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Cy Young trio to make 1st spring starts today

Kershaw, Scherzer, Greinke to debut along with four-time All-Star Bumgarner
MLB.com @DKramer_

Spring Training is in full swing, with games underway in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. Many star pitchers will be on the diamond for the first time in competitive play today, and fans can catch seven games on MLB.TV.

A throng of former Cy Young Award winners will make their spring debuts today, including Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke, as well as four-time All-Star Madison Bumgarner. Here is what to watch for today (all times ET):

Spring Training is in full swing, with games underway in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. Many star pitchers will be on the diamond for the first time in competitive play today, and fans can catch seven games on MLB.TV.

A throng of former Cy Young Award winners will make their spring debuts today, including Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke, as well as four-time All-Star Madison Bumgarner. Here is what to watch for today (all times ET):

Bumgarner makes start in Scottsdale: CHC@SF, 3:05 p.m., MLB.TV
Fresh off being named the Giants' Opening Day starter for the fifth consecutive year -- one shy of Juan Marichal's San Francisco-era franchise record for consecutive season-opening outings (1964-69) -- Bumgarner will embark on his 10th big league Spring Training when he takes on the Cubs in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Video: Bumgarner discusses his excitement for 2018 season

For aces of Bumgarner's caliber, this time of year is for fine-tuning and preparation for the six-month regular season (and potentially beyond, the Giants hope), though Bumgarner has established a formidable track record of production in Cactus League play. He's posted a career 3.87 ERA over 160 2/3 spring innings, including a 2.52 ERA in seven starts last year, finishing with nine strikeouts over seven innings against the Reds in his finale.

Bumgarner is coming off a 2017 regular season in which he was limited to just 17 starts after he separated his pitching shoulder in a dirt bike accident during an off-day in Colorado in April. His first career stint on the disabled list, which sidelined him three months, snapped a streak of six consecutive seasons in which the left-hander had eclipsed 200 innings.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Business as usual: LAD@SEA, 3:10 p.m., MLB.TV
Bumgarner will be part of what will assuredly be one of the best pitching matchups of Opening Day, as he's slated to face Kershaw at Dodger Stadium on March 29. Kershaw was tabbed the Dodgers' Opening Day starter for a club-record eighth time nearly two weeks ago.

Kershaw and the Dodgers' pitching staff will likely be throwing on a more gentle spring schedule after the club's deep postseason run and the shorter offseason as part of the new regular-season schedule, which begins roughly a week earlier in 2018. Aligning with a five-day throwing schedule, Kershaw tossed a 22-pitch, one-inning batting practice session on Tuesday. The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner will likely throw just one inning today against the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz., in what will be his first live outing since Game 7 of last year's World Series.

Video: Kershaw throws his first live BP of Spring Training

"With position players you have a lot more leeway; they don't need six weeks of Spring Training. Relievers are the same way; they don't need six weeks to get ready," Kershaw said. "Really, everybody's here for us, honestly. The starting pitchers need to go an inning at a time for four or five times, and that takes three or four weeks. There's not much you can do."

Here comes Mad Max: ATL@WSH, 1:05 p.m., MLB.TV
If his first bullpen session was any inclination of the intensity Scherzer brings regardless of the time of year, the Braves could expect a taxing inning or two against the two-time and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. Scherzer, who went 50-25 with a 2.76 ERA over his first three seasons in Washington, was vibrant and deliberate in his 60-pitch bullpen at the start of camp.

"That was in my normal routine for how I get ready for the season," Scherzer said. "Sometimes, right now, this is the toughest throwing you experience as you continue to ramp up through the first bullpens, the first live BPs, the first games. There's a lot of throwing here. So for me, I always like to get on the mound, feel some fatigue and kind of work through it. I see benefits of that by the end of Spring Training."

The Braves will get the chance to evaluate one of their early evaluations to one of the five vying for the final two spots in their starting rotation when Scott Kazmir takes the hill. Kazmir, 34, was acquired from the Dodgers in a swap of contracts that returned Matt Kemp to Los Angeles. The left-hander is looking to overcome a hip ailment that limited him to 136 1/3 innings in 2016, when he compiled a 10-6 record and 4.56 ERA for the Dodgers.

Zack's back: MIL@ARI, 3:10 p.m., Gameday Audio
Following one of the most interesting offseasons of any club this winter, the 2018 Brewers, who finished just one game shy of the postseason, are likely hoping to become the '17 D-backs, who after multiple winters of roster bolstering made the playoffs for the first time since '11. These two will meet today in Scottsdale, Ariz., with Grienke facing off against an overhauled Milwaukee lineup and Jhoulys Chacin, whom the club acquired to help fortify its rotation.

Video: Outlook: Greinke to anchor D-backs' rotation

Chacin had a quietly productive year for the Padres, compiling a 3.89 ERA in 32 starts. With No. 1 starter Jimmy Nelson expected to miss a sizable portion of the regular season early, Chacin is slated to be the club's No. 3 on Opening Day.

Greinke, who played for the Brewers from 2011-12, is in the midst of what he's described as a much more accelerated camp, having already thrown five bullpen sessions. He is likely to be Arizona's Opening Day starter, but manager Torey Lovullo has yet to make that official.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer

Top remaining FA starters drawing interest

Teams ready to pounce when price is right for Arrieta, Cobb, Lynn
MLB.com @jonmorosi

Yu Darvish's six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs was supposed to clarify the starting-pitching market and create a cloudburst of signings.

Yet, two weeks have gone by and Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are still available.

Yu Darvish's six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs was supposed to clarify the starting-pitching market and create a cloudburst of signings.

Yet, two weeks have gone by and Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are still available.

The issue isn't a lack of interest. One source said Saturday night that the Brewers, Yankees, Phillies, Rangers, Orioles and Nationals are among the teams continuing to monitor the top available starting pitchers.

The Yankees have maintained contact with Lynn throughout the offseason. In some ways, the Yanks are an even better fit for Lynn today than earlier in the month, when it seemed possible that a signing of Mike Moustakas would occupy a large percentage of the team's remaining budget for players.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

By instead acquiring Brandon Drury from the D-backs, the Yankees added a potential everyday third baseman who will earn close to the Major League minimum in 2018. Thus, the Yanks have preserved roughly $25 million in spending power for additional signings, trades and callups this year -- while still remaining under the luxury-tax threshold of $197 million.

Why is Arrieta still unsigned?

So Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has two choices: He can shop for a pitching upgrade now, when the calendar may begin exerting downward pressure on the asking prices for Arrieta, Lynn and Cobb. Or Cashman can wait until the non-waiver Trade Deadline, when he can leverage one of the top farm systems in baseball after assessing the development of 25-year-old Jordan Montgomery and the health of the team's more veteran starters.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of intrigue within the industry surrounding the Nats' plans. Washington GM Mike Rizzo sounded content with his roster in comments to MLB.com's Jamal Collier over the weekend. Right-hander A.J. Cole, 26, begins camp as the favorite to be the team's No. 5 starter, in a rotation headlined by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

But rival club officials believe the Nationals will be opportunistic if Arrieta, Lynn or Cobb falls into their price range. With Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gonzalez all beginning contract years, the team's collective urgency is extraordinarily high. The franchise is desperate to win a playoff series -- at the very least -- for the first time since relocating to Washington, D.C.

And then there is the Scott Boras factor. Boras represents Arrieta, along with six of the Nats' eight highest-paid players in 2018, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts: Scherzer, Harper, Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Gonzalez and Matt Wieters. The longstanding relationship between team and agent could create the right circumstances for a deal.

From the standpoint of strategic spending, the acquisition of a starting pitcher now would be tantamount to finding Gonzalez's replacement one year early -- although there's optimism within the organization that right-handed prospect Erick Fedde will be a full-time member of the rotation by 2019, if not before.

Meanwhile, the Angels aren't looking seriously at free-agent starting pitchers, but they would consider free-agent closer Greg Holland at the right price.

Holland, 32, is coming off a season in which he reestablished himself as an All-Star closer and led the National League with 41 saves. Blake Parker, who has 10 career saves in the Major Leagues, currently projects to be the Halos' closer.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.

Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn

Ohtani electric, erratic in Spring Training debut

Righty shows diverse repertoire, including 69-mph curve, vs. Brewers
MLB.com @mi_guardado

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It wasn't perfect, but it was a start. Two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani allowed two runs (one unearned) over 1 1/3 innings in the Angels' 6-5 win over the Brewers on Saturday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, marking his first outing in a Major League setting after spending the past five seasons starring in Japan.

Ohtani gave up two hits, including a home run to Keon Broxton to lead off the second inning, while striking out two, walking one and throwing 31 pitches in his Cactus League debut. The 23-year-old right-hander battled command issues but also showed flashes of his impressive arsenal, with a fastball that topped out at 97 mph and some nasty secondary pitches, including a 69-mph curveball.

View Full Game Coverage

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It wasn't perfect, but it was a start. Two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani allowed two runs (one unearned) over 1 1/3 innings in the Angels' 6-5 win over the Brewers on Saturday at Tempe Diablo Stadium, marking his first outing in a Major League setting after spending the past five seasons starring in Japan.

Ohtani gave up two hits, including a home run to Keon Broxton to lead off the second inning, while striking out two, walking one and throwing 31 pitches in his Cactus League debut. The 23-year-old right-hander battled command issues but also showed flashes of his impressive arsenal, with a fastball that topped out at 97 mph and some nasty secondary pitches, including a 69-mph curveball.

View Full Game Coverage

"To get him out there the first time was great," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He threw all his pitches. Some were really what we would expect them to be, and some he just lost his release point on. But it's a step forward, for sure."

Video: MIL@LAA: Scioscia on Ohtani's Cactus League debut

Ohtani has been the center of attention at Angels camp for the last two weeks and has sparked heightened coverage as he attempts to become both an impact pitcher and hitter in the Majors. Nearly 100 media members were on hand to watch his highly anticipated debut, though Ohtani has seemed relatively unaffected by the intensity of the spotlight.

"Honestly, I didn't feel a lot of nervousness," Ohtani said via interpreter Ippei Mizuhara. "I felt like I was pitching in Japan again. But it's the beginning of the year, first game of the year, and obviously I'm not at 100 percent. I'm still going to try and work my way up there."

Video: MIL@LAA: Ohtani discusses his first spring appearance

In the first inning, Ohtani gave up a leadoff double to Jonathan Villar, who opened the game by lifting a 3-1 pitch over the head of center fielder Eric Young Jr. Ohtani then struck out Nate Orf swinging before walking Ji-Man Choi to put runners on first and second.

The Brewers scored their first run of the game after Villar advanced to third on a wild pitch, then scored on a throwing error by catcher Martin Maldonado, but Ohtani stranded Choi at third by striking out Brett Phillips looking to end the inning.

Video: MLB Tonight looks at Ohtani's spring pitching debut

"Fastball, he might have to locate a little better, just because today it was a little flatter," Phillips said. "But it was coming out good. Offspeed looked really good. He definitely has a chance to be really good. I got to see it all."

After the Angels scored twice in the bottom of the first to take a 2-1 lead, Ohtani returned to the mound for the second inning, but he threw a fastball down the middle to Broxton, who crushed it to left field for a game-tying homer. Ohtani then capped his outing by inducing a flyout to left field from Nick Franklin.

Video: MIL@LAA: Broxton on HR off Ohtani, Phillips impressed

Ohtani, who had been scheduled to throw two innings, said he thought the long break in between innings might have adversely affected his performance. In Japan, pitchers are allowed to start playing catch in front of the dugout with two outs, so Ohtani said he must adjust to pitching without that routine.

"Today our offense was kind of out there for a while, so my body was getting cold," Ohtani said. "I did kind of struggle to start the second inning, so that was a good learning experience for me."

The Angels have not yet announced when Ohtani will make his debut in the Angels' lineup, though Scioscia said it will be "early next week." Ohtani will not hit the day after he pitches, so the earliest he could bat in a Cactus League game would be Monday against the Padres in Peoria.

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.

Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani

Why is free agent Arrieta still unsigned?

Top remaining FA starter comes with question marks moving forward
MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

Spring Training games are in full swing, and yet, one of baseball's most impactful starters remains without a team.

Jake Arrieta has been to the top of the pitching mountain, capturing the 2015 National League Cy Young Award with a summer that evoked Bob Gibson before helping the Cubs break the longest championship drought in professional sports. Arrieta has proven his ability and his mettle in the game's biggest moments, and his league-adjusted 151 ERA+ ranks third among starters who have thrown at least 500 innings over the past three seasons. It's a resume that would typically command a substantial contract in free agency, yet the righty does not seem to be generating much enthusiasm on the market.

Spring Training games are in full swing, and yet, one of baseball's most impactful starters remains without a team.

Jake Arrieta has been to the top of the pitching mountain, capturing the 2015 National League Cy Young Award with a summer that evoked Bob Gibson before helping the Cubs break the longest championship drought in professional sports. Arrieta has proven his ability and his mettle in the game's biggest moments, and his league-adjusted 151 ERA+ ranks third among starters who have thrown at least 500 innings over the past three seasons. It's a resume that would typically command a substantial contract in free agency, yet the righty does not seem to be generating much enthusiasm on the market.

Why have teams been slow to ink Arrieta? Below is an analytical look at reasons why MLB front offices are hesitant to commit to the former Cubs ace.

Velocity
This isn't surprising to those who watched Arrieta pitch the past season, but Arrieta's velocity might be the most concerning part of his profile. Below are Arrieta's dips over the past three seasons on each of his pitch types, per Statcast™ and pitch-tracking data:

Sinker (2015/ '16/ '17): 95.3 mph / 94.5 mph / 92.2 mph
Four-seam fastball: 95.1 mph / 94.2 mph / 92.1 mph
Curveball: 81.3 mph / 81.1 mph / 78.8 mph
Slider: 90.8 mph / 89.8 mph / 87.8 mph
Changeup: 89.5 mph / 89.2 mph / 87.3 mph

Arrieta essentially shelved his four-seamer last season, throwing it only 54 times after he'd averaged 629 in the prior two campaigns. That took away a pitch with a healthy 24.5 percent whiff-per-swing rate in 2015-16, as well as an offering he could tunnel alongside his changeup and breaking balls.

Arrieta's 25.7 percent whiff rate on all his pitches sat just outside the top 20 qualified MLB starters in '15 (min. 1,000 total swings induced), but slipped to 21.5 percent last season. Declining velocity is maybe the most obvious red flag for a free-agent pitcher, and it appears Arrieta will have to rely more on craft and command in the years ahead.

Video: CHC@CIN: Arrieta K's Votto to strike out the side

Contact allowed
Arrieta set the standard for missing barrels to go along with his career-high 206 strikeouts in 2015. Statcast™ considers a hard-hit ball to be one hit with a 95-mph exit velocity or greater, and Arrieta's 24.8 percent hard-hit rate in '15 is the second-lowest Statcast™ has tracked from any qualified starter over its first three years (Clayton Kershaw edged out Arrieta with a 24.5 percent rate that same season).

Arrieta was also fifth best at getting batters to "top" the ball, or drive it straight into the ground, doing so on 47.8 percent of the contact he allowed. Unfortunately, both rates declined over the past two seasons; the 32.2 percent hard-hit rate Arrieta allowed last year was essentially league average, and his topped-ball rate dipped all the way down to 35.7 percent.

The more discouraging development is that Arrieta is allowing more of the most damaging contact from hitters. Pitchers hope to avoid hard-hit balls, but they especially hope to avoid them in the air. Unfortunately for Arrieta, his rate of hard-hit line drives and fly balls allowed has climbed steadily over the first three seasons of Statcast™ data. So too has his barrel-per-batted ball rate, which measures the most ideal air balls for hitters based on their combinations of exit velocity and launch angle. More barrels inevitably mean more home runs, and Arrieta allowed a career-high 23 last summer.

Video: NLCS Gm4: Arrieta strikes out nine in Game 4 win

Age
The biggest reason why Arrieta remains unsigned could be simply be his age -- a factor general managers have clearly become warier of when evaluating free agents. History isn't on Arrieta's side as he celebrates his 32nd birthday in March. Only four of the 29 pitchers to claim Cy Young Awards in the Wild Card Era (1995 - present) did so after their age-32 season: Roger Clemens (ages 34-35, 38 and 41), R.A. Dickey (37), Roy Halladay (33) and Randy Johnson (35-38). Four is also the number of pitchers aged 33 or older who claimed league ERA titles in that span (Kevin Brown, Chris Carpenter, Clemens and Johnson).

Those are high bars to set for any pitcher, but Arrieta's comparables are not encouraging, either. The five closest pitchers to Arrieta through age 31, per Baseball-Reference's similarity scores, are Pete Vuckovich, Clay Buchholz, Jordan Zimmermann, Pat Jarvis and Tim Belcher. Of those five, only Belcher pitched in the Majors past his age-33 season (Zimmermann has struggled with injuries and Buchholz is currently beside Arrieta on the free-agent market).

Belcher, Jarvis and Vuckovich combined for a 4.90 ERA from their age-32 seasons through the ends of their careers.

Arrieta's peak three seasons ago ranks among the greatest performances in baseball history. But his next team will be paying for the future, not the past, and the data suggests that zenith is likely in the rear-view mirror.

Arrieta still possesses the skill, guile and competitiveness to retire Major League hitters, but for how long? Teams may be wondering if Arrieta could truly fulfill the value of the megacontract he's seeking.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Jake Arrieta

Source: O's ink Alvarez to Minor League deal

MLB.com @Britt_Ghiroli

SARASOTA -- The Orioles agreed to terms on Sunday with free agent Pedro Alvarez, bringing back the left-handed hitter on a Minor League deal with an invitation to big league Spring Training, a source told MLB.com.

This is Alvarez's third go-around with the O's. The 31-year-old will not be used in the outfield, like he was last season with Triple-A Norfolk. He will see some time at first base and as a designated hitter.

SARASOTA -- The Orioles agreed to terms on Sunday with free agent Pedro Alvarez, bringing back the left-handed hitter on a Minor League deal with an invitation to big league Spring Training, a source told MLB.com.

This is Alvarez's third go-around with the O's. The 31-year-old will not be used in the outfield, like he was last season with Triple-A Norfolk. He will see some time at first base and as a designated hitter.

Orioles' Spring Training info

Alvarez isn't expected to break camp with the Orioles unless there's an injury, though he does add valuable insurance and a left-handed bat, which the big league club is thin on.

Baltimore has also recently added lefty bats Alex Presley and Colby Rasmus.

Alvarez, who spent the majority of 2017 at Norfolk, played in 14 games for the Orioles and posted a .313/.353/.438 line in 32 at-bats. He was a key factor for the club in '16, playing in 109 games and hitting 22 homers with 49 RBIs.

Alvarez spent his first six seasons in Pittsburgh, where he put up a .236/309/.441 slash line. The former first-round Draft pick out of Vanderbilt University, Alvarez's late signing is nothing new. He didn't join the O's until March the previous two springs.

Brittany Ghiroli has covered the Orioles for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli, and listen to her podcast.

Baltimore Orioles, Pedro Alvarez

The latest on key position battles

Broxton wows with homer vs. Ohtani; Newcomb fans Correa, Gurriel
MLB.com @DKramer_

Much is made at this time of year about positional uncertainty. Spring Training presents prospects with the chance to accelerate their path to the big leagues, and veterans to solidify their roles. With games just barely underway in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, for some the long winter's personnel shuffling has left an unclear picture of who will contribute where.

Here is a glance at some noteworthy performances from Saturday by those competing for position or roster spots this spring.

Much is made at this time of year about positional uncertainty. Spring Training presents prospects with the chance to accelerate their path to the big leagues, and veterans to solidify their roles. With games just barely underway in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, for some the long winter's personnel shuffling has left an unclear picture of who will contribute where.

Here is a glance at some noteworthy performances from Saturday by those competing for position or roster spots this spring.

Keon Broxton, Brewers, OF
Following its acquisition of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee finds itself with a retooled outfield and limited space for incumbent center fielder Broxton.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Broxton made an early impression Saturday against the Angels by homering off two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani in the much-anticipated -- and otherwise impressive -- debut by the Japanese superstar. Broxton unleashed the line drive over the left-field wall to lead off the second inning.

To account for their outfield surplus, the Brewers are experimenting with Ryan Braun at first base this spring. Right fielder Domingo Santana's 30 home runs last season will almost assuredly keep him in his current post, should the club not trade him for much-needed depth in their starting rotation. Because Broxton has one Minor League option left, the Brewers could have him start the season in Triple-A, barring injury attrition within the outfield.

Dominic Smith, Mets, 1B
Following a lapse that stirred new Mets manager Mickey Callaway, first-base prospect Smith was benched from a game he was slated to start Friday for showing up late to the club's complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Smith took accountability for his tardiness. A day later, Smith went 1-for-1 and was hit by a pitch in the Mets' 10-5 loss to the Cardinals. He also made an athletic stretch to scoop a low throw and nab Jose Martinez on an infield groundout.

Smith, 22, is already facing an uphill climb to become the Mets' everyday first baseman. After the club traded Lucas Duda last July, Smith made a 49-game debut, in what was essentially an audition for the 2018 job, but struggled to a .198/.262/.395 slash line that, in part, prompted the Mets to trade for veteran Adrian Gonzalez. The Mets' No. 7 prospect, Peter Alonso, who started in place of Smith on Friday, is also vying for at-bats this spring.

The ambitious Smith has an outside chance at making the club's 25-man roster.

Video: STL@NYM: Smith stretches to retire Martinez at first

Sean Newcomb, Braves, SP
While Newcomb clearly has an upper hand among five Braves starters vying for the club's final two rotation spots, management has made it clear it wants the young southpaw to avoid complacency.

Newcomb allowed an unearned run during his one inning against the top of the loaded Astros lineup. Brian McCann grounded into a forceout that scored Marwin Gonzalez, who had reached third on a fielding error. Newcomb needed two batters to settle in, after surrendering a first-pitch, leadoff double to Gonzalez and walking Jose Altuve on four pitches. He then punched out Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel looking on three straight pitches each.

Newcomb, 24, showed flashes of promise as a rookie in 2017, beginning his career with a 1.48 ERA over his first four starts last June. A rough outing on July 4 -- against the Astros -- ignited a two-month stretch in which the Braves lost nine of his following 11 starts. He finished the season 4-9 with a 4.32 ERA.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager Brian Snitker have said that only Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Brandon McCarthy are sure locks for the Opening Day rotation, with left-handers Newcomb, Luiz Gohara, Max Fried and Scott Kazmir, and right-hander Lucas Sims competing for the final two spots.

Video: Bowman breaks down Braves' rotation, infield in 2018

Tom Murphy, Rockies, C
A postseason club that last season leaned on Trade Deadline acquisition Jonathan Lucroy to help guide its young starters, Colorado is hoping its young catching tandem of Murphy and Tony Wolters can take a step toward weightier contributions in 2018. Of the two, Murphy has more upside with his bat -- last spring, teammates said he was the strongest player on the team -- but he struggled to exploit it during a 1-for-24 showing in 12 big league games.

Murphy went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts on Saturday against the Reds before being lifted for prospect Anthony Bemboom. This could be a revealing spring for Murphy, whose 2017 campaign was largely a wash after he suffered a broken right forearm and wrist last March.

Though the young catching depth has shown upside, particularly Wolters -- who hit .300 through the first two months of '17 before fatigue caught up with him -- the Rockies signed veteran Chris Iannetta to be the primary catcher and provide stability. Iannetta and Murphy both hit right-handed, while Wolters hits left, thus creating more of a disadvantage for Murphy to potentially platoon against lefty pitching.

Bud Norris, Cardinals, RP
One of the chief unknowns for the postseason-hopeful Cardinals this spring is the ninth inning. Manager Mike Matheny has been deliberately vague about who will close, so when the club signed journeyman Norris -- who has started, relieved and closed -- intrigue piqued.

Norris, who saved 19 games for the Angels last year, pitched the fourth and fifth innings Saturday, giving up two earned runs on three hits -- including a homer to Mets prospect Luis Guillorme -- and striking out one.

Norris is vying for high-leverage innings, but is likely down the depth chart from free-agent acquisition Luke Gregerson, who saved 15 games for the Astros in 2016. Left-hander Tyler Lyons is also believed to be strongly considered, should Gregerson struggle. Other high-velocity options include Conner Greene and Dominic Leone, in addition to Alex Reyes, who is returning from Tommy John surgery and viewed as a dark horse for the role, having come up as a starter.

Video: Rosenthal reports Norris agrees to deal with Cards

Ronald Acuna, Braves, OF
Acuna, MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect, is in his first (and likely final) big league Spring Training as a full-time Minor Leaguer, though it's believed that he could propel his path to the Majors with a strong showing in Grapefruit League play.

On Saturday, he didn't get off to the start he'd hoped for, going hitless in three at-bats against the Astros with two strikeouts, and perhaps tempering the lofty ambition he's projected. However, he did pull a number of towering home runs during batting practice at the Astros' complex, showcasing his power potential.

Video: ATL@HOU: Acuna retires Kemp to end the 2nd

"Everything felt the same," Acuna said. "My focus was to go out there and give it my all and give my best effort. The results weren't there, but tomorrow is another day. I'll get after it again."

Acuna, 20, started on Saturday in center field, though he will likely slot into a corner spot when he cracks the Major League roster, as center is occupied by reigning Gold Glove Award winner Ender Inciarte. Lane Adams is currently slated to start in left, and Nick Markakis in right.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Yankees ecstatic about Florial's potential

Club high on 20-year-old prospect who will likely start year at Class A Advanced
MLB.com @BryanHoch

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Faces beam when Estevan Florial's name is mentioned around the Yankees' talent evaluators, and as the 20-year-old phenom settles into his first Major League Spring Training, manager Aaron Boone said that it is already apparent why the center fielder is held in high regard.

Ranked as the Yankees' No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline and the No. 44 prospect in all of baseball, Florial ripped a stand-up sixth-inning triple to right-center field in Saturday's 4-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Pirates at LECOM Park.

View Full Game Coverage

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Faces beam when Estevan Florial's name is mentioned around the Yankees' talent evaluators, and as the 20-year-old phenom settles into his first Major League Spring Training, manager Aaron Boone said that it is already apparent why the center fielder is held in high regard.

Ranked as the Yankees' No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline and the No. 44 prospect in all of baseball, Florial ripped a stand-up sixth-inning triple to right-center field in Saturday's 4-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Pirates at LECOM Park.

View Full Game Coverage

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"He's one of those guys that I'm really excited to see these first couple of weeks, because he's going to get some opportunities to play," Boone said. "He's going to log some at-bats. We just want to get him as comfortable as possible. When we see him do that, even though that [triple] was the first one, it's not a surprise to us. The talent is real."

Florial hit .298/.372/.479 with 23 doubles, 13 homers and 57 RBIs in 110 games for Class A Charleston and Class A Advanced Tampa last year, and he wants to cut down on his strikeouts after fanning 148 times in 420 at-bats. He is expected to begin the season in the Florida State League.

Boone said that Florial's spring experience alongside established big leaguers should prove beneficial.

"There's just kind of a calm, a grace to the way he plays the game," Boone said. "There's no panic, really. Then you watch him ... he looks the part. He's someone me and the coaches get excited, like, 'Oh, Flo is going in.' You just get excited to see what he can do."

Gift of grab
Clint Frazier wowed the crowd with a leaping grab in left field that ended the second inning on Saturday, fighting the wind to rob Ryan Lavarnway of an extra-base hit. Frazier tumbled to the warning track and said that he banged his head into a chain-link fence covering the scoreboard.

"I've just got to make it look a little bit easier from here on out," Frazier said. "That way, I can have people trust in me whenever the ball is hit to me."

Video: NYY@PIT: Frazier makes a great jumping grab in left

Frazier hit the ball hard in both at-bats Saturday, lining out to left field in the first inning and singling up the middle in the fourth before being picked off. Frazier said that he made adjustments to remove a hitch and limit the movement of his swing over the offseason.

"This is the best I've felt, as far as kind of being aware of what my body is doing and how it is supposed to do it," Frazier said. "In the past, I just tried to muscle everything. I created a lot of moving parts to hit the ball harder. I struck out a lot and I fouled off a lot of balls last year. I needed something to change."

Bumper stickers
Hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere have been repeating several key catchphrases to players early in camp, one of which concerns urging aggressiveness in the strike zone while laying off borderline pitches. Last season, the Yankees led the Majors in homers (241) and paced the American League in walks (616) while ranking 12th in the Majors in strikeouts (1,386).

"I want us to be obsessed with controlling the strike zone. That's one of our bumper stickers, if you will," Boone said. "And I know Marcus and P.J. are really driving that message home with our guys. We want to be great at that, because we feel like if we do that with our slug potential when you're controlling the strike zone, that's a dangerous combination."

Boone was asked what some of his other "bumper stickers" have been.

"I've got a lot. I'll unveil them as we go," Boone said. "You'll hear me repeat myself a little bit."

Bombers bits
• After singling in his first at-bat during his Yankees debut, Brandon Drury was plunked in the left hand by a pitch in the third inning. Drury remained in the game and said that he had treatment, but X-rays were not necessary.

Video: Hoch on the Yankees landing Drury in trade

Billy McKinney cracked a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning. McKinney also played five innings at first base as he looks to provide depth behind Greg Bird and Tyler Austin.

• Infielder Thairo Estrada has resumed training on an elliptical machine as he recovers from a gunshot wound to his right thigh, sustained during a late January robbery attempt in Venezuela. Estrada is unlikely to be ready to begin the Minor League season.

• Right-hander Albert Abreu is recovering well from appendix surgery performed on March 7, Boone said. Rated as the Yankees' No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Abreu has been playing catch at the Yankees' complex.

Up next
The Yankees are on the road Sunday, visiting the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. ET, and the game can be seen on MLB.TV and MLB Network. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery will start for New York opposite right-hander Aaron Nola for Philadelphia. The Yankees' lineup is scheduled to include Bird, Gleyber Torres, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Hicks.

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

New York Yankees

Hitless in debut, Acuna hungry for results

Braves' top prospect 'has handled himself remarkably well' at camp
MLB.com @mlbbowman

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ronald Acuna spent last year proving he is as physically gifted as any of baseball's top prospects. Now as he progresses through his first big league camp, the Braves are getting a feel for how the 20-year-old phenom might deal with the hype and added pressure that he'll face once he reaches the Major League level.

"I think he has handled himself remarkably well, just watching him go about his business" Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I think this kid has so much confidence in his abilities. He's going to see pitches he's never seen before as he progresses. He lived [with the attention] last year and during the winter. I think he probably couldn't wait to get down here and start playing."

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ronald Acuna spent last year proving he is as physically gifted as any of baseball's top prospects. Now as he progresses through his first big league camp, the Braves are getting a feel for how the 20-year-old phenom might deal with the hype and added pressure that he'll face once he reaches the Major League level.

"I think he has handled himself remarkably well, just watching him go about his business" Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I think this kid has so much confidence in his abilities. He's going to see pitches he's never seen before as he progresses. He lived [with the attention] last year and during the winter. I think he probably couldn't wait to get down here and start playing."

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Provided the opportunity to make his Grapefruit League season debut during Saturdays' 6-1 loss to the Astros at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Acuna certainly was deterred by the fact he struck out twice and went hitless in three at-bats.

"Everything felt the same," Acuna said. "My focus was to go out there and give it my all and give my best effort. The results weren't there, but tomorrow is another day. I'll get after it again."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Acuna displayed some athleticism as he snared Tony Kemp's long drive near the warning track to end the second inning. But the most impressive thing he might have done was choose to remain in the dugout to watch the remainder of the game after being removed once he concluded his last scheduled plate appearance in the sixth inning.

Most players return to the clubhouse after being removed from a game. But without any prompting from his coaches, Acuna chose to soak in some more knowledge by staying in the dugout.

"He's an impressive kid," Snitker said. "There's a lot to like about him."

Acuna got a taste of the Grapefruit League when he was called over from Minor League camp to serve as an extra roster player in 13 games last year. But this marked the first time he played in a big league setting while being widely recognized as one of the game's top young players. He ranks No. 2 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list.

Situated in the third spot of the lineup, Acuna took two healthy cuts as he fouled the first two pitches he saw from Collin McHugh in the first inning. He swung and missed on the third offering from the Astros right-hander, and then he fouled a few more pitches before producing a weak grounder to the right side against David Paulino in the fourth.

Acuna proved to be more patient as he got ahead of left-hander Framber Valdez with a 2-0 count in the sixth inning. But after looking at a pair of strikes, he swung and missed on a fastball to conclude his debut.

"I think he has a lot of expectations riding on him, and I think coming into this year, he's trying a little too much, but he'll settle in and just trust his skill because it's through the roof," Braves pitching prospect Mike Soroka said. "He's got more skill than anybody I've ever seen play or played with. I think he wanted to do some damage right away. I don't think you can blame him for that. He's an aggressive hitter and more often than not, once he gets his rhythm, those swings and misses will turn into scorched baseballs."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna

Sale throws 1st live BP, loves scaled-back spring

Cora soaking up gems from La Russa; Elias sharp in rotation audition
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A couple of hours before his team took the field for a Grapefruit League game against the Rays on Saturday, Red Sox ace Chris Sale was on Field 5 airing it out for his first live batting practice of Spring Training.

In most other years, Sale would have made his first start at some point over this weekend. But the Red Sox are not only using a scaled-back approach for Sale in Spring Training, but the same goes for David Price, Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A couple of hours before his team took the field for a Grapefruit League game against the Rays on Saturday, Red Sox ace Chris Sale was on Field 5 airing it out for his first live batting practice of Spring Training.

In most other years, Sale would have made his first start at some point over this weekend. But the Red Sox are not only using a scaled-back approach for Sale in Spring Training, but the same goes for David Price, Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz.

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All four starters will make their Grapefruit League debuts at some point after March 1.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

"It's been really good," said Sale. "I think this has been a pretty neat Spring Training just with the scheduling and mainly focusing on work and workload. It's been great."

Tweet from @RedSox: #SaleDay feels with live BP! https://t.co/RaOyUNGhtv

Sale felt that Saturday was a productive work session.

"I wouldn't say I'm maxing out, but I wouldn't say I'm holding back either," Sale said. "I'm just trying to find a happy medium of stepping on the gas enough that I'm getting something out of it, but I'm also not going too far over the top."

Though this approach is different than the one Sale has used in the past, he is fully confident he'll be ready to go when the season starts on March 29 at Tropicana Field against the Rays.

Tapping into Tony
Red Sox manager Alex Cora is enjoying having Hall of Famer Tony La Russa at his disposal every day during Spring Training. La Russa was hired by Boston in the offseason as a special assistant to Dave Dombrowski in the front office, but he is also there for whatever Cora needs.

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The conversations have been informative and enlightening for Cora so far.

"It's good to have dinner with him and talk about his teams, and one thing about his teams, they always found a way to have a good April," said Cora.

For that reason, Cora is particularly interested in how La Russa ran his teams throughout Spring Training.

"We talk about Spring Training and how can we push them a little bit, slow them down, position-player wise," Cora said. "And than at the end, get locked in. That's something that got my attention. The only thing is, obviously here is a lot different with the traveling."

Elias auditions for fifth spot
With Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez both in an uphill climb to be on the roster for the first week of the season as they bounce back from injuries, the Red Sox will probably need a fifth starter at least for the first turn through the rotation. Left-hander Roenis Elias made his case on Saturday, firing two perfect innings and striking out two against the Rays.

Elias is in competition with Brian Johnson and Jalen Beeks to be the temporary fifth starter. With several days off in the second week of the season, Boston could just need a fifth starter one time through before Rodriguez or Wright is ready.

Video: TB@BOS: Elias strikes out Snyder in the 2nd inning

"He's stretched out," Cora said of Elias. "We know the situation with the fifth spot. We talk about the schedule. We need it. I know last year he didn't throw too many innings, but he went to the Dominican Republic and caught up with what he needed to do. He pitched all the way to the last week of December and he did an outstanding job. We'll stretch him out, he's a guy who can do a lot of stuff and his stuff plays, just a matter of him -- if it's the bullpen, in the role in the bullpen, he needs to be more consistent with his arm slot."

Myers running for a cause
Former Red Sox lefty reliever Mike Myers -- part of Boston's 2004 World Series championship team -- was at camp on Saturday representing the MLB Players Association. Myers is preparing to run the Boston Marathon in April, and for a good cause. All of the money Myers raises will go to the Angel Fund for ALS Research. Myers has a goal of raising $25,000. Myers will send an autographed picture to everyone who supports him. You can sign up at Runsignup.com/mikemyers.

This will be the first marathon for Myers.

"This is the one," said Myers. "Maybe the one and only when it's all said and done. The training has been going great. I've dropped 15 pounds really quickly. Training in Colorado is always interesting because I'm running on hills and mountains up there comparing to when I go to Florida, I'm going to love it because it's all flat ground."

Video: TB@BOS: Mike Myers talks about the Boston Marathon

Up next
The Red Sox will finish their three-game weekend homestand on Sunday when they host the Orioles in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest at JetBlue Park on MLB.TV and Gameday Audio. Brian Johnson, who is out of options and trying to earn a spot in the rotation or the bullpen, will get the start. Setup men Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes and Carson Smith will all see action out of the bullpen.

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

Boston Red Sox, Roenis Elias, Chris Sale

Spring notebook: Rays moves, Realmuto, more

MLB.com @feinsand

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was a tumultuous week around Rays camp following the trades of Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson, but the initial storm seems to have passed, leaving Tampa Bay determined to prove its doubters wrong.

Chris Archer -- a popular name on the trade market this offseason -- and Kevin Kiermaier were both critical after the Rays dealt away some of their core pieces. But according to those around the team, the pair has helped set the tone in recent days, preaching positivity as they try to compete with the rest of the loaded American League East.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was a tumultuous week around Rays camp following the trades of Jake Odorizzi, Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson, but the initial storm seems to have passed, leaving Tampa Bay determined to prove its doubters wrong.

Chris Archer -- a popular name on the trade market this offseason -- and Kevin Kiermaier were both critical after the Rays dealt away some of their core pieces. But according to those around the team, the pair has helped set the tone in recent days, preaching positivity as they try to compete with the rest of the loaded American League East.

"I could not be more impressed with the way they have handled it," manager Kevin Cash said. "There were a couple of statements made after the Souza and Dickerson moves; I give a ton of credit to the players and some of the credit to Erik [Neander] and Chaim [Bloom] for reaching out. They did a good job of communicating the Souza decision. I think the players have responded well. It's OK for a little shock to the system every once in a while; it was a shock to all of us. They came in, said the right things and are handling themselves really well right now."

Neander and Bloom, who run the Rays' baseball operations department, were aware that the moves might be unpopular within the clubhouse, making it crucial to keep the remaining players in the loop regarding the team's long-term plans.

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"It was definitely an emotional week, but I really have to compliment the group," Bloom said. "I think we've come out of this in about as good a spot as we could have hoped, knowing that guys are losing teammates that they've come to know, guys whose accomplishments on the field they really respect. It's been really nice to see that our players -- especially some of the guys who have been here the longest, the veterans on our club -- are very forward-looking. They're focused on rallying the group and proving people wrong about what we can accomplish this year."

Such an issue might have been easier to handle had Evan Longoria still been around, but the Rays traded their de facto captain in December, leaving a leadership void in the clubhouse.

"What he has meant to this organization is unique, and it will be a long time before a anybody else can mean as much to this organization as he has and still does," Bloom said. "But we have a lot of good players here, and this is an opportunity for some guys to step up and take more of a leadership role. We have the right guys in this mix to do it."

Archer and Kiermaier are two of the players expected to handle much of that load, and while Archer will undoubtedly continue to be the subject of trade buzz, it appears the Rays are counting on him to be one of their cornerstones moving forward.

"I take it as a compliment; when you have a player and a person as special as Chris Archer, you're going to have people knocking on your door," Bloom said of the continued trade interest. "But he's exactly the type of player that we're looking to build around. We need more people like Chris Archer in this clubhouse if we're going to get where we want to go."

Fresh catch
Another player linked to several trade rumors has been Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, one of the few name players still in Miami following the offseason trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon.

Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill believes that Realmuto can be a foundation for the team as it moves forward, and that by the end of the 2018 season, he can be a much bigger name in the game.

"J.T. is drafted by the Marlins and developed by the Marlins and got to the big leagues as a Marlin; all my conversations with him have been that he's a part of what we're building," Hill said. "He's a tremendously talented catcher, and we're happy that he's a part of what we have here. I think you're still scratching the surface with his ability. The nation doesn't know how good he is."

The turnover in Miami may have some fans frustrated, but Hill was gushing as he spoke of the vibe around camp in the early days of Spring Training.

Video: Michael Hill optimistic about Marlins' 2018 roster

"It's been energy," Hill said. "Energy, excitement; there's definitely an optimism surrounding this group of players for the opportunity that's in front of them. They all come excited and ready to compete, doing everything in their power every day to make themselves better."

Trust is a process
In addition to adding names such as Ozuna, Luke Gregerson and Bud Norris among others this offseason, the Cardinals hired longtime pitching coach Mike Maddux.

According to general manager Mike Girsch, the early reviews have been nothing short of spectacular.

"He has a great rapport with people; he's one of those guys you don't have to know very long to feel like you've known him a long time," Girsch said. "You talk about analytics and getting players to buy into making changes, but the most important thing is that players trust you. Mike has done a really good job -- and we're only a week or two into camp -- in building those relationships and building trust. He has a 10- or 15-year history of successful pitching staffs that gives players that confidence."

Are we there yet?
While many teams around the Majors will spend the next five weeks sorting out their rosters and monitoring position battles, the Astros' roster is close to complete.

Video: Tony Kemp on making Astros Opening Day roster

The reigning World Series champions have no battles at any everyday spots, their rotation is seven deep and only one spot in the bullpen is really up for grabs. Their biggest concern in late February? Staying healthy.

"I wish we could just fast-forward to Opening Day," one team official said.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

Chris Archer, J.T. Realmuto

Callaway mingles with Mets fans before game

Managers have a difficult job in today's game. They must work well with the front office, make genius in-game tactical decisions and maintain peace in the clubhouse. Oh yeah, and they have to gain the support of the fans. Oof, that's no easy job. 

New Mets manager Mickey Callaway made sure to check off that last category before Saturday's 10-5 loss to the Cardinals.

Indians sign Belisle to Minors deal

MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have one job open in their bullpen and have thrown another interesting arm into the competition. On Sunday, Cleveland signed right-hander Matt Belisle to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club.

The signing comes after the Indians added reliever Carlos Torres to the fold on the same type of contract on Thursday.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have one job open in their bullpen and have thrown another interesting arm into the competition. On Sunday, Cleveland signed right-hander Matt Belisle to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club.

The signing comes after the Indians added reliever Carlos Torres to the fold on the same type of contract on Thursday.

Belisle, 37, turned in a 4.03 ERA with a career-best strikeout rate (8.1 per nine innings) in 62 appearances last season for the Twins. In 60 1/3 innings, the righty struck out 54, walked 22 and picked up nine saves in 11 opportunities. Over the final three months of the season, Belisle spun a 1.50 ERA with a .458 opponents' OPS in 30 innings.

As things currently stand, Cleveland's bullpen projects to include closer Cody Allen and relief ace Andrew Miller, along with Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Nick Goody and Tyler Olson. That leaves one job opening, if manager Terry Francona starts the season with a traditional seven-man 'pen.

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

Cleveland Indians, Matt Belisle