It’s rare that a team will tally nine hits and be held scoreless, but that is exactly what happened to the host Indians in Wednesday night’s American League Wild Card Game at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
Using an arsenal of vicious breaking stuff and a steady low-90s fastball, Rays starter Alex Cobb worked in and out of trouble for 6 2/3 shutout frames as Tampa Bay grabbed a 4-0 victory over the Tribe to advance to an ALDS meeting with the American League East-champion Red Sox. Tampa Bay’s bullpen looked like a potential weak spot heading into this one-game coin-flip, but right-hander Joel Peralta and left-hander Jake McGee were sharp in setup duty and Rays closer Fernando Rodney shot his arrows after a clean bottom of the ninth.
The Rays got their first run in the third on a Delmon Young solo shot after two dominant opening innings from Indians starter Danny Salazar, who was pumping 98-mph fastballs with ease until he was lifted in the top of the fifth. Salazar’s impressive velocity readings gave the home fans something to look forward to in 2014, but the 23-year-old right-hander wound up surrendering three runs on four hits and two walks in the loss.
The Rays added a fourth insurance run against the Cleveland bullpen in the top of the ninth inning.
Rays manager Joe Maddon will lead his team into Fenway Park this weekend for the opening games of a big best-of-five series between two very-familiar American League East foes. Game 1 is Friday at 3 p.m. ET.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.
A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.
Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.
Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.
The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.
Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.
Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.