I shook my head last year when Yahoo! first reported the relationship between Marlon Byrd and former BALCO bad boy and “cream” and “clear” creator Victor Conte. The upshot: Conte supplies Byrd with all manner of supplements, the identity and nature of which Byrd has only the vaguest notions. Byrd was then and remains today the only Major League Baseball player who works with Conte.
Yahoo!’s Steve Henson updates the story today and not much has changed. We do learn, however, that after last year’s story came out Major League Baseball went ballistic at one of its players working with Conte and demanded a meeting with Byrd over it all. That never happened, apparently because MLB realized that Byrd (a) hadn’t failed any drug tests; (b) has always been a good baseball citizen; and (c) was still an American citizen with some freakin’ rights, dadgummit.
My head-shaking over it all wasn’t (and still isn’t) inspired the same thing that sparked Major League Baseball’s ire — the mere association with Conte — my thing was Byrd’s seemingly total trust in the guy. In last year’s story Byrd said he never even asks what’s in the supplements he’s given by Conte, and there is no indication in today’s article that he’s acquired any additional curiosity.
And, hell, now that I think about it, maybe it’s better that he’s going through Conte than diving into the supplement world himself. As we’ve learned in recent years, a large number of over-the-counter supplements contained banned substances, many of which aren’t even listed on the label. It would be easy for someone to mess up and take a banned substance. At least Conte has (a) expertise; and (b) the motive to grow his business from its post-BALCO ashes. He knows that if one of his athletes test positive for something he’s beyond ruined.
But even if I don’t subscribe to the idea of guilt by association, it is rather amazing to me that a ballplayer would associate with Conte in this day and age. I like Byrd so I hope it doesn’t burn him, but man, I don’t know that I’d take that chance.
Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.
The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.
Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.