Wagner, mid-90s fastball return intact

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Billy Wagner made his triumphant return from Tommy John elbow surgery last night, coming on in relief of Johan Santana in the eighth inning and retiring all three batters he faced. Wagner got swinging strikeouts on Brian McCann and Reid Gorecki, induced a fly out from Chipper Jones, and showed that his surgically repaired left arm can still bring the heat.
Here are the MLB.com velocity readings for his 14 pitches:
94-mph fastball
95-mph fastball
86-mph changeup
84-mph slider
83-mph slider
95-mph fastball
84-mph slider
87-mph changeup
94-mph fastball
94-mph fastball
95-mph fastball
95-mph fastball
95-mph fastball
84-mph slider
At his peak Wagner averaged 97-98 miles per hour with his fastball, but he was at 94-95 mph during the two seasons preceding the surgery and had a 2.50 ERA with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Last night he threw eight fastballs and they were all either 94 or 95 mph. He averaged 84 mph on four sliders, which is also right in line with his 2007-2008 velocity.
Obviously only time will tell if Wagner can maintain his velocity and bounce back quickly from appearances, but for one night at least the 38-year-old looked every bit like the dominant force he was before going under the knife. Perhaps it shouldn’t be shocking that the greatest left-handed reliever of all time can come back months ahead of schedule from career-threatening elbow surgery and resume pumping 95-mph heat, but it was still pretty damn impressive to watch.

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.

Alex Wilson broke his leg on a 103-MPH comebacker

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This one is brutal. Tigers’ right-handed reliever Alex Wilson was diagnosed with a broken leg after taking a blistering 103.8-MPH line drive off of his right leg during Saturday’s game against the Twins. According to the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky, it’s a non-displaced fibular fracture, but will still warrant an extended recovery period and signal the end of Wilson’s season.

Wilson replaced Drew VerHagen to start the eighth inning and worked a full count against Joe Mauer. Mauer roped an 93.3-MPH fastball back up the middle, where it struck the pitcher on his right calf. While Mauer took first base, Wilson got to his feet and tried to toss a warm-up pitch, but was in too much pain to continue and had to be helped off the field.

Even in a season that isn’t going anywhere in particular, this isn’t how you want it to end. The Tigers have yet to announce a recovery timetable for the 30-year-old reliever, but he won’t return to the mound until 2018. He exited Saturday’s outing with a 4.35 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 over 60 innings.

The Tigers currently trail the Twins 10-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning.