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Inbox: How will Salvy's return impact Royals?

Beat reporter Jeffrey Flanagan answers questions from fans
MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals have won two of three, somewhat easing a rough start to 2018. And there's a lot of ball left.

Let's get to your questions and concerns in this week's Inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals have won two of three, somewhat easing a rough start to 2018. And there's a lot of ball left.

Let's get to your questions and concerns in this week's Inbox.

Tweet from @thebsan: How much of an impact if any can Slavy have on the Royals pitching when he returns and is actually behind the plate. Specifically wondering about Duffy and the bullpen.

Salvador Perez's return will take place on Tuesday. Ned Yost brought up Perez's value again Sunday, reminding everyone what a major blow it was to lose Perez just hours before the home opener. Perez's impact on the staff is profound, and his presence in the middle of the lineup is even greater.

:: Submit a question to the Royals Inbox ::

Tweet from @jeffgates: Which outfielder is ent down when Gordon returns? A case is being made for Almonte to stay

The early guess was likely Abraham Almonte, who was claimed off waivers April 2. But Almonte has impressed the coaching staff and the front office primarily with his defense in center field (he has made numerous superb plays), and now his bat has started to pick up -- he hit a grand slam Sunday and has the Royals' two longest home runs this season, 426 feet and 425 feet. Paulo Orlando has a .459 OPS and has not played well defensively lately. Both have options, but Almonte appears to have earned a longer stay.

Tweet from @HondaDude7: your thoughts about Moose and his long term future with the Royals

The Mike Moustakas question is going to get more and more interesting the closer we get to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The guess here is that Dayton Moore would be hesitant to flip Moustakas, at least until they had a sit-down about it. Yes, I can sense your eye-rolls, but keep in mind that Kansas City often operates with a little more compassion and sentimentalism than other teams do. Obviously, Moore must and ultimately will do what's best for the organization. Could that mean they sign Moose long-term? Possibly. Moustakas has grown into a formidable all-around offensive weapon, he's only 29, he has committed to his conditioning and most importantly, he plays to win. He's a presence in the clubhouse. But those same qualities could make him very attractive at the Trade Deadline as well. One more factor: Beyond Cheslor Cuthbert, the organization is not overflowing with third-base prospects.

Tweet from @ARSON911: How many games till trade value is reached for Jay, Duda, etc so we can get the kids playing?

In some regards, this team was constructed to flip at the Deadline. Guys like Lucas Duda, Jon Jay, Ryan Goins, etc., could bring some value in return if they are productive over the next two months. Kelvin Herrera has been lights out early in the season and likely would bring the biggest return. If the Royals are out of it by late July, deals will be made, and the final two months could be a lot of fun to watch as players such as Hunter Dozier, Raul Mondesi, Josh Staumont, Frank Schwindel, Ryan O'Hearn, etc., get a chance to show their potential up here.

Tweet from @eddievanhoglen: Bucholtz stay on 25 man roster after double header next weekend?

Clay Buchholz, who has looked terrific in extended spring camp and in his first two Minor League starts, won't be the 26th man because he is not on the 40-man roster. If he is added to the 25-man roster to start one of Saturday's doubleheader games, Kansas City will make an accompanying 40-man move, and he will be here to stay.

Tweet from @jediliz: Is salvy safe? I think there would be a huge backlash if he got traded

Moore told me repeatedly during the offseason that he doesn't believe the return he would get for Perez would merit trading him at this point.

Tweet from @JoshuaNeeley: With the Royals farm system being one of the worst in the league and not a lot of talent in the bigs, how long do you think this rebuild will realistically take?

The Royals bristle at the notion that their farm system is as bad as the rankings. Moore has pointed out there is a ton of talent in the low Minors, with prospects such as Khalil Lee, Nick Pratto, Seuly Matias, MJ Melendez, Michael Gigliotti, Emmanuel Rivera and so on. And Moore also points out correctly that guys like Moustakas and Eric Hosmer shot through the Minors fairly quickly. We could see many of those aforementioned prospects within two to three years.

Tweet from @rjlewis85: Has anyone heard from Ash Russell and where he stands on ever playing baseball again?

Right-hander Ashe Russell, 21, was Kansas City's first-round pick in 2015, but after an encouraging year of Rookie-level ball that season, he developed some confidence issues which escalated into serious command issues on the mound. He pitched briefly in '16 and then took '17 off as he contemplated his future in baseball. The Royals tell me Russell has resumed a throwing program in Arizona this spring and is working toward throwing some inning in extended spring camp eventually. They have not given up on him.

Tweet from @ItsReallyAllie: Is there any word or speculation on what���s being done with Maurer? Is he actually working on more control and constancy with his pitches or does he have more of an attitude problem?

It's a good question, but there aren't any major mechanical changes in store for Brandon Maurer. The Royals simply believe his issues can be resolved with a string of success at Triple-A and a much-needed boost of confidence. Maurer's stuff can be electric.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals

Inbox: Will Owings return to D-backs' bench?

Beat reporter Steve Gilbert answers questions from fans
MLB.com

I know one doesn't typically lose their starting position due to injury, but it almost seems unfair that Chris Owings is doing so well and would go back on the bench when Steven Souza Jr. comes back. Any chance of Owings staying in the starting role?
-- Jessica, Baton Rouge La.

Souza started throwing again this past weekend and we'll see how it progresses and when he's able to return. Even with Souza starting in right, I think you'll see Owings get his share of at-bats, it will just be at a variety of positions. Depending on when Jake Lamb comes back, Owings could see some at-bats there and he could also see some time at second, short and the other two outfield positions. The plan in the offseason was to move him around to different positions to keep his bat in the lineup, and I think you'll see him in there even when Souza comes back.

I know one doesn't typically lose their starting position due to injury, but it almost seems unfair that Chris Owings is doing so well and would go back on the bench when Steven Souza Jr. comes back. Any chance of Owings staying in the starting role?
-- Jessica, Baton Rouge La.

Souza started throwing again this past weekend and we'll see how it progresses and when he's able to return. Even with Souza starting in right, I think you'll see Owings get his share of at-bats, it will just be at a variety of positions. Depending on when Jake Lamb comes back, Owings could see some at-bats there and he could also see some time at second, short and the other two outfield positions. The plan in the offseason was to move him around to different positions to keep his bat in the lineup, and I think you'll see him in there even when Souza comes back.

A lot of the D-backs' success this year is attributable to pitching. I know it's early, but do you think the humidor should get some credit for our successful start?
-- Bob, Oro Valley, Ariz.

:: Submit a question to the D-backs Inbox ::

I think it will be fascinating to look at the end of this season and the years to come to see what, if any, impact the humidor is having at Chase Field. Right now, though, it's way too early to say. You make a good point about the pitching being good, but keep in mind the strength of this team last year was its pitching, particularly the starting rotation. So the fact that the D-backs are having success on the mound should not be a surprise. If their offense is a tick down, keep in mind that the club no longer has J.D. Martinez, while Souza has been out all year and Lamb has missed all but four games.

Why did Jon Duplantier start the season late?
-- Zach G., Phoenix

Duplantier, who is ranked as the organization's No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, opened the year on the disabled list with a right hamstring issue. He joined Double-A Jackson and allowed a pair of runs over five innings in his first start.

How long do you think Matt Koch stays in the rotation?
-- Tony H., Chicago

If he keeps pitching like he did in his first start, he won't come out of the rotation any time soon. Koch faces a situation much like Zack Godley did last year where he knows he has to perform every time out there in order to stay. Forgetting the short-term for a minute, the organization likes Koch a lot and was impressed with him this spring. Last year's struggles appear to have been related to him simply not being completely healthy.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Steven Souza Jr., Matt Koch, Chris Owings

Inbox: Will Gurriel stay on the roster for '18?

Beat reporter Gregor Chisholm answers questions from fans
MLB.com

What are the Blue Jays going to do when Josh Donaldson returns? Will they find a way to keep Lourdes Gurriel Jr.?
-- Phil K., Thunder Bay, Ontario

Gurriel had an impressive debut, but he's still the likeliest candidate to be sent down. Donaldson's return would slide Yangervis Solarte back into a super utility role, but there will be no shortage of playing time at second base, shortstop and third. Solarte's defense at shortstop is still a concern, and the club has used him there just once this season, but he's an option whenever fly-ball pitcher Marco Estrada is on the mound.

What are the Blue Jays going to do when Josh Donaldson returns? Will they find a way to keep Lourdes Gurriel Jr.?
-- Phil K., Thunder Bay, Ontario

Gurriel had an impressive debut, but he's still the likeliest candidate to be sent down. Donaldson's return would slide Yangervis Solarte back into a super utility role, but there will be no shortage of playing time at second base, shortstop and third. Solarte's defense at shortstop is still a concern, and the club has used him there just once this season, but he's an option whenever fly-ball pitcher Marco Estrada is on the mound.

Even if Donaldson requires at least semi-regular starts at DH, the Blue Jays should be able to make this configuration work. It limits the versatility of the roster, but Russell Martin's ability to play third -- or even second base in an emergency situation -- helps protect against in-game injuries. Gurriel is a nice fit, but he should be playing every day, and if that's not going to happen in the Majors, he should be sent down when Donaldson is back.

:: Submit a question to the Blue Jays Inbox ::

Is it time to put Devon Travis to the Minors and give Gurriel second base?
-- Justin C., Toronto

This seems to be a popular question this week -- and it's understandable because Travis is batting .140 with a .218 on-base percentage -- but I still don't think it's time for type of move. Travis' struggles would be more concerning if he had not been down this road before. Last year, Travis hit .130 in April and then enjoyed the best month of his career with a 1.019 OPS and 20 extra-base hits. It's reasonable to expect another turnaround because the bat is simply too good to be mired in that type of slump for much longer. If he's still not hitting in a couple of weeks then it's probably time to have that conversation, but the upside is far too high to rush things.

John Gibbons always leaves his starters in for too long. Look at Saturday's game against the Yankees. Marcus Stroman was obviously tired, Gibbons left him in too long and a winnable game turned into a blowout. What is he thinking
-- Derek T., Hamilton, Ontario

Gibbons has no choice but to force the issue a little bit with his rotation. The bullpen has been an early strength, but it lacks versatility, and until the Blue Jays add a long reliever, that's going to be a problem. The club has been attempting to extend the outings of John Axford and Danny Barnes, but this relief corps is filled with one-inning specialists. If a starter gets knocked out early there will be repercussions for days and that's why Gibbons' hands are tied. The rotation ranks sixth in the American League with 117 innings and 12th with a 5.23 ERA. Simply put, it needs to be better.

With the starters being forced to pitch extra innings because the bullpen lacks a long man would there be any additional thought toward moving Joe Biagini back to the 'pen at some point?
-- Corey B., Sparwood, British Columbia

Ideally yes, but that's easier said than done because the Blue Jays have the same problem they did at the end of Spring Training. The only relievers with options remaining are Ryan Tepera and Barnes and neither one deserves a demotion. Tepera is the primary setup man to Roberto Osuna and Barnes has allowed just one run over 11 2/3 innings. The only way to get a long reliever onto the roster is by parting ways with either Seung Hwan Oh, Tyler Clippard, Axford or Aaron Loup.

Loup is the longest-tenured Blue Jay, but he doesn't have a defined role. He's the lone lefty, yet he rarely comes in to face a left-handed batter in high-leverage situations and has been mostly relegated to pitching when the score is out of hand. The Blue Jays probably don't want to lose him, but they may have no choice but to take a long-hard look at this situation. My pick for long relief would be Luis Santos, which would allow Biagini to continue starting in the Minors.

What are they going to do with Randal Grichuk if he continues to scuffle?
-- Rick B., Raleigh, N.C.

Teoscar Hernandez is playing so well right now that he needs to be in the lineup every day. He's a streaky hitter and there's a good chance his bat will eventually cool off, but Hernandez deserves the benefit of the doubt until he proves otherwise. In an ideal world, Grichuk would be sent to the Minors, but he's out of options so that can't happen. For now, he's destined to see a lot of time on the bench.

The Blue Jays currently have five outfielders, plus a full-time DH in Kendrys Morales. At some point, one of those players has to go because the configuration is not sustainable. Exploring the trade market for Steve Pearce is one option, eating the contract of Morales is another and a last resort might be cutting ties with Grichuk altogether. Expect the club to delay this decision as long as possible, which means Grichuk on the bench with a five-man outfield should be expected for awhile.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Joe Biagini, Josh Donaldson, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Yangervis Solarte, Devon Travis

Inbox: Plawecki the long-term answer for Mets?

Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers questions from fans
MLB.com

A rainout and a team off-day have converged at a convenient time for the Mets, who can catch their collective breath following a week that saw them go 2-4. The Mets will return to play Tuesday in St. Louis, with Zack Wheeler looking to build upon his strong start to the season. While we wait, it's time to dip again into the Inbox:

At what point do the Mets address the catching situation? Let's be honest, we talk about Kevin Plawecki returning like he's Gary Carter in his prime.
-- @VinceGagliardi via Twitter

A rainout and a team off-day have converged at a convenient time for the Mets, who can catch their collective breath following a week that saw them go 2-4. The Mets will return to play Tuesday in St. Louis, with Zack Wheeler looking to build upon his strong start to the season. While we wait, it's time to dip again into the Inbox:

At what point do the Mets address the catching situation? Let's be honest, we talk about Kevin Plawecki returning like he's Gary Carter in his prime.
-- @VinceGagliardi via Twitter

And we talk about J.T. Realmuto like he's the second coming of Johnny Bench. Not to knock Realmuto -- he's one of the best catchers in the game today and would certainly be an upgrade over the Mets' in-house options. But is he such an upgrade that he's worth giving up a blue-chip prospect or a current Major League contributor? Realmuto won't come free, if he's even available at all. I've heard fans ask about the possibility of the Mets trading Amed Rosario or Wheeler for Realmuto. How does that make the team better?

:: Submit a question to the Mets Inbox ::

All that said, the Mets may eventually make a move -- just not now. They're clearly content to use Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido at catcher until Plawecki heals from a fractured left hand, likely in mid-May. And they're clearly happy to give Plawecki a chance to prove himself once he returns. If the Mets are uncomfortable with their catching situation in, say, late June, I suspect they'll start looking more seriously into options at that time.

For now, patience. Folks were excited about what Plawecki might be able to do as recently as late March. One freak injury shouldn't change that.

Why aren't Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo playing every day while the other three outfielders struggle?
-- @JayZammie via Twitter

I thought manager Mickey Callaway said something interesting the other day when asked why Jay Bruce played instead of Lagares against a left-handed pitcher in Atlanta.

"Bruce is our starting right fielder," Callaway said. "I think he deserves to start the majority of the time."

It's a simple concept, but that means if everyone is healthy, Bruce, Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes are going to sit only infrequently. Yes, the Mets will still play the platoon advantages; Lagares will start most days against a lefty, usually for Conforto and sometimes for Bruce. But as we discussed in this space early in April, Nimmo is not a starting position player right now. He's here because the Mets feel he is more valuable on their bench than he would be in Triple-A. But until someone gets hurt, Nimmo is not going to spend much time in the starting lineup.

If Jose Reyes continues to struggle, would the Mets release him and try to acquire an alternate backup shortstop?
-- @Panic_Citi via Twitter

The Mets guaranteed Reyes $2 million this past offseason in part because of his on-field performance and in part because of his clubhouse presence. They're not going to dump him after three bad weeks -- particularly considering he began last season 2-for-37 before hitting .261/.332/.440 with 15 home runs and 24 stolen bases the rest of the way. Reyes is 3-for-24 right now, so he's already ahead of that pace. If the Mets thought he was worth signing in February, then he deserves the benefit of the doubt in April.

Do you think Callaway is a little too quick pulling the starters? Jacob deGrom has had back-to-back games he should have won. Plus Steven Matz only went four innings on Wednesday. I'm worried about him with this bullpen.
-- @Starchild1328 via Twitter

I'm not sure why Callaway's pitcher usage is surprising anyone, considering he and Mets officials talked openly all offseason about their plan to limit starters and lean on relievers. No one complained when the bullpen was baseball's best over the season's first three weeks. Week 4 was rocky, so now people question the usage patterns.

The fact of the matter is it's not actually extreme -- the Mets rank 20th in the Majors in bullpen innings -- and it's not going to change. The Mets feel they can keep their relievers fresh by shuttling them back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors. (To a man, the relievers say they're not tired, only struggling.) You're just not going to see Matz, Wheeler or others go three full trips through an opposing order very often this season. You may hate the philosophy, but in today's game, it's here to stay.

What's the talk around Noah Syndergaard? He seems to be having some shining moments, but I feel like batters are making contact on him way better than previous seasons.
-- @atomk89 via Twitter

Syndergaard bemoaned recently that, "I feel like I've had some pretty dominant stuff, but haven't done much dominating." Statcast™ data backs that up: although his average fastball velocity is a tick down from last season, it's right in line with where he's been previous years. Syndergaard's spin rates are also comparable to the norm. Generating swinging strikes on 15.71 percent of his total pitches, he has posted the best mark of his career in that department. Syndergaard's strikeout and walk rates are both off the charts, so it's no surprise that his FIP -- a metric that attempts to determine how lucky or unlucky a pitcher has been -- is almost a full run lower than his ERA.

Translation: Syndergaard should be the least of your worries. If he continues pitching this way, he could actually be in for the best year of his career.

Do you think the Mets will demote Matt Harvey to Triple-A Las Vegas anytime this season?
-- @SpriggsyFresh

I don't see it. If the Mets were going to ask Harvey to accept a Minor League assignment, they would have done it last weekend. There's little incentive for them to do so, knowing there's even less incentive for Harvey, who can refuse any Minor League assignment based on his five-plus years of big league service time, to accept. Why would he? If Harvey refuses, the Mets would either have to keep a malcontent in the big league clubhouse -- awkward for everyone -- or release him, allowing him to sign with a team who will let him start.

Maybe, ultimately, the latter scenario unfolds at some point. More likely, Harvey spends a brief spell in the Mets' bullpen, then re-enters the rotation.

Pat Roessler replaced Kevin Long as the Mets' hitting coach this year -- is his philosophy/approach different than that of Long? If so, how much of that can be attributed to the difficulties that many players are having at the plate?
-- @_TurnipTheBest via Twitter

Roessler is very much a Long disciple in that they preach identical philosophies. Slumping hitters such as Bruce, Conforto and Cespedes are doing nothing markedly different under Roessler than they did under Long. They're just slumping. Sometimes, it's that simple.

Yes, we're 14-6, and I feel like we're 6-14. Why?
-- @JohnArchbold7 via Twitter

Probably because you're a pessimist! The Mets are one of the best teams in the Majors right now, with a record most fans would have signed up for in a heartbeat before the start of the season. Stop harping on the bad stuff and enjoy the ride.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets

Inbox: Will Swihart get a chance to play more?

Beat reporter Ian Browne answers questions from Red Sox fans
MLB.com

What are the Red Sox going to do with Blake Swihart?
-- @ScottyBryden

They're going to keep Swihart on the bench for now as quality depth in case an injury develops. He is the perfect example of guy who might not seem valuable right now, but he could become invaluable if there are any injuries at first base, designated hitter, left field and/or catcher. Swihart covers you at a lot of positions. The reason he is being used so sparingly is that Boston has an even more established player in front of him who is fighting for playing time in Mitch Moreland.

What are the Red Sox going to do with Blake Swihart?
-- @ScottyBryden

They're going to keep Swihart on the bench for now as quality depth in case an injury develops. He is the perfect example of guy who might not seem valuable right now, but he could become invaluable if there are any injuries at first base, designated hitter, left field and/or catcher. Swihart covers you at a lot of positions. The reason he is being used so sparingly is that Boston has an even more established player in front of him who is fighting for playing time in Mitch Moreland.

Swihart has no options left, so the only other solution would be to trade him. But if you do that, the organizational catching depth would be depleted greatly.

:: Submit a question to the Red Sox Inbox ::

How long before we start to see Swihart catch a few games over Sandy Leon, with Leon's struggles with the bat? #freeblake
-- @SamDrusch

The pitching staff truly values Leon behind the plate. He is tremendous at calling a game and strong in every way as a defender. Rick Porcello is currently on a roll with Leon, so I'm sure the Red Sox will ride that while it's hot. Right now, Leon is hitting .115. If that continues, they could consider getting at least some spot starts for Swihart behind the plate.

Is there a timeline for Tyler Thornburg right now? And how quickly do you think he can contribute?
-- @ShackTS

Thornburg will continue to pitch extended spring games in Fort Myers, Fla., for a few more days and will visit with the Red Sox at Fenway Park this weekend. At that point, the training staff will hopefully clear him to go pitch on a regular Minor League rehab assignment for an affiliate. You could potentially see Thornburg back with Boston at some point in May.

How effective Thornburg can be remains up in the air. Everyone seems to recover differently from the surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome. Hopefully Thornburg is one of the pitchers who recovers well. He is exactly what they need to supplement what they already have in the seventh and eighth inning.

Is Alex Cora looking to rotate the infield like he does the outfield (i.e. give each infielder at least one day off a week)?
-- @AlexWhizzy

Look for this to happen once Dustin Pedroia is back. At that point, Eduardo Nunez will be in the same position as Moreland -- a part-time player who has the skills to play every day. I could see Nunez playing as often as five days a week in his "utility" role.

How do you feel the four-man outfield experiment is going?
-- @hardba1l

In the short term, the Red Sox will sacrifice some defense when Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. or Mookie Betts get a day off so J.D. Martinez can get some time with the glove. That isn't so much a knock on Martinez as it is a reflection of how elite the other three guys are on defense.

That said, the Red Sox are a better team because they have Martinez. He will make a huge impact on offense and that offsets whatever they might lose on defense when one of the other outfielders gets a night off. Martinez was a free agent, and he had a right to pick his next destination. I don't think he would have picked Boston if he didn't have assurances that he would see some time in the outfield.

Does Cora value winning series more or sticking to his schedule to rest players? And if he determines the rest days four or five days in advance, how could he plan to rest three of his best hitters the same game?
-- @SeanRCurtis1

Cora's top priority is for the Red Sox can position themselves as well as they can to not only get to the postseason, but thrive once they get there. At 17-4, he is doing pretty well so far. This is the only series they've lost in 21 games. Cora is adamant about not running his players into the ground, and he has stuck to that plan. It will get tougher when Boston hits a losing skid. So far, they've only lost two games in a row once. When Xander Bogaerts and Pedroia are back, it will be less glaring when a couple of key hitters get rest on the same day.

First man gone in bullpen once Thornburg and Steven Wright are back? Brian Johnson? Heath Hembree? Hector Velazquez?
-- @steve_blundell

Velazquez, because he has options, and Johnson and Hembree don't. Also, Wright and Johnson both give you length out of the bullpen, which lessens the need for Velazquez.

Is it possible to extend Rusney Castillo for say, three years at if not $1 million per season, then possibly league minimum, to lower his AAV and make him valuable to the Red Sox or as a trade candidate?
-- @gene_delucy

Only if Castillo wants to give up a lot of guaranteed money. He is due $11 million this season, $11 million next season and $13.5 million in 2020. I get that it's a tough situation for the player and the team, but there's really no way around it unless Castillo wants to voluntarily ask for his release, which I don't see happening. He has a family to support and a life to live well after his baseball career is over, so I think everyone can understand why he would just stay the course for now.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox

Inbox: What's the evidence Santana will hit?

Beat reporter Todd Zolecki answers questions from Phillies fans
MLB.com

Is there any reason to believe Carlos Santana will get it going? He's hitting below the Mendoza Line while occupying Rhys Hoskins' natural position. Meanwhile, we have the Hoskins Experiment in left field, perpetuating an already tenuous outfield logjam. I certainly don't envy manager Gabe Kapler's juggling act.
-- Brett L., Broomall, Pa.

There are a lot of reasons to believe Santana will hit.

Is there any reason to believe Carlos Santana will get it going? He's hitting below the Mendoza Line while occupying Rhys Hoskins' natural position. Meanwhile, we have the Hoskins Experiment in left field, perpetuating an already tenuous outfield logjam. I certainly don't envy manager Gabe Kapler's juggling act.
-- Brett L., Broomall, Pa.

There are a lot of reasons to believe Santana will hit.

First, there is his track record. He has a career .364 on-base percentage and an .806 OPS. His 26.5 offensive WAR ranks 24th in the Major Leagues from 2010-18, according to Baseball Reference. Santana has been one of the most productive hitters for a long time. Sure, you can dismiss eight seasons' worth of above-average offense for less than four weeks of performance in 2018, but I would advise against it.

:: Submit a question to the Phillies Inbox ::

Second, Santana has been very unlucky. The analytics tell you that. The eye test tells you that, too.

Santana has a 126-point gap between his expected batting average and his batting average, according to Statcast™. It is the largest gap in the Majors (minimum of 50 at-bats), 28 points wider than the next closest player. Expected batting average (xBA) uses Statcast™'s Hit Probability metric, which assigns a percentage on how frequently comparable balls in terms of exit velocity and launch angle are hits. In short, it measures a hitter's quality of contact.

Santana has made a lot of quality contact. His hard-hit rate (51.61 percent) is ninth out of 138 batters (minimum 50 balls in play). Twenty-four of those balls were caught, two more than any other hitter in the Major Leagues. Sixteen of those balls were outs in the air, three more than any other hitter. A look at this spray chart shows that Santana has hit at least seven balls to the warning track or wall in center field.

You cannot hit a ball much better than that.

Let's break it down further. The MLB average on hard-hit balls is .512. Santana is hitting .233, which is the lowest mark out of 118 players (minimum of 20 hard-hit balls). He hit .480 on hard-hit balls in 2015, .527 in '16 and .500 in '17.

If Santana had just eight of those 24 hard-hit outs fall for hits, bringing him in line with last season's .500 average, Santana's batting average jumps to .260. His on-base percentage jumps to .387. And let's say those eight extra hits fall for singles (it's highly unlikely a few would not be doubles or better, but for the sake of argument, let's say singles). Santana's slugging percentage still jumps to .397, giving him a .784 OPS. That would rank fourth on the Phillies.

Does this mean Santana is going to hit better than .300 the rest of the season? No. Does it mean fans complaining about Santana's presence in the lineup or roster should pump the brakes and let the season play out a bit? Yes.

What's been the biggest surprise to you so far?
-- Al C., Philadelphia

The Phillies' rotation has exceeded expectations. It has a 3.01 ERA, which is the best mark in the National League. Teams are slugging just .329 against it, which is the second-best mark in the Major Leagues. Only the Astros have been better (.326). Teams simply have not been barreling many balls against Phils starters. Philadelphia's hard-hit rate (18.84 percent) is the fourth-best mark in the Majors. The Phillies have been striking out batters and not walking nearly as many, either. Their strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.03 is ninth in MLB, after they had a 2.54 mark last season.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Carlos Santana

Inbox: Marte the answer at leadoff for Bucs?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans
MLB.com

What would you do at second base and in the leadoff spot? I like Sean Rodriguez a lot, glad to have him back, but I don't know if I want him batting leadoff for the Buccos.
-- Mark G., Bradenton, Fla.

Since Josh Harrison went down, the Pirates have used Adam Frazier in the leadoff spot four times and Rodriguez three times. Max Moroff also got one start at second base, batting eighth, last Wednesday.

What would you do at second base and in the leadoff spot? I like Sean Rodriguez a lot, glad to have him back, but I don't know if I want him batting leadoff for the Buccos.
-- Mark G., Bradenton, Fla.

Since Josh Harrison went down, the Pirates have used Adam Frazier in the leadoff spot four times and Rodriguez three times. Max Moroff also got one start at second base, batting eighth, last Wednesday.

When he's hitting, Frazier is the Bucs' preferred leadoff man without Harrison. The challenge is that Frazier has struggled to a .561 OPS so far, and Rodriguez and Moroff are better defensive infielders. While Rodriguez tends to crush left-handed pitching, he's still not a prototypical leadoff hitter.

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I'd say they should continue to mix and match at second base, looking for the right opportunities to use Rodriguez and Moroff. Ideally, Frazier will get on track at the plate and answer both questions. (Remember, he slumped to end the first half last season, then batted .304 with an .822 OPS following the All-Star break.) But for now, why not give Starling Marte another shot in the leadoff spot?

It's generally a good idea to give your best hitters more plate appearances, and Marte has added patience -- 12 walks, with a career-best 12.5 percent walk rate -- to his usual blend of average (.274), power (.202 ISO) and speed (seven steals). The challenge in moving Marte is filling the spot he now occupies.

Marte has hit third the past 20 games, a fixture there against right-handers and lefties, so the Pirates would have to move up someone (Dickerson, perhaps) and shuffle the rest of the lineup accordingly. They also could consider moving Dickerson, who often hit first for the Rays last season, into the leadoff spot on occasion.

The other important thing to remember here? No matter who bats where, runs are going to be hard to come by when most of the lineup is slumping at the same time. And over the past week, three hitters with at least 10 at-bats -- Elias Diaz, Rodriguez and Marte -- posted an on-base percentage higher than .300.

The Bucs' lineup might not be as productive as it was the first two weeks of the season, when they slashed a collective .278/.353/.479 and won nine of their first 12 games. They're also not as bad as they've been the past 10 days, slashing just .209/.265/.313 with 17 of their 27 runs coming in two games. I'm all for optimizing, but not overreacting.

What can the Pirates do to fix their middle-relief woes?
-- Alan P., Youngstown, Ohio

They've already taken two strides in that direction by calling up right-hander Kyle Crick, who's looked good after a rough spring, and claiming lefty Enny Romero from the Nationals. They should get more help soon from right-hander A.J. Schugel, who is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis. Schugel was quietly effective as a versatile middle reliever over the past two years.

It will also help when right-hander Joe Musgrove is healthy enough to start. His return to the rotation likely will bump Steven Brault back to the bullpen, giving manager Clint Hurdle another pitcher he can trust in higher-leverage, multi-inning situations. Pittsburgh's bullpen has a 5.23 ERA, fourth highest in the National League entering Monday, and a 1.49 WHIP that's tied with the Reds for second worst in the NL.

I have been super high on Taylor Hearn since he was acquired in the Mark Melancon trade. Do the Pirates see him as a future starter or a setup man/closer?
-- Zac S., Moundsville, W.Va.

It's hard not to like Hearn, Pittsburgh's No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He's got premium fastball velocity, a changeup that doesn't get enough credit and an improving slider. The Pirates have clearly liked Hearn for some time, as they drafted him out of high school in 2012 before finally acquiring him along with Felipe Vazquez in the Melancon deal.

The Bucs are going to give the 23-year-old every chance to prove he's a starter. Hearn is currently in the rotation for Double-A Altoona, where he's posted a 3.45 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 16 strikeouts with five walks in 15 2/3 innings over three starts. The lower walk rate is encouraging, as his control has been the divisive issue in the starter-or-reliever debate.

Hearn will have to continue to show enough control so that he can pitch deep into games, because he has the arsenal to start. But you're also correct that, if he doesn't make it as a starter, he could develop into a nasty late-inning reliever -- kind of like that lefty he was acquired with.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Starling Marte

Inbox: Can Rays keep Kiermaier healthy?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers questions from fans
MLB.com

I can't believe Kevin Kiermaier is injured again. The Rays need to tell him to dial it back a notch. I know he's a great player, and he can do some amazing things. But how can he be any good if he's on the disabled list?
-- Steven H., St. Petersburg

Kiermaier plays hard. And when you play hard, injuries are going to happen. The latest injury really was a freaky one, though. He slid headfirst into second and tore a ligament in his right thumb while trying to hang onto the bag. Bottom line, if Kiermaier doesn't play all out, the Rays aren't getting the player they value.

I can't believe Kevin Kiermaier is injured again. The Rays need to tell him to dial it back a notch. I know he's a great player, and he can do some amazing things. But how can he be any good if he's on the disabled list?
-- Steven H., St. Petersburg

Kiermaier plays hard. And when you play hard, injuries are going to happen. The latest injury really was a freaky one, though. He slid headfirst into second and tore a ligament in his right thumb while trying to hang onto the bag. Bottom line, if Kiermaier doesn't play all out, the Rays aren't getting the player they value.

Yonny Chirinos has been really good so far. Now that he's been officially named a member of the starting rotation, will he remain there?
-- Jim B., Memphis, Tenn.

Prior to Sunday's game when talking to manager Kevin Cash about Nathan Eovaldi, I asked if Tampa Bay planned to go to a five-man rotation once Eovaldi returned. Cash said that wasn't the plan. Having said that, a lot can happen between now and when Eovaldi returns -- particularly injuries to other pitchers in the rotation. However, if Eovaldi returns and the rest of the rotation is in good shape, I would expect Chirinos to return to the bullpen.

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I didn't know what to think about "bullpen days" when the season started. I thought the Rays were crazy. Now I kind of like the days when the bullpen takes over, and I'm not crazy about the days when the regular starters pitch. Your thoughts?
-- Patrick H., Tampa, Fla.

In fairness to Patrick, I received this email prior to the recent run of nice starts by the starters. I agree -- I like the "bullpen days," and I believe there's still some further evaluation to take place before judging its effectiveness. Of course, if the starters continue to go a little deeper into the games, I think the effectiveness of the bullpen start will be improved.

Watching Mallex Smith play the field makes me uncomfortable. But watching him on the offensive side is a delight. How do you see the Rays managing Smith going forward?
-- Don P., Tampa, Fla.

Smith has struggled in the field at times, but he's been pretty darn good on offense. If you're Cash, you hope the offense continues to play, and the defense improves. Smith has the athleticism to become a better defender.

I went to several Spring Training games this season, driving from St. Petersburg to Port Charlotte. I can honestly say, I didn't see this start coming. The Rays looked like they had a competitive squad in the games I saw. What happened?
-- Jeff T., Tampa, Fla.

Yes, the Rays started slow, but they also ran into a buzz saw in the Red Sox, who they got to see home and away to start the season. I still believe that it's too early to push the panic button on this year's squad, particularly the way they've played in the past six games (won five of six). But I will agree that Tampa Bay did not get off to the start the club would have hoped for.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays

Inbox: Is Pirela destined for more time at 2B?

Padres beat reporter AJ Cassavell answers fans' questions
MLB.com

Any chance we see Jose Pirela at second base more often when Wil Myers and Manuel Margot are back?
-- Tommy, San Diego

This is an unequivocal yes. Manager Andy Green spent most of Spring Training waxing about having serious platoon options and competition for playing time. (The Padres haven't really had that since his tenure began.)

Any chance we see Jose Pirela at second base more often when Wil Myers and Manuel Margot are back?
-- Tommy, San Diego

This is an unequivocal yes. Manager Andy Green spent most of Spring Training waxing about having serious platoon options and competition for playing time. (The Padres haven't really had that since his tenure began.)

That said, Pirela is never going to be the everyday second baseman in San Diego. The Padres' rotation is far too ground-ball heavy to employ subpar infield defense.

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With a full host of healthy outfielders, Pirela should move to second base against tough left-handers, allowing Hunter Renfroe to play. But he's not a long-term solution. (If Carlos Asuaje and Cory Spangenberg continue to struggle, a callup for Padres No. 3 prospect Luis Urias could be on the horizon.)

It seems like the Padres will have a surplus when some guys get called up in the next one or two years. What's the long-term plan for Renfroe, Spangenberg, Asuaje and Franchy Cordero once the next wave arrives?
-- Ethan G.

The Padres are still in the process of figuring out that plan, and this season's results will go a long way toward determining it. Spangenberg and Asuaje could be running out of time to impress, with Urias hot on their heels. Renfroe and Cordero, meanwhile, could ultimately be pitted against each other in the fight for a place in the Padres' future.

At 23, Cordero is the rawest of the bunch, and he has the biggest margin for error if he struggles this year. As for Asuaje, Spangenberg and Renfroe, the Padres fielded calls on all three during the offseason, and the trade chatter could persist as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.

That said, the Padres don't mind the idea of a surplus. Quite the opposite, in fact. They'd embrace it.

How long will the Padres let Bryan Mitchell stay in the rotation? What are the chances Eric Lauer replaces him?
-- Frank, Fallbrook, Calif.

It's not impossible for Lauer (the Padres' No. 12 prospect) and Mitchell to occupy places in the rotation at the same time. In fact, it might be imminent, given Luis Perdomo's struggles. Lauer -- off to an impressive start for Triple-A El Paso -- could be in the Padres' rotation as soon as Tuesday.

As for Mitchell's rotation place, I suspect the leash is relatively long -- despite the fact that he hasn't been much better than Perdomo. In Mitchell, the Padres saw a rotation project in the mold of Drew Pomeranz or Trevor Cahill when they acquired him in a December trade with the Yankees. The early results tell another story.

That said, there's a reason for the disconnect in the club's reaction to the small samples of Mitchell and Perdomo. Most importantly, Mitchell is out of options and couldn't be sent to Triple-A to work out any kinks. But Perdomo has been a Padres rotation experiment for two years. Mitchell, even if the early returns are ugly, has been that for only three weeks.

When Margot gets back, where does he hit in the lineup?
-- James M.

The Padres would love for Margot to establish himself as their leadoff hitter of the future. His .303 career on-base percentage doesn't support that end goal right now.

The speedy center fielder was off to a woeful start when he was plunked in Colorado last week and placed on the disabled list with bruised ribs. But he had shown signs of turning things around in his last couple of games before the injury.

Ultimately, Margot might return to leadoff when he finds his form. But it's a safer bet that the Padres let him continue to work out the kinks in the No. 6 or 7 spot in the lineup, especially against right-handed pitching.

What's your take on Freddy Galvis? I've seen local media say the Padres should sign him long term, since he's getting on base at a higher rate than usual. I'd like to see at least a few months' body of work before doing so. Thoughts?
-- Harrison M., North Auburn, Calif.

The Padres won't make any snap judgments with Galvis, and nobody expects him to continue reaching base at a .373 clip. There's a feeling in the organization that he could be a nice long-term piece to help nurture a young infield, but that possibility won't be formally explored for a while.

Before any talk of a Galvis extension, the Padres need to evaluate the rest of their internal options. They'll ask themselves whether top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is a shortstop or a third baseman in the long run. And they'll have to make a decision on the progress of fellow shortstop prospect Javy Guerra.

It's possible Galvis is back in San Diego beyond this season. I wouldn't say it's probable.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Jose Pirela

Inbox: Is Ramirez's slow start cause for concern?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian fields Indians fans' questions
MLB.com

The Indians are 9.9 percent of the way through their 162-game regular season schedule, so it's still too early to make any sweeping conclusions about any individuals in the lineup. I could sit here and detail all the reasons why Player X is struggling and then -- one week later -- a hot streak might make it look like he's enjoying a strong April all along.

Tweet from @fmjosh: I realize any player can get off to a slow start, but it's not something we usually see from Jose, right? Any concerns there? Him coming back to earth? (not that anyone thought he was necessarily playing above his head) #IndiansInbox

The Indians are 9.9 percent of the way through their 162-game regular season schedule, so it's still too early to make any sweeping conclusions about any individuals in the lineup. I could sit here and detail all the reasons why Player X is struggling and then -- one week later -- a hot streak might make it look like he's enjoying a strong April all along.

Jose Ramirez is a great example, too. Through his first nine games, including a handful in near-freezing temperatures in Cleveland, the All-Star third baseman was sporting a .061 batting average. Ramirez then hit .357 with three home runs, more walks (five) than strikeouts (two) and a 1.133 OPS over his next seven contests for the Tribe.

Ramirez is still digging his way out of that early April slump, and I'd expect him to keep seeing his slash line regress positively. As far as Ramirez's production at the start of seasons past, there may be a little bit of recency bias here. If it feels like Ramirez usually gets off to a hot start, that could be because he hit .330 with a .982 OPS in the first month a year ago.

Over the course of Ramirez's career, however, he has been roughly league average (99 weighted runs created plus) in the season's first month. He also has an 83 wRC+ in his career in May, indicating he's hit 17 percent below average in that particular month. Ramirez has shown that, as the weather heats up, so does his bat. In his career, Ramirez has been well above average in June (130 wRC+), July (116), August (112) and September (146).

Now, while it's too premature to do a deep dive into Ramire'z 2018 statistics, it's not too early to look for what has troubled him in the batter's box to date. Through Wednesday, for example, Ramirez had turned in a .303 slugging percentage on all varieties of fastballs, per Statcast™. Last season, when the third baseman ended third in American League MVP voting, he tortured fastballs to the tune of a .648 slugging percentage.

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Tweet from @nathan_carder: It���s very early in the season, but do you think the front office will be aggressive before the trade deadline this year? Reliever (or two) and a bat for the lineup? #IndiansInbox

The Edwin Encarnacion free-agent signing aside two winters ago, the Indians' modus operandi over the past few years has been to target specific needs ahead of both the non-waiver Trade Deadline (July 31) and waiver deadline (Aug. 31). In 2016, Cleveland added Andrew Miller and Brandon Guyer for a slew of prospects. Last year, the Tribe reeled in Jay Bruce and Joe Smith. I'd expect the Indians to take a similar approach later this summer, especially when needs for October may be more easily identified.

Indians chairman and CEO Paul Dolan addressed that topic during Spring Training.

"I would be shocked," Dolan said, "if a Bruce-like opportunity surfaced, where we had an obvious need and a high-quality player like Bruce was available, and we didn't have to surrender prospects to get him, I'd be very surprised if we didn't act on that. I have no idea whether or not we would consider a high-volume prospect [deal] -- an Andrew Miller-like deal."

Tweet from @RyanSito2274: Why isn���t Mejia up in the majors yet? Are they Trying to get him more exposure on other positions? We can use a hitter right now!!!!

Ryan, take a deep breath and dial back on the exclamation points. I get why Tribe fans are frustrated right now. The Indians have a 72 wRC+ as a team with a .214/.285/.381 slash line and have averaged 3.5 runs per game. It's been brutal and the offensive drought has been lineup-wide. All of that said, do not expect Cleveland to make any rash decisions after fewer than 20 games.

With so many players slumping, the better approach is to give this more time to allow the hitters -- guys with established track records of success over full seasons -- to get back on track. Then, when it's a little deeper into the schedule, it will be easier to take a step back and see which areas are truly in need of an upgrade.

Tweet from @wizard_of_izz: I like the excitement and think there should be more of it from players while rounding the bases. Lindor says he���s not showing anyone up and I believe him. What constitutes going over the line in your unwritten rule interpretation?

Jay, if I wrote here what was "over the line," then these wouldn't be unwritten rules anymore! Kidding aside, I absolutely loved the passion that Francisco Lindor showed around the bases following his home run on Tuesday night in Puerto Rico. He may never have the chance to experience a moment like that again in front of his true home crowd. The stadium was in a frenzy and the scene was spectacular. Maybe there are times when bat flips or on-field antics feel unnecessary -- during a lopsided game with no postseason-picture consequences, perhaps -- but Lindor's jubilant jaunt was not one of those moments.

Video: Lindor, Tribe cruise to a 6-1 win in Puerto Rico

Tweet from @i4tribe: @MLBastian Any update on Mike Napoli ? he went for the MRI .. nothing on local news here .

Indians manager Terry Francona did not have the specifics of Mike Napoli's right knee injury as of Wednesday, except to note that it was a "significant" setback for the veteran first baseman. Napoli injured his knee while playing for Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday and it was serious enough to warrant carting him off the field. If this is the end of the road for Napoli's playing career, Francona still feels the former All-Star can make an impact in the next phase of his career.

Tweet from @JMohler32: Tribe still subscribing to drafting college bats (Zimmer/Naquin) over high school?

The Indians have not shied away from high school players in recent MLB Drafts, especially in the early rounds. Dating back to 2011, when Lindor was Cleveland's top pick out of Montverde Academy in Florida, the Indians have taken a prep star with four of their seven picks. If you look at the club's top three picks in the past seven Drafts combined, 13 out of 21 players (62 percent) were picked out of high schools. One more, Brady Aiken (2015), was rehabbing a left elbow injury post-high school when he was drafted by the Tribe. Overall, the Indians seem to take a more balanced approach deeper into the Draft -- with a slight tilt toward collegiate athletes in the middle rounds.

Tweet from @ESTurner13: I know jerseys are pitcher���s choice but why do all of our pitcher (except Bauer) always choose the navy jerseys? Good luck? Just like them? I want to see the road grays! #IndiansInbox

There is not much to it other than the personal preference of the starting pitchers, as you mentioned. It is worth noting that the Indians wore the navy blue tops throughout their run to the World Series in 2016 and also during the 22-game winning streak last summer. Baseball players are creatures of routine, habit and superstition, so you will often see them stick with a jersey when things are going well.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez

Inbox: Evaluating Holland's early struggles

Reporter Joe Trezza responds to questions from Cardinals' fans
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- With the Cardinals and Cubs postponed for the second time in three days, now is as good a time as any to tackle your most pressing Cards questions.

In this edition of the Inbox, fans inquire about Greg Holland, Kolten Wong, Jack Flaherty and Luke Voit.

CHICAGO -- With the Cardinals and Cubs postponed for the second time in three days, now is as good a time as any to tackle your most pressing Cards questions.

In this edition of the Inbox, fans inquire about Greg Holland, Kolten Wong, Jack Flaherty and Luke Voit.

Tweet from @mikebloodworth: Can we chalk Holland���s ineffectiveness entirely up to missing all of ST or is there potentially something physically wrong?

It's a fair question, given how ineffective Holland has been since the minute he debuted last week against the Brewers. But the correct answer is probably the simplest: if Holland were injured, he wouldn't be pitching, and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny keeps rolling him out there in an attempt to get him right.

Holland's issues appear more mechanical at this point, and maybe even between the ears. More than anything else, he has had particular trouble getting ahead in counts and making pitches down and away to righties. As a fastball-slider right-hander, this is where Holland lives when his pitches are biting effectively. He's fallen behind half of the 16 hitters he's faced over four appearances, and five of the seven he's walked.

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Holland isn't the type of pitcher who is effective when he's wild. He's also not immune to control issues. When Holland has struggled -- notably as a younger pitcher, then in 2015 and for a short stretch last August -- it's been because he lost the strike zone.

Tweet from @Cardinalfreaks: How long of a leash does Kolten Wong have. Assuming a healthy roster, it���s hard to make a case that he fits in the top 8.

I assume you mean in the starting lineup, given Wong is in the third year of a five-year, $25 million contract and coming off a career year. The early results this year haven't been great, and he will be the first to tell you that. He'll still be given a chance to succeed, given his skillset, contract and pedigree.

But Wong's status as a full-time starter, at least in the short-term, is certainly complicated. Perhaps even tenuous. Coming out of Spring Training, Matheny planned to shuffle Wong, Jedd Gyorko and Jose Martinez around, hoping to get each of them five (of an assumed seven) starts per week. Martinez's hot start threw a wrench in all that, and Greg Garcia's nice few days earned him an extra start Tuesday.

Matheny is going to have to juggle, now that Martinez is entrenched at first. He's simply too valuable to remove from the lineup. Matt Carpenter has to play as well, essentially leaving one spot each day for Gyorko and Wong to split.

But as Gyorko's early-season injury proved, depth isn't a bad thing to have. Martinez and Carpenter are both playing through minor injuries, making Wong's status as a starter more or less fluid.

Tweet from @Gabe3Ruth: Flaherty is so good, but where do you foresee him fitting in with the big club?

Flaherty was electric at times in his only start, when he struck out nine over five innings against the Brewers. The Cardinals' front office sees him as the next man up, and has since spring.

What I don't understand completely is this widespread thirst to see Flaherty in the starting rotation, given the circumstances. At this juncture, Flaherty's presence would indicate something gone awry with the club's established set of starters, either due to injury or ineffectiveness. Flaherty may offer more upside than some members of the Cards' current rotation, but he's also unproven.

By the time the dust settles, I expect Flaherty to have made at least 10 starts this season. Big league teams in 2018 just need rotation depth. The Cardinals used nine starters last season, when teams, on average, used at least 10. That league-wide average was up from nine in 2016, which was up from 7.5 the year before that, which was up from more than six the year before that -- sense a pattern here?

Flaherty will be in St. Louis before long. That said, I don't see him up imminently, barring injury. The Cards' staff is well-rested thanks to this week's schedule issues, and will remain that way with three off-days over the next 13 days. Again, everything can change with one hamstring tweak, as we saw at the end of Spring Training.

Tweet from @BolomeyMichael: Why isn't Luke Voit playing at Memphis?

Voit was placed on the Minor League disabled list after one game due to an oblique injury.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jack Flaherty, Greg Holland, Luke Voit, Kolten Wong

Inbox: Will Torres be called to Bronx soon?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from fans
MLB.com

Do you think that Gleyber Torres is close to a callup? I've heard nothing but positive things from Triple-A about him.
-- John F., Brownsburg, Ind.

Indeed, the drumbeat for the Yankees to promote their top prospect is growing louder. Given Tyler Wade's early-season struggles, it has been suggested that the Yanks may consider bumping Torres to the big leagues sooner than they might have anticipated. Torres showed signs of rust in big league camp this spring, and that was probably to be expected, given his nine-month layoff following Tommy John surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow.

Do you think that Gleyber Torres is close to a callup? I've heard nothing but positive things from Triple-A about him.
-- John F., Brownsburg, Ind.

Indeed, the drumbeat for the Yankees to promote their top prospect is growing louder. Given Tyler Wade's early-season struggles, it has been suggested that the Yanks may consider bumping Torres to the big leagues sooner than they might have anticipated. Torres showed signs of rust in big league camp this spring, and that was probably to be expected, given his nine-month layoff following Tommy John surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow.

However, Torres -- baseball's No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- has picked up right where he left off down at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, again proving that his talent and potential are the real deal. The service time consideration is now a thing of the past, as Torres has spent the requisite 20 days in the Minors that will give the Yankees control of his 2024-25 season.

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I've believed all along that Torres would play a part in the Majors this season -- though to be honest, I didn't anticipate he would be promoted in April; May or June seemed more realistic, given his issues this spring. However, the Yanks have long subscribed to the theory that players tell you when they are ready.

General manager Brian Cashman has compared Torres' situation to that of Robinson Cano, whose performance forced the Yankees' hand in calling him up in 2005. If Torres continues to rake at Triple-A -- and the mid-back stiffness that forced him to exit Monday's game early at Gwinnett turns out to be nothing more than a minor concern -- he could follow that same path.

Do you think a manager with some experience and maybe more of a calming influence is needed to straighten the Yankees out? They look unprepared out there, possibly due to Aaron Boone being new and overwhelmed.
-- Ken. K, North Vancouver

Anyone who expects Boone to be replaced after 16 games -- or for that matter, after one season -- has not been paying attention.

This hiring was not something that the Yankees decided upon lightly. Boone blew away the other five candidates -- so much so that Hal Steinbrenner decided to call off the second round of the interview process and authorized Cashman to hire Boone without having him fly down to Tampa, Fla., and meet with the Steinbrenner family.

Boone would be the first to admit that the team has not played up to his expectations, but it's not possible to judge his capability to run the team on such a small sample size.

What concerns you more early in the season: inconsistent bullpen performance or Giancarlo Stanton's struggles at the plate?
-- Alex W., via Twitter

Given those choices, I'll pin that on the relief crew, which was supposed to be a dominant strength of this team and has not lived up to that in the early going. Their performance is crucial, considering the state of the starting rotation.

Boone has said that Stanton's track record is too good for this to continue all season, and on that note, I agree. We are talking about the reigning National League MVP Award winner, after all. The disparity between Stanton's home-road splits has been staggering, which is probably part of the reason he is hearing boos at Yankee Stadium -- they haven't seen what he is capable of, at least in person.

Stanton is 3-for-35 with 20 strikeouts as a Yankee in New York, while he has gone 10-for-31 while wearing road gray. Those numbers have to even out, and as Boone said on Tuesday, "Eventually the league will pay for some of his early struggles."

Dellin Betances has not been very productive all season. Has there been talk about sending him down to the Minors to work out his mechanical problems?
-- Bill P., Hopewell, N.Y.

A demotion to the Minors is not something that the Yankees are considering at this time, especially since with Tommy Kahnle's injury, they are going to need to lean on Betances for big outs in the near future.

On the positive side, pitching coach Larry Rothschild has said that Betances is commanding his four-seam fastball well and that his breaking ball is consistent. One area for concern, as detailed recently by the wonderful Katie Sharp, would be Betances' diminished spin rate.

Thus far in 2018, Betances' four-seam fastball has averaged 2,297 rpm and 96.7 mph. That's well below his 2017 averages of 2,430 rpm and 98.3 mph, and even below his April 2017 averages of 2,570 rpm and 97.6 mph.

What can be gleaned from this data? Generally speaking, high-spin fastballs lead to more strikeouts, while low-spin fastballs produce more ground balls. Betances is right around league average, which is not where you want to be as far as avoiding damaging contact.

What is the latest status for Clint Frazier? Do you think he gets called up if Jacoby Ellsbury is still on the shelf?
-- Jimmy R., via Twitter

Frazier is continuing to gain momentum as he recovers from the late February concussion that he sustained in the Yankees' second exhibition game of the spring, participating in extended spring camp action down in Florida.

The Yanks are proceeding cautiously, but as long as Frazier continues to hit his checkpoints without a setback, it is conceivable that he will be playing in Minor League games within weeks. You'll probably see him play for Class A Advanced Tampa and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before Frazier would be considered for a big league promotion.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees

Inbox: When will Angels shift to 6-man rotation?

Beat reporter Maria Guardado answers questions from fans
MLB.com

When are the Angels going to go to a six-man rotation?
-- Chris U., Downey, Calif.

When are the Angels going to go to a six-man rotation?
-- Chris U., Downey, Calif.

Tweet from @SantaCruzDad: If Heaney and Tropeano are here to stay, who is likely to be that 6th starter? Bridwell or Barria?

The Angels are expected to transition to their flexible six-man rotation within the next week, as they'll need an extra starter by Sunday at the latest. If the Angels wait until Sunday to call up another pitcher, Jaime Barria would become an option to join the rotation, along with Parker Bridwell.

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It could be a bit of a toss-up between the two. The 21-year-old Barria impressed in his MLB debut against the Rangers last Wednesday, allowing one run over five innings and earning his first career win. Bridwell, who logged a 3.64 ERA over 121 innings in 2017, allowed six runs over 1 2/3 innings in his season debut against the A's on April 6, and he also struggled in his most recent start at Triple-A Salt Lake on Monday, giving up eight runs over 4 1/3 innings.

Video: LAA@TEX: Barria allows one hit in MLB debut

The sixth-starter situation could be quite fluid, with Barria and Bridwell both factoring into the Angels' rotation mix over the course of the season. The only starter who can't be optioned is Garrett Richards, so the rotation could have a lot of interchangeable parts, depending on matchups and who's pitching well at any given time.

Tweet from @mychingu: Any talks about the possibility of extending Mike Scioscia's contract?

Scioscia is in the final season of the 10-year, $50 million contract he signed in January 2009, but I wouldn't expect his situation to be resolved until the end of the year. Last fall, Scioscia and general manager Billy Eppler sat down and agreed to save those conversations for the end of the 2018 season, so I think both parties are content to just ride it out for now.

Seeing how the Angels have performed so far, is it more likely we try adding a bullpen piece or starter? By bullpen piece, I mean a [Zach] Britton, once healthy, or a Kelvin Herrera?
-- Calvin H., Anaheim, Calif.

I wouldn't expect any discussions to gain serious traction until the non-waiver Trade Deadline gets closer, and it's hard to predict what the Angels' biggest needs will be three months from now. That said, the early returns seem to suggest that if the Angels were to make a big move, it would probably be for an impact pitcher.

The Halos could certainly try to target an "established closer," like Britton or Herrera, who are both eligible for free agency at the end of the season. But the Angels' bullpen has been quite good so far, posting a 2.45 ERA over an American League-high 69 2/3 innings.

Adding a quality starter also wouldn't hurt, though it remains to be seen who will be made available and whether the Angels will be willing to potentially dip into their farm system to meet the asking prices.

Where is Kaleb Cowart? I do not see him on either the Angels or Bees rosters.
-- Scott M., Orem, Utah

Cowart is currently on the disabled list after sustaining a broken foot near the end of Spring Training.

Tweet from @calbears04: Did Chris carter take a ml assignment?

Carter, who signed a Minor League deal during Spring Training, is currently on the Triple-A Salt Lake roster. He is batting .250 with an .888 OPS and three homers over 11 games. The Angels don't have a spot for him right now, as Luis Valbuena, Albert Pujols and Jefry Marte remain ahead of him on the depth chart at first base.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Angels

Inbox: Any pitching prospects close to MLB?

Tigers reporter Jason Beck fields fans' questions
MLB.com

Taking your questions while waiting to see when spring will finally arrive in Michigan … 

Of the Tigers' starting pitching prospects currently in the Minors, who do you believe will be the first to make their MLB debut?
-- Jeff Fletcher (@Batting500)

Taking your questions while waiting to see when spring will finally arrive in Michigan … 

Of the Tigers' starting pitching prospects currently in the Minors, who do you believe will be the first to make their MLB debut?
-- Jeff Fletcher (@Batting500)

Beau Burrows seems to be on that path, either by the end of this season or sometime next year, given what he has done in about a half-season at Double-A Erie. Kyle Funkhouser could be in position to be pushed aggressively if he has success at Erie since he's a little older, having just turned 24.

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This is a good opportunity to suggest checking out a game in Erie if you have the chance this year, especially once the weather warms. The SeaWolves have their best crop of prospects in a few years with Burrows, Funkhouser and catcher Jake Rogers among them, and they have more potentially on the way once Franklin Perez gets healthy and Alex Faedo pushes for a promotion from Class A Lakeland. And the folks in Erie put together a good ballpark experience.

Has Avila led on to what his timeline is to be competing for a division title again, if all goes as planned?
-- Jay Neitring (@jayneitring)

Tigers general manager Al Avila hasn't cited a specific year so much as he has noted a long time frame. The pitching prospects who are expected to form the backbone of the rebuild won't begin arriving until next year, longer in the case of Matt Manning. From there, Avila said, they'll likely face an adjustment period before they start to settle into the big leagues, likely a couple years. So by those expectations, you would be looking at 2021, assuming the Tigers can maintain or remake a productive lineup.

The thing is, these projects rarely go as planned. Some prospects get hurt and are delayed, as we've already seen with Bryan Garcia and Franklin Perez. Others have a more immediate impact, jump the learning curve and become big contributors ahead of schedule, as we saw with Michael Fulmer a couple years ago. That, plus parallel rebuilding projects going on with the White Sox and Royals, make it difficult to put a year on these things.

Will the Tigers ever play another game in 2018?
-- Peter K (@FrogTownTigers) 

The Weather Channel is down to the letter X in its alphabetical list of winter storm names (I will never look at the name Xanto the same again), so I think that means winter is almost over.

What's the temperature back in Lakeland, Fla.?
-- Muddles (@MitchMuddles)

Mid to upper-80s from Wednesday through the weekend.

Other than Johnny Barbato, the Tigers haven't used the top spot on the waiver wire to claim anyone. Why not? No one better than the worst guys on the 40-man? No good fits?
-- Dan Hogan (@DanHogan95)

Most of the players who go on the waiver wire are out of Minor League options. For them, it's not about being good enough for the 40-man roster, but the 25-man roster. Secondly, the Tigers made it clear that if they add a player, he either has to fit in the long-term picture or have the potential to carry trade value down the road and yield prospects in return. Still, I was admittedly a little surprised the Tigers didn't claim anybody at the end of Spring Training, given Avila's hints that it was a possibility. The relatively low number of waiver claims at the end of Spring Training suggests not many other teams valued who was out there, either.

What are you early thoughts on Alex Wilson? It seems like his Spring Training struggles have followed him north.
-- Matthew Dornbos (@matt_dornbos93)

Wilson talked about this Saturday morning before the rainout, and he said it doesn't feel like a continuation of Spring Training as much as a bout of bad luck after a decent first week. He threw three scoreless innings on Opening Day before giving up a three-run home run in his fourth inning of work. Still, if you're into early trends, it's worth noting he has relied less on his fastball and more on his cutter and changeup compared to years past, according to Statcast™ and Fangraphs. That could change as the weather warms.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers