Darvish, former big leaguer Ramirez win MVP honors in Japan

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darvish.jpg23-year-old Nippon Ham Fighters ace Yu Darvish and Venezuelan outfielder Alex Ramirez took home the Japanese league MVP awards on Wednesday.
Darvish, who probably qualifies as one of the world’s top 10 pitchers, earned the Pacific League honor despite making just 23 starts this season. He went 15-5 with a 1.73 ERA and a 167/45 K/BB ratio in 182 innings. As spectacular as he was, his performance can’t be regarded as much more valuable than that Hideaki Wakui, who went 16-6 with a 2.30 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 211 2/3 innings for Seibu.
Also making a case for the award was Seibu third baseman Takeya Nakamura, who hit 48 homers to lead the league by nine. He hit .285/.359/.651 overall. Outfielder Teppei Tsuchiya was the league’s leading hitter, coming in at .327/.391/.504 with 13 steals.
Ramirez won a second straight Central League MVP despite finishing with slightly weaker numbers than teammate Michihiro Ogasawara. Ramirez came in at .322/.347/.544 with 31 homers and 103 RBI, while Osagawara hit .309/.384/.543 with 31 homers and 107 RBI.
Ramirez played in the majors for the Indians and Pirates in from 1998-2000, hitting .259/.293/.437 with 12 homers in 332 at-bats. The outfielder is up to 287 homers in nine seasons in Japan.
The Central League’s top pitcher was 24-year-old Wei-Ying Chen. In his first full year in the rotation, he went 8-4 with a 1.54 ERA and four shutouts in 24 starts. Former major leaguer Dicky Gonzalez finished third in the league with a 2.11 ERA.

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.

Video: Andrelton Simmons makes a heads-up play to catch Carlos Asuaje off first base

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 03:  Andrelton Simmons #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 3, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.