Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals now embracing elevation

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The Cardinals have, for a while, been known as the ground ball team. Many a pitcher has joined the pitching staff, told to induce grounders, and enjoyed immense success as a result. Joel Pineiro is one example; Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia others. Since 2009, the Cardinals have ranked second, first, first, and and third in ground ball rate by starting pitchers, according to FanGraphs. The ground ball approach was implemented by former pitching coach Dave Duncan and continued by new manager Mike Matheny.

Derrick Goold reports that the Cardinals are evolving, focusing back on the upper part of the strike zone for some of their pitchers.

But during spring training and already during the regular season, manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist have asked several starters to explore a neglected area of the strike zone — the high-rise, where strikeouts happen.

A few are being encouraged to embrace elevation.

“We still preach (low). We’re still all over that,” Matheny said. “But part of that philosophy is when you get two strikes how do we put the guy away right now? What do you do when you’re throwing at the bottom of the zone all the time? You’ve got to have something to put somebody away with. That elevated fastball can help with that. It’s an art. Because you’re flirting with danger. That’s why it’s effective. It’s something they have to practice.”

Last year, the Cardinals threw the fewest percentage of pitches in the upper part of the strike zone with two strikes, under 21 percent. The league average was 28 percent. The Cardinals led in two-strike pitches in the lower part of the strike zone with two strikes at 51.5 percent. The league average was 45 percent.

Report: Padres close to trading Matt Kemp to the Braves for Hector Olivera

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 06:  Matt Kemp #27 of the San Diego Padres talks in the dugout prior to the start of the game against the Atlanta Braves at PETCO Park on June 6, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
Kent Horner/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Keith Law reported on Saturday evening that a bad contract swap involving the Braves’ Hector Olivera and the Padres’ Matt Kemp was “getting close.” Olivera has been pulled off the field, per Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that only a last-second medical would kill the deal at this point, and that the Padres will be sending money to the Braves.

Kemp, 31, will have $64.5 million remaining on his contract through 2019 after this season, but the Dodgers will pay $3.5 million annually over those remaining three years, so the $64.5 million is really $54 million. The veteran has compiled a .262/.285/.489 triple-slash line with 23 home runs and 69 RBI in 431 plate appearances for the Padres this season.

Olivera, 31, will have $28.5 million remaining on his contract through 2010 after this season. The outfielder was handed an 82-game suspension, beginning on May 26, for his involvement in a domestic dispute on April 13. He has a .501 OPS in 21 major league at-bats this season and a .278 OPS in 37 PA at Triple-A.

Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Padres will consider designating Olivera for assignment. The trade is all about the salary dump for the Padres, as they’d rather give outfield playing time to prospects Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot.

Athletics trade Billy Burns to the Royals for Brett Eibner

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 13: Billy Burns #1 of the Oakland Athletics waits on deck to bat during the fourth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 13, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Brian Blanco/Getty Images
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The Athletics and Royals swapped outfielders on Saturday. The Athletics sent Billy Burns to Kansas City and the Royals sent Brett Eibner to Oakland.

Burns, 26, doesn’t provide much in the way of offense, but he runs the bases well and plays solid defense. He was hitting .234/.270/.303 with 11 doubles, four triples, and 14 stolen bases in 274 plate appearances.

Eibner, 27, was batting .231/.286/.423 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 85 plate appearances. He has spent most of the season with Triple-A Omaha, where he’s put up a .902 OPS in 219 PA. Eibner played the outfield corners in the majors, but racked up a ton of time playing center in the minors, so his versatility will be valuable to the A’s.

Burns will become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2017 season while Eibner has hardly accrued any service time, which might explain part of the motivation behind the trade for the small-market Athletics.