Tempe Diablo

Scenes from Spring Training: The Angels are loose

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The past two years of spring training trips have followed the same pattern: early in the trip I get to the ballpark early, acting all professional and reportery with my notepad and the desire to tell stories.  By the end of the trip I’m just grooving on it all, realizing that most ballplayers don’t have interesting things to say, taking pictures and soaking it all in.

Since today is Day 1, I got to Tempe Diablo Stadium early, raring to go, only to find out that the clubhouse was closed due to an MLB Security meeting. Seems that you still have to tell ballplayers not to do drugs, mmm-kay?  I cooled my heels and vowed to sleep a little later tomorrow.

The clubhouse opened up a bit later and I went in with the other scribes. The most noticeable thing: it was loud, raucous, happy and loose. Such a change from last year’s Angels clubhouse which seemed practically funereal. Either their “don’t do drugs” lecture was hilarious this morning or else this is a team in a very, very good place.

Among the highlights of the morning’s rounds:

  • The first player I saw: Pujols. He was standing in the hallway leading to the clubhouse, eating a big bowl of Lucky Charms. I don’t know why this amused me but it did.
  • In other dining news, Jered Weaver had an entire sleeve of Thin Mints girl scout cookies. This is a team that knows how to eat.
  • When you walk into the clubhouse, the first five lockers along the wall to the left are: Bobby Abreu, Pujols, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Kendrys Morales.  That’s nearly half a billion dollars worth of ballplayer meat. The reporters all flocked to this area, obviously, while the rest of the team was able to sit generally undisturbed. I guess it’s appropriate that the stars pay that price.
  • Hunter is clearly the guy most comfortable with the media. Or else the media is most comfortable with him. He held court for a good half hour, talking about everything from high school football to how weird it is that these shiny new spring training facilities sit empty most of the year. “Wow, what a waste of real estate,” he said.
  • Hunter was asked how Pujols was fitting in. Hunter said “he doesn’t talk much.”  Then he said he was kidding — “I MAKE him talk,” he joked — and said, almost awestruck, to the point where it didn’t sound like the usual cliche, that Pujols works hard.
  • Last year Kendrys Morales looked like a deer in the headlights, likely realizing that he was hurt bad and wouldn’t be able to play. Today: he hopped and danced around as music played in the clubhouse. And he joked around too: Alberto Callaspo shoved a laundry cart in his general direction in mock anger, and Morales fell back into a chair, holding his previously-broken ankle, yelling “Ay! Ay! Ay!”

As the reporters were winding down with their work, two huge carts full of toys were wheeled into the clubhouse. Like, actual toys: Barbies, Nerf guns, Hulk Hands (Hulk Hands!) and Star Wars stuff. Players pounded on the carts, laughing, joking and taking toys. It’s apparently part of a team charity drive, and the players get to pick what they’ll sign and give to kids.

But based on how happy and loose the Angels seem to be, if I didn’t know better, I’d guess that everyone just wanted to play.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Monday’s action

DETROIT, MI - JULY 20: Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the eighth inning of the game against the Minnesota Twins on July 20, 2016 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images
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Tigers starter Justin Verlander got off to a bumpy start, finishing his sixth start of the season with a 6.49 ERA. His velocity wasn’t quite where it used to be and the 33-year-old seemed to be on the decline. Some had already lost faith after a subpar 2014, so his slow start to 2016 wasn’t converting anyone.

Since throwing seven shutout innings against the Rangers on May 8, however, Verlander has been one of the best starters in baseball. Over his last 14 starts, Verlander has a 2.76 ERA with a 106/24 K/BB ratio in 97 2/3 innings. He’s tacked on nearly 2 MPH to his average fastball velocity compared to April, going from below 93 MPH to nearly 95 MPH. Verlander’s overall strikeout rate of 26 percent is close to four percent higher than his career average and is reminiscent of his rates during his prime five years ago.

Verlander will look to keep it going in Monday night’s start at Fenway Park. He’ll take on Drew Pomeranz, recently acquired from the Padres by the Red Sox, in a 7:10 PM EDT start.

The rest of Monday’s action…

Colorado Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa) @ Baltimore Orioles (Yovani Gallardo), 7:05 PM EDT

San Diego Padres (Colin Rea) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez), 7:07 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) @ Miami Marlins (Jarred Cosart), 7:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Carlos Martinez) @ New York Mets (Noah Syndergaard), 7:10 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Braden Shipley) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson), 7:20 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Daniel Mengden) @ Texas Rangers (Martin Perez), 8:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Chicago White Sox (Miguel Gonzalez), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Michael Pineda) @ Houston Astros (Dallas Keuchel), 8:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Hector Santiago) @ Kansas City Royals (Ian Kennedy), 8:15 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Anthony DeSclafani) @ San Francisco Giants (Jake Peavy), 10:15 PM EDT

Report: Mets offered Travis d’Arnaud to Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 3: Jonathan Lucroy #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers looks to the dugout during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on July 3, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
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In an effort to make an upgrade behind the plate, the Mets reportedly offered backstop Travis d'Arnaud to the Brewers in exchange for All-Star Jonathan Lucroy, according to a report from Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. The Brewers turned down a straight one-for-one deal. Bob Klapisch of The Record reports that a Lucroy trade involving the Mets is “not happening.”

Lucroy, 30, can become a free agent after the season if his controlling club pays him a $250,000 buyout instead of picking up his $5.25 million club option. While it’s believed that the Brewers will trade him before the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline, the club could pick up his 2017 option if no offer is enticing enough.

In 359 plate appearances this season, Lucroy has hit .301/.362/.491 with 13 home runs and 50 RBI. Going by the Sabermetric statistic weighted on-base average (wOBA), Wilson Ramos (.393) is the only catcher (min. 200 PA) with a better mark than Lucroy’s .361. Buster Posey is next at .350.

d’Arnaud, 27, has had a tough season. He missed nearly two months between April 26 and June 20 with a strained rotator cuff. Across 34 games this year, he has a paltry .246/.302/.339 triple-slash line with two home runs and 10 RBI in 129 plate appearances. d’Arnaud will become eligible for arbitration for the first of three years after this season.