Daily Dose: The other LaRoche

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Many people were quick to write off Andy LaRoche when he got off to a
bad start in the majors, batting just .184/.288/.272 in 111 games
between the Dodgers and Pirates. However, as awful as those early
numbers were LaRoche’s track record in the minors predicted long-term
success and sure enough he finally appears to have gotten on track at
the age of 25.

Pittsburgh showed patience when LaRoche started the season 2-for-22
and he’s responded by going 47-for-139 (.338) with 16 extra-base hits
in 40 games since, giving him a nice .304/.374/.435 mark overall.
LaRoche may never develop more than 20-homer pop, but he’s hitting for
a nice batting average, getting on base at a good clip, and playing
solid defense just like his minor-league stats predicted.

While the Pirates are rewarded for their patience with LaRoche, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Beginning the year with Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson in the
rotation hasn’t worked out especially well for Oakland, as the
21-year-olds have combined to go just 4-10 with a 4.93 ERA in 20
starts. Despite that manager Bob Geren revealed that the A’s will call
up 22-year-old Vince Mazzaro to make his big-league debut Tuesday
against the White Sox.

Much like Cahill and Anderson, Mazzaro is a good prospect who likely
isn’t ready to thrive in the majors yet. Taken out of high school in
the third round of the 2005 draft, Mazzaro posted ERAs of 5.05 and 5.33
at Single-A before going 12-3 with a 1.90 ERA in 22 starts at Double-A
last season. However, at 22 years old with a 3.80 ERA and 71/26 K/BB
ratio in 90 innings at Triple-A rushing him seems silly.

* An MRI exam on Grady Sizemore’s inflamed left elbow revealed no
structural damage, but Indians trainer Lonnie Soloff said Monday that
he may still be facing surgery. Sizemore is expected to spend two weeks
resting the elbow and getting treatment, but if he doesn’t show
significant improvement during that time he’s a candidate for
arthroscopic surgery that would sideline him for another 4-6 weeks.

* Edinson Volquez’s return from the disabled list lasted all of one
inning Monday, as he experienced numbness in several fingers on his
pitching hand and exited after getting swinging strikeouts on Rick
Ankiel and Jason LaRue. Volquez is set to be examined further Tuesday
and had been on the DL for two weeks because of back spasms.

* Rich Hill struggled in his start last week, but bounced back
Monday with seven shutout innings against the Mariners. Hill was one of
my favorite sleeper targets this year because he still possessed
big-time strikeout ability if the control issues that plagued him last
season could be cured. Spring elbow problems delayed his Orioles debut,
but he now has a 4.15 ERA and 22/12 K/BB ratio in 21.2 innings.

AL Quick Hits: Joba Chamberlain likely quieted some critics
Monday by throwing eight innings of two-run ball … White Sox general
manager Kenny Williams said Monday that he never talked to the Astros
about Roy Oswalt … Coco Crisp will be away from the Royals for at least
the next few days following the death of his great grandmother … Jeremy
Bonderman (shoulder) threw eight shutout innings in a rehab start
Sunday at Triple-A … Victor Martinez started at designated hitter
Monday despite fouling a ball off his knee Sunday … Xavier Nady
experienced elbow pain while playing catch Monday, but will try to
throw again Tuesday as he attempts to avoid Tommy John surgery … Jarrod
Washburn lost his duel with Hill despite slicing his ERA to 3.22 with
seven innings of one-run ball … John Smoltz (shoulder) allowed one run
over five innings in a rehab start Sunday at Single-A.

NL Quick Hits: Carlos Beltran was once again scratched from the
lineup Monday with a stomach virus … Jose Valverde (calf) tossed a
25-pitch bullpen session Monday and is scheduled to do so again
Wednesday … Kyle Lohse (forearm) reported no problems following a
bullpen session Sunday and is on track to start Wednesday … Aramis
Ramirez (shoulder) said Monday that he’s still hoping to rejoin the
Cubs after the All-Star break … Anibal Sanchez (shoulder) is slated to
come off the disabled list to start Tuesday … Mike Cameron is
day-to-day after leaving Monday’s game with a knee injury … Ricky
Nolasco pitched well Monday in his second start at Triple-A, allowing
one run in seven innings … According to Jerry Manuel, Jose Reyes (calf)
could come off the DL as soon as Friday … Troy Glaus (shoulder) has
been cleared to resume throwing … Hiroki Kuroda came off the shelf
Monday with five solid innings against Arizona, allowing two runs.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.