Daily Dose: Braun ruins Hanson's debut

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Tommy Hanson’s much-anticipated MLB debut was a bust Sunday as
Milwaukee got to the 22-year-old right-hander for seven runs, including
three homers. Ryan Braun took Hanson deep twice, as the NL’s top
pitching prospect discovered that big-league hitters can do plenty of
damage on 95-mph fastballs. Despite the poor outing, Hanson actually
looked impressive between the long balls.

He struck out five and walked one in six innings, regularly working
at 93-95 miles per hour with his fastball and throwing his breaking
ball for strikes quite a bit. His pitches also had far more movement
than most mid-90s fastballs, although that got Hanson into trouble a
few times when the ball sliced back over the plate. His debut obviously
didn’t go as planned, but Hanson remains an ace in waiting.

Prior to being called up he posted a 1.50 ERA and 90/17 K/BB ratio
in 66 innings at Triple-A, and Hanson had a 2.41 ERA and 163/53 K/BB
ratio over 138 innings between high Single-A and Double-A last season.
Put it together and he’s racked up 253 strikeouts while allowing just
125 hits over 204 innings since the start of 2008, with the only real
blemish being–as shown Sunday–a high fly-ball rate.

While the Brewers and Braun welcome Hanson to the show, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* San Diego and Arizona played a crazy game Sunday afternoon, as the
Padres forced extra innings by scoring five runs in the bottom of the
ninth only to see the Diamondbacks’ bullpen toss a no-hitter for nine
innings during extra frames. San Diego eventually turned to utility
infielder Josh Wilson to pitch the 18th and Mark Reynolds took him deep
for a three-run homer as Arizona prevailed 9-6.

Amusingly, Wilson pitched for Arizona in a blowout earlier this year
before being claimed off waivers by San Diego. “When he pitched for us
he threw all fastballs, so you figure he has some kind of wrinkle,”
Reynolds said. “He threw a curveball up there and I laid off some high
fastballs, and he left one out over the plate and I was able to barrel
it up.”

* Vince Mazzaro debuted last week with 6.1 shutout innings against
Chicago and followed that up by holding Baltimore scoreless for 7.1
innings Sunday. Mazzaro used some smoke and mirrors in his debut,
managing just one strikeout with four walks, but totaled five
strikeouts with zero walks Sunday. Despite his great start, I’m still
skeptical about his missing enough bats to be a mixed-league asset now.

* Ricky Nolasco rejoined the Marlins’ rotation Sunday after a brief
demotion to Triple-A and pitched well versus the Giants, allowing three
runs in seven innings. He earned the trip back to the minors by going
2-5 with a hideous 9.07 ERA over nine starts, but with a 37/13 K/BB
ratio he pitched much better than that and was hurt by some awful
defense behind him. That may not change, but he’ll be solid.

AL Quick Hits: Roy Halladay improved to 10-1 with his third
complete-game win of the season Sunday … J.D. Drew missed both weekend
games with a shoulder injury that required a cortisone shot … Miguel
Cabrera left Sunday’s game after aggravating his hamstring injury and
replacement Clete Thomas ended up hitting a game-winning grand slam …
Kevin Slowey served up three homers Sunday to snap his streak of five
straight Quality Starts … Nelson Cruz missed the cycle by a single
Sunday and is now tied for the AL lead with 17 homers … Rich Hill had
seven shutout innings in his last start, but failed to make it out of
the first inning Sunday while walking four … Marcus Thames (ribs) came
off the disabled list Sunday and should get regular starts … Evan
Longoria (hamstring) pinch-hit Sunday with a game-ending ground out off
Mariano Rivera.

NL Quick Hits: Chipper Jones went 4-for-4 with a pair of homers
Sunday, driving in five runs … Livan Hernandez shut out the Nationals
for seven innings Sunday and is now 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA after last
season’s 6.05 mark … Ubaldo Jimenez had eight innings of two-run ball
Sunday, whiffing nine and walking one … Casey Kotchman (shin) went on
the disabled list Sunday, leaving Martin Prado to start at first base …
Rich Harden (back) was scratched from Sunday’s rehab start due to a
stomach virus … Stephen Drew had four hits Sunday and has boosted his
batting average from .190 to .248 over the past 11 games … Tim Lincecum
took a one-hitter into the eighth inning Sunday before giving up two
runs … Andrew McCutchen notched three hits Sunday, making him 6-for-16
with four RBIs …Out since Wednesday with a strained hamstring, Willy
Taveras pinch-hit Sunday and then stayed in the game defensively.

Kevin Gausman to start Opening Day for the Orioles

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The Orioles have tabbed Kevin Gausman to start on Opening Day, April 3 against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports. Chris Tillman started the previous three Opening Days for the O’s. This will be Gausman’s first Opening Day nod.

Gausman, 26, finished the 2016 season with a 3.61 ERA and a 174/47 K/BB ratio in 179 2/3 innings. The Orioles selected him in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2012 draft and moved him through their minor league system quickly. Gausman debuted in the majors in May 2013.

2017 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Detroit Tigers.

I feel like every year, for the past several years, our Tigers preview has been some variation of “do the Tigers still have a run left in them with the Cabrera-Verlander core?”

If you’re tired of reading that one I have some bad news for you: it’s the same dang story this year as it has been every year. A great pitcher and a great hitter, a very solid supporting cast, a handful of holes that could be critical weaknesses and enough to make them look strong enough to contend but not enough to contend strongly, if that makes any sense.

Let’s start with the pitching. Justin Verlander returned to Cy Young-caliber form in 2016, thanks mostly to health and a big, big leap in his strikeout rate, suggesting that it was health and not an overall decline which harmed him in 2014 and 2015. He’ll lead the way again, followed by Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, who was a wonderful surprise last season. The back end of the rotation is problematic, however, with Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez stinking up the joint for most of last year and young Daniel Norris suffering through injuries. For the Tigers to contend, they’ll need at least one of those veterans to return to their old form — or someone like Matt Boyd or Mike Pelfrey to, well, not be Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey– and for Norris to be healthy.

Fine, let’s say Verlander and Fulmer repeat their 2016 success and say that Norris is a strong, healthy and effective number three. Who then does Brad Ausmus turn the ball over to in the late innings? If you think the overall take on the Tigers is rehashed from year to year, well, the same goes for the pen. It, as always, is a liability in Detroit. And it’s not going to be terribly different than it was last year. Francisco Rodriguez will close. A couple of Wilsons in Alex and Justin. Shane Greene. Maybe one of the veteran starters who doesn’t make the rotation. The always interesting Bruce Rondon. It’s not terrible but it’s not the strongest bunch in the world and it’s being handled by a guy in Ausmus who has yet to show that he can get the most out of a less-than-steller relief corps. You can Google the phrase “Tigers bullpen woes” and find results from every season for most of the past decade. You’ll probably be able to do it again this year.

The offense, of course, is fantastic, at least at the top end. Miguel Cabrera is still an MVP-caliber player and even when his decline begins he’ll be better than almost any hitter in the game. Ian Kinsler is still low-key excellent. Nick Castellanos took a big leap forward last year. J.D. Martinez is going to miss the first month or so of the season with a sprained ligament in his foot, but he’s in his walk year and will likely be fine once he returns. Justin Upton has always been super uneven and has always failed to meet the insane expectations he set early in his career, but as he showed late last season, he’s capable of carrying a team for a stretch. I’ve been saying it for a pushing a decade, but one of these years he’s going to put it all together.

The big question is going to be the bottom third of the lineup where catcher James McCann, shortstop Jose Iglesias and center fielder Tyler Collins all look to be offensive liabilities at the moment. A bigger than usual year from any of them could help matters greatly.

Of course all of this — the strong lineup with critical holes, the rotation that starts well but has question marks and the spotty bullpen — has been the Tigers story for years. It’s a story that could end happily with 85-90 wins, a playoff spot and a bunch of seasoned veterans getting hot at the right time and riding it to glory. It could just as easily get sprinkled with a slow start or a few injuries and result in a 75-80 win season like they had back in 2015.

In the past, that would lead to yet another “wait until next year.” This year, however, you get the strong sense that there is no next year if this year is disappointing. There was talk that the Tigers could sell off veteran parts this past winter, but they didn’t. Then longtime owner Mike Ilitch, who was seen as a man who pushed to win now despite the costs, passed away in February. It’s not hard to imagine his son giving different instructions to GM Al Avila if the Tigers don’t get off to a fast start this year. It’s not hard to imagine the great unwinding of the core that has kept this Tigers team in contention for so long if 2017 is a disappointment.

I’m still optimistic, though. The Indians are the class of the division but the Royals are likely taking a step back and the Twins and White Sox are not yet a threat. I won’t predict October glory for them, but I think, barring major injuries to key players, the Tigers will be playing meaningful baseball in September.

Prediction: Second place, American League Central