Angels protest Astros’ illegal switch, win game anyway

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Here’s a new one: with the Angels batting with two on and two out in the seventh inning Thursday, the Astros went to bring in left-hander Wesley Wright to face left-hander J.B. Shuck. The Angels promptly countered with right-handed hitting Luis Jimenez.

And then the Astros suddenly countered with right-hander Hector Ambriz.

If that sounds unusual, well, it is. If it sounds illegal, well, it’s that, too. Except Astros rookie manager Bo Porter didn’t know it. And it seems Fieldin Culbreth’s umpiring crew didn’t know it either, even with Angels manager Mike Scioscia loudly pointing it out several times before play finally resumed several minutes later.

Make no mistake, Wright was in the game. He threw several warmup pitches before Porter went out to bring in Ambriz instead. That, of course, isn’t allowed, according to Rule 3.05. Barring an injury, any pitcher that enters a game has to face at least one batter. It’s a fairly well known rule, one that would surely be exploited frequently if it didn’t exist.

The Angels, down 5-3 at the time, immediately protested the game. It’s a protest that might have actually been upheld by the league, given that it the mistake was entirely an umpire’s error, with no judgment call being involved. Except now we’ll never find out. While Ambriz was able to escape the jam in the seventh after the illegal switch, the Angels came back and scored three runs in the eighth and won the game 6-5, essentially rendering the protest null and void.

In one way, that’s probably for the best; the Astros didn’t deserve to benefit from their illegal move. Still, it is rather too bad we didn’t see MLB’s first successful protest since 1986. Had the protest been upheld, the game would have restarted from the moment the illegal move was made, with Wright back on the mound and the Angels trailing in the top of the seventh inning.

Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.

Rockies sign 30-year lease to stay in Coors Field

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Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, which is the state division that owns Coors Field. As part of the deal, the Rockies will lease and develop a plot of land south of the stadium, which will cost the team $125 million for 99 years.

As Groke points out, had the Rockies not reached a deal by Thursday, March 30, the lease would have rolled over for five more years.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort issued a statement, saying, “We are proud that Coors Field will continue to be a vital part of a vibrant city, drawing fans from near and far and making our Colorado residents proud.”

The Rockies moved into Coors Field in 1995. It is the National League’s third oldest stadium. In that span of time, the Rockies have made the playoffs three times, the last coming in 2009 when they lost in the NLDS to the Phillies. The Rockies were swept in the 2007 World Series by the Red Sox.