Mining the News (3/28/22) by Jeff Zimmerman March 28, 2022 American League Angels Astros • Yuli Gurriel has trimmed down. Knowing that Spring Training was likely to be abbreviated this year, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel gave up pizza, soda and other unhealthy habits to make sure he didn’t have to worry about getting in shape in March. He dropped 15 pounds, and if his first two games of the spring are any indication, it’s paid off. Gurriel slugged a fifth-inning grand slam off reliever Sean Doolittle in Thursday’s 10-8 win over against the Nationals at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches — his second home run in as many games, after mashing a two-run blast against the Cardinals in his first game of the spring Wednesday. “I feel great,” he said. “I knew it was a shortened Spring Training this year and I came in in better shape just to take advantage of it.” Athletics • Cole Irvin is throwing a new cutter, reworked his slider, and is throwing harder. Making his Cactus League debut in the A’s 9-9 tie with the Guardians on Sunday at Hohokam Stadium, Irvin unveiled a cutter he decided to learn on his own over the winter. It was a pitch he was able to execute well in a solid first outing as he faced 11 batters and limited Cleveland to one run on five hits across his two innings of work. “I basically started working on grips when I started playing catch and getting comfortable with it,” Irvin said. “Today, I got in on some guys with it. It was a good pitch. I’m liking it so far.” … The addition of a cutter is just one of a few new wrinkles to Irvin’s game. He’s also changed the grip of his slider, and through strength training that focused on explosiveness this offseason, his fastball is now coming in a few ticks higher than the 90.8 mph he averaged with it in 2021. On Sunday, Irvin sat 92-93 mph with his fastball throughout and even hit 94 mph just a few pitches before retiring Amed Rosario for the final out of his start. I looked at his results at different velocities. In the starts when he averaged over 91 mph last season, he had a 3.99 ERA and a 7.5 K/9. When his fastball was 91 mph or lower, he had a 4.26 ERA and 5.2 K/9. • Sean Manaea’s fastball sat at 88 to 90 mph. In the past few years, velocity has been a hot topic of discussion with Manaea. Showing off a mid-90s fastball earlier in his career, the 30-year-old lefty has seen that speed fluctuate more recently. There are times when he can still dial it up to around 92-94 mph. On Thursday, his fastball sat between 88-90 mph. Where Manaea’s velocity is on a given day can vary. He’s learned to deal with the decreased velocity over time by focusing on the improvement of his command, emerging as one of the better control pitchers in the game. Last season, Manaea averaged 2.06 walks per nine innings, which ranked sixth-best among qualified American League starting pitchers. When Manaea broke out last season (9.7 K/9), his fastball averaged 92.2 mph. While is velocity may come back up, it’s worth monitoring. Rangers • Jon Gray is reworking his slider. From the moment that Jon Gray joined the Rangers on Dec. 1, he was viewed as a potential top-of-the-rotation arm amidst a staff searching for a bona fide No. 1. In his club debut Thursday, he flashed that upside, complete with a brand-new slider. Gray spun two innings against Oakland at Hohokam Stadium in the Rangers’ 5-3 win, compiling four strikeouts while allowing one run on four hits. All four punchouts came on the revamped slider, a creation that Gray and co-pitching coach Brendan Sagara developed prior to the lockout. “It’s moving a lot more,” said Gray of his slider. “It’s got a lot more horizontal action on it. It probably moves double the amount my old one does. … This one kind of goes across the whole plate.” • Spencer Howard was sitting 94 to 96 mph in his last start. And then there’s Howard, who pitched two perfect innings on Thursday against Oakland in Hohokam Stadium, his fastball sitting 94-96 and his offspeed in the high 70s as he struck out three in his first action of the season. The velocity is in line with last season when his fastball average 94.2 mph. Rays • Ryan Yarbrough added about 3 mph in velocity. During a live batting-practice session on Thursday at Charlotte Sports Park, Yarbrough’s fastball was in the 89-mph range, while his cutter was clocking in around 83-86 mph. That’s not going to turn a lot of heads in this era of premium velocity, but it’s much more in line with the way Yarbrough pitched in 2018-19 than he did last season. … That separation existed in 2018, when his sinker averaged 89 mph, his cutter 86.9, his changeup 81.2 and his curveball 76.6. That season, Yarbrough went 16-6 with a 3.91 ERA and struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings. Last year, there was less velocity on all his pitches (86.4 mph sinker, 81.9 cutter, 78.4 changeup and 71.1 curveball) and less success overall, as Yarbrough posted a 5.11 ERA in 30 outings with 6.8 strikeouts per nine. • Against lefty starters, Mike Zunino or Francisco Mejía could DH. Against tough lefties, Zunino or Mejía could DH while the other catches. The Rays like their Triple-A depth options in Rene Pinto, Ford Proctor and non-roster invitee Joe Hudson. • Yandy Díaz will be in two platoons. One at first base with Ji-Man Choi and at third base with Taylor Walls Either way, it seems likely they’ll use Walls at third and Díaz at first against lefty starters. It looks like a full playing-time share for Diaz, two-thirds for Choi, and one-third for Walls. Red Sox • Alex Cora is leaning toward Kiké Hernández leading off again. Red Sox manager Alex Cora hasn’t decided where Story will hit in the lineup yet, but Kiké Hernández is going to stay in the leadoff spot. At this point, Cora is keeping his options open for a lineup that should be loaded. “We have some guys who did their job last year, and the cool thing about this is [Story’s] not coming here to carry the offense,” Cora said. “He’s going to be here to be a part of the offense regardless of the contract. That’s something I always tell [chief baseball officer] Chaim [Bloom] when we talk about players. They might hit third or fourth and carry the offense on other teams, but here they don’t have to hit third or fourth. • J.D. Martinez will play in the outfield against lefties and Jackie Bradley Jr. will sit. At least early in the season, star designated hitter J.D. Martinez will play the outfield against lefties. Christian Arroyo, Boston’s versatile backup infielder, could get some time in the outfield at some point. But Cora said the Red Sox aren’t rushing into that. On days Martinez plays the outfield, Jackie Bradley Jr. will likely sit and the right-handed-hitting Arroyo will play somewhere in the infield, as Cora can use it as an opportunity to give Story, Xander Bogaerts or Rafael Devers a day off their feet in the DH role. White Sox • Josh Harrison will be the second baseman. Both Hahn and La Russa have indicated Harrison is more of a primary second baseman in front of García than a true everyday guy. With that and García’s extra responsibilities as the first line of defense all over the diamond, that leaves some opportunity for another true backup middle infielder. National League Cardinals • Nolan Arenado retooled his swing. However, by Arenado’s own impossibly high standards, some of the struggles he endured while hitting 34 home runs and driving in 105 runs last season left him feeling unfulfilled. Those issues, real or imagined, demanded Arenado’s full attention throughout the offseason and led to him retooling a swing that helped him become one of baseball’s best third basemen. Cubs • MLB.com thinks David Robertson will be the Cubs closer. Closer: David Robertson, RHP Mets • Because Taijuan Walker is behind the other pitchers, Tylor Megill will get a couple of looks through the rotation. Even before the opening of camp, Showalter mentioned that the abbreviated spring training would prevent a pitcher sidelined for a short period of time from fully catching up for Opening Day. That seems likely to be the case with Taijuan Walker in his recovery from offseason knee surgery. While Carrasco, recovering from his own surgery earlier in the winter, is in line to pitch in a game this week, Walker remains a bit behind his teammates. In that event, Megill could slot in for a turn or two early in the season. Nationals • Alcides Escobar is going to play most of the time at shortstop. “Alcides [Escobar] is going to play,” Martinez said before the Nationals opened their spring schedule against the Marlins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on Friday. “He’s going to get the bulk of the playing time.” Pirates • Greg Allen may get one of the outfield spots. “He continues to make a good impression,” Shelton said. “He’s had good at-bats. He’s done a nice job on the bases. Came into camp in really good shape. Overall, really good impression.” No one on Pittsburgh has had a better spring than Allen. In four games, he has done a little bit of everything, totaling three hits (two of which were homers), two walks, two hit-by-pitches and a steal. While the Pirates still have more than a handful of games to play, Allen is the likely frontrunner for a starting corner outfield spot. Reds • MLB.com thinks Luis Cessa will be the closer. Closer: Luis Cessa, RHP • Tony Santillan and Reiver Sanmartin are competing for the final rotation spot. Tony Santillan, Jeff Hoffman, Reiver Sanmartin and Riley O’Brien all made starts for the Reds last season. Santillan and Sanmartin are in competition for the fifth spot.