Alvarez makes big throw, hits 25th homer, Astros top Royals

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON — Long established as a star at the plate, Yordan Alvarez has been showing flashes of brilliance on defense this season, too.

Alvarez threw out Hunter Dozier at the plate from just short of the warning track in left field to preserve a two-run, eighth-inning lead, then hit his 25th homer as the Houston Astros beat the Kansas City Royals 9-7 on Tuesday night.

The Astros also got homers from Jeremy Pena, Alex Bregman and Aledmys Diaz as they extended their winning streak to a major league-best eight games.

Houston trailed 4-3 entering the fifth inning before Pena homered off Zack Greinke (2-5) to tie it. Bregman’s two-run shot later in the fifth put the Astros ahead 6-4.

The eighth belonged to Alvarez.

Bryan Abreu’s bases-loaded walk of Michael A. Taylor got the Royals within two. Phil Maton took over and Nicky Lopez hit a deep flyball that Alvarez caught and fired on the fly to catcher Martin Maldonado, who tagged out Dozier for an inning-ending double play.

“When the ball was hit, I just focused and thought I’d have a chance at home if I made a pretty good throw,” Alvarez said through a translator. “That was where my focus was, just to make a good, strong throw there.”

After playing primarily at designated hitter in his first three major league seasons, Alvarez has been splitting time between DH and left field this year.

“It all goes back to work,” manager Dusty Baker said. “And he’s worked on it. He’s worked on his defense a lot.”

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Alvarez homered to left-center off Jackson Kowar to make it 9-6. Chants of “M-V-P” rained down on the slugger as he rounded the bases.

“It felt exciting that the fan base was calling for that,” he said. “It definitely felt good.”

His 25 homers are tied with Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber for second in the majors, four behind the Yankees’ Aaron Judge.

Alvarez was asked if he enjoyed his big defensive play or his homer more.

“I think the thing that is the most fun is today is it’s my mom’s birthday,” he said. “At first, when I threw out the runner, I said: `Oh wow.’ Then I hit the home run and I said: `Oh wow, (what) a good gift (for her).”‘

Luis Garcia (7-5) allowed eight hits and five runs in 6 1/3 innings for his fourth straight win. Rafael Montero allowed a run on a groundout in the ninth before striking out the next two batters for his sixth save.

Greinke tied a season high by allowing 10 hits with six runs in five innings in his first start against Houston since signing with the Royals in the offseason. The veteran spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Astros, going to the World Series in 2019 and last year.

“Stuff felt pretty sharp but I made a lot of mistakes and didn’t really make a lot of quality strikes,” Greinke said. “I think … they had 10 hits or something and at least like eight of them were mistakes.”

The Astros played a video honoring Greinke’s time in Houston while he warmed up and capped it by playing John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind,” which was his warmup music. He received a warm ovation and waved to the crowd from the bullpen.

“Yeah, that was good,” Greinke said. “The Diamondbacks decided to show them hitting some home runs off me and then did a tribute, so it was nicer to do it before the game. Kind of a nice way of doing it.”

MJ Melendez hit a solo homer off Garcia in the second and Bobby Witt Jr. connected off him for a two-run shot in the third. It was the third home run of the series for Melendez, who went deep twice in the series opener on Monday.

Diaz hit a two-run homer in the seventh off Kowar.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Royals: Witt left the game after fouling a ball off his hand in the ninth inning. Manager Mike Matheny said X-rays were negative but his hand was swollen after the game. … LHP Daniel Lynch (left index finger blister) is scheduled to make his first rehabilitation start for Triple-A Omaha Wednesday.

Astros: RHP Lance McCullers Jr., who has been out all season with a forearm injury, threw another live batting practice session Tuesday. He threw about 30 pitches and Baker said he will do that a couple more times before moving to simulated games.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Baker tied Walter Alston for ninth all-time among managers with 2,040 career wins.

UP NEXT

Houston’s Cristian Javier (6-3, 2.58 ERA), who has struck out 27 batters combined in his last two starts, opposes Brad Keller (3-9, 4.24) when the four-game series continues Wednesday night.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.