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.

Danny Espinosa reportedly skipped Nationals Winterfest because of Adam Eaton

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Danny Espinosa #8 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after teammate Chris Heisey #14 (not pictured) hits a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.

A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.

Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.

Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.

Nick Cafardo: Red Sox should deal Pomeranz, not Buchholz

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 18: Drew Pomeranz #31 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 18, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox won 5-4. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.

The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.

Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.

Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.