Astros choose 37-year-old Nelson Figueroa over 20-year-old Jordan Lyles for fifth starter job

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Journeyman Nelson Figueroa will open the season as the Astros’ fifth starter after competing for the job with 20-year-old top prospect Jordan Lyles, who was sent to the minors today.

Lyles was impressive this spring and has a ton of long-term upside, but realistically the Astros are better off letting Figueroa keep the rotation spot warm for a while so he can get a little more seasoning in the minors and delay the start of his service time clock.

Lyles was fantastic at Double-A as a 19-year-old last season, posting a 3.12 ERA and 115/35 K/BB ratio in 127 innings, but struggled a bit following a late-season promotion to Triple-A and started a total of just six games there. There’s no need to rush a 20-year-old into the rotation for a non-contender and Figueroa is capable of holding his own with a 4.65 ERA in 60 career starts.

Brett Myers will start for the Astros on Opening Day, followed by Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Bud Norris, and Figueroa.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.

Sandy Leon homered twice in one inning, including a grand slam

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Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon achieved a rare feat during Monday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Orioles: he homered twice in one inning. One of those homers happened to be a grand slam.

Leon led off the top of the fifth inning with a solo home run off of Logan Verrett. Verrett continued to get knocked around, giving up three singles and a walk before being relieved by Brian Moran. Moran gave up a walk to load the bases, then a single to knock in a run and keep the bases loaded. Leon stepped back to the plate and swatted a grand slam to left field, making it an eight-run fifth for the Red Sox. The Sox would tack on one more before the inning was mercifully ended.

How often do players homer twice in one inning during the regular season? Not that often. Since 2010, the feat has been accomplished four times in the American League and twice in the National League. The Orioles’ Mark Trumbo was the only one to do it last year.

As for Leon, he’s on track to open the season as the starting catcher in Boston, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reported last week.