Scenes from Spring Training: Matt Kemp shows hustle

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The “Matt Kemp is lazy and out of shape” meme got beat to death last year. Was there any truth to it? Sure, some. But it probably got overplayed because I’m not sure anyone is due as much garbage he got thrown on him in 2010. In light of all of that, I feel justified in relaying exactly one inning’s worth of Matt Kemp data as a means of trying to balance things out.

Kemp led off the top of the second here at Tempe Diablo. He cracked a single up the middle. Then he stole second base. Then he advanced to third base on a grounder to short that a lot of guys would have held up on but on which Kemp had such a great jump that he would have beat the throw even if Erick Aybar had tried to make a play.  Then Kemp tagged, hauled ass and scored on a shallow fly to center by Russ Mitchell.

The way I see it, that was three instances of hustle in one at bat, his first of spring training.  That’s not a lot of data, but maybe it’s time that we all pour our Matt Kemp Haterade down the drain.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.