry about Francisco Rodriguez?
Welcome back to the Closer Report. There were multiple changes in the reliever world over the weekend, and some messes yet to be cleaned up. Just a quick reminder that you can keep up with all of the changes at the Closer Grid. As always, the sections that are highlighted represent changes since the last iteration of this column.
Bryce Harper is off to a great start, which is business as usual for one of the best April hitters of all time.
I realize, given the Nationals’ lack of October success, that using a “Mr. April” moniker in relation to Bryce Harper may be viewed as criticism of some sort. That’s not my intention. Harper has hit four career playoff home runs—tied with Miguel Cabrera, Jimmie Foxx, Johnny Bench, Chipper Jones, and Jose Canseco for the 10th-most ever through age 24—and I have no doubt that he’ll put up plenty of big playoff numbers in the future. For now, though, his opening-month numbers are the ones worth drooling over, because few players in baseball history have ever hit like Harper in April.