Nolan Arenado homers on his birthday, Jon Gray deals as Rockies beat Padres to gain momentum heading into homestand

On the day No. 28 turned 28 years old, the Rockies got a home run from their birthday third baseman — and Colorado put together a wire-to-wire, 8-2 victory — for the third time in three days.

Some April momentum, at last, following the worst start in franchise history.

“Our starting pitching has been really good with (German) Marquez on Sunday, (Antonio) Senzatela on Monday and then Jon Gray today,” Nolan Arenado said. “We scored runs early, and you always feel a little more comfortable when you score a couple runs early.

“We’re playing good baseball right now. We just have to keep it up.”

Boxscore

The two-game sweep of San Diego, begun by Arenado’s dinger and enabled by Gray’s seven innings of one-run ball, sends Colorado into its seven-game homestand with a gust at its back. After Arenado’s two-run bomb in the opening frame — the first time Colorado has scored in the first inning this season — the bats kept on the gas the next couple of innings.

Doubles by Tony Wolters and Charlie Blackmon led to another run in the second, and then Raimel Tapia’s two-RBI triple in the third pushed the score to 5-0 off San Diego rookie Nick Margevicius.

“We sensed some momentum building,” manager Bud Black said. “That’s three days in a row that Nolan’s had some great swings, but I really like that we scored in the second, we scored in the third, we scored late … Overall we were on the attack against their pitching.”

All that early offensive noise, compounded by Trevor Story’s career-high three steals, gave Gray plenty of cushion to work with en route to his first win of the season. It was another outing where he showed the penchant for dominance that often eluded him during an inconsistent 2018 campaign, even though Black pointed out Gray “wasn’t even at the top of his game” with his offspeed.“I knew in the bullpen that I didn’t have my best stuff,” Gray admitted. “But there were times in the game when things got tough and I found a way to make a pitch, and that’s exactly what I want to see out of myself on days like these.”

Gray worked confidently and efficiently, holding the Padres hitless through the first four innings before Wil Meyers broke up the no-no with a solo shot to left to lead off the fifth. That put San Diego on the board at 5-1 and gave Gray sole possession of the National League record for consecutive games with a homer allowed at 16, but it didn’t sidetrack him from his sixth career quality start at Petco Park.

The right-hander pitched himself out of his most serious trouble in the sixth, inducing a Manny Machado flyout to end the frame with two runners aboard.

“Working out of that was big,” Gray said.

Meanwhile, the Rockies (6-12) continued to put pressure on the Padres’ bullpen as Garrett Hampson hit his first career home run, off Adam Warren in the seventh, to make it 6-1. Then in the ninth, Mark Reynolds’ sacrifice fly earned Colorado fans tacos for the first time in 2019 before Tapia’s grounder brought another run across to extend the lead to 8-1.

“We were pretty much in control from the beginning, and the last two games here have gone like that,” Hampson said.

Carlos Estevez, DJ Johnson and Seunghwan Oh closed out the game for Colorado, which hosts Bryce Harper and Philadelphia for a four-game series beginning Thursday.

“To be able to say you split a road trip, that’s not bad,” Arenado said. “We lost some tough games, and it feels good to know we took care of business these last three.”

Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Our Favorite Small Sample Sizes of 2019

Now that we’re into the second half of April, there is, finally, some sense of order to most of baseball’s statistical leaderboards. The key word there is some, however, which means there is still chaos to be found. So here’s a selection of the game’s weirdest small sample size quirks, while we still have them to enjoy. There are some that might ultimately mean something and most that will definitely mean nothing, but for now, they’re here, and they’re weird, and they’re worth noticing:

The reigning NL MVP has 28 plate appearances in six games against the Cardinals. He has eight home runs. Eight! (He has one home run against all other teams combined.) Throw in seven walks, two singles, and a double, and Yelich has looked not just like a cardinal’s most fearsome natural predator but like some sort of insane virus genetically engineered specifically to exploit every weakness in a cardinal’s system.

Mike Trout’s Walk-to-Strikeout Ratio

There was a time when Mike Trout’s strikeout and walk statistics were… normal. They were the one feature of his game that didn’t include any video game-crazy numbers. In 2014, for instance, when he won his first MVP, he finished 18th in walk percentage (11.8%) and 14th in strikeout percentage (26.1%). See? Normal!

But normal isn’t good enough for Trout, obviously. Over the years, he’s steadily been increasing his walk rate, until last season, when he led the league here for the first time (20.1%). That’s all well and good—for the best player of his generation just to get even better, in an area where he didn’t particularly have to, simply to be the best at everything—but it was still, in some sense, in the realm of normal. It wasn’t better than the best from Joey Votto. It didn’t signal any larger change in his approach; his strikeout percentage hovered right about where it had been historically, giving him a walk-to-strikeout rate of 0.98—almost even, but not quite—the fifth-highest in baseball.That was 2018. 2019? This season Trout has walked 16 times. He has struck out five. He’s still swinging. He still has all his power—and then some, as you can see by his .816 SLG. (Not OPS. SLG.) He’s just… walking all the time and striking out almost never. His eye is perfect. His BB/K is 3.2.

Amazing. And it gets even more so. Look up the five pitchers to strike him out—Frankie Montas, Adrian Sampson, Jeffrey Springs, Jhoulys Chacin, Mike Minor. Yep. Okay. Sure!
Greg Garcia’s Average Launch Angle

The Padres infielder only has a handful of batted balls so far (11). This is a small sample size even in the realm of small sample sizes. And yet it’s notable, because his average launch angle on those batted balls is -8.1 degrees. He’s hit the ball in the air exactly once. That’s it. There are some guys whose launch angle lives typically below zero, sure, but this much is extreme for any regular position player. There’s never anything good associated with a negative number as an individual statistic, but there is something almost poignant about this one—a guy who, literally, cannot get off the ground.

Harper hits two home runs, feels comfortable

Bryce Harper is tuning up quite nicely with Opening Day approaching.

He crushed two home runs in Thursday afternoon’s 13-6 victory over the Blue Jays at Spectrum Field. He ripped a line-drive, two-run home run to right field in the first inning, and a towering solo homer to right and out of the ballpark in the sixth. He is hitting .231 (3-for-13) with two homers, three RBIs, six walks, seven strikeouts and a 1.192 OPS this spring.

“We have a couple more days,” Harper said, about feeling comfortable at the plate. “Of course we’ll be ready for March 28. I feel good right now. The swing feels good. The timing is coming along. I’ll take the next couple days and really solidify that timing and get to it.”

“He kind of showed why he’s one of the best offensive players in baseball,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.

Harper also walked and scored on J.T. Realmuto’s two-run homer in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen, Andrew Knapp and Gift Ngoepe also homered for the Phillies in the matchup.

“I think everybody looks pretty great,” Harper said. “We’re all excited to get up north.”

Williams plays center field
Kapler said recently that Nick Williams will not play center field this season, but they gave him a look there on Thursday.

Williams is expected to make the Opening Day roster as their No. 1 weapon off the bench, but with Harper and McCutchen expected to play nearly every day at the corners, and some combination of Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr in center field — Roman Quinn will open the season on the injured list — plate appearances for Williams could be difficult to find.

“Who’s that lefty that’s going to bang a home run or hit a double in the gap?” Kapler said. “Right now, Nick looks like that option. But it’s also possible that he gets a start here and there in left and right field, and obviously he was out there in center field for a reason. We want to see if he’s an option at some point.”

Anderson, Cozens optioned
The Phillies optioned right-hander Drew Anderson to Triple-A as one of 10 roster moves Thursday.

Anderson had an excellent spring, and probably is the first or second call to the big leagues, if the Phillies’ rotation needs help. (Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff is the other top choice.) Anderson, 24, went 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts. He struck out 12 and walked two in 12 2/3 innings.

Anderson developed a cutter a few weeks ago, and it has been remarkably effective.

The Phillies also optioned outfielder Dylan Cozens and left-hander James Pazos, who the Phillies acquired in December from Seattle in the Jean Segura trade. Cozens hit .256 (10-for-39) with four home runs, seven RBIs, four walks, 15 strikeouts and a .941 OPS. The team reassigned outfielder Adam Haseley to Minor League camp and released catcher Drew Butera; left-handers Edward Paredes and Jeremy Bleich; infielders Trevor Plouffe, Gregorio Petit and Andrew Romine.

Butera and Romine exercised an opt-out clause Thursday. They would have received a $100,000 retention bonus if they were not placed on the 25-man roster or released.

Infielder Sean Rodriguez also exercised his opt-out Thursday. The Phillies have until Saturday to make a decision on him. If he is not added to the roster, he can ask to be released. He could make the team, if the Phillies decide to carry an extra player on the bench. But the Phillies then would need to remove somebody from the 40-man roster to make space for him.

Outfielders Shane Robinson and Lane Adams and infielders Phil Gosselin, Ngoepe and Matt McBride have been told they will not make the Opening Day roster, but they will remain with the team through Monday. They will report to Minor League camp on Tuesday.

Up next
Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff (0-0, 5.40 ERA) faces Yankees right-hander Jonathan Loaisiga (2-1, 7.50 ERA) on Friday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m. ET.

Mets rookie Pete Alonso is on Aaron Judge’s radar and for good reason

Yes, Aaron Judge saw the highlights.

And yes, Judge was just as impressed with Pete Alonso’s splash landing in Atlanta as the rest of us.

On April 11, Alonso — the New York Mets’ 24-year-old rookie slugger — belted a 454-foot homer with a staggering 118.3 mph exit velocity that landed in the centerfield fountain at SunTrust Park.

It was the hardest-hit ball by any Met in the “Statcast Era” (since 2015).

“What a special talent,” Judge told Yahoo Sports when asked about Alonso. “I haven’t met him … but I’ve only heard good things about him. And what he’s doing on the field — not only hitting for power but hitting for a good average. That’s something pretty special.”

Since baseball began keeping tracking data four seasons ago, the “exit velo” leaderboards have belonged to Judge and his teammate, Giancarlo Stanton.

In fact, the New York Yankees’ dynamic duo owns the top eight hardest-hit homers since 2015, according to MLB.com research.

Now, there’s a newcomer in the mix. And he also happens to play in the Big Apple — just on the other side of town.

Asked what it was like to be in the same category with Judge (6-foot-7, 282 pounds) and Stanton (6-foot-6, 245 pounds), Alonso (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) jokingly told reporters, “Got to do a couple more push-ups. That’s really cool. It means a lot. They’re two of the most prolific power hitters in the game right now, and to be up there with them it’s really cool and means a lot.”

Alonso has burst onto the scene since earning his spot with the Mets out of spring training — service-time issues be damned — batting .339 with six homers and 17 RBIs in his first 16 career games. He ranks fourth in the majors with 13 extra-base hits. All of his homers have come against relievers in the seventh inning or later.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Judge said. “You see him, and he’s built like an NFL linebacker. You saw the play with Josh Reddick at first base in the spring. Reddick was going full speed and Pete was just kind of off-balance trying to make a play. He stopped Reddick right in his tracks.“You watch his swing and how big he is and his mechanics. That was a pretty impressive homer that he had.”

In the clubhouse, Noah Syndergaard has nicknamed Alonso “Pete the Polar Bear.”

“He’s a violent creature,” Syndergaard said recently.

The Mets selected Alonso in the second-round of the 2016 MLB draft out of the University of Florida. He wound up hitting his way through the minors and into the majors.

“His power doesn’t surprise anybody that went to a game,” said Mets’ vice president of scouting Tommy Tanous. “But there are a lot of kids with power. It’s just there aren’t that many with ‘power frequency’ — the ability to actually use that power in a game. Pete is able to recognize pitches better than a lot of kids in the minors. That’s the difference.

“He’s a good hitter. His defense has improved. I can’t tell you he’s going to be a base stealer. But if he keeps hitting the ball over the fence, he can jog all he wants.”

Judge managed to hit an MLB rookie-record 52 homers en route to capturing AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2017. But the start of his career wasn’t without its share of pitfalls.

During a brief cameo with the Yankees in 2016, Judge hit .179 with 42 strikeouts in 84 at-bats. And, even in his historic rookie campaign, he struggled with a shoulder injury — which wasn’t helped by winning the Home Run Derby that year — and hit .179 during a 44-game stretch from July 14 – Aug. 31. Alonso has struggled early with strikeouts (21 in 59 at-bats) and is on pace for more than 200 this season.

In a sport riddled with failure, the ability to adjust can be make-or-break for young players. Video, scouting reports and advanced metrics provide teams a chance to both find and exploit weaknesses.

Betts avoids arbitration with record $20M deal

Mookie Betts and the Red Sox not only avoided arbitration on Friday, but they did so with a one-year, $20 million contract that sets a record for a player in his second season of arbitration-eligibility, a source told MLB.com.

With Friday’s 1 p.m. ET deadline looming for MLB teams to exchange contract figures with all arbitration-eligible players, the Red Sox reached agreements with all 10 of their eligible players.
The status of having a record-setting deal is something Betts is clearly worthy of, having won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award in 2018 with a monster season that helped lead Boston to a franchise-record 108 wins, and ultimately a World Series championship.
The development is also a significant one, when you consider the Red Sox and Betts couldn’t agree on a contract the previous two offseasons.
Betts made $10.5 million in 2018, but two offseasons ago, the Red Sox wound up renewing the star right fielder’s contract for just $950,000.

The highest contract an arbitration-eligible player has ever received is the $23 million deal that Josh Donaldson got a year ago, and it won’t surprise anyone if Betts shatters that dollar amount next year.
Betts is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2020 season, but the Red Sox would love to keep their homegrown star long beyond that.
En route to his AL MVP Award, the 26-year-old Betts led the Majors in runs (129), average (.346) and slugging percentage (.640), while also capturing the AL Silver Slugger Award and the AL Gold Glove Award.
Though Betts didn’t have the postseason he was hoping for at the plate, he clocked a home run in the clinching Game 5 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, helping the Red Sox seal their fourth title in a span of 15 seasons.The other nine players who agreed to one-year deals are: shortstop Xander Bogaerts ($12 million), center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. ($8.55 million), left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez ($4.33 million), utility man Brock Holt ($3.575 million), catcher Sandy Leon ($2.435 million), right-hander Steven Wright ($1.75 million), right-hander Matt Barnes ($1.6 million), right-hander Heath Hembree ($1.31 million), right-hander Brandon Workman ($1.15 million) and catcher Blake Swihart ($910,000).