Daily Dose: Pujols, Smoltz team up for win

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John Smoltz and Albert Pujols made for a nice combo Sunday, as Smoltz threw five scoreless innings in his Cardinals debut and Albert Pujols went deep to become just the eighth player in baseball history with 40 or more homers in at least five seasons before the age of 30. Who are the other seven? I’ll give you the answer after talking about Smoltz’s impressive return to the National League.
Smoltz flopped in Boston, going 2-5 with an ugly 8.32 ERA in eight starts, but a 33/9 K/BB ratio in 40 innings, average fastball velocity of 91 miles per hour, and plenty of break left on his hard slider suggested that he could still get major-league hitters out. Or at least that’s what I’ve been opining in this space for the past couple weeks. Not only did Smoltz get hitters out Sunday, he struck out nine of the 18 batters he faced.
He didn’t look as dominant as those strikeout totals suggest and left plenty of pitches out over the plate, but as Cardinals fan and Rotoworld news guru Drew Silva pointed out on Twitter during the game: “Smoltz has hung a few, but this is the NL and these are the Padres.” The good news for Smoltz is that he’s in the NL to stay and, while he doesn’t get to face the Padres every time, he does get to face the Nationals next.
While the answers to the trivia question are Alex Rodriguez, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, Ralph Kiner, Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, and Juan Gonzalez here are some other notes from around baseball …


* This year has been a rough one for Aaron Harang, who has just one win since May despite hurling nine Quality Starts during that time and is now finished for the season after undergoing an emergency appendectomy Saturday night. Harang went 32-17 with a 3.75 ERA for the Reds between 2006 and 2007, but is 12-31 over 55 starts in the two seasons since then.
Based on his brutal 12-31 record you’d assume that Harang has been an absolute mess in those two years, but that’s hardly the case. He has a 4.52 ERA and 295/93 K/BB ratio in 347 innings over that span, which given neutral support from the Reds’ lineup and bullpen would leave him at something more like 21-22. He’s certainly not great, but Harang will be massively undervalued by anyone focused on his record.
* Scott Feldman continued his improbable run as one of the league’s top starters by shutting out the Rays for seven innings Sunday. With the victory Feldman improved to 13-4 with a 3.87 ERA and he racked up a career-high 11 strikeouts in the process. Prior to Sunday he hadn’t missed many bats, which along with mediocre control and just an average ground-ball rate equals success via plenty of smoke and mirrors.
AL Quick Hits: Fausto Carmona had eight strikeouts and one walk in seven innings of one-run ball Sunday to beat Felix Hernandez … Scott Downs (toe) is set to come off the disabled list Monday, but may not resume closing right away … Mark Buehrle gave up five runs in 5.1 innings Sunday and has just one Quality Start in six attempts since his perfect game … Trevor Bell was chased from his third career start in the second inning Sunday … Jarrod Saltalamacchia (arm) is slated to begin a rehab stint this week while eyeing a September 1 return … Michael Cuddyer homered twice in one inning Sunday while subbing for Justin Morneau (ear) … Brian Roberts reached base four times Sunday, including his MLB-leading 47th double … Jim Leyland said Sunday that the Tigers will limit 20-year-old rookie Rick Porcello’s workload down the stretch … Brett Tomko has won both starts since joining the A’s, but don’t count on the 36-year-old being anything but mediocre going forward.
NL Quick Hits: Tim Lincecum took a loss Sunday despite throwing a Quality Start at Coors Field … Scott Rolen returned from the disabled list by going 0-for-3 with two walks Sunday … Angel Pagan hit two homers Sunday, including an inside-the-parker that got stuck under the outfield padding at Citi Field … Bud Norris coughed up six runs and failed to make it out of the second inning Sunday … Thanks to Oliver Perez imploding Pedro Martinez picked up a win Sunday despite letting the Mets score four runs in five frames … Ryan Dempster allowed just an unearned run in seven innings Sunday and has a 4.03 ERA since returning from a broken toe … Ubaldo Jimenez stayed on a roll with eight innings of two-run ball Sunday, striking out nine in his 12th win … Alcides Escobar smacked his first career homer Sunday after going deep four times in 109 games at Triple-A … Vicente Padilla is scheduled to make his Dodgers debut Thursday at Coors Field … Matt Diaz missed the cycle by a homer Sunday and is 14-for-29 with three homers in his last nine games.

Joe Mauer reveals he’s had blurred vision since 2013 concussion

Joe Mauer
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After a decade as the best all-around catcher in baseball Joe Mauer suffered a concussion in August of 2013 that forced him to change positions and marked the end of his time as a great hitter.

Mauer was doing his usual thing at the time of the concussion, hitting .324 with a .404 on-base percentage and .880 OPS. Since returning from the brain injury he’s hit .270 with a .348 on-base percentage and .725 OPS while seeing his numbers decline across the board.

Mauer revealed today to Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that “lingering symptoms occasionally blurred his vision at the plate the past two seasons” and “he will experiment hitting with sunglasses for the first time to improve his pitch tracking” this season.

Here’s more from Murphy:

Bright sunshine sometimes triggered blurred vision that Mauer links to the concussion with which he was diagnosed in August 2013 after absorbing at least “two significant blows” from foul tips while he was still catching.

“I don’t want that to be kind of an excuse. If I’m out there, I’m out there. That’s just the way I am,” Mauer said. “There are times I’ve gone up to the plate and I just couldn’t pick up the ball. That’s part of the frustration because I’m trying to do everything I can to get back. It just takes time.”

There are more quotes along those same lines and Mauer’s numbers in night games were much better than his numbers in day games last season.

I live in Minnesota and it has been incredibly frustrating to see such a large (or at least vocal) segment of the Twins fan base treat Mauer’s steep decline as if it has nothing to do with the significant brain trauma he suffered. I’m hopeful that Mauer going public about literally struggling to see the baseball while at the plate will convince people to treat him more humanely, but that’s probably wishful thinking at this point.

What a shame, on every level.

Masahiro Tanaka can’t say for sure if he’ll be ready by Opening Day

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Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka said today that he “can’t say for sure” whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Tanaka underwent arthroscopic surgery in late November to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Tanaka threw off a bullpen mound Tuesday for the first time since undergoing a cleanup procedure on his right elbow last October and, while healthy, may be behind other pitchers.

Tanaka posted a 3.51 ERA and a 139/27 K/BB ratio across 154 innings last season. He also has a partially torn UCL he’s been pitching through for some time which is always something the Yankees have on their mind when it comes to schedules and workouts for their ace.

Denard Span, not Angel Pagan, will be Giants’ center fielder and leadoff hitter

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Making official what was assumed when the Giants signed Denard Span to a three-year, $31 million contract last month, manager Bruce Bochy announced that Span will start in center field and bat leadoff.

That means 34-year-old Angel Pagan, who’s been the Giants’ starting center fielder and primary leadoff hitter for the past four seasons, will slide to left field and bat further down in the lineup. About a month before the Span signing Bochy said Pagan would remain in the center fielder/leadoff role, but the situation obviously changed.

It’s a move that makes sense, because Span–if healthy following hip surgery–is a superior defensive center fielder with better on-base skills. And if Pagan doesn’t bounce back following a rough 2015 season then having him in left field will make it easier for the Giants to platoon him or bench him in favor of, say, Gregor Blanco or a bigger bat.

Pitchers to receive new visor-like protective headgear

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For the past few years MLB, the MLBPA and cap and helmet manufacturers have been working on various models of protective headgear for pitchers. Some of the models have been unworkable, some of them have not met the satisfaction of pitchers and others have, well, looked a little odd. At present the only pitcher who routinely wears any headgear is Alex Torres, who wears the bulky isoBLOX helmet.

Now, however, there is a new option. And, as you can see above it’s a bit different than what we’ve seen before. It’s more or less like a visor, which will have a nylon top on them to give a full cap-like appearance. The ear flaps will be lefty and righty-specific, given that righties are more likely to be hit on the right and lefties on the left given their follow-throughs.

The new caps will be given out to players this spring and, like the old ones, will be used or not used at the choice of the players. You can read more about the new helmet at ESPN’s Outside the Lines report.