Felix Hernandez stands alone. With a second-inning strikeout of Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, the Mariners’ starter became the only pitcher to strike out at least 200 batters in each of the last six seasons. Tigers starter Justin Verlander entered the season with five in a row of his own, but as he currently stands at 118 strikeouts and hasn’t pitched in two weeks, Hernandez will be by himself when the season is over.
Hernandez was rolling until he allowed a sixth-inning, three-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes. It marks the first time he’s given up three-plus runs in a start since May 12. He left with two outs in the sixth, relieved by Brandon Maurer.
Hernandez came into tonight’s start in Boston with a league-leading 1.99 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. While arguments can be made for some other starters, Hernandez appears to be the current favorite to take home the American League Cy Young award when the season ends. If he does, he’ll have two on his mantle.
Chris Sale of the White Sox is closest to Hernandez in ERA at 2.12, but has pitched 50 fewer innings and it will be close to 60 when tonight’s games are over. Corey Kluber is next in ERA at 2.46, but that’s about a half-run per nine innings ahead of Hernandez. Garrett Richards has the next-best ERA, but he just suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).
Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.
Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.
Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.
Orioles’ center fielder Michael Bourn is expected to be sidelined for four weeks while he rehabs a broken ring finger on his right hand, according to reports from the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck. Bourn broke the finger while playing catch with a football after a spring training workout.
The veteran outfielder re-signed with the club earlier this week on a minor league deal and was prepared to compete for a bench role this season. He’s in line to receive a $2 million salary if he makes the major league roster and can make an additional $3.5 million in incentives based on a set number of plate appearances. Now, however, his chances of cracking the roster out of spring training look considerably diminished, as his current timetable gives him an approximate return date of March 25 if all goes well.
Bourn had an impressive, if short-lived run with the Orioles following his trade to Baltimore last August, batting .283/.358/.435 with two home runs and a .793 OPS in 55 PA. While still somewhat removed from the totals that brought him an All-Star nod with the Braves in 2012, his defensive chops should give the Orioles some depth in center once he’s healthy again.