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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 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 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 triple play they have been involved in. The club has turned 12 triple plays and hit into nine.

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

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

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 cleared after MRI on left wrist

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman received the result he was seeking and immediately began lobbying -- successfully -- to be in the Braves' lineup for Thursday night's series opener against the Mets at SunTrust Park.

A MRI exam performed on Thursday revealed Freeman did not incur any structural damage when his left wrist was hit by a Hoby Milner pitch during the eighth inning of Wednesday night's win over the Phillies. The Braves first baseman missed seven weeks when he was hit around the same spot with a pitch last year.

ATLANTA -- Freddie Freeman received the result he was seeking and immediately began lobbying -- successfully -- to be in the Braves' lineup for Thursday night's series opener against the Mets at SunTrust Park.

A MRI exam performed on Thursday revealed Freeman did not incur any structural damage when his left wrist was hit by a Hoby Milner pitch during the eighth inning of Wednesday night's win over the Phillies. The Braves first baseman missed seven weeks when he was hit around the same spot with a pitch last year.

Freeman was initially worried as he walked from the batter's box toward the clubhouse, but his concern began to evaporate once X-rays taken on Wednesday night did not reveal a fracture. The MRI exam was scheduled to provide a clearer picture once the swelling reduced.

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

Atlanta Braves

Top of order sets tone as Tigers outpace O's

Martin, Candelario combine for 7 hits, 2 home runs, 7 RBIs in offensive showcase
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Leonys Martin fell a double shy of the cycle -- including notching his first career grand slam -- and Jeimer Candelario added a two-run homer in his first career four-hit game, powering the Tigers to a three-game series sweep of the Orioles with a 13-8 win Thursday at Comerica Park.

The Tigers' bats heated up on a sun-drenched afternoon in Detroit, where a 45-degree first-pitch temperature felt balmy compared to most of their recent games. Martin singled up the middle and scored to open the offense in the first inning before Jose Iglesias' two-run triple fueled a four-run second inning to put Detroit ahead for good.

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DETROIT -- Leonys Martin fell a double shy of the cycle -- including notching his first career grand slam -- and Jeimer Candelario added a two-run homer in his first career four-hit game, powering the Tigers to a three-game series sweep of the Orioles with a 13-8 win Thursday at Comerica Park.

The Tigers' bats heated up on a sun-drenched afternoon in Detroit, where a 45-degree first-pitch temperature felt balmy compared to most of their recent games. Martin singled up the middle and scored to open the offense in the first inning before Jose Iglesias' two-run triple fueled a four-run second inning to put Detroit ahead for good.

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Martin added a triple of his own with a drive over Adam Jones' head to the depths of right-center field in the fourth inning, an estimated 421-foot loft that briefly had the makings of an inside-the-park homer before third-base coach Dave Clark held up Martin heading into third. Candelario brought him home on the next pitch with a two-run homer.

Martin got his chance to round the bases traditionally after three singles and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases for him against a struggling Mike Wright Jr.

Martin drove a 1-1 pitch into the right-field seats for a 12-3 Tigers lead. Add Miguel Cabrera's three-hit afternoon to Martin and Candelario, and the top third of the Tigers lineup combined for 10 of Detroit's 18 hits.

That was plenty of support for Jordan Zimmermann, making his first start since leaving last Wednesday's outing at Cleveland after taking a line drive off his right jaw. Zimmermann gave up four runs over 5 1/3 innings, including two home runs from Manny Machado, but retired eight in a row in between.

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. 

Baez an immediate spark atop Cubs' lineup

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Manager Joe Maddon was hoping Javier Baez could provide a spark at the top of the lineup, and the Cubs' second baseman did just that in the first inning on Thursday against the Cardinals.

Baez tripled with one out in the first, lining the ball into the gap in right-center, then scored on Kris Bryant's single to tie the game at 1. He hit an RBI single in his second at-bat as part of a four-run second that put the Cubs ahead, 6-1.

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CHICAGO -- Manager Joe Maddon was hoping Javier Baez could provide a spark at the top of the lineup, and the Cubs' second baseman did just that in the first inning on Thursday against the Cardinals.

Baez tripled with one out in the first, lining the ball into the gap in right-center, then scored on Kris Bryant's single to tie the game at 1. He hit an RBI single in his second at-bat as part of a four-run second that put the Cubs ahead, 6-1.

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Baez has racked up his share of extra-base hits. He has 14 hits this season, and only three are singles.

"I wanted to get some energy at the top," Maddon said about why he moved Baez up. "He's been doing well. I could have left him at six or seven [in the order]. I'm just shuffling the chairs up a little. There's nothing brilliant about it whatsover. It's just to provide some energy at the top of the batting order."

Baez has shown the ability to use the whole field more, which has helped his offense.

"He might take that out-of-control swing, but then he comes back to reality," Maddon said. "I think he's making in-at-bat adjustments. The moment he stops laying off the down-and-away slider, he'll become Manny Ramirez."

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

Chicago Cubs, Javier Baez

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 MVP vote. But he was right about blowing out his arm; he pitched just 15 innings the next year, couldn't get anybody out and got that job in construction).

Still, what Appel saw was an opportunity to make the closer music something more than just a quirky or funny aside. He approached Yankees organist Toby Wright and said that he wanted a special song for when Lyle came into games. The two did a little brainstorming. In those days, you probably know, there were no "closers." Instead, end-of-game relief pitchers were called "firemen"; you know, because they were supposed to put out fires. Appel and Wright tried to come up with a "fire" song.

They immediately thought of The Doors' "Light My Fire." But it wasn't right. Lyle wasn't trying to light fires. Wright threw out "My Old Flame" as a possibility and also the old Ink Spots song "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire." But they both realized: There aren't many songs about extinguishing fires. Think about fire and rock and roll. Try to set the night on fire … let me stand next to you fire … the flames grow higher and it burns, burns, burns … cause when we kiss, ooh, fire … goodness, gracious great balls of fire.

Appel and Wright decided go with something less literal.

"We thought, 'You know what might work?'" Appel says now. "'Pomp and Circumstance.' You know, the graduation song."

It made no sense at all. Why the graduation song for a reliever? But they tried it in an empty Yankee Stadium -- Wright played it on the organ -- and, you know what? It sounded good.

(Legend has it that it was first played on April 19, 1972, which is 46 years ago today, but Appel remembers it being a little later in the season.)

So they tried it the next time that Lyle came into the game. Appel spied the bullpen with binoculars. As soon as he realized that Lyle was coming into the game, he picked up the phone connected to Wright. "It's Sparky," he said.

And Wright began playing the "Pomp and Circumstance" march as Lyle made his way to the mound. A sensation was born.

* * *

The game-changing part of "Pomp and Circumstance," I think, was the Appel decision to go away from something literal and just choosing music that sounds good. Above, I list the undeniable four best entry songs/closer combinations, but I did not put them in order. That was wrong -- there is a very clear No. 1 choice and that is "Hells Bells" and Hoffman. It is the best closer song. This is not up for debate.

Video: Hoffman on his famous entrance music, 'Hells Bells'

"Hells Bells" obviously was not intended to signify the wrath of the relief pitcher about to enter the game. It's a tribute to Bon Scott, the original lead singer of AC/DC, who died of acute alcohol poisoning (or, perhaps, from a heroin overdose; it is disputed). The bell that rings at the start of the song rings for Scott, and the lyrics are meant to evoke Scott's wild and short life (and perhaps the hell he was raising in the afterlife).

But the song's meaning is not the point. "Hells Bells" sounds perfect. When that first bell chimed, and everyone started going crazy because they knew Hoffman was coming into the game, oh man, goosebumps. A young Padres salesman named Chip Bowers came up with the song for Hoffman a quarter-century after Lyle first entered to "Pomp and Circumstance." He was feeding off the inspiration of Appel. Hoffman first entered to "Hells Bells" when he was attempting to tie Rod Beck's then-record of 41 consecutive saves. From the first bell, it was clear that this was magic.

Trevor Hoffman saved 93 percent of his opportunities when "Hells Bells" played.

If "Hells Bells" had been around in '72, Appel probably would have chosen it.

Video: Hoffman comments on his 500th save uniform

"I really did want an edgy song," Appel said. "I was part of the younger generation, I had a rock and roll mindset. We looked really hard for an appropriate rock and roll song, but we just couldn't find one."

Well, that's OK because it's unlikely the Yankees would have let Appel play "Hells Bells" or anything edgy anyway. Baseball was square in '72, and the Yankees were the squarest. "Pomp and Circumstance" was about as avant-garde as they were likely to be.

But it worked anyway -- because of the sound. Fans caught on so quickly that it even shocked Appel. After only a couple of times, the few fans began anticipating the moment; the first note of "Pomp and Circumstance" would play and the small crowd started going crazy. And the longer it went on, the crazier they went.

"One thing that was different back then," Appel said, "is that they didn't always go to a commercial break when a reliever came in. They weren't sold out end-to-end like they are now. So a lot of times when Sparky came in, the people watching on television would hear 'Pomp and Circumstance' playing. You had people at home experiencing it. So when they came to the park, they automatically knew the drill."

It was a hit. Soon after, the crosstown Mets started playing a goofy little Irish jig when Tug McGraw came into games (and then McGraw would thrill fans by stomping on the foul line as he came in because he didn't believe in superstitions).

A wonderful baseball character named Al Hrabosky -- the Mad Hungarian -- invented an entire reliever act. He would turn his back to the plate, work himself to a frenzy, throw the ball hard into his glove and then quickly turn and glare down the batter. It was a pretty glorious routine, and as a prelude the team would play "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2," which was perfect for him.

And it kept building and building until "Hells Bells" and "Enter Sandman" and relief pitcher music perfection.

* * *

Every closer has a song now. Kenley Jansen has been struggling lately -- weird to see -- especially since he still comes in to 2Pac's "California Love." Fans have grown used to games being over when that song begins. The Mets' Jeurys Familia comes into the upbeat "Danza Kuduro," which sort of suggests, "Hey, Familia's in the game, get the party started." Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman now comes in to that threatening opening to Rage Against the Machine's "Wake Up."

Like I said, everyone has one now.

All of which leads to the final part of the Lyle story: He despised it. All of it. He didn't like the song, didn't like the expectation that came with it, didn't like any part of "Pomp and Circumstance." He pitched great. In '72, he finished third in the American League MVP vote, and, oddly, seventh in the AL Cy Young vote (voters have never known what to do with relief pitchers). Then in '73, he was an All-Star for the first time. He was beloved in the Bronx. "Pomp and Circumstance" was every Yankee fan's favorite song.

But he apparently pleaded with management to stop playing that song. Then early in '74, Lyle began the year struggling. And he asked again: Stop playing that song. On April 24, 1974, a Royals-Yankees game, they stopped.

"I asked the team management two years ago not to play the music," Lyle told reporters after the game. "They did it all next year and started again this year. … I just thought it was stupid and I finally got them to cut it out. What if I got the hell hit out of me? What would they play, 'The Old Rugged Cross?'"

It was strange -- Lyle was a free spirit, a practical joker, he did not seem the type to get freaked out by the song.

"He said, 'I'm already put in enough pressure situations, I don't need this huge weight on my shoulders,'" Appel says. "I was surprised, really. Sparky was flamboyant. He didn't worry about pressure."

As far as Appel remembers, they never did play "Pomp and Circumstance" for Lyle after that. But here's the funny part: For many years, at least once or twice a season, a reporter would write, "And Sparky Lyle came out of the bullpen to the sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance." The song had become so much a part of his persona that people heard it even when it wasn't there.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.

New York Yankees

AL East reset: Stanton, JD Martinez, Grichuk

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

In April, everything is magnified. The numbers that are on the scoreboard and in box scores represent a small sample size, but they are still the numbers fans fixate on, because there is nothing else to go off yet. This is particularly true for the key newcomers for each team.

Here is a look at how it is going for five newbies in the American League East.

In April, everything is magnified. The numbers that are on the scoreboard and in box scores represent a small sample size, but they are still the numbers fans fixate on, because there is nothing else to go off yet. This is particularly true for the key newcomers for each team.

Here is a look at how it is going for five newbies in the American League East.

Blue Jays
Who's the new guy?
Right fielder Randal Grichuk

How's it going so far? Grichuk had just three hits in his first 42 at-bats before he homered and hit a key double against the Royals in Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader. Grichuk entered play on Thursday with 19 strikeouts over 61 plate appearances, and he has yet to live up to the hype as Jose Bautista's replacement in right field.

Video: KC@TOR: Grichuk rips a 114.1-mph three-run homer

What's on deck? Grichuk has a pair a 20-plus homer seasons on his resume, so there's a reasonable expectation that he should be able to turn things around. It needs to happen soon, because Teoscar Hernandez will push him for playing time in right.

Number to know: The offensive production hasn't been there, but Grichuk was credited with two defensive runs saved in his first 14 starts in right field this season.

Orioles
Who's the new guy?
Starting pitcher Andrew Cashner

How's it going so far? After a rocky debut, Cashner has had three consecutive quality starts. Cashner credits fellow newcomer Alex Cobb for helping him with his breaking ball. After giving up three homers in his first start, Cashner has allowed a total of two in his past three starts. To this point, he looks to be the solid No. 2 starter the Orioles thought they were getting.

Video: BAL@DET: Cashner fans Goodrum for his fifth K

What's on deck? Cashner faces a tough test on Sunday in the Indians, who have won the AL Central title the past two years. Though Cleveland got off to a slow start at the plate, manager Terry Francona's team has plenty of firepower in the lineup.

Number to know: While he's not a big power pitcher, Cashner has 21 strikeouts in his first 24 innings.

Rays
Who's the new guy?
Right-hander Yonny Chirinos

How's it going so far? Chirinos became the first Rays pitcher to begin his career without allowing a run in the first two starts. Thus far, he has only started games that were designated as "bullpen days" under the Rays' new pitching plan.

Video: TEX@TB: Chirinos fans Guzman to end the frame

What's on deck? Chirinos' performance to date has fueled speculation that the Rays will slide him into the rotation in the near future.

Number to know: 14 1/3. That's the number of scoreless innings Chirinos logged to start the season.

Red Sox
Who's the new guy?
Designated hitter/outfielder J.D. Martinez

How's it going so far? The slugger is off to a modest start, but that shouldn't be a surprise. Martinez's career homer total in March/April is by far his lowest of any month. He has made some contributions, most notably a grand slam against the Yankees on April 11. Martinez has come through in many of the RBI opportunities he's had, and he has fit in well with his teammates. There's no reason to think the Red Sox didn't get the right guy when they signed Martinez.

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

What's on deck? More home runs, and soon. It should only be a matter of time before Martinez starts clearing the fences on a regular basis. Away from the chilly conditions of Boston for the next week -- the Red Sox play at Anaheim, Oakland and Toronto (where the roof is likely to be closed) -- Martinez has a good chance to get hot.

Number to know: .992. That is Martinez's OPS in his first nine home games for the Red Sox, which is a sign of how quickly he has gained comfort at Fenway. As Martinez promised, he has not shifted away from his all-fields approach.

Yankees
Who's the new guy?
Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton

How's it going so far? Not exactly how Stanton or the Yankees would have anticipated after his terrific debut, slugging two homers on Opening Day at Toronto. Stanton has heard frequent boos at Yankee Stadium, though he said that he understands why he is being singled out by his new fan base, given the expectations that accompanied his arrival.

Video: Must C Classic: Stanton hits two HRs in Yanks debut

What's on deck? Manager Aaron Boone has batted Stanton third in each of the Yankees' 16 games to this point, and said on Tuesday that he is considering lowering the slugger in the lineup -- "but not too far." Boone believes that Stanton's track record is too solid for this to continue forever, and when he does play to his career norms, opponents will pay for these early struggles.

Number to know: .086. Stanton's batting average through eight games at Yankee Stadium, where he is 3-for-35 with 20 strikeouts. Stanton is hitting .323 (10-for-31) in eight road games.

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

New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Andrew Cashner, Yonny Chirinos, Randal Grichuk, J.D. Martinez, Giancarlo Stanton

Back tightness keeping Giles out of action

Astros' starting pitching, deep 'pen compensating for absence; turf issues in Seattle
Special to MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Astros manager AJ Hinch said reliever Ken Giles hasn't pitched since Saturday because of a problem with his back.

"He's been battling a little bit of back tightness and had been unavailable the last couple of days,'' Hinch said before Thursday's series finale against the Mariners. "I had him up on Sunday [in the bullpen in Houston], but when we got to Seattle he reported a little bit of back soreness. It has progressively gotten a little bit worse to where he can't go yet."

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SEATTLE -- Astros manager AJ Hinch said reliever Ken Giles hasn't pitched since Saturday because of a problem with his back.

"He's been battling a little bit of back tightness and had been unavailable the last couple of days,'' Hinch said before Thursday's series finale against the Mariners. "I had him up on Sunday [in the bullpen in Houston], but when we got to Seattle he reported a little bit of back soreness. It has progressively gotten a little bit worse to where he can't go yet."

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Giles hasn't pitched in five games, so he could go on the disabled list, retroactive to Sunday.

"I don't know,'' Hinch said. "We don't want him to miss too much time. Right now, just given that he can't move around and do the things he normally does, it's a little concerning. But we haven't talked DL yet.

"Luckily our starting pitchers have gone deep into games, and I don't have enough innings for all our relievers, so Giles being down a few days hasn't impacted us."

Tough turf in Seattle

Some of the Astros have an issue with the new grass at Safeco Field. The Mariners replaced all the grass after last season, but the new turf has caused some problems with footing in the outfield, which could be weather-related.

"I know the weather hasn't cooperated for it to really take, and we've been in conversations with the grounds crew here,'' Hinch said. "They understand. With the weather, the cold, the roof, it hasn't taken form yet."

Hinch is sympathetic to the problems that come with new grass.

"There are some issues in the outfield, but both teams have to deal with it," Hinch said. "We are used to coming here and having it be pristine, and it's not there yet. I'm sure by the time we get back it'll be picture perfect."

Astros outfielder George Springer slipped and fell while trying to run down a fly ball Tuesday night, but he didn't want to make excuses.

"It's been a little bit of an issue,'' Hinch said. "We've had a couple of guys slip in the outfield. When the ball hits it. It kicks up a ton of sand.''

Outfielder Derek Fisher, who ran back to the wall to rob Jean Segura of a homer Wednesday night, said players need to be aware of the new turf.

Video: HOU@SEA: Fisher robs Segura of a home run in left

"It's just about being careful and knowing where you're at," Fisher said. "It could be better, but I've never planted sod in my life. I know it's a little more difficult than any of us can speak on."

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

Houston Astros, Ken Giles

5 reasons why better times are ahead for Reds

MLB.com @m_sheldon

Changing the manager -- as the Reds did Thursday -- doesn't mean instant improvement for a 3-15 club. Progress is up to the players -- both those already on the roster and perhaps others who could be arriving in the future. It's also up to the front office to put the next manager in position to develop a winning culture.

The goal at the outset of the season was for Cincinnati to turn the corner -- to transition from rebuild back toward contending. So far, that obviously has not happened, but that doesn't mean that it can't. Here are five reasons that things can get better for the Reds going forward:

Changing the manager -- as the Reds did Thursday -- doesn't mean instant improvement for a 3-15 club. Progress is up to the players -- both those already on the roster and perhaps others who could be arriving in the future. It's also up to the front office to put the next manager in position to develop a winning culture.

The goal at the outset of the season was for Cincinnati to turn the corner -- to transition from rebuild back toward contending. So far, that obviously has not happened, but that doesn't mean that it can't. Here are five reasons that things can get better for the Reds going forward:

Video: CIN@PIT: Suarez gets hit in the hand, exits game

1. Injured hitters will return
For a team that's struggling to score runs, the return of injured players Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler will be very welcomed. Interim manager Jim Riggleman should immediately benefit, because Schebler is expected to be activated from the disabled list Friday vs. the Cardinals. The 30-homer hitter from 2017 hasn't played since the season's third game on April 1, when he was hit by a pitch on the right elbow and suffered an ulnar nerve contusion.

As for Suarez, he is making fast progress from a fractured right thumb that put him on the DL on April 9. A clubhouse leader who hit 26 homers last season and plays strong defense at third base, he should be back in early May. The combo at third base of Cliff Pennington, Phil Gosselin and Alex Blandino hasn't produced offensively or defensively. Suarez has in the past and likely will again once healthy.

Video: CIN@MIL: Votto drills an RBI double to center field

2. Joey Votto will hit
Votto, the team's best player, was batting .158 through five games, but he has slowly started to pick up the pace. Slow starts are nothing new for him. As recently as 2016, Votto batted .213 over the first two months. In the second half of that season, he batted .408 and finished with 29 home runs.

Votto's career numbers of .313/.427/.537 indicate he will eventually find his usual high level as the lineup's toughest out. That's no small thing -- this is one of the very best hitters in the National League.

3. The leadoff spot will get settled
Price started waning on using Billy Hamilton as his leadoff hitter, sometimes batting him ninth. Hamilton has a .284 on-base percentage this season (.297 lifetime), while Jesse Winker has a .407 OBP in 2018. Winker has led off in nine of the 18 games. It's time to make the change, full time, to Winker, to create chances for Suarez, Votto, Adam Duvall, Scooter Gennett and others.

4. Senzel will be up, eventually
In an interview with MLB.com on Monday, general manager Dick Williams indicated that the club was in no rush to promote top prospect Nick Senzel. Williams wanted the callup of Senzel to "be more dictated by his performance and confidence as opposed to being dictated by the situation here." At the moment, the 22-year-old is batting .233 for Triple-A Louisville.

But Senzel has hit well in his past few games, and he showed no signs of being overwhelmed during Spring Training in his first big league camp. If Senzel heats up, and the Reds open an infield spot for him, he could provide a boost without expectations to be a main guy. He's been playing second base and third base for Louisville after trying shortstop in camp.

Video: CIN@MIL: DeSclafani strikes out Santana looking

5. The pitching can only improve
Cincinnati's pitchers are last in the NL with a 5.42 ERA. It might be a lot to expect Anthony DeSclafani to be a steadying presence for the rotation, because he hasn't had a healthy season since 2015. But he's due back from his latest injury -- a strained left oblique -- at the end of May, and his consistency and experience would be a boost. When healthy, DeSclafani has been good (9-5, 3.28 ERA in 20 starts in 2016).

The rotation has gotten good performances in the past four games. In the cases of Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano this week, one bad pitch to the Brewers' Eric Thames cost the team the game. Waiting in the wings is Amir Garrett, who has spun 9 1/3 scoreless innings in the bullpen.

As for the Reds' bullpen, it's turned things around after a horrendous beginning. Yovani Gallardo and others have been jettisoned. Over the past six games, Cincy's relievers have a 0.48 ERA. Rehabbing Michael Lorenzen (strained teres major) isn't due to get on a mound until the end of April, and it could likely be another month before he's activated, but he'll help when he arrives.

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, Scott Schebler, Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, Jesse Winker