Inside Baseball NL Notes | Marte apology falls flat

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

News and notes from each of the 15 National League teams.

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • One scout predicted that Robbie Ray would “break through sometime soon.” We agree. And it may be happening now.
  • Zack Greinke’s velocity is up a tick, so they are feeling OK about it. “He’s starting to look more like himself,” one D-Backs person said. But one rival says, with Greinke’s $30M-plus salary, he’s “not tradeable” at this juncture.
  • The way the D-Backs are going, they may not retool. But that possibility remains if they start to slide. They are doing well in a tough part of their schedule (17 of their first 20 games are against playoff teams from a year ago).
  • Alan Nathan, physics professor of the University of Illinois, wrote a piece for azcentral.com in which he suggested a humidor could cut home runs at Chase Field in half. The D-Backs don’t agree. And that does seem a bit far-fetched.
  • One of their focuses was on pitch framing, with Chris Ianetta, Jeff Mathis and Hank Congers (currently in the minors).
  • Archie Bradley’s back up to 98 mph, a 2.5 mph improvement over last year, according to Nick Piecoro of azcentral.com. (BrooksBaseball provided the velo readings). He’s back to “nasty” one scout said.
  • Shelby Miller is showing signs of getting it together, a year too late for the past regime. He’s throwing 96 to 98 mph.
  • Torey Lovullo’s off to a nice start. Smart to have given him a three-year deal even for an organization that’s had some change.

Atlanta Braves

  • Mike Soroka looks like a future star in a farm system now ranked No. 1 by Baseball America. The Double-A rotation, which also includes Kolby Allard, Max Fried and Patrick Weigel, is special (Allard and Soroka don’t turn 20 until August).
  • Look for the Braves to target a pitcher with the No. 5 pick overall once again.
  • Ender Inciarte, after a slow start, is showing unusual power, with four homers in four games after only four last year. Inciarte credited manager Brian Snitker for a career transformation since Snitker was the one who saw a starting center fielder in Inciarte. GM John Coppolella, after signing Inciarte long-term this winter, called him the best defensive center fielder in the game (he might not be wrong, though Kevin Kiermaier, Kevin Pillar and one of two others could make a claim).
  • Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in the game, should have made my 50 stars to admire/follow list last week. Apologies.
  • Adonis Garcia certainly isn’t living up to his name, with a .456 OPS.
  • Alex Jackson, with three early homers, is having a bit of a renaissance, as Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported.
  • The new park looks fantastic. “Well done, especially the surrounding area (Battery Park),” reports one spy.

Chicago Cubs

  • Kyle Schwarber is among league leaders in pitchers per plate appearance (4.52 per PA, 3rd in the NL) , bearing out Joe Maddon’s call to use him as the leadoff hitter.
  • Ian Happ, off his brilliant spring, leads the minors with six homers. One scout suggested in this space a few weeks ago that the Cubs could trade Kyle Schwarber and play Happ in left field. But a trade of Happ for a young pitcher may be a more realistic possibility. He is truly one of the best prospects in the game, and the Cubs have shown no inclination to want to trade Schwarber.
  • The Cubs were swept in a series at home to the Pirates. That’s something they did only once last year (Cardinals, last June.
  • Brett Anderson stuck it to the Dodgers in a nice outing, after making $15.3 million for the last year and failing to contribute anything. Anyway, at the moment he looks like a decent pickup at $3.5 million for the No. 5 slot.
  • Albert Almora plays the heck out of center field … Their five blown saves were tied for the most in baseball.
  • Mysteriously, the Hall of Fame has been slow to receive Cubs World series artifacts, as Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reports.
  • The ring ceremony seemed as glorious as you’d expect.
  • I liked the Cub/Beatles comparison first mentioned by Mike Mulligan, morning host on @mullyhanley on 670 The Score in Chicago. As Mully pointed out, they both were run by an Epstein, too; Brian for the Beatles, of course Theo for the cubs.

Cincinnati Reds

  • Zack Cozart’s .481 average after 10 games was the highest by a Red since Barry Larkin in 1990. He’s now at .425. Teams may regret not going the extra mile to acquire him via trade when he was available.
  • Reds trades to acquire hitters over the past couple years look solid. Jose Peraza, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Eugenio Suarez (1.145 OPS) were all acquired via trade. Suarez looks like a star, with his great defense, too. The widely-ripped Todd Frazier trade hasn’t turned out so bad, it turns out.
  • Suarez and Billy Hamilton, great defenders, are the team’s “rally killers,” one Reds person says.
  • Pitching remains the question, and Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey still aren’t expected back for a while.
  • Former St. John’s hoops player Amir Garrett’s 12-inning scoreless streak to start his career tied Billy Rhines (1890) for the second longest such streak to start a Reds career, after Wayne Simpson’s 15-inning scoreless streak in 1970.
  • Drew Storen, who’s thriving in Cincy, had a nine-pitch, three-K inning vs. the Orioles, becoming the third Reds pitcher to do that (Hod Eller 1917, Rob Dibble 1989, Carlos Contreras 2104). It’s a year after he left, but the Nats continue to have late-inning issues (more on that below).
  • The Reds had the youngest team in the bigs based on their Opening Day roster, at an average age of 26 years, 366 days, even younger than the Padres (slightly), according to Elias. Though Arroyo doesn’t help there.
  • The bullpen that was terrible last year has been very good (2.48 ERA).
  • Big Sal Romano, from Syosset, Long Island, was up briefly with the Reds. Scouts like him.
  • Bronson Arroyo’s win last age 40 was the first by a Reds starting pitcher that age since Boom-Boom Beck beat the Phillies 8-1 on May 31, 1945 (courtesy of Elias).
Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Greg Holland delivers a pitch to a Los Angeles Dodgers batter during the ninth inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 8, 2017, in Denver. The Rockies won 4-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies

  • Some are not shocked by Colorado’s nice start. “They have good talent,” on rival GM said.
  • GM Jeff Bridich did a very nice job with the pen. “They are like five deep,” the GM said.
  • The signing of Greg Holland looks particularly prescient, as he is 7 for 7 in saves with a 0.00 ERA so far. Holland could capitalize, too, as he has an opt out.
  • The pen is a big reason the Rockies are 6-0 in one-run games.
  • Jon Gray foot injury is just the latest in the Rockies’ run of rough luck.
  • Ian Desmond is traveling with the team, and said to be progressing.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • There is no evidence of any real trade talk with the Brewers regarding Ryan Braun, who was a target last winter and is red hot. There could be some urgency for the Brewers to talk now, as Braun becomes a 10-and-5 player May 24, but the Dodgers aren’t feeling any pressure. There have been a few stories regarding renewed talk (without actual renewed talk) but sources insist nothing is stirring at the moment. The sides also never got quite as close as was perceived in some quarters last year.
  • One reason talks are ongoing is there was a reason for the Dodgers to shop Yasiel Puig last year. However, Puig has been much more productive so far this year. He had 10 walks in his first 56 plate appearances, as opposed to 10 in 231 last year, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register noted.
  • The Dodgers’ plan to employ Franklin Gutierrez and Andre Ethier in left field hasn’t gotten off the ground. But there’s no reason to give up on the original plan yet. And if the backup plan is to employ top prospect Cody Bellinger in left, that may not be such a bad plan, either. He is tearing it up in Oklahoma City, and yes, he’s playing the outfield there.
  • The Dodgers are holding Julio Urias’ innings down, so he’ll have some left for the postseason. Pretty good strategy for a team that should make the playoffs.
  • There is such concern for Rich Hill and his blister situation, they’ve ruminated about a relief assignment or even a minor-league rehab assignment, though they prefer not to have to do either.
  • The Dodgers at some point last winter mentioned $12 million for two years for Brad Ziegler but never made that as a formal offer and dropped out after signing Kenley Jansen.
  • Clayton Kershaw is 67-0 when given four runs of support or more. Not bad.
  • The Dodgers were positioning to take Schwarber in the draft if the Cubs hadn’t taken him first, at No. 4 overall. Chicago pulled a surprise in taking him, and some felt he’d fall to the Dodgers in the middle of the first round, as he didn’t really have a position.
  • The Dodgers are 8-8 but have the second best run differential in the NL at plus 20 (the Reds are plus 21).

Miami Marlins

  • Marcell Ozuna has made an adjustment, moving his hands closer to his body. And it seems to be paying off big-time. And some also believe ex-hitting coach Barry Bonds influenced him positively in terms of confidence/mindset.
  • A good indication of the talent of their everyday lineup is the Marlins winning two straight Player of the Week awards, with Ozuna following rising catching star J.T. Realmuto.
  • Realmuto is fantastic. He has the best “pop” time in baseball since the start of last year (the time between the pop of the catcher’s glove and a middle infielder’s), Rich Waltz said on FOX Southeast.
  • One who has struggled so far is first baseman Justin Bour (.163), however.
  • The Marlins’ pen is deep. But there have been some rough moments early for Junichi Tazawa and David Phelps. One executive wondered why they didn’t try for a lefty such as Jerry Blevins or Boone Logan, and give that two-year deal to one of them rather than Tazawa, who seems to have gotten an overpay.
  • The Marlins are inclined to stick with eight pitchers. They do have one lefty, Jarlin Garcia, who was just called up but isn’t the traditional lefty-on-lefty type pitcher. They told Nick Wittgren he could be back up soon.
  • Jose Urena would have been optioned if he wasn’t out of options, one Marlins person opined. They couldn’t take a chance of losing him (and that chance would have been 100 percent).
  • Manager Don Mattingly used Phelps in a save situation, as he’s trying to protect A.J. Ramos. Ramos has been throwing 91-92 at times this year, below his usual.
  • J.T. Riddle’s first hit was on a ball that bounced in front of the plate, his second a 410-foot bomb that beat the Mets and put the Marlins in first place with a third straight win over the Mets. Riddle, who’d come in for defensive purposes and “they hoped wouldn’t have to bat” a Marlins person said, is expected to go down soon so he can play every day. Riddle has impressed Mattingly.
  • Mattingly removed two different pitchers during no-hitters in the last week, Dan Straily and Wei-Yin Chen.
  • Dee Gordon was excited because a bunt “finally” worked on his hit vs. Matt Harvey.
  • The Marlins have been very good against the Mets in recent years. The bugaboo team remains the Braves for them.
  • The Marlins have gone from the team that shifted least of all teams last year (2.7 percent) to the second most (34 percent). GM Michael Hill told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and MLB Network that that stat is a bit misleading because it is dependent on three players being on one side on the infield, so if one moves just a couple or few feet, it’d make a difference.
  • Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush are teaming up in their efforts to buy the Marlins, as the Miami Herald first reported. My thought: they’d still need a really big money man (MLB allows only 40 percent financing, considering a $1.4B sale, that means they’d still need to come up with $840M, which is more than a ballplayer, even a great one, and politician presumably have).

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Here’s the secret behind Eric Thames’ fast start.
  • While it behooves the Brewers to investigate trade talk for Braun now, as he becomes a 10-and-5 player May 24, meaning he can veto trades to any team, sources say there is indeed nothing going on with the Dodgers at present. While he can’t veto trades to the Dodgers now, and likely wouldn’t veto the Dodgers even after May 24 (if he’s traded, that’s his first choice, according to sources), the Brewers at least have the threat of trading him elsewhere now and until May 24, though there’s no evidence anything’s afoot.
  • Wily Peralta may finally be reaching his potential. He’s showing signs, anyway. Multiple teams showed interest in him this spring, but Stearns said, “We’re very comfortable having him as part of our rotation.”
  • Jacob Barnes, who is throwing 100 (with a 91-mph slider), looks like a future closer. At 27, the former Chris Sale teammate at Gulf Coast University, is a late bloomer.
  • Recommended reading: @DimTillard and his diary on @mlbtraderumors.
  • Jett Bandy was named Jett, as it’s a combination of his father’s name Jeff and his grandfather Chester, known as Chet. Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper humorously noted that “they could have gone with Jester,” a remark that was ignored by his partner but deserved acknowledgment. The discussion started when Ben Zobrist came to bat to the Elton John song “Bennie and the Jets.” Which seemed especially appropriate considering the Brewers’ catcher.). Anyway, Bandy is showing much more ability since moving to Milwaukee in the offseason.
  • The Brewers are the surprise early homer leaders in the NL.

New York Mets

  • As Yoenis Cespedes keeps hitting homers it’s a continuing reminder how fortunate the Mets were that Wilmer Flores reacted so negatively to the deal and the Mets eventually nixed the deal for Carlos Gomez, who is again off to a slow start.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera is the most under-rated player in the game. There, I said it.
  • Seth Lugo started playing catch Wednesday, and felt fine. Long way to go, though.
  • Steven Matz also felt fine after throwing.
  • Missing Jeurys Familia hurt as much as you’d imagine.
  • There’s much consternation in New York over their rough week.
  • Thor has 20 strikeouts and no walks, but Danny Knobler of Bleacher Report suggests he’s just scratching the surface.
  • According to Marc Carig of Newsday, Mets relievers lead the NL in batters faced with 246, a surprise since the Mets’ rotation is considered about the best in the league. Rafael Montero was first with 42, Fernando Salas tied for second with 40 and Hansel Robles right behind with 39.
  • David Lennon (@DPLennon) noted on Twitter that on April 19 Terry Collins used the word “panic” a few times in the pregame interview. It is Panic City, after all.

Phildelphia Phillies

  • Bryce Harper keeps breaking hearts in Philly. But he could easily become a candidate to join them when he’s a free agent two years from now. Jim Salisbury on the hearts he’s been breaking in Philly in the meantime. Of course, many fans are already pining for south Jersey product Mike Trout, but Trout isn’t a free agent until 2020.
  • Mark Leiter Jr., the son of the former big leaguer and a 22nd round pick whose only college offer from New Jersey Institute of Technology (according to uncle Al on YES Network), got the coveted call up. Mark Leiter’s father was one of the nicest guys I covered as a beat writer, and as you’d imagine, a great interview. He and his wife lost an infant daughter to illness while he was a Yankee.
  • Cesar Hernandez is red hot.
  • Clay Buchholz won’t have value as a trade chip following an arm injury that’s expected to knock him out at least half the season.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • The suspension of Starling Marte is a killer. Andrew McCutchen moves back to center field (and it’s a good thing they never traded him). Josh Bell should get some more reps in the outfield.
  • Top prospect Austin Meadows still “need some more at-bats” before a call up, as he’s struggling in Triple-A. So the timing isn’t great for Marte to go out. If they do make the playoffs, Marte will be ineligible. But by that time, the Pirates hope Meadows could be back.
  • Marte failed his test in spring training that led to his 80-game suspension. His excuse that “neglect” and “a lack of knowledge” caused him to err seemed rather thin under the circumstances. Everyone should be aware of the severity of the situation by this point. But he neither appealed nor explained to MLB. Just took his medicine. And that didn’t look great.
  • McCutchen honored Jackie Robinson on Jackie Robinson day. Then he did it one better by hitting a big home run that day.
  • David Freese is hitting like that batting champ some predicted for him early in his career.
  • Jameson Taillon (0.90 ERA) has looked like the No. 2 pick he was.
  • Jung Ho Kang has had difficulty getting a visa, and presumably it has something to do with his third DUI conviction in Korea. The Pirates reportedly are hoping to send him a hitting machine. Good idea. Another might be to send him a driver.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Yadier Molina signed because 1) he wanted to stay in St. Louis, 2) coming off his WBC heroics, his value might never be higher. Though some in his inner circle believed he could get a four-year deal in free agency, there was no sense turning down $60 million for three years. St. Louis originally offered two years at “a lot less” money per year, while Molina originally sought four to five years.
  • Trevor Rosenthal has slimmed down a bit, and it seems to have helped.
  • Seung Hwan Oh has allowed runs in four of his last five games, so it was no surprise Rosenthal came in to close Wednesday.
  • The Cardinals suffered their first loss when their pitchers struck out 17 hitters since 1970, reports Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
  • Dexter Fowler became a major bargain for the Cubs last year. But he looked like an overpay from the git-go by St. Louis. It almost looked like they were trying to even things out when the Cubs overpaid for Jason Heyward. Anyway, Fowler’s certainly a better player than this, and a two-homer game Wednesday may be the start of something better.
  • They looked terrific in spring training. But as one Cardinals observer pointed out, several of the guys in their high minor leaguers – Tommy Pham, Tyler Lyons – were superb in spring and aren’t actually with the big club. So that NL best 20-8 record may have been slightly deceiving.
  • Matt Bowman, one of the better performing Cardinals so far, is a nephew of MLB honcho Bob Bowman. Bob Bowman is the one who made MLB.com a monster success. The former Princeton shortstop was a starter with the Mets, but a Cardinals person noticed he was great the first time through the order but got hit thereafter. Thus, they made him a reliever. He hasn’t allowed a run since last Sept. 6, and that includes spring training.
  • Michael Wacha looked better in a recent start, hitting 98 mph.
  • Molina looks likes look he could use a bit of a rest. Though, it’s understandable why Mike Matheny doesn’t want to give him too many rests.
  • Greg Garcia brings energy.
  • Jose Martinez (.444) has been a plus for the club. The 28-year-old rookie seems to want to prove something. He’s said to be “fearless,” which showed itself while gathering a hit against Cardinals killer Aroldis Chapman.
  • The last time the Cardinals played in the Bronx, their two catchers were Mike Matheny and Joe Girardi, the managers of the Cardinals and Yankees now, as MLB Network first pointed out.
  • Their 3-8 start matched their worst in the wild-card era.
  • Get well soon to Lou Brock, who has cancer but a good chance to recover, the Cardinals announced.

San Diego Padres

  • The Padres still need more production out of shortstop, even after Erick Aybar homered off Zack Greinke on Wednesday night to beat the D-backs. A story on this issue was headlined, “Stop me if you’ve heard this before.” No kidding.
  • Ken Rosenthal had a nice note on Yangervis Solarte, who explained that the tragic loss of his wife Yuliette at 31 and the presence of his three daughters (ages 6, 5 and 18 moths) is the reason he twice played it safe with contracts. He took $3.15 million from Fantex (which then takes 10 percent of future earnings), then signed a two-year, $7.5-million contract with two team options to make sure his daughters were taken care of. Sounds like Solarte has his priorities in order. His mother Yanmili is taking care of the kids in Miami, Solarte also revealed.
  • Allen Cordoba, the Rule 5 payer selected of the Cardinals’ rookie league team at Johnson City, hit his first big-league homer, lessening the chance he’ll be sent back (the Padres seem like they want to keep their three Rule 5 guys anyway).
  • The Padres lost five straight before a 1-0 victory over Arizona on Wednesday. Could be a long year.

San Francisco Giants

  • With their left field issue, you wonder if they’d consider Braun. He doesn’t have full no-trade power until May 24, and the Giants have been on his list of six that he could be traded to for years (and though he said he did make one change this winter, sources say he remains on the approved list  — until May 24, anyway).
  • Morse is rehabbing at Class-A, and it’s up to him how long he wants to give it to see if he can get a call-up.
  • Upton Jr. was hit on the hand in the game in the minors, and he’s sore enough that it could set him back a little while.
  • Word is, Tim Lincecum is now throwing off a mound in his hometown of Seattle. Still no word on when he will showcase for teams.
  • Best wishes to Bruce Bochy, who underwent another heart procedure this week. Ron Wotus, who should get a managing job, filled in. Bochy is expected to rejoin the club in Colorado Friday.

Washington Nationals

  • With the bullpen struggling, here are some external options that could make sense for the team.
  • Even NBC News’ Chuck Todd got into the act. Todd tweeted, “What’s worse than a nightmare? Whatever it is, that’s how one should describe the Nats bullpen.”
  • And Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post wrote a piece titled, “Nationals owe it to the clubhouse: Blake Treinen Can’t Pitch the Ninth Again.” Svrluga pointed out that in addition to Treinen’s six walks and two K’s in his last five appearances, hitters have a .971 OPS against him, “essentially turning every hitter into Bryce Harper.”
  • Generally, there does seem to be an alarmist feel from fans to the closing situation.
  • Trea Turner isn’t far from returning, reports Joel Sherman of MLB Network and the New York Post.
  • Daniel Murphy’s 20 hits through the Nats’ first 10 games are a franchise record.
  • Ryan Zimmerman is back on his game, if it ever left him. His stats were poor last year, but there are hard-hit numbers that suggest he was extremely unlucky. Anyway, the hits are falling now, part of the reason the Nats have the best offense in MLB so far (.810 team OPS).
  • Bryce Harper continues to rake.

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