<span class="vcard">Matthew Pouliot</span>

Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray loses no-hitter, but A’s finally snap Opening Day skid

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Sonny Gray gave up an 0-2 single to right to Ryan Rua to snap his no-hitter in the eighth inning of Monday’s game against the Rangers.

Gray, aiming for just the second Opening Day no-no in MLB history, had thrown 83 pitches through seven innings, allowing just two batters to reach. One came on an HBP, while the other reached on a Ben Zobrist error.

After Rua’ s single, Gray got a line-drive double play and a groundout to finish the eighth at 98 pitches. He exited, and the A’s went on to win the game 8-0.

Zobrist, more than making up for his error, had a two-run homer and a double in his A’s debut.

Cleveland’s Bob Feller pitched the lone Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history in 1940 against the White Sox.

For the A’s, it was the first Opening Day victory in 11 years. Even with all of their regular-season success, they had lost 10 straight openers dating back to 2005, and they were shut out in the last two. Their previous Opening Day victory in 2004 was also against the Rangers.

Steve Pearce totally stole a run, thanks to instant replay

pearce2
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Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce turned this:

source:

Into this:

source:

He was called out, of course, as home plate umpire Dana DeMuth was in the typical lousy position to make the call and simply assumed the out. Replay, though, overturned the call: Pearce clearly slid in under the tag from Rene Rivera, giving the Orioles a 5-1 lead in a game they’d win 6-2 over the Rays.

Credit instant replay for keeping players honest. If Rivera had simply taken a step in front of the plate (remember, you can legally block the plate when you have the ball) and cut off Pearce’s path, Pearce probably wouldn’t have even slid. He would have let himself been tagged and headed back to the dugout. As it was, he saw an alley to the plate and took it. For 100 years of baseball history, he would have been called out anyway. Instant replay, though, saw the play to completion in a way the umpires can’t or won’t.

Click here for the full video from MLB.com.

Red Sox get a pair of two-homer games in beating Phillies

Dustin Pedroia
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The Red Sox became the seventh team in 100 years to receive a pair of two-homer games on Opening Day in beating the Phillies on Monday.

Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez pulled off the feat, with Ramirez hitting a grand slam in the ninth to punctuate the 8-0 victory. Clay Buchholz pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, in his new role as Boston’s nominal ace.

The Red Sox also got a homer from Mookie Betts. Cole Hamels gave up four of the five bombs, with Hanley’s slam coming off Jake Diekman.

The 2009 Diamondbacks were the last two to have two players homer on Opening Day, with Felipe Lopez and Tony Clark going deep against the Rockies. In 2000, two teams did it: the Rangers with Gabe Kapler and Ivan Rodriguez and the Blue Jays with Shannon Stewart and Tony Batista.

Pedroia now has four Opening Day homers, tied for the most of any active player. Others with four include David Ortiz and Albert Pujols. Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson have the most ever Opening Day homers with eight.

The Padres just didn’t need Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel
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The 2014 Padres were 63-1 when leading after eight innings.

That’s not the amazing stat, though. The truly incredible one is that they were 60-1 when leading after six innings. The 2014 Padres obviously had difficulties generating leads, but once they got them, they were untouchable.

Still, this was hardly a unique feature of the 2014 Padres. In 2013, the team was 63-3 when leading after eight innings. In 2012, it was 68-2. In 2011, it was 62-3.

It’s hardly any kind of secret that Padres usually feature great pens. Last year, they were second in MLB in bullpen ERA at 2.73. The since departed Huston Street helped them along for four months, but they still had the following returning for 2015:

Joaquin Benoit: 1.49 ERA in 54 1/3 IP in 2014
Dale Thayer: 2.34 ERA in 65 1/3 IP
Kevin Quackenbush: 2.48 ERA in 54 1/3 IP
Nick Vincent: 3.60 ERA in 55 IP

Plus, they had added two fine arms in Brandon Maurer and Shawn Kelley. Maurer, picked up from the Mariners for Seth Smith, showed a high-90s fastball to go along with an excellent slider after shifting to the pen last year, amassing a 2.17 ERA and a 38/5 K/BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings. I projected him as one of the NL’s very best relievers for 2015. Kelley had a 4.53 ERA for the Yankees, but it came with 67 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. An extreme flyball pitcher, he’s well suited for Petco and should be an asset in a setup role.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the Padres had no need at all to trade for a closer, even if that closer was Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel is awesome. He’s quite possibly the best in baseball at what he does, and since he’s 26 and on a reasonable contract for the next three years, he’s no rental. He was a major trade asset. And the Padres should have left him alone.

Because to get Kimbrel, the Padres had to take on the $46.35 million that Melvin Upton Jr. is due the next three years. They also had to give up their top pitching prospect in Matthew Wisler, the No. 41 pick in the 2015 draft (which was tradeable because it was a competitive balance pick) and a decent outfield prospect in Jordan Paroubeck (the team’s second-round pick in 2013). And now that they have Kimbrel, they’ve sent two perfectly fine setup man, Maurer and Quackenbush, to Triple-A to twiddle their thumbs until there’s a need in the pen.

The Padres did get to dump the $16 million owed to Cameron Maybin and $8 million due to Carlos Quentin. But factoring in Kimbrel’s $34 million commitment, they took on $56 million to get someone who isn’t truly going to be a difference maker, at least not from April until September. Maybe it’ll pay off during a postseason run at some point within these next three years, but there had to be ways to use that money that would have better increased their chances of going to the postseason.

For all of new GM A.J. Preller’s maneuvering, the Padres still have perhaps the NL’s worst defensive outfield and its worst offensive infield. Meanwhile, they’ve subtracted their No. 1 (Wisler), No. 2 (Trea Turner), No. 4 (Joe Ross), No. 6 (Max Fried), No. 9 (Zach Eflin), No. 10 (Jace Peterson) and No. 11 (R.J. Alvarez) prospects, according to Baseball America’s rankings. That list doesn’t include Jesse Hahn, the quality young starter sent to the A’s in the Derek Norris trade.

Preller has remade the Padres as an extremely interesting team, and he’s certainly gained the attention of the fanbase, which should pay off in increased revenues. But it’s still a flawed group, one with a couple of very questionable long-term commitments, and the farm system has been decimated along the way. Even so, Preller’s grand experiment seemed worthwhile for the most part. He merely needed to know when to stop.

It’s not just about Kris Bryant: let’s fix the option rules, too.

Darin Ruf
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That Kris Bryant will begin the season in the minors for financial purposes is a subject that should rile up fans. The way teams are encouraged to send down prospects so that they can control them for 6.9 years, rather than 6.0, is a problem, one that lacks any sort of obvious fix. Others have tried ways around it. But it’d take a major revamping, as well as a players union willing to make concessions on behalf of players often not currently part of the union.

So, don’t hold your breath.

My purpose today, though, is to address a different sort of roster problem, one that affects more players. And whereas the Kris Bryant-type situations tends to affect players likely to make tens of millions of dollars in their careers, mine affects the fringe players, the ones who probably won’t ever get the big payday.

I speak of option rules, and the need to change the system.

This right now is the time of year that teams are settling their final few roster spots. Frequently, those spots come down less to performance and more to who can be easily sent to Triple-A and who can’t. When it comes to relievers and the bench, teams would rather preserve their organizational depth and keep players without options remaining

(For those unaware, out-of-options players have to go on waivers, and thus can be claimed by any team, before they can be sent to the minors. Players typically have three option years, which kick in once they are added to the 40-man roster (players with fewer than five seasons of professional experience can be awarded a fourth option year). Players can be sent down many separate times in a season, but it still only accounts for the one option year.)

My problem with the option rules is that age plays no part in the process. A 16-year-old kid signed out of the Dominican Republic can be added to the 40-man roster at 20-21 and run out of options at age 23-24. The Mets’ Wilmer Flores is this year’s best example; he’s just 23, but the Mets won’t be able to send him down if he gets off to a lousy start as their shortstop. The Tigers’ Hernan Perez turns 24 on this very day. Detroit would almost surely prefer to send him down to play regularly in the minors, but they know there’s a good chance he’d be claimed on waivers.

On the other hand, a 22-year-old player drafted out of college doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until he’s 25 or 26. He might not run out of options before age 29. The Phillies’ Darin Ruf is 28. He’s spent time in the majors the last three years, hitting .251/.339/.466. If he were placed on waivers, he’d surely be grabbed by some team looking for a right-handed hitter with power. The Phillies, though, can and probably will continue to jerk him around between Triple-A and the majors, perhaps because they’ll want to carry 24-year-old Cesar Hernandez, who is out of options.

The Pirates’ Jared Hughes is 29, and he had a 1.96 ERA in 64 1/3 innings last year. However, he has an option year left, whereas fellow bullpen options Radhames Liz, Stolmy Pimentel and Arquimedes Caminero don’t. There’s no way the Pirates would choose any of those guys over Hughes given a level playing field, but since it isn’t, there’s the chance Hughes could be optioned out.

It can be even worse for late bloomers. The Blue Jays sent down 31-year-old Steve Delabar on Thursday. Since he’s a former indy leaguer, he still has the option year. Judging from his anger, he’d much rather be on waivers and get claimed by another team. The Reds are counting on 31-year-old Jumbo Diaz as a big part of their pen this year, but if he struggles for a couple of weeks, he can be sent down.

I’d like to see option rules altered to account for age of players. I don’t think a team should be able to send down a 28-year-old another team could use, and I don’t think a team should be forced to keep a 24-year-old who isn’t ready for the majors. There should be a compromise available somewhere, right? The owners would go for it, since they’d just as soon play the best players. It might be a bit tougher sell for the union, since the younger players being held back have more long-term earnings potential than the older fringe players. Still, I would hope the union would rather see players judged on merit than on how many options they have remaining.

My compromise wouldn’t be too drastic. I’d leave the 40-man roster and Rule 5 draft rules intact and simply propose that no player by allowed to run out of options before his age-25 season and that players would automatically go on the out-of-options list at age 28. Whether a player has options at age 25, 26 and 27 would still be governed by he’s used up his three options years or not.

Of course, I’m not holding my breath for this kind of alteration, either. Change comes very slowly, unless it’s a change that translates quickly and obviously into dollars gained. This doesn’t really do that. It just makes things a bit more fair for the non-Kris Bryants in the game.