The much-anticipated reporting date for pitchers and catchers in mid-February might be the biggest tease in sports, but this week is the real deal. After nearly two weeks of workouts in Florida and Arizona, Major League Baseball players will finally begin playing Major League Baseball games on Tuesday as the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules begin with a slate of five games, three of which will be broadcast nationally on the MLB Network.
Things kick off in Florida with the Orioles traveling to Lakeland to play the Tigers and the Yankees in Clearwater to take on the Phillies, both games starting at 1:05 p.m. ET. The latter game will be broadcast live in the Philadelphia area on CSN Philadelphia, but for everyone else, your first chance to see major league action in 2015 will be via the MLB Network’s live broadcast of the Pirates game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, the first pitch of which is scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET.
That game should give us our first look at Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin in Toronto uniforms, with the latter taking on his old mates, albeit likely just for the first few innings, as most starters only get two at-bats during the first week of the exhibition schedule. On the mound for Toronto to start that game will be the organization’s top prospect Aaron Sanchez, who is hoping to break camp as the Blue Jays’ fifth starter after impressing in the bullpen down the stretch last year, but who could be a candidate to close for the team if he doesn’t make the rotation. Daniel Norris will be battling Sanchez for that final starting job, but he won’t make his spring debut until he starts against an Orioles split squad Thursday night, a game that will be broadcast live in the Baltimore area on MASN and on tape at 11 p.m. that night on the MLB Network. Both Sanchez and Norris will likely be limited to just two innings given that these will be their first starts of the spring.
The Pirates have already posted their lineup for Tuesday. The players to watch in that starting nine will be Pedro Alvarez, who was scratched from Monday’s intrasquad game and will be looking to reestablish himself as the team’s first baseman, Gregory Polanco, whom the Pirates are hoping will claim the right field job this spring, and perhaps most significantly Korean import Jung-ho Kang, who signed a four-year deal with Pittsburgh this year and is looking to claim the starting shortstop job coming off an eye-popping season at the plate in the KBO last year. Casey Sadler, who is not a serious threat to claim a job in the Pirates’ rotation, will be the starting pitcher for Pittsburgh.
The Cactus League kicks into action at 3:05 ET Tuesday with the defending world champion Giants and Madison Bumgarner taking on the radically rebuilt A’s in Mesa’s HoHoKam Stadium. Unfortunately, that game will be broadcast only on San Francisco radio. However, the Cleveland-Cincinnati game in Goodyear will be broadcast on the MLB Network on a one-hour delay, starting at 4 p.m. ET, time enough, hopefully, to allow the Pirates and Blue Jays to finish. The starting pitchers at the Reds’ Goodyear Ballpark will be Cleveland’s Zach McAllister, a long-shot for the fifth-starter’s job, and 36-year-old veteran Jason Marquis, who is in Reds camp as a non-roster invitee after missing most of last season due to July 2013 Tommy John surgery (Marquis managed just nine minor league rehab starts for the Phillies in 2014). Unfortunately, former National League MVP Joey Votto, who last appeared in game action on July 5 of last year due to a right quadriceps strain, is the only projected Reds starter who is not in the announced lineup for that game.
Those two Cactus League games mark the end of the day’s major league action (there will also be four exhibition games pitting major league squads against college opponents), but not the end of the day for those hungry for baseball. The MLB Network will broadcast the Yankees-Phillies game on tape at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday night. However, Alex Rodriguez will not be making the trip to Clearwater and Chase Utley, who is still recovering from a sprained right ankle suffered in January, isn’t expected to appear in any of the Phillies’ games this week. Per Chad Jennings at the LoHud Yankees Blog, the Yankees may not send any of their starting infielders to Clearwater on Tuesday. With an underwhelming starting pitching matchup of Adam Warren and Jerome Williams, there may not be much to see on this game for non-Phillies fans beyond baseball players finally playing baseball again. However, the Yankees should start most and possibly all of their intended regulars when the Phillies visit Tampa on Wednesday for a game that will be broadcast live at 1 p.m. EST on both the MLB and YES Networks. Indeed, Yankees manager Joe Girardi confirmed on Monday that Rodriguez will start at designated hitter on Wednesday, marking A-Rod’s first game action since 2013.
The most compelling game of the week, however, may be Friday’s Tigers-Mets matchup in Port St. Lucie, as the starting pitchers in that game will be David Price and Matt Harvey, the latter expected to throw 35 to 40 pitches in his first game action since August 2013 following September 2013 Tommy John surgery. If he makes the trip, that will also give us our first look at Yoenis Cespedes in a Tigers uniform, as the Tigers two previous spring games will not be televised. That game will be broadcast live in the New York area on SNY and on tape at 9 p.m. EST on the MLB Network. None of the above will be the seventh game of the World Series, but for the first time since then, there will be major league baseball games being played this week. We’re ready.