Jason Heyward is working on bunting

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Braves outfielder Jason Heyward hit 30 doubles and 27 home runs last season, both career bests. Early in spring training, though, the slugger is working on playing small ball. In the fifth inning of today’s game against the Washington Nationals, Heyward laid down a bunt, reaching first base safely while moving Reed Johnson to second base.

Both Heyward and manager Fredi Gonzalez expect it to be a part of the right fielder’s game going forward. Via AJC’s Michael Cunningham:

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez’s said Heyward can present a threat with bunts.

“He’s got to work on that,” Gonzalez said. “Last year (opponents) really shifted him. They over-shifted at times. He’s got to really make them respect that bunt. With his speed, he gets on base, it could be (like) a double (with steals). It could be extra bases.”

[snip]

“If I’m going to be in the two hole, eventually I’m going to have to get (bunts) down,” Heyward said. “Down here is the time to get that work in and build the confidence of doing it during the season.”

Gonzalez is right about opposing defenses. A majority of Heyward’s ground ball outs went to the right side of the infield last year. With the threat of a bunt, opposing defenses will have to play honest by shifting less heavily to the right side, opening up the field to the left-hander.

Phillies sign Francisco Liriano and Neil Walker to minor league deals

Francisco Liriano
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Robert Murray and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported earlier, respectively, that the Phillies signed pitcher Francisco Liriano and infielder Neil Walker to minor league contracts. If he makes the major league roster, Liriano will earn a salary of $1.5 million with an additional $1.25 million available through performance incentives. Walker’s contract information is not yet known.

Liriano, 36, struggled from 2016-18 but enjoyed a productive year out of the bullpen for the Pirates this past season. He posted a 3.47 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 35 walks over 70 innings. The lefty was quite effective against same-handed batters, limiting fellow lefties to a .659 OPS. That would figure to be a key component if Liriano makes the Phillies’ Opening Day roster.

Walker, 34, hit .261/.344/.395 with eight home runs and 38 RBI over 381 plate appearances with the Marlins last year. The veteran is versastile, having played first, second, and third base along with both corner outfield spots in recent seasons. Despite Walker’s versatility, it is tough to see room on the Phillies’ roster for him, barring injuries to other players. It never hurts to have depth.