Pitching-starved Royals have found a gem in Felipe Paulino

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One of the things holding the Royals’ rebuilding effort back despite a steady influx of young talent is their lack of quality starting pitching, as former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar has a 5.39 career ERA at age 28 and 23-year-old Danny Duffy blew out his elbow after showing lots of promise.

Kansas City’s starters rank 27th in ERA this season after ranking 29th last season and 29th in 2010. That makes it tough to contend regardless of how well the young hitting talent fares, but the Royals appear to have snagged at least one high-upside arm for the rotation in right-hander Felipe Paulino.

Paulino always had a big-time fastball and good strikeout rates, but they came along with spotty control, trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark, and lots of health issues for the Astros and then briefly the Rockies. Colorado designated him for assignment in May of last season, eventually trading him to Kansas City for cash considerations, and Paulino stepped into the Royals’ rotation with great results ever since.

He made 20 starts last season and has made four starts this year since missing April with a forearm injury, throwing a total of 150 innings with a 3.66 ERA and 148/55 K/BB ratio. During that time Paulino’s average fastball of 95.2 miles per hour is the third-highest velocity in baseball and he’s improved his control from terrible to merely bad while serving up just 11 homers in 634 plate appearances. And that’s while moving from the NL to the AL.

Stockpiling young pitching prospects only to see a 28-year-old acquired for some petty cash emerge as the team’s best starter wasn’t exactly the Royals’ plan, but right now Paulino looks capable of being a long-term building block for a rotation that desperately needs one.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.