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That's one way to turn a triple play, Mariners

Gattis rounds first after appearing to think his DP ended 4th, tagged out
Special to MLB.com

SEATTLE -- The Mariners victimized the Astros with an odd triple play in the fourth inning of their 9-2 loss Thursday at Safeco Field, when it appeared Evan Gattis didn't realize there were only two outs and walked away after the play.

The Astros had runners at first and second with no one out when Gattis hit a hard grounder to Kyle Seager at third. Seager stepped on the bag and threw to second baseman Robinson Cano for a double play.

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SEATTLE -- The Mariners victimized the Astros with an odd triple play in the fourth inning of their 9-2 loss Thursday at Safeco Field, when it appeared Evan Gattis didn't realize there were only two outs and walked away after the play.

The Astros had runners at first and second with no one out when Gattis hit a hard grounder to Kyle Seager at third. Seager stepped on the bag and threw to second baseman Robinson Cano for a double play.

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Gattis made it to first base, but he apparently thought the inning was over and walked off the bag toward the middle of the infield. The Mariners started pointing at Gattis, and first baseman Daniel Vogelbach tagged him for the third out.

It was the first triple play turned by the Mariners since 2015, and the 21st they have been involved in as a franchise. The club has turned 12 and hit into nine. It marked the first triple play the Astros hit into since George Springer did so in 2016.

Video: Correa singles on a comebacker

It was an unusual inning before the crazy triple play. After Jose Altuve walked to start the fourth, Carlos Correa fouled a pitch off his left knee and fell to the dirt in obvious pain. After walking it off and talking to manager AJ Hinch and a team trainer, Correa remained in the game.

Moments later Correa scorched a low liner back to the mound that Seattle pitcher Marco Gonzales managed to keep from hitting his face by getting his glove up just in time to deflect the ball away. That put two runners on to set up the triple play.

Terry Blount is a contributor to MLB.com based in Seattle.

Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Evan Gattis, Kyle Seager

Ohtani returns at DH to face Red Sox

MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani returns to the Angels' lineup Thursday as designated hitter in the No. 6 hole against the Red Sox.

It's Ohtani's first game in the lineup since he pitched against Boston on Tuesday. He exited that game after two innings with a blister on his middle finger. He allowed three runs before leaving.

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ANAHEIM -- Shohei Ohtani returns to the Angels' lineup Thursday as designated hitter in the No. 6 hole against the Red Sox.

It's Ohtani's first game in the lineup since he pitched against Boston on Tuesday. He exited that game after two innings with a blister on his middle finger. He allowed three runs before leaving.

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Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani

Morton, Astros' rotation continue to sizzle in win

Special to MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Charlie Morton pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only three hits and no walks while striking out eight, as the Astros defeated the Mariners, 9-2, on Thursday afternoon at Safeco Field.

Jose Altuve had four RBIs, including a bases-clearing double during a four-run fifth inning, but this game was all about another dominant performance by a Houston starting pitcher. Morton improved to 3-0 and has the best ERA in the American League at 0.72.

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SEATTLE -- Charlie Morton pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only three hits and no walks while striking out eight, as the Astros defeated the Mariners, 9-2, on Thursday afternoon at Safeco Field.

Jose Altuve had four RBIs, including a bases-clearing double during a four-run fifth inning, but this game was all about another dominant performance by a Houston starting pitcher. Morton improved to 3-0 and has the best ERA in the American League at 0.72.

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The Astros have three of the top four ERAs among AL starters, including Gerrit Cole at 0.96 and Justin Verlander at 1.35.

Morton has gone six innings or longer in all four of his starts this season, but that's nothing new for this staff. The starting pitchers for Houston have gone six innings or more in the last seven games.

Video: HOU@SEA: Stassi belts a solo dinger to right

Max Stassi and Josh Reddick each hit solo home runs late before Altuve drove in his fourth run of the game with another RBI double in a three-run ninth inning -- all of which occurred after Evan Gattis grounded into a fourth-inning triple play after losing track of the number of outs.

Video: HOU@SEA: Reddick launches a solo jack to right-center

The Astros (13-7) won the final three games of the series with the Mariners after losing the series opener. Houston is 9-1 in its last 10 games against Seattle, dating back to last season.

Terry Blount is a contributor to MLB.com based in Seattle.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Charlie Morton

Baez's flash, J-Hey's bash propel Cubs

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez provided the spark and Jason Heyward the power with a two-run homer to back Jon Lester and lead the Cubs to an 8-5 victory on Thursday at Wrigley Field, snapping the Cardinals' winning streak at five.

All nine starters recorded at least one hit for the Cubs, with Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber driving in two runs each. The Cubs were playing just their second game this week after weather-related postponements. Thursday's game was a makeup of Wednesday's postponed contest, and the 47-degree game-time temperature and sunshine were welcome after snow at Wrigley Field.

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CHICAGO -- Javier Baez provided the spark and Jason Heyward the power with a two-run homer to back Jon Lester and lead the Cubs to an 8-5 victory on Thursday at Wrigley Field, snapping the Cardinals' winning streak at five.

All nine starters recorded at least one hit for the Cubs, with Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber driving in two runs each. The Cubs were playing just their second game this week after weather-related postponements. Thursday's game was a makeup of Wednesday's postponed contest, and the 47-degree game-time temperature and sunshine were welcome after snow at Wrigley Field.

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The weird week may have contributed to the sloppy play to begin the game. Lester hit Harrison Bader with one out in the first and Bader then stole second and reached third on a throwing error by Willson Contreras before scoring on a wild pitch.

The Cardinals totaled two hits over six innings off Lester, who struck out seven and didn't allow a hit until the fifth. He even contributed to the Cubs' offense with a single in the fifth after Heyward's homer.

Video: STL@CHC: Lester fans seven, allows no earned runs

Baez, moved up in the lineup for the first time this season, had two hits, including a triple, to increase his total of extra-base hits this season to 11.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Baez provides spark: Manager Joe Maddon tweaked the lineup, moving Baez up to No. 2 in hopes he could provide some "energy." Baez did that in his first at-bat with a triple to the gap in right center with one out. He then scored on Bryant's single that third baseman Jedd Gyorko deflected.

Video: STL@CHC: Baez dives in for a triple in the 1st

Cubs bat around: The Cubs sent nine batters to the plate in the second. Heyward singled to lead off and moved up on Lester's sacrifice. Albert Almora Jr., who got a rare start against a right-hander, then hit an RBI single and reached third on Baez's single. Almora tallied on Bryant's sacrifice fly and Anthony Rizzo and Schwarber each added RBI singles for a 6-1 lead.

Video: STL@CHC: Rizzo singles up the middle to plate Baez

SOUND SMART
Lester, who was making his 100th career start for the Cubs, improved to 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA (12 earned runs over 57 1/3 innings) in nine starts against the Cardinals since the start of the 2016 season.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Heyward's home run registered a 110.7 mph exit velocity, his highest on a homer since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015. The ball sailed 423 feet, which is tied for his second-longest home run. Plus, Heyward made a three-star catch on Matt Carpenter's deep flyout in the fourth, covering 116 feet in 6.3 seconds on a ball with a 55-percent catch probability.

UP NEXT
Kyle Hendricks will open the Cubs' three-game series in Denver against Jon Gray and the Rockies on Friday at 7:40 p.m. CT. Hendricks posted a quality start in his last outing against the Pirates but took the loss, serving up a pair of home runs for the second straight outing. The problem was fastball command, and the right-hander said that would be his focus between starts.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

This is why the Red Sox are so good so far

Boston's offense has MLB's highest slugging, lowest strikeout rate
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Last year's Red Sox lineup was one of baseball's weakest in the power department, finishing last in the American League in home runs and next to last in slugging percentage. You knew that, because it was talked about endlessly all offseason, particularly regarding their months-long pursuit of slugger J.D. Martinez.

Despite the lack of power, it was always clear this lineup was going to be better. Way back in February, we noted that Boston projected to be baseball's third-best offense, and it wasn't just about Martinez. It was because it was all but a guarantee that Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts would improve from down years after playing through hand injuries, and because new manager Alex Cora's insistence that he wanted the lineup to be more aggressive seemed like a step in the right direction.

Last year's Red Sox lineup was one of baseball's weakest in the power department, finishing last in the American League in home runs and next to last in slugging percentage. You knew that, because it was talked about endlessly all offseason, particularly regarding their months-long pursuit of slugger J.D. Martinez.

Despite the lack of power, it was always clear this lineup was going to be better. Way back in February, we noted that Boston projected to be baseball's third-best offense, and it wasn't just about Martinez. It was because it was all but a guarantee that Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts would improve from down years after playing through hand injuries, and because new manager Alex Cora's insistence that he wanted the lineup to be more aggressive seemed like a step in the right direction.

Well, the Red Sox have been better, but at least early on, we may have undersold them by suggesting they could be the "third-best" offense. They're the best, by a lot, and a big part of that is because they're pulling off a trick that last year's World Series champions in Houston managed to do.

Boston has baseball's highest slugging percentage, at .485. It has baseball's lowest strikeout percentage, at 16.6 percent. The Red Sox are hitting the ball a lot, and destroying the balls they connect with. It's how you end up with baseball's highest runs-per-game, at 6.4. It's the perfect combination.

That's impressive on a team basis, but also look at what's happened on an individual basis. Ten batters have taken at least 30 plate appearances for Boston in both 2017 and '18. Every single one has had at least a small decrease in strikeout rate.

Now, let's be clear about one thing: While contact is good, simply making contact does not by itself make you a good offense. Last year, two of the five best contact teams were the punchless Royals and Giants, who were below-average offenses. When the 2015 Royals famously rode a contact-heavy approach to a title, the next two best contact teams were the A's and the Braves, who lost 94 and 95 games, respectively. It's good, but there has to be more.

Aside from the fact that it's still early in the season, how exactly have the Red Sox pulled this off? Let's check out three possibilities.

New faces
Because of the extended courtship of Martinez, and because he out-slugged everyone in baseball last season -- even Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton -- it's tempting to simply point to the fact that there's a new elite bat in the lineup. Martinez is fantastic, and he's hitting .313/.343/.578, while Boston is no longer giving time to Chris Young (.235/.322/.387 last year) or Pablo Sandoval (.212/.269/.354), so there's some truth to that. Martinez is wonderful. He'd help any lineup.

That said, Martinez has hit only 70 times so far. Pretty much everyone else is the same, other than the fact last year's rookie sensation at third base, Rafael Devers, is around from day one this year. They've helped, but it's not just about new talent.

Video: BOS@LAA: Martinez notches four hits, RBI in 9-0 win

Better health
Since much of the improvement is simply about existing guys performing better, this is a natural place to look, and there's some pretty obvious stories here.

We knew that Bogaerts' second-half slide was in some way related to being hit by a pitch on July 6, as he hit .308/.363/.455 before that and just .232/.321/.340 after, and he admitted as much during Spring Training.

"To a point, I do regret [playing through pain], but it's over with," Bogaerts told MLB.com in February. "We were in the heat of things, we were pushing for the playoffs. You don't want to be the guy on the bench not being able to help your team to win. You learn, and I definitely did."

Bogaerts was off to a smoking start (.368/.400/.711) this season before injuring his ankle.

We knew, also, that Betts playing through a thumb injury hampered his performance last season. He went from .280/.356/.490 through the end of June, and just .248/.332/.427 after that. 

"It's been going on for a couple months, but I was able to just kind of play through it," Betts said when he was forced to come out of a game against the Rays in September due to a thumb contusion. So far in 2018, he's been baseball's best hitter.

Finally, Hanley Ramirez, who struggled through most of 2017, underwent left shoulder surgery in October. After hitting .242/.320/.429 last year, he's slugging .322/.369/.542 so far.

Video: BAL@BOS: Ramirez cranks a two-run homer to left field

A new approach
This is the one that got the most press, simply due to Cora talking about being more aggressive. There's something to this, though this is hardly the whole story.

Last year, Boston hitters went after 57 percent of pitches in the zone or on the edges. That was 30th in baseball. This year, that number is up to 63 percent. That's the most in baseball. As you'd imagine, that's the largest jump in baseball.

So yes, there's something to be said for "swinging at strikes," which the Red Sox now are -- especially because they have a .318 average and a .550 slugging on those pitches, each the best in baseball. It's not just about swinging either, it's about swinging earlier. For the past decade, Boston was always in the bottom three in baseball in swinging at in-zone strikes early in the count (0-0, 0-1, 1-0). This year, the Red Sox have done that the second most. As a result, they've found themselves in the fourth-fewest two-strike counts in the game. It's hard to strike out when you never see two strikes.

But there's more to it than just that. Betts, for example, has done more than just be aggressive, he's changed the way he's hitting entirely. After spending the past three years hitting grounders between 38 percent and 41 percent of the time, that's dropped all the way to 26 percent -- while his pull percentage has jumped from his career mark of 41 percent to 57 percent.

You can see it in the outcomes, too. Only two teams have a higher hard-hit percentage than Boston's 42.1 percent. Only four teams have a lower ground-ball percentage than the Red Sox's 41.7 percent. No one, as we said, strikes out less. This is essentially what the perfect offense is supposed to look like.

Now, Betts won't hit like this all year, most likely. Bogaerts can't slug .711 all season. Then again, Jackie Bradley Jr. hasn't done much yet (.228/.313/.351). Dustin Pedroia hasn't stepped on the field yet. Only two teams in baseball have gotten less offense from their catchers. As some fall back, others may step up.

We saw the Astros doing this last year, paired with a very good pitching staff. The Red Sox are doing it this year, paired with a very good pitching staff. You don't get off to a 15-2 start by accident.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez

Giancarlo dropped to cleanup for Jays opener

MLB.com @BryanHoch

NEW YORK -- Giancarlo Stanton's slow start to his Yankees tenure has prompted the smallest of lineup demotions, with the slugger dropped to the cleanup spot for Thursday's series opener against the Blue Jays.

Manager Aaron Boone had said that he was considering lowering Stanton in the batting order after his hitless effort in Tuesday's 9-1 loss to the Marlins. Stanton entered play on Thursday hitless in his last 13 at-bats, and just 3-for-35 at home.

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NEW YORK -- Giancarlo Stanton's slow start to his Yankees tenure has prompted the smallest of lineup demotions, with the slugger dropped to the cleanup spot for Thursday's series opener against the Blue Jays.

Manager Aaron Boone had said that he was considering lowering Stanton in the batting order after his hitless effort in Tuesday's 9-1 loss to the Marlins. Stanton entered play on Thursday hitless in his last 13 at-bats, and just 3-for-35 at home.

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"It's more our personnel versus their pitching and [the Blue Jays'] bullpen, that kind of thing," Boone said. "I'm not ready to move him down-down in the order. I still want him surrounded by impact guys. You move him down, and then all of a sudden, he's one good at-bat maybe from getting locked back in, and then all of a sudden, you're in a situation where it's a blatant pitch-around and those kinds of things."

Stanton had batted third in his first 16 games as a member of the Yankees, but Boone pointed out that Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez, Thursday's starter, has been historically tougher on right-handed bats. Didi Gregorius was elevated to the No. 3 spot for Thursday's game; Boone does not anticipate a day when Stanton might hit substantially lower in the order.

"No, I think he's too close to hopefully finding that feeling to where he can lock in," Boone said. "I have no intentions of moving him down any further. Whether it's fifth or third or fourth, those are always flexible depending on what we have, but I don't plan on moving him to the bottom half of the lineup."

Boone added that he gave little consideration to elevating Stanton in the order, perhaps flipping him with Aaron Judge, who has hit well out of the No. 2 spot.

"No. I kind of love Aaron in that spot, with his ability to get on base," Boone said. "Look, he's Giancarlo Stanton, so I don't think they're going to groove him pitches because he's hitting second or he's hitting fourth or he's hitting third. Guys kind of get pitched to how they get pitched. I think in the long haul, he's going to benefit more from having traffic on the bases and pitchers being in trouble, then when he's right there's no one better at taking advantage of mistakes. So with Aaron and how much he gets on base, I kind of like him in that two-hole."

'We have your back!'

Members of the Yankees united in support of 10-year-old Cassidy Warner this week after the Pennsylvania fourth grader made a public plea against bullying on her personal Facebook page.

The Yankees responded with a video that featured 24 players, plus Boone, holding up a series of note cards to mimic the style of Warner's video. The Yanks message was posted to the team's social media accounts on Wednesday.

Tweet from @Yankees: Hey Cassidy - we saw the video you made and from all of us here at the New York Yankees, we want you to know that you are not alone. We have your back! https://t.co/uuRb0ghzf1 pic.twitter.com/V2EeuJ1YmW

The original video was spotted by Jason Zillo, the Yankees' director of media relations, during the team's rainouts in Detroit this past weekend. The team has invited Cassidy and her parents to a game at Yankee Stadium.

"All our guys were really excited to be a part of it, to stand up for something like that," Boone said. "I think it was an easy call for us as an organization and for our players. Hopefully, we can make a difference, not only in this situation but across the country that [bullying is] not OK."

All you need is glove

The Yankees are tied with the Rangers for an American League-worst 17 errors through their first 16 games, and the team has scheduled a full workout of defensive drills prior to Friday's game against the Blue Jays. Pitchers' fielding practice, relays and shifts will be among the items addressed, and Boone said that similar days will occur periodically throughout the season.

"It's something that we need to improve overall," Boone said. "If we're going to be an elite-level team, we've got to catch the ball a little better, and we'll continue to work at that. [Friday] we have a defensive day kind of planned where we'll do a lot more than just the basic stuff, which has been in the plans for the last week. It's something that needs to improve, and I'm confident will continue to improve."

All rise

The Yankees have announced the creation of the Yankees Honor Row, a monthly initiative that throughout the season will honor community-based organizations committed to making a positive difference by hosting them in the Judge's Chambers section at Yankee Stadium.

Tweet from @Yankees: Introducing... Yankees Honor Row!Yankees Honor Row is a monthly initiative throughout the 2018 season that will honor community-based organizations committed to making a positive difference by hosting them in the Judge���s Chambers at Yankee Stadium. pic.twitter.com/Qbmav3HjY6

The first beneficiaries of the initiative will be a group of Bronx public school students (grades 5-8) and teachers at the 1:05 p.m. ET game on April 26 vs. the Twins as part of the Yankees' Bronx Education All Star Day. The group will also receive official Judge's Chambers robes and foam gavels.

Injury report

Greg Bird (right ankle surgery) ran on the field at Yankee Stadium, played catch and hit in the batting cage on Thursday. Boone said that Bird is "moving in the right direction."

Brandon Drury (migraines) took on-field batting practice and ground balls at third base on Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Jacoby Ellsbury (left hip soreness) has resumed workouts in Tampa, Fla., and hit off a tee on Thursday.

Clint Frazier (concussion) was scheduled to go through a full workout with Class A Tampa on Thursday, taking batting practice and performing defensive drills. It is possible that he could resume taking at-bats in Florida State League games this week.

Tommy Kahnle (right elbow and right shoulder tendinitis) will be shut down without throwing for about 10 days, Boone said, indicating that it could be about three weeks before the right-hander returns to big league action.

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

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Inbox: Who will the Tigers draft No. 1 overall?

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

Weather has not been baseball's friend for much of the month of April, with rain and snow (snow!) wiping out games at just about every level imaginable (high school baseball here in Pittsburgh is threatening to become a gym sport). But there have been some outstanding performances across the country by prospects, from the big leagues all the way down to this year's Draft class. This week's Inbox tries to reflect that.

We're less than seven weeks away from the 2018 Draft, and Jim Callis and I are working feverishly on a new Draft Top 100, which is coming soon. That will also mark the start of mock draft season (several of you have asked on Twitter). So I decided to kick off this week's Inbox with a question about the amateur set.

Weather has not been baseball's friend for much of the month of April, with rain and snow (snow!) wiping out games at just about every level imaginable (high school baseball here in Pittsburgh is threatening to become a gym sport). But there have been some outstanding performances across the country by prospects, from the big leagues all the way down to this year's Draft class. This week's Inbox tries to reflect that.

We're less than seven weeks away from the 2018 Draft, and Jim Callis and I are working feverishly on a new Draft Top 100, which is coming soon. That will also mark the start of mock draft season (several of you have asked on Twitter). So I decided to kick off this week's Inbox with a question about the amateur set.

Tweet from @jaymarkle_BP: Mize has seen most of the attention this spring, but there are also rumors that Kelenic is under serious consideration for the top spot. Is he an overdraft? What's your take?

There is no question Casey Mize has separated himself, but in no way have the Tigers decided who they will take with the No. 1 overall pick. It's always fun to see the rumors that make the rounds at this time. Check out the video above for my response to this one.

Tweet from @jmb9299: Hey Jonathan is Joe Dunand keeps this up can he be a top 100 prospect in the near future???? What���s your take? Also, can Edward Cabrera be a top 100 prospect as always appreciate your work thank you

Giving Marlins prospects some love is a relatively new thing, isn't it? And what I liked about this question the most is that while much of the attention has come because of the trades bringing in prospects, this is about two guys drafted and/or signed by the Marlins.

We can start with Dunand, No. 18 on the Marlins' Top 30. The club's second-round pick in 2017, Dunand has mostly been known to date as Alex Rodriguez's nephew, though now he can put Prospect Team of the Week on his resume. He certainly has started his first full season of pro ball well, with a .370/.407/.609 slash line across his first 46 at-bats, while getting pushed to the Class A Advanced Florida State League (not an easy place to hit). All of that is encouraging and yes, if he keeps that up, he'd have to eventually be considered for the Top 100. But the emphasis is on eventually. It's just 11 games and he's No. 18 on the team list, so he has a ways to go before he's Top 100-worthy, to answer the "near future" part of your question.

Cabrera, the No. 12 prospect, really intrigues me, and he was our choice for the Marlins' breakout prospect. He's really young (just turned 20), has a great pitcher's body, electric stuff and a good feel for pitching. Only two starts in, obviously, but he is tough to hit. If the command comes, I could see him as a Top 100-type pitching prospect eventually. I'm encouraged by his start in his move to full-season ball, though.

Tweet from @AlexBurkeC: Jack Flaherty or Mike Soroka long term?

Wow, this is a really tough call. It just so happens that I do the Top 30s for both the Cardinals and the Braves, so I know both of these talented right-handers quite well. My first gut reaction was to call this a dead heat, but let's try to take a closer look.

Video: Top Prospects: Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals

Based on where we have them on the Top 100 (Jack Flaherty is No. 38; Mike Soroka is No. 31), there isn't a ton separating them. There isn't much differentiation grades-wise, either:

Flaherty: Fastball: 55 | Slider: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55
Soroka: Fastball: 60 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55

Before you say Flaherty should have the edge because he has a fourth pitch, it should be noted that Soroka adds and subtracts from his slider to give it more of a curve shape at times. Both command their stuff extremely well. Soroka has a very slight edge on the fastball, but Flaherty throws plenty of 60-grade fastballs. Flaherty has obviously pitched in the big leagues already; Soroka is knocking on the door and is two years younger. Flaherty has the higher strikeout rate; Soroka's walk rate has been lower. Yes, I'm stalling here. I'm leaning slightly in Soroka's direction.

Video: Top Prospects: Mike Soroka, RHP, Braves

I decided to send the question to a couple of folks in the scouting and player development world. It wasn't even close to exhaustive, but those I heard back almost entirely sided with the Braves righty. But I really think an argument could be made for either one.

Tweet from @fantasy_jester: Will we see Keller this year before September

Tweet from @DPosey39: Should I pick up Pirates pitcher Keller? How would you rate him

Finishing off with a bit of a "homer" question (I live in Pittsburgh, for those who don't know). And I love Mitch Keller. In fact, I drafted him in our first Pipeline Prospect Fantasy Draft and he's rewarded me with two very solid starts to begin the year in Double-A.

We have two different questions about him here, though I think both have to do with potential fantasy value. If you're asking if you should pick him up in a keeper league, the answer is an unequivocal yes. If you're talking about this year, which speaks to the question about whether he'll be up before September, I'd lean toward no.

Video: Top Prospects: Mitch Keller, RHP, Pirates

It's not that I don't think the 22-year-old can compete in the big leagues. His combination of stuff and feel for pitching is as good as just about any pitching prospect (I'd take him over either Flaherty or Soroka, for whatever that's worth). But the Pirates tend to be methodical in terms of pitching development and Keller has just eight Double-A starts (not counting the playoffs) to his credit. Maybe his Arizona Fall League stint helps a littlte, but there's also some pitching depth ahead of him in Triple-A, so I don't see a severe need to get Keller to Pittsburgh this year. I'm all in for 2019, though.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Here are some candidates to be Reds' next skipper

MLB.com @m_sheldon

After the Reds dismissed manager Bryan Price and installed Jim Riggleman as his interim replacement on Thursday, they appeared in no rush to immediately hire a new full-time skipper.

"It's premature to set a timetable on that," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "But the point is we will be doing a thorough and exhaustive search process to identify the full-time manager. We have good internal candidates, but it will be a process we will undergo. It makes more sense to do that towards the end of the season because any external candidates, for the most part, are not going to be available until then."

After the Reds dismissed manager Bryan Price and installed Jim Riggleman as his interim replacement on Thursday, they appeared in no rush to immediately hire a new full-time skipper.

"It's premature to set a timetable on that," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "But the point is we will be doing a thorough and exhaustive search process to identify the full-time manager. We have good internal candidates, but it will be a process we will undergo. It makes more sense to do that towards the end of the season because any external candidates, for the most part, are not going to be available until then."

Internally, Cincinnati could look to special assistant to the GM and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. John Farrell, most recently the manager of the Red Sox, was hired in March as a scout. Third-base coach Billy Hatcher has expressed a desire to manage in the past.

Reds dismiss Price; Riggleman named interim

Currently available outside the organization are former Yankees manager Joe Girardi and ex-Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus. There are also numerous former managers who currently work as coaches for other clubs, such as Fredi Gonzalez of the Marlins and Manny Acta of the Mariners.

The choice of Reds fans would seem to be Larkin, a Cincinnati native and shortstop for the club during his entire 19-season career from 1986-2004. After working as a television analyst for several years, Larkin returned to the organization in 2015 and works as a roving Minor League instructor.

However, Larkin has no Major League or Minor League managerial experience. He did manage Brazil in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, winning a qualifying round before going 0-3 in the tournament.

Farrell, who won a World Series with Boston in 2013, was hired by the Reds to provide an external scouting eye on the club's own players and others around the league. When his addition was announced, there was no indication that he could be a manager-in-waiting behind Price.

Ausmus, who currently works in the Angels' front office, managed the Tigers from 2014-17 and won an American League Central title his first season. He is considered to be a more analytical-minded manager, which would fit the trend among front offices around the Major Leagues.

Girardi did a lot of winning with the Yankees from 2008-17, including the '09 World Series title. But his end with the club came amid reports that he had struggled to connect with a younger clubhouse. Cincinnati has one of the youngest clubhouses in baseball, with only a few players over the age of 30.

Video: Williams on replacing Price, Riggleman on taking over

Then there is Riggleman, who has been in this position before as an interim three times in his career. The 65-year-old has managed for all or parts of 12 Major League seasons for the Padres, Cubs, Mariners and Nationals.

"It's not the circumstances that anybody wants to get the job under," Riggleman said. "Bryan Price is a great man, and a great friend. I'm concerned about Bryan. The opportunity to manage, it's something that I love to do. I've always taken on that challenge with various clubs. It's a passion for me. I look forward to it. But this is not the circumstances you want it to happen."

Riggleman resigned from Washington amid a contract dispute during the 2011 season. He joined the Reds organization in '12, first as manager at Double-A Pensacola and then Triple-A Louisville in '13-14.

Riggleman returned to the Majors in 2015 to be Price's third-base coach, then moved over to bench coach, where he had served since '16.

For the time being, Riggleman will be tasked with getting Cincinnati back on track following a 3-15 start to this season.

"I think just try to see if we can win some ballgames, it's as simple as that," Riggleman said. "I will just try to stress the details of the game, which was what Bryan was trying to do. We've just got to find a way with the coaches, and myself, to really put an exclamation point on the details of the game. The hitting and the pitching are the two biggest areas of the game, they have to take care of themselves. But we as coaches and the manager can really try to pick up a win here or there with maybe some things we stress pregame that will hopefully carry into the game and help us win a few."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds

These teams are best -- and worst -- in extras

Wednesday's slate saw three games carry over into extra innings, with the Giants earning a win over the D-backs in 10 innings, the A's walking off the White Sox in 14 innings and the Twins notching an exciting walk-off victory in 16 innings vs. the Indians in Puerto Rico.

For fans, these extended games can be an odd experience  -- while your favorite team did not manage to win the game after nine innings, they also managed to not lose the game. Then, they get to enter the infinity and beyond known as extra innings.

We've already had a good amount of free baseball in the 2018 season -- 31 extra-inning affairs, to be exact -- but what can the last decade of extra-inning history tell us about these strange games?

Let's take a look:

Freeman back in lineup day after HBP on wrist

Braves relieved by Sanchez's outlook; Wisler up from Triple-A
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman received the confirmation he was seeking regarding his left wrist and then successfully lobbied to be in the Braves' lineup for Thursday night's series opener against the Mets at SunTrust Park.

"It's not broken," Freeman said. "I told [Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos] and everybody last night, 'If it's not broken, I'm playing today.' It's not broken. So, I'm in there."

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ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman received the confirmation he was seeking regarding his left wrist and then successfully lobbied to be in the Braves' lineup for Thursday night's series opener against the Mets at SunTrust Park.

"It's not broken," Freeman said. "I told [Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos] and everybody last night, 'If it's not broken, I'm playing today.' It's not broken. So, I'm in there."

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Freeman was still feeling some soreness as he filled his normal roles as the Braves' first baseman and three-hole hitter. But that discomfort paled in comparison to the mental and physical pain he would have felt if his left wrist had been fractured by a pitch for a second straight year.

There was certainly reason to be concerned when Freeman's left wrist was struck by left-hander Hoby Milner's fastball during the eighth inning of Wednesday night's 7-3 win over the Phillies. The scene conjured memories of last season, when Freeman was hit in essentially the same area by Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup's fastball.

"It missed [the bone] I broke last year by about half an inch," said Freeman, who missed seven weeks after the left wrist fracture incurred on May 17.

Freeman was thinking about the similarities when he felt the sting of Milner's pitch. This prompted him to exit the batter's box and walk directly to SunTrust Park's X-ray room. But he wasn't feeling the same throbbing and aching, which gave him hope.

Though Wednesday's X-rays did not show a fracture, Freeman was not completely relieved until he went through a variety of tests and underwent a CT scan while visiting Dr. Gary Lourie on Thursday morning.

"I was pretty ecstatic last night," Freeman said. "Last year, there was about an 80 percent chance it was broken when I left [the ballpark]. This time, when I left the stadium, Dr. Lourie said, 'I don't think it's broken at all.'"

After arriving at the stadium early Thursday afternoon, Freeman took some swings in the batting cage and had little trouble lobbying Braves manager Brian Snitker to put him in the lineup.

Asked if he had any concerns about allowing Freeman to play with a bruised wrist, Snitker said he did not.

Sanchez improves
The Braves certainly had reason to fear the worst when Anibal Sanchez was carted off the field with an air cast stabilizing his right leg a few hours before Wednesday's game. But it appears the veteran right-hander might miss just a couple of weeks with a Grade 1 right hamstring strain.

"It's going to be awhile before he gets on the mound, but it might be a lot sooner than we had thought," Snitker said.

The Braves initially thought Sanchez might be sidelined for a few months with the injury suffered while completing sprints in the outfield grass. But the pitcher's condition quickly improved Wednesday night.

Matt Wisler was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett to make Sanchez's scheduled start on Thursday night. Outfielder Lane Adams was designated for assignment to create a roster spot for Wisler. The Braves are hopeful Adams goes unclaimed on waivers.

"He's done a really good job," Snitker said. "Hopefully, everything works out that we can keep him. It's unfortunate, but it's just one of those moves we had to make."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman

Top of order sets tone as Tigers outpace O's

Top 3 in order combine for 10 hits, 2 home runs, 7 RBIs in offensive showcase
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Leonys Martin had a couple of chances at his first career grand slam earlier in his career, only to be denied by highlight catches to bring them back. Mike Trout robbed him when he was in Seattle a couple of years ago; George Springer took a walk-off away from him in Texas the year before that.

"Not a good feeling," Martin said.

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DETROIT -- Leonys Martin had a couple of chances at his first career grand slam earlier in his career, only to be denied by highlight catches to bring them back. Mike Trout robbed him when he was in Seattle a couple of years ago; George Springer took a walk-off away from him in Texas the year before that.

"Not a good feeling," Martin said.

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So when Orioles right fielder Anthony Santander had to turn and watch Martin's fifth-inning drive clear the right-field fence, and clear the bases in the process Thursday, the sense of relief could be seen on Martin's face as he rounded first base. The smile he was sporting was unmistakable as he rounded third, putting the Tigers into double digits on the scoreboard. The slam broke the game open, and paved the way to a 13-8 win and a three-game series sweep of the Orioles at Comerica Park.

Video: BAL@DET: Martin belts a grand slam to right

"He gets so excited, you can't understand him when he starts yelling in the dugout when he came back," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think he enjoyed it. I'm pretty sure he did. He was talking really fast.

"But it was good. All the guys were excited. He's an entertaining guy and an entertaining player."

He was still smiling after the game upon receiving the ball. The fan who retrieved it offered it back to him in exchange for an autographed one. Martin signed a ball and thanked the fan for bringing it back, no pun intended.

Martin fell a hit shy of the cycle for the second time in as many weeks, but he'll take this. The way he's hitting and running, he'll have more chances this season. Not only is he an entertaining player, he's becoming a leadoff catalyst for a Tigers offense that might finally be heating up along with the spring weather in Michigan.

"I just go out there and try to put a good swing on the baseball, man. Try to swing at strikes," Martin said. "That's the only thing that I can control. It's good to hit the ball in the gap, hit triples and stuff like that, but the only thing that I go to home plate thinking about is to hit the ball hard and put a good swing on it."

Add Jeimer Candelario's first career four-hit games to three-hit efforts for Martin and Miguel Cabrera, and the top third of the Tigers lineup combined for 10 of Detroit's 18 hits in roughing up Alex Cobb and the Orioles.

Video: BAL@DET: Candelario belts an opposite-field homer

Martin needed a triple for the cycle last Wednesday in Cleveland, but his three hits were the only ones the Tigers put up against Carlos Carrasco in his shutout. He picked up his triple early on Thursday, a 421-foot loft over Adam Jones' head and to the depths of right-center, but finished a double short.

Video: BAL@DET: Martin rips a triple to the wall

Compared to the triple, Martin's grand slam was a short poke, an estimated 390-foot drive off Mike Wright Jr. into the right-field seats according to Statcast™.

Martin had one at-bat to try for what would've been the Tigers' first cycle since Carlos Guillen on Aug. 1, 2006. His opposite-field fly ball in the seventh had some carry to left, but Trey Mancini needed only retreat a few steps for the catch.

"I felt pressure a little bit," Martin admitted. "I've been in this situation a few times and never got it done. But when I went to the batter's box, I tried to relax and think about how this is another at-bat. I think I put a good swing on it, but it's all luck."

At least for the grand slam, it was in his favor this time.

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Iglesias puts Tigers up for good: Detroit moved ahead with a four-run second inning on four hits, all of them on the ground. The only one for extra bases was Jose Iglesias' two-run triple, a grounder he pulled just inside the third-base line and down into the left-field corner, scoring James McCann and JaCoby Jones.

Video: BAL@DET: Iglesias hustles for a triple, drives in two

SOUND SMART
All four series the Tigers have completed without a game lost to postponement have been sweeps. The Pirates swept a three-game series at Comerica Park to open the season. The Tigers swept the White Sox in three games at Chicago, then were swept in four games at Cleveland before playing only one of three scheduled games here against the Yankees last weekend.

HE SAID IT
"This was a fun series. We did really well. This is a Baltimore team that's a really good offensive team, and our guys came out pretty good out of it. So, let's just take baby steps, and you keep working." -- Gardenhire on sweeping the Orioles

UP NEXT
The Tigers welcome the Royals for their second visit to Comerica Park this month, this time for a four-day weekend series that begins with a day-night doubleheader on Friday. Michael Fulmer (1-2, 3.86) and Daniel Norris (0-1, 7.11) will get the starts at 1:10 p.m. and 7:10 p.m. ET, respectively, as Detroit tries to extend its three-game winning streak with a chance to get back to .500 with a sweep.

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

Detroit Tigers, Jeimer Candelario, Leonys Martin

Ichiro's career an incredible winding road

While Ichiro Suzuki's return to Seattle was undeniably one of the coolest moments of the offseason, his fit on the Mariners' roster was never entirely crystal clear. With fellow outfielder Ben Gamel returning from the disabled list this week, Ichiro's playing time is likely to decrease, and his spot on the roster may be at risk. We know about Ichiro's desire to play until he's 50, but it is only going to become more difficult for the veteran to find a spot on a big league roster.

With that in mind, there is never a wrong time to take a moment to appreciate the absurdly amazing career that Ichiro has put together, regardless of how much longer it continues. 

This man sparked a revolution in closer music

MLB.com @JPosnanski

Marty Appel wanted a rock song first. He was a rock and roll guy. But here's the thing: He couldn't think of a good one. This was eight years before "Hells Bells" came out, and almost 20 years before "Enter Sandman." He played in his mind the rock and roll songs that were available to him -- none quite fit.

None of those songs quite captured the majestic entrance of Sparky Lyle.

Marty Appel wanted a rock song first. He was a rock and roll guy. But here's the thing: He couldn't think of a good one. This was eight years before "Hells Bells" came out, and almost 20 years before "Enter Sandman." He played in his mind the rock and roll songs that were available to him -- none quite fit.

None of those songs quite captured the majestic entrance of Sparky Lyle.

The Yankees had nothing going in 1972. The team was blah and had been blah, more or less, for a half-dozen years. They were playing in a dilapidated Yankee Stadium that would have to be renovated (forcing the team to share Shea Stadium with the Mets for two seasons). The team was boring and the fans were bored. That was the only Yankees season when they failed to draw even a million people. There was nothing happening in pinstripes.

Appel was a brand-new assistant publicist for the team, and he was dying for something to publicize; anything to get the fans going even a little bit. And he noticed: It was kind of fun when Sparky Lyle came into the game. Lyle had been a good but fairly nondescript relief pitcher for the Red Sox when Yankees general manager Lee McPhail decided to trade for him. McPhail sent first baseman Danny Cater to the Red Sox for Lyle, and immediately New York manager Ralph Houk announced, "Lyle's my lock-up man."

And he was. In the fifth game of the season, Houk brought in Lyle to get the final out when Milwaukee had come within a run. That was the first of 141 saves he recorded with the Yankees.

Video: Sparky Lyle joins Brian Kenny on MLB Now

In May, Houk brought Lyle into save situations nine times, and Lyle got the save every time. Lyle's emerging brilliance as a pitcher was fine, but what grabbed Appel was how theatrical his entrance was. A driver would pick him up from the bullpen in a pinstriped Datsun and drive him around to the Yankees' bullpen. Then he would get out of the car, toss away his warm-up jacket, spit tobacco juice, pound his glove and stomp his way to the mound.

This was a big entrance, Appel thought. Here was Sparky Lyle arriving -- by automobile no less -- to save the moment, to save the day, a gunslinger coming to clean up the town, a pro wrestler coming to clear out the ring, a cavalryman coming to take the hill, a rock and roll band taking the stage.

This, Appel decided, needed music.

* * *

It is widely known, and entirely without dispute, that the four greatest reliever entrance songs ever are (in no particular order):

• "Enter Sandman" for Mariano Rivera (the great Billy Wagner also used Enter Sandman as his entrance song but sadly will be remembered as second-best much the way Tom Hanks will always be the second-best movie version of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee after Jason Robards).

Video: SF@NYY: Metallica performs 'Enter Sandman' at Stadium

• "Hells Bells" for new Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman.

• "Welcome to the Jungle" for Eric Gagne. This is now the entrance song for the unhittable Craig Kimbrel, and it works. But hat tip to the original.

• "Wild Thing" for Ricky Vaughn from "Major League."

There have been others who tried and came close to this stratosphere -- Washington's Sean Doolittle chose the supreme "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which was inspired, but he kind of moved away from it, going instead with other Metallica songs. I'd be all for him bringing it back, especially because in his first nine appearances this year with the Nationals he is averaging two strikeouts per inning. (Jonathan Papelbon went with this song during his time with the Phillies, but I suspect most people in Philadelphia would prefer to forget that time).

Brian Wilson used to come in to House Of Pain's "Jump Around," which was perfect for him because Wilson was going for that whole San Francisco party atmosphere rather than the typical intimidating, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here," Dante Inferno closer vibe.

Dennis Eckersley rather famously used "Bad to the Bone" for his entrance music. It's a good closer song, for sure (Goose Gossage also used it for a time), but I never thought it fit Eck. He was and is a free-spirit, Bay Area dude who kicked his leg high and threw strikes and became a Hall of Famer pretty much by accident. He was a goofball, is what I'm saying (in the most endearing way). While I get that "Bad to the Bone" is an ironic song, I don't know -- it never quite fit the Eck for me.

John Smoltz was one of several relievers who have tried AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," which is a good but somewhat pedestrian choice. Do you really want to come in to AC/DC's second-best closer song? What fascinates me more is that for a time he entered to ABBA's "Dancing Queen," which is so ridiculous that it's inspired.

You can dance
You can jive
Having the time of your life
Ooh see that girl
Watch that scene
Diggin' the dancing queen

Try to get a hit off the pitcher with the guts to come in with that song.

* * *

Appel did not invent the closer entrance song -- organists had played music when relief pitchers came into games. The corniest of these: In 1963, the Twins purchased 28-year-old pitcher Bill Dailey, who had been kicking around baseball for a decade, mostly in the Minors. Dailey was a fatalist. He told friends this was his last shot and he was going to throw every pitch he could with everything he had until his arm blew out. Then he would work in construction.

Well, he got off to a kind of rough start, but the Twins stuck with him in the bullpen. And something kicked in. For two months, from May 6 to July 7 -- he pitched 48 innings and allowed three runs, for an 0.56 ERA. The league hit .171 against him. Dailey was a bonafide phenom and Twins manager Sam Mele just kept putting Dailey into games when the Twins needed him.

And when he entered the organist began playing -- it hurts even now to write this -- "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey."

(To finish the story: Dailey had a fantastic 1963 season with six wins, 21 saves and a 1.99 ERA. He even got an