Daily Dose: Jays cut Ryan, eat $15 million

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Earlier this year Scott Downs emerged as Toronto’s closer thanks to
B.J. Ryan’s struggles and Wednesday the Blue Jays welcomed him back
from the disabled list by releasing Ryan. Ryan has been a mess, posting
a 6.53 ERA with 17 walks and just 13 strikeouts in 20.2 innings while
displaying decreased velocity, but the move still comes as a surprise
given that he’s owed $10 million for 2010.

While his days as a dominant closer may be over it wouldn’t be
shocking if Ryan got things together enough to be a capable middle man
or left-handed specialist, yet the Blue Jays are eating the $15 million
remaining on his contract rather than stashing him back on the DL or in
a mop-up role. And they’re doing so less than 24 hours after saying
that they had no plans to let Ryan go. Something is fishy.

While the Blue Jays learn the dangers of handing five-year contracts
to relievers, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Demoted to Triple-A less than a month ago, Manny Parra is
scheduled to rejoin the Brewers’ rotation Thursday afternoon against
the Cardinals. Parra wasn’t all that great in four starts at Triple-A,
posting a 2.92 ERA and 19/13 K/BB ratio, but with Seth McClung coughing
up seven runs in his last outing Milwaukee decided to reverse the
rotation switch that was made last month.

Parra definitely has the stuff to thrive in the majors and went 9-2
with a 3.68 ERA through mid-June last year, but since then he’s 7-14
with an ugly 5.77 ERA and 1.69 WHIP in 156 innings. Plus, while he has
just 44 career starts under his belt Parra is quite a bit older than
his experience level and actually turns 27 years old in a few months.
He still has upside, but even NL-only teams should be cautious.

* General manager Tony Reagins said Tuesday that Kelvim Escobar
still feels “a deep ache” in his surgically repaired shoulder and
hasn’t picked up a baseball in weeks, leading to speculation that he’s
unlikely to pitch again this year. “We’re not writing him off, by any
means,” Reagins said. “We’re going to move forward cautiously. If we
get him back, great. If we don’t get him back, then we don’t.”

* Jose Contreras earned a mid-May demotion to the minors by going
0-5 with an 8.19 ERA, but he’s been a new man since returning a month
ago. Contreras held the Indians to just one run in 6.1 innings
Wednesday, making him 4-2 with a 1.94 ERA and 38/6 K/BB ratio in 44
innings spread over six post-demotion starts. He’s not suddenly an
elite starter, but the solid 4.50-ERA guy from 2005-2008 is back.

Note: I’ll be live blogging this afternoon’s games over at NBCSports.com.

AL Quick Hits: David Ortiz homered and knocked in four runs
Wednesday … Joe Mauer went 3-for-5 with a homer and a double off the
wall Wednesday … Carlos Guillen (shoulder) is hoping to start a rehab
stint this weekend … David Aardsma blew a three-run lead Wednesday as
all six batters reached … Scott Rolen went 3-for-5 with a double
Wednesday to extend his hitting streak to 25 games … Tim Wakefield
celebrated his first All-Star selection by becoming the AL’s first
pitcher to 11 wins … Scott Kazmir was rocked for seven runs in 6.1
innings Wednesday, but escaped with a no-decision … David Hernandez had
his third straight Quality Start on Wednesday and should stick in
Baltimore’s rotation … Jim Leyland said Wednesday that he plans to
platoon Magglio Ordonez and Clete Thomas in right field … Moving up a
day thanks to Glen Perkins’ illness, Anthony Swarzak failed to make it
out of the fifth frame Wednesday … Andruw Jones homered in each of his
first three at-bats Wednesday, but then popped out and struck out.

NL Quick Hits: Manny Ramirez went deep Wednesday for the second
time in five post-suspension games … Raul Ibanez (groin) is hoping to
come off the disabled list Friday … Wandy Rodriguez totaled 11
strikeouts in a complete-game shutout Wednesday, slicing his ERA to
2.96 … General manager Mike Rizzo has made it clear that the Nationals
won’t deal Adam Dunn … Oliver Perez returned from the DL by handing out
seven walks in five innings Wednesday … Rafael Soriano has overtaken
Mike Gonzalez as the Braves’ closer, picking up his fourth save of the
month Wednesday … Chris Volstad threw a complete-game shutout Wednesday
after going 1-5 in his previous seven starts … Homer Bailey turned in
his second straight good start Wednesday and may finally be in the
majors for good … Dave Bush (biceps) is slated to begin a rehab
assignment Friday at Single-A.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.