The Astros intend to use Jose Veras as their closer

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There wasn’t anything interesting on the surface about the Astros signing Jose Veras to a one-year, $2 million deal earlier this week, but Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hears that the club intends to use him as their closer next season. In fact, they have included incentives in his contract with that very role in mind.

Veras will have the opportunity to earn an additional $500,000 next season based on games finished. His contract includes a $3.25 million option for 2014 or a $150,000 buyout, but the price of the option can increase to between $4 million and $5.5 million based on games finished. If exercised, he could also make an additional $500,000 with incentives.

Veras has a 4.01 ERA over eight seasons in the majors and only has five career saves to his name, but he throws in the mid-90s with his heater and can make hitters look silly with his curveball at times. Of course, the 32-year-old has averaged 4.9 BB/9 during his career, so he doesn’t always know where it is going. The rebuilding Astros might not offer a ton of save chances next season, but they can afford to experiment in the ninth inning. If Veras emerges as a solid closer, they could have a nice trade chip on their hands.

Blue Jays shut down Steve Pearce for the rest of 2017

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The Blue Jays have shut down left fielder Steve Pearce for the remainder of the season following a lingering case of lower back stiffness. Pearce has not appeared in a game since September 8, when he was forced to exit in the first inning after experiencing back pain during his at-bat. Per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, he’s scheduled to return to Florida next week, where he’ll receive epidural injections to address the pain.

Pearce, 34, impressed in his first season with Toronto. He battled through a calf injury during the first half of the season and finished the year with a modest .252/.319/.438 batting line, 13 home runs and a .757 OPS through 348 PA. By September, the Blue Jays started testing the waters with outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez, who shouldered the bulk of the starts in left field after Pearce was sidelined with back issues.

With the Blue Jays all but eliminated from playoff contention, however, there’s no rush to get Pearce back to the outfield. He should be in fine shape to compete for another starting role in spring, and could face stiff competition from Hernandez if the rookie continues building on his .278 average and three home runs this month. The veteran outfielder is slated to receive the remaining $6.25 million on his contract in 2018 and will be eligible for free agency in 2019.

Brewers’ Julio Mendez remains hospitalized after hit by pitch

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Brewers’ minor league infielder Julio Mendez remains in “critical but stable condition,” club GM David Stearns announced Friday. Back in August, Mendez suffered a cardiac event after he was inadvertently struck by a ball from the Angels’ Austin Krzeminksi during a game between the rookie-level affiliates. The 20-year-old was removed to a Phoenix-area hospital for treatment following the incident and has recently been transferred to a hospital in his native Venezuela.

Mendez was in his fourth season with the Brewers’ organization. He spent the majority of his 2017 run with the rookie-level AZL Brewers, slashing .255/.294/.355 with 10 extra-base hits, 16 RBI and four stolen bases over 119 plate appearances. He currently holds a career .241/.324/.309 batting line, 33 extra bases and a .633 OPS through 668 PA.

Baseball is still on the back burner, however, as Mendez appears to have made little progress nearly a month following the hit by pitch. Thoughts go out to his family during this difficult time.