Braves outfielder Jason Heyward hit 30 doubles and 27 home runs last season, both career bests. Early in spring training, though, the slugger is working on playing small ball. In the fifth inning of today’s game against the Washington Nationals, Heyward laid down a bunt, reaching first base safely while moving Reed Johnson to second base.
Both Heyward and manager Fredi Gonzalez expect it to be a part of the right fielder’s game going forward. Via AJC’s Michael Cunningham:
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez’s said Heyward can present a threat with bunts.
“He’s got to work on that,” Gonzalez said. “Last year (opponents) really shifted him. They over-shifted at times. He’s got to really make them respect that bunt. With his speed, he gets on base, it could be (like) a double (with steals). It could be extra bases.”
“If I’m going to be in the two hole, eventually I’m going to have to get (bunts) down,” Heyward said. “Down here is the time to get that work in and build the confidence of doing it during the season.”
Gonzalez is right about opposing defenses. A majority of Heyward’s ground ball outs went to the right side of the infield last year. With the threat of a bunt, opposing defenses will have to play honest by shifting less heavily to the right side, opening up the field to the left-hander.
Oft-injured pitcher Josh Johnson is retiring from baseball, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick is reporting.
Johnson, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013. The right-hander underwent his third Tommy John surgery in September 2015 but wasn’t able to bounce back.
Johnson spent most of his career with the Marlins, but also pitched for the Blue Jays in the big leagues, as well as the Padres in the minors. He retires with a career 3.40 ERA, 915 strikeouts across 998 innings in the majors, and two All-Star nominations. Johnson led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. One wonders what he could have accomplished if he was able to stay healthy.
The Angels are nearing a multi-year deal with free agent third baseman Luis Valbuena, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. It’s believed to be a two-year contract with a third-year option.
Valbuena, 31, hit .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances in 2016. He missed most of the second half with a hamstring injury, for which he underwent surgery in late August.
Valbuena has played a majority of his career at third base, but also has extensive experience at second base and has racked up innings at first base and shortstop as well. He won’t play every day for the Angels, as Yunel Escobar lays claim to third base and C.J. Cron first base, but he will give them flexibility and a left-handed bat off the bench.