It’s only the first week of March, but there are already questions about young fireballer Craig Kimbrel, someone who many expect to be closing games for the Braves this season. Or sharing the job with left-hander Jonny Venters, at the very least.
Kimbrel has made three appearances so far during exhibition action. One good, two bad. After bouncing back from a poor exhibition debut with a scoreless inning against the Red Sox on Wednesday, he gave up two runs on three hits against the Nationals yesterday. All told, he’s given up four runs and six hits over just 2 1/3 innings.
Fredi Gonzalez didn’t see Kimbrel yesterday because he was managing a split-squad team in Lake Buena Vista, but told Mark Bowman of MLB.com he isn’t worried about the young right-hander’s early struggles.
“If there is a trend like this later in the spring, then you start worrying about it,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But not right now.”
Kimbrel, 22, turned heads by posting an impressive 0.40 ERA and 40 strikeouts over 20 2/3 innings at the major league level during the regular season in 2010. While he has electric stuff, he also averaged 5.7 BB/9 in the minor leagues and issued 16 walks during his brief time with the Braves last year.
It might be a little early to jump to conclusions about Kimbrel, but at least Gonzalez doesn’t have to worry about Venters, who has delivered three scoreless innings over his first three Grapefruit League appearances.
MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports that Cardinals’ shortstop Aledmys Diaz has been sporting a new look around Busch Stadium with a pair of “strobe glasses,” technology-enhanced specs designed to help athletes focus on the ball. Like a strobe light, the lenses of these glasses affect a player’s vision by rapidly changing opacity, giving its wearers the illusion that the objects they see are moving more slowly than normal. Once a player adjusts to the new speed of play, they gain a greater sense of control and are able to time their actions with more precision.
Diaz isn’t the first MLB player to utilize the technology, just the first Cardinals’ player to do so. It’s been tested by Bryce Harper, Corey Brown, Tommy Joseph, Austin Hedges and Joe Mauer, among others around the league, and has been used for everything from refining a catcher’s reflexes behind the plate to tweaking a hitter’s ability to track a pitch. Per Langosch, Diaz has been using the glasses to hone in on the ball during pregame drills, increasing both his confidence and response time on the field and improving his defense at short.
The shortstop has been the focus of some concern this season after seeing a sizable dip in his production at the plate, and his five fielding errors, 0.6 UZR and 0.6 fWAR haven’t helped matters, either. He sustained a minor thumb injury during an at-bat on Friday night, and was left off of the Cardinals’ starting lineup on Saturday, though manager Mike Matheny didn’t rule out his ability to pinch-hit during the series. While the strobe glasses are a good start, Diaz will need more than a pair of specs to match the spotlight-worthy performance he turned out during his rookie season in 2016.
Red Sox’ left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez may finally get a chance at cracking the rotation again, assuming all goes well in Double-A Portland first. Rodriguez took the field prior to the club’s afternoon session with the Angels, firing 68 pitches in a simulated game as he prepared for an upcoming rehab assignment in Portland on Thursday.
The 24-year-old southpaw suffered a right knee subluxation during pregame warmups on June 1, and it’s been a slow path to recovery ever since. It’s not the first time Rodriguez has had issues with his right knee — he sustained a similar injury during spring training last year — and this time around, the Red Sox weren’t about to gamble with their starter’s health. Ian Browne of MLB.com reports that Rodriguez was put in a knee brace and underwent exercises designed to help him regain some mobility and stability while he worked back up to full strength on the mound.
He’ll still need to prove he can throw a 75- to 80-pitch outing in Double-A, and barring any significant setbacks, will likely rejoin the Red Sox’ pitching staff when they visit the Rangers next month. In the meantime, the club will continue to cycle starters through the No. 5 spot, which has seen no fewer than three different pitchers since Rodriguez hit the disabled list. The lefty is 4-2 in 10 starts this season after logging a 3.54 ERA, 3.1 BB/9 and career-high 9.6 SO/9 through his first 61 innings.