Grant Balfour

Backs against the wall, Giants and A’s come through

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With four teams combining on just 16 hits and five runs, Tuesday’s games were all about the pitching. Facing elimination, the Giants and A’s survived thanks to the strength of their rotations and bullpens.

Tied 1-1 for most of the day, the Giants tried emptying their bench as a means to score a run in the eighth after the Reds brought in lefty Sean Marshall. They sent up three straight pinch-hitters, none of whom reached base in the inning. The strategy may have proved very costly in time, particularly with Hunter Pence nursing a leg problem that left him hobbled after he reached base in the 10th. The Giants still had catcher Hector Sanchez available, and they could have put Buster Posey at first base and Brandon Belt in the outfield had the need arisen. But if they had made that move, the bench would have been completely exhausted for the rest of the game.

Fortunately, the Giants were able to win the game in the 10th, after a bad-hop grounder led to a Scott Rolen error and an unearned run against Jonathan Broxton. Sergio Romo, who got his first at-bat since 2010 in the top of the 10th, closed out the game.

After Ryan Vogelsong’s shaky first inning, Giants pitchers allowed a total of one-hit to the Reds in the 2-1 victory. Still, one wonders just how differently the game might have gone had Brandon Phillips not gotten thrown out trying to take third in the top of the first. The Reds ended up with three hits and a walk in the inning, yet scored just one run.

That first inning was the only time the Giants were in trouble today. One could say A’s pitchers weren’t even in trouble the once. The Tigers were able to put two men on just once, doing so with one out in the top of the second. Too bad for them that the wrong part of the Detroit lineup was up in that situation. Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia both grounded out to strand the runners.

Thanks to a couple of sterling plays by A’s outfielders, both on balls hit by Prince Fielder, the Tigers never had an extra-base hit in their 2-0 loss in Oakland. The A’s bullpen, which was so disappointing in the Game 2 loss, rebounded to pitch three scoreless innings, with just two hits and no walks allowed. Sean Doolittle fanned all three batters he faced in the eighth. Grant Balfour gave up a single to Miguel Cabrera in the ninth, only to induce a double play from Fielder afterwards.

And thus the Bay Area teams will live to play another day. By virtue of being at home for the remainder of the series, one imagines the A’s will have a better chance than the Giants of advancing. Of course, they’ll have to keep pitching well, as the offense could be stymied by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. The Giants haven’t inspired a lot of faith, not with their offense scoring a total of five runs in three games. It’s a good bet that the Reds will put up some runs at least one of these next two games, and the Giants might be hard-pressed to match them.

The Mets are among six teams that help Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 19:  A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.

Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.

Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”

Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.

Video: Albert Pujols hits 569th career home run, tying Rafael Palmeiro

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 22:  Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 22, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.

Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.

Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.

Alex Gordon to miss three to four weeks with a fractured scaphoid bone

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 22:  Alex Gordon #4 and Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals collide going for a foul ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Royals 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.

Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.

Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.

The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.

Orioles trade reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 17:  Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning on May 17, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.

Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.

MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.

Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.

Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.