David Ortiz benched against Francisco Liriano

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Three regulars are absent from the Red Sox’s lineup for today’s game against the Twins. Jacoby Ellsbury is still recovering from bruised ribs suffered Sunday in a collision with Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron was a last-minute scratch with a strained abdomen, and David Ortiz has been benched in favor of Mike Lowell.
Ortiz taking a seat will obviously make the most headlines, but even setting aside his 13 strikeouts in 26 at-bats so far this season it makes sense for the Red Sox to replace him with Lowell against a tough left-handed pitcher like Francisco Liriano.
Like nearly all left-handed hitters Ortiz is significantly less effective against left-handed pitchers, and last season he hit just .212 with a .716 OPS against them. Combined from 2007-2009 he hit .253 with a .777 OPS versus lefties compared to .291 with a .977 OPS versus righties. Meanwhile, during that same three-year span Lowell hit .314 with an .881 OPS versus lefties.
At this point Lowell is simply a better hitter than Ortiz against left-handers, and the decision is made even easier by the fact that Liriano has a massive platoon split as well. Since returning from Tommy John surgery he’s held lefties to .243 batting average and .632 OPS, whereas righties have tagged him for a .279 batting average and .840 OPS. Add it all up and Terry Francona would be making the right call today even if Ortiz wasn’t struggling.

Jon Gray will start Opening Day for the Rockies

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Manager Bud Black has tabbed Jon Gray to start on Opening Day for the Rockies. That will be Monday, April 3 in Milwaukee against the Brewers in an afternoon contest.

Gray, 25, is starting Opening Day for the first time in his career. He’ll be the sixth different Rockies pitcher to start Opening Day in as many years.

The Rockies and Gray had a bit of a scare on Friday as he left his spring training start with discomfort in his left foot, but everything came up clean in an MRI. He pitched again on Wednesday with no issue.

Last season, Gray went 10-10 with a 4.61 ERA and a 185/59 K/BB ratio in 168 innings. A consensus top prospect entering each of the previous three seasons, Gray surprisingly put up better numbers at Coors Field — the most hitter-friendly park in baseball — than away.

Blake Treinen named Nationals closer

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Today Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker named Blake Treinen as his closer. Treinen has saved exactly one big league game.

There wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice, however. Last year Washington had Mark Melancon, but with him gone and GM Mike Rizzo’s failure to land a high-profile closer in the offseason, it became a contest between Treinen Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover.

Treinen posted a 2.28 ERA with 31 walks and 63 Ks in 67 innings in 2016. His big improvement last year came against lefties, who had tattooed him in the past. He pitched well this spring as well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

The Nats are our favorites to win the NL East, but we do have some questions about the pen. Blake Treinen will take the first crack at answering them.