Hank Blalock changes mind, accepts assignment to Triple-A

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Last week, when the Rays were still deciding whether or not to keep him around, Hank Blalock made it abundantly clear that he would not accept an assignment to the minors.

I don’t have any plans on playing minor-league baseball this year. At this time in my life, if there’s no major-league opportunities for me then I’ll find something else to do.

Two days later the Rays Bay opted to keep Reid Brignac over Blalock as their final bench player and Blalock reportedly spent the weekend searching for one of those “major-league opportunities.” Apparently he came up empty, because today the 29-year-old former two-time All-Star indeed accepted an assignment to the minors and will try to work his way back to the majors with an impressive stint at Triple-A Durham.

The reason that I would go and play in Durham, if no other team wants to pick me up right now, is because I love baseball and I’m going to continue to play and not going to do that would be quitting. And that’s not an option for me. I’ve changed my mind about that. Mentally, I feel very positive regardless of the fact I was told I’m not going to be on the Opening Day roster. I’m staying focused and I’m going to keep playing baseball.

I give Blalock some credit for not simply opting out of his contract with Tampa Bay after not making the Opening Day roster, because while his pride was no doubt damaged remaining in the Rays organization is likely his best shot to make it back to the majors for good. They obviously have some level of interest in him, whereas clearly no other teams feel strongly about giving him a chance right now, and a strong month or two at Triple-A could get him into their plans as a designated hitter option or backup corner infielder.
Of course, Blalock hasn’t been healthy and produced an OPS above .750 since way back in 2004, so his name is definitely much bigger than his actual upside at this point. He also hasn’t played regularly at Triple-A since 2002, when he hit .307 with an .821 OPS in 95 games as a 21-year-old to help cement his status as a top prospect in 2002. In fact, that year Baseball America ranked him as the third-best prospect in all of baseball, behind only Josh Beckett and Mark Prior.

Video: Angels use eight pitchers in spring training no-hitter

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Who says no-hitters can’t be just as fun when they happen during spring training?

Angels’ right-hander Bud Norris delivered two perfect innings on Friday night, paving the way for an eight-pitcher no-hitter against the Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Austin Adams, Drew Gagnon and Justin Anderson each filed a hitless inning of their own, leaving right-hander Abel De Los Santos to close out the ninth inning with just three pitches — and three game-saving plays by the defense.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels were facing a bevy of Mariners’ backups, rather than their starting lineup. In fact, Seattle’s lineup featured just two starting players — outfielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jean Segura — while the majority of their everyday position players took on the Royals in a 4-3 win elsewhere in the Cactus League. The Mariners managed to reach base twice, first on catcher interference in the fourth inning, then on a four-pitch walk in the sixth, spoiling the Angels’ chances of turning their combined no-hitter into a combined perfect game.

Still, whether it’s executed in spring training or the regular season, against an All-Star lineup or one comprised of minor leaguers, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The team’s eight-pitcher effort marked the first spring training no-no the Angels had completed since 1996, when they took on the Giants in a 15-0 showdown. Unfortunately for the 1996 squad, their regular season ended with a 70-91 record, good for last place in the AL West. Perhaps this no-hitter will prove a better omen for the coming season.

Tanner Scheppers leaves Cactus League game with lower core injury

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Rangers’ bullpen candidate Tanner Scheppers left Friday’s Cactus League game with pain in his “lower half,” according to reports by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The specifics of the right-hander’s injury have yet to be determined, but he was accompanied by the athletic trainer when he exited the game and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday.

Scheppers, 30, has a long history of elbow and knee injuries. He missed all but 8 2/3 innings of the 2016 season after undergoing a procedure to repair torn articular cartilage in his left knee. While he appeared healthy enough through his first seven appearances this spring, he failed to impress with three runs, five walks and six strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings with the club.

Should Scheppers find himself on the disabled list for another lengthy stay, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan speculates that his absence could clear some room in the bullpen for Rule 5 draft pick and fellow righty Mike Hauschild. Hauschild, 27, has dealt seven runs, five walks and 15 strikeouts through 17 1/3 innings in camp.