Jonathan Papelbon thinks the Phillies will have a top-five bullpen

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The Phillies had the fourth-highest bullpen ERA in baseball last season at 4.19, according to FanGraphs. Don’t tell that to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who thinks the Phillies will have a top-five bullpen in 2014.

Via CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury:

“I will be very, very surprised if this is not a much better bullpen this year,” he said one recent day at Phillies camp.

Papelbon went a step further.

“I will be surprised if we’re not a top five bullpen in all of baseball. There’s way too much talent here. All we were waiting on was the experience and now these guys have it.”

Salisbury added that Papelbon is particularly encouraged by the development of lefty Jake Diekman and right-handers B.J. Rosenberg and Justin De Fratus. Rosenberg, who learned a splitter from Papelbon, has potential but walked 10.5 percent of batters last season. De Fratus walked 12 percent.

Diekman was the most impressive of the bunch last season, posting an overall 2.58 ERA. He really turned it on after July, posting a 1.64 ERA with 26 strikeouts and nine unintentional walks in 22 innings between the start of August and the end of the regular season.

Papelbon will play an important role in the success or failure of the Phillies’ bullpen. His results weren’t bad, but his strikeout rate declined from 34 and 32 percent in the previous two seasons to 22 percent, almost certainly a result of his average fastball velocity dropping from 95 MPH to 92 MPH. The right-hander, though, recently revealed that he battled a hip injury last season. If that was the cause, as opposed to the fact that he is in his mid-30’s, then his optimism may not be misplaced.

Expecting the Phillies’ bullpen to rank in the top-five in baseball may be a bit too strong, but top-ten wouldn’t be crazy. There is quite a lot of potential there.

Aledmys Diaz is trying to improve his defense with strobe glasses

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MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports that Cardinals’ shortstop Aledmys Diaz has been sporting a new look around Busch Stadium with a pair of “strobe glasses,” technology-enhanced specs designed to help athletes focus on the ball. Like a strobe light, the lenses of these glasses affect a player’s vision by rapidly changing opacity, giving its wearers the illusion that the objects they see are moving more slowly than normal. Once a player adjusts to the new speed of play, they gain a greater sense of control and are able to time their actions with more precision.

Diaz isn’t the first MLB player to utilize the technology, just the first Cardinals’ player to do so. It’s been tested by Bryce Harper, Corey Brown, Tommy Joseph, Austin Hedges and Joe Mauer, among others around the league, and has been used for everything from refining a catcher’s reflexes behind the plate to tweaking a hitter’s ability to track a pitch. Per Langosch, Diaz has been using the glasses to hone in on the ball during pregame drills, increasing both his confidence and response time on the field and improving his defense at short.

The shortstop has been the focus of some concern this season after seeing a sizable dip in his production at the plate, and his five fielding errors, 0.6 UZR and 0.6 fWAR haven’t helped matters, either. He sustained a minor thumb injury during an at-bat on Friday night, and was left off of the Cardinals’ starting lineup on Saturday, though manager Mike Matheny didn’t rule out his ability to pinch-hit during the series. While the strobe glasses are a good start, Diaz will need more than a pair of specs to match the spotlight-worthy performance he turned out during his rookie season in 2016.

Eduardo Rodriguez could rejoin the Red Sox rotation in July

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Red Sox’ left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez may finally get a chance at cracking the rotation again, assuming all goes well in Double-A Portland first. Rodriguez took the field prior to the club’s afternoon session with the Angels, firing 68 pitches in a simulated game as he prepared for an upcoming rehab assignment in Portland on Thursday.

The 24-year-old southpaw suffered a right knee subluxation during pregame warmups on June 1, and it’s been a slow path to recovery ever since. It’s not the first time Rodriguez has had issues with his right knee — he sustained a similar injury during spring training last year — and this time around, the Red Sox weren’t about to gamble with their starter’s health. Ian Browne of MLB.com reports that Rodriguez was put in a knee brace and underwent exercises designed to help him regain some mobility and stability while he worked back up to full strength on the mound.

He’ll still need to prove he can throw a 75- to 80-pitch outing in Double-A, and barring any significant setbacks, will likely rejoin the Red Sox’ pitching staff when they visit the Rangers next month. In the meantime, the club will continue to cycle starters through the No. 5 spot, which has seen no fewer than three different pitchers since Rodriguez hit the disabled list. The lefty is 4-2 in 10 starts this season after logging a 3.54 ERA, 3.1 BB/9 and career-high 9.6 SO/9 through his first 61 innings.