The Week Ahead: Cliff Lee to make Mariners debut

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Cliff Lee M's throwing.jpgCliff Lee was dominant in his rehab start on Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma, tossing six shutout innings against Salt Lake.

The former AL Cy Young winner threw only 68 pitches, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out four. Two of the hits were a bunt single and a fly ball that the center fielder lost in the sun, so Lee clearly has healed nicely from his abdominal injury and is ready to go.

He’s scheduled to make his debut for the Seattle Mariners on Friday against the Rangers at Safeco Field, and as I speculated last week, he’ll take Ian Snell’s spot in the rotation.

This is good news for the Mariners, who will finally get a look at the guy they envisioned as Ace No. 1A — along with Felix Hernandez – when they acquired him from the Phillies in the offseason. The problem is what the Mariners really need is for Cliff Lee to morph into Adrian Gonzalez, as pitching hasn’t been their problem.

Even without Lee, the Mariners have the third best team ERA in the AL (3.41). They’re also fourth in walks allowed, sixth in homers allowed, sixth in on-base average against, and with that stellar defense behind them, they’re second in double-plays turned. Back-end starters Jason Vargas (2-1, 3.60 ERA) and Doug Fister (2-1, 1.67) have been more than adequate in the rotation.

Unfortunately, their offense is holding them back, as they are 12th in runs scored, 13th in slugging percentage, and last in home runs. As a team, Seattle has left the yard only eight times, while the Blue Jays lead the AL with 26 dingers.

If only Lee could hit.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Dodgers at Mets, April 26-28:
Two big-market, high-hype teams that are looking pretty mediocre so far. This will be entertaining for the hand-wringing on both sides alone.

Padres at Marlins, April 26-28: Last week I wondered if the Marlins were for real, then they went out and played as if they had read my post and actually believed it. (Sorry, Fish fans) This week I was tempted (very briefly) to ask the same question of the Padres, who had won eight straight before losing on Sunday. Instead, let’s just watch these two slug it out, then wonder which thrifty team will end up with the best wins-per-dollar ratio.

Twins at Tigers, April 27-29: I’m not going to call this a battle between the best in the AL Central, even though the standings say so. First, it’s too early to write off the White Sox. Second, the Twins are clearly the class of the division, with everyone else a distant second. Still, this series is definitely worth checking out, especially for the Liriano-Verlander matchup on Tuesday.

Mets at Phillies, April 30-May 2: This was a nice little rivalry before the Mets fell on hard times last season. Heck, even Jimmy Rollins hasn’t done much to stir the pot. Even before his injury, the best he could do was to say Roy Halladay was better than Johan Santana. Still, we’ve got until Friday for someone to spout off. Keep your fingers crossed.

Rockies at Giants, April 30-May 2: I’m not including this game just to prove we don’t have an East Coast bias here at HBT, but because this should be an honest-to-goodness entertaining series. The Giants have found some offense to go with their pitching, and the Rockies have as much talent as any team in the division. 

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Dodgers at Mets (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Twins at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Rangers at Mariners (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Mets at Phillies (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Astros at Braves (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m., White Sox at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m., Mets at Phillies (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Shapiro, Murray defend Dellin Betances after arbitration feud

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Dellin Betances #68 of the New York Yankees and the American League pitches against the National League during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The dust hasn’t quite settled after right-hander Dellin Betances‘ arbitration hearing with the Yankees on Saturday. The case was decided in the team’s favor, awarding Betances with a $3 million salary for the 2017 season instead of the $5 million he initially requested. Yankees’ president Randy Levine held a press conference to voice his outrage over the figure presented by Betances and his agency, saying it had “no bearings in reality” since Betances does not have the elite closer status required for a salary bump of that magnitude.

Needless to say, the comments caused some consternation within Betances’ camp. The reliever publicly addressed the outburst, telling the press that he was prepared to put his differences with the team aside until he heard what Levine had to say. Via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch:

Players union executive Rick Shapiro and Betances’ agent, Jim Murray, also spoke out in the right-hander’s favor. Shapiro presented Betances’ case during the hearing on Saturday and called Levine’s comments “an absolute disgrace to the arbitration process and to all of Major League Baseball.” In a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Shapiro added: “The only thing that has been unprecedented in the last 36 hours is that a club official, after winning a case, called a news conference to effectively gloat about his victory – that’s unprecedented.”

Murray spoke exclusively to Rosenthal, accusing the president of effectively bullying the 28-year-old during the arbitration process and claiming that Levine had both mispronounced Betances’ name throughout the hearing and blamed the reliever for “declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history.” Like Betances, Murray said that the agency was ready to accept the arbiter’s decision and move on before Levine’s decision to air his grievances to the media. “The only person overreaching in this entire situation is Randy,” Murray told Rosenthal. “He might as well be an astronaut because nobody on earth would agree with what he is saying. Even the others in the room would disagree with him.”

Royals will experiment with Alex Gordon in all three outfield spots this year

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 7: Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals reacts to a fan while on first base during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 7, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Royals’ manager Ned Yost is shaking things up in 2017, starting with left fielder Alex Gordon. Yost told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that “every scenario is open,” and expects to utilize Gordon in right and center field this spring while he figures out where to position Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss.

Gordon, 33, hasn’t manned right field since a three-game experiment with the Royals back in 2010 and has yet to play center field during any regular season to date. The focus, however, isn’t on Gordon’s capabilities. Among the three outfielders, he carries the best defensive profile and appears to be the most versatile of the bunch.

According to Flanagan, Soler and Moss are average on defense and will continue working closely with Royals’ coach Rusty Kuntz as the season approaches. One arrangement could see Gordon in center field, flanked by Soler in right field and Moss in left, though Yost foresees Soler taking some reps at DH if his defensive chops aren’t up to snuff.

While Moss is prepared to see starts at either outfield corner, Yost appears to be set on keeping Soler in right field, at least for the time being. The club is hoping for a bounce-back season from the 24-year-old outfielder, who was acquired from the Cubs in December after batting a lackluster .238/.333/.436 and sustaining a slew of minor injuries throughout the 2016 season.