First-quarter awards: NL Rookie of the Year

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heyward swinging.jpgA one-man race, right? Jason Heyward was practically handed the award a couple of weeks into the season, and though he’s hit a bit of a rough patch over the last week, he’s still batting an exceptional .274/.399/.540 with 28 RBI. That’s definitely Rookie of the Year material.
But what no one expected was that there’d be a pitching equivalent: Jaime Garcia has been a revelation for the Cardinals, opening the season 4-2 with a 1.42 ERA that ranks second in the National League.
Let’s take a look at the legitimate candidates at the quarter pole:
Jason Heyward: .274/.399/.548, 8 HR, 28 RBI in 113 AB
Gaby Sanchez: .294/.386/.468, 4 HR, 18 RBI in 126 AB
David Freese: .305/.378/.458, 3 HR, 24 RBI in 131 AB
Ian Desmond: .279/.326/.443, 3 HR, 18 RBI in 122 AB
Jaime Garcia: 4-2, 1.42 ERA, 36/16 K/BB in 44 1/3 IP
Mike Leake: 4-0, 3.09 ERA, 33/20 K/BB in 46 2/3 IP
Jonathon Niese: 1-2, 4.79 ERA, 33/18 K/BB in 41 1/4 IP
Hisanori Takahashi: 3-1, 3.12 ERA, 33/14 K/BB in 26 IP
This isn’t to say that John Ely, Ike Davis and others won’t factor in later, but given their limited action to date, they don’t have a real case for any honors right now.
Heyward and Garcia are still the obvious standouts, with Leake, Sanchez and Freese next in line. That Freese plays the tougher defensive position (albeit not quite as well) and has the bigger RBI total probably gives him a bit of an edge over Sanchez as the No. 2 hitter.
Leake, with six quality starts in seven tries, is a big reason the Reds are a half-game in front of the Cardinals at the moment. Still, his numbers don’t measure up with Garcia’s.
So, Heyward versus Garcia. Heyward has been the big bat in an Atlanta outfield that’s been otherwise totally void of power the last couple of years. He’s leading the team in both homers and RBI. He’s getting on base at an excellent clip, playing fine defense in right field and handling lefties about as well as righties. He’s pretty much the perfect rookie, and the Braves would be lost without him.
That said, Garcia has been even better to date. He’s gone at least six innings in all seven of his starts and allowed more than two runs just once — and those extra two he gave up in the one “poor” start were both unearned. The Cardinals are just 4-3 in his outings, but that’s because they’ve scored a total of two runs in the losses. He’s second in not only the NL in ERA, but also the majors as a whole.
That makes Garcia the choice in my book. Heyward remains the heavy favorite to be the NL Rookie of the Year, of course. Garcia not only isn’t this good, but he’s also a significant injury risk. Still, for a quarter of the season, he’s been one of baseball’s top performers.
First quarter NL ROY
1. Garcia
2. Heyward
3. Leake

Nathan Eovaldi to make 2018 debut for Rays soon

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Rays manager Kevin Cash said that pitcher Nathan Eovaldi will join the starting rotation on Monday or Tuesday to face the Athletics, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Eovaldi’s rehab outing with Triple-A Durham went well, even though he gave up eight runs in four innings.

Eovaldi, 28, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He had arthroscopic surgery in March to remove loose bodies in his elbow. It’s been a long road back. Knowing Eovaldi needed to recover from surgery, the Rays signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract in 2017 that included a $2 million club option for 2018 that they exercised last November.

When Eovaldi last pitched, he ranked among baseball’s hardest throwers, particularly among starters. He averaged 97.1 MPH on his fastball in 2016. Among starters who racked up at least 100 innings that season, only the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard had a higher average velocity (97.9 MPH). It remains to be seen if he still has that velocity after undergoing two procedures on his elbow.

The Rays will be glad to have Eovaldi back. The club has sustained injuries to Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos, and Jose De Leon.