Five Cuts: Matt Kemp mashes, Brewers sweep Red Sox, Yu Darvish returns
The first full week of the 2014 baseball season drew to a close on Sunday. While there have been a few out-sized performances -- no team remains undefeated (thanks to the Orioles beating the Tigers on Sunday), and all 30 have at-least two wins -- there have still been a few notable developments. Here's a quick look at some of Sunday's happenings and what they might mean going forward.
Matt Kemp has first multi-homer game since 2012
If Matt Kemp wasn't quite locked in as the Dodgers everyday center fielder upon his return from the disabled list on Friday (he wasn't in the lineup that day until Yasiel Puig showed up late to the ballpark), he might be now thanks to the pair of home runs he hit off Matt Cain on Sunday.
Those home runs helped the Dodgers avoid a sweep at home at the hands of the rival Giants with a 6-2 win that also saw Hanley Ramirez go deep twice. San Francisco's Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence also homered, making it the first six-homer game of the young season. For Kemp, his solo shot in the second and two-run round-tripper in the fourth gave him his first multi-homer game since 2012. With Yasiel Puig out of the lineup on Sunday after jamming his left thumb sliding into first base Saturday, Kemp now has a chance to make the Dodgers' excess of starting outfielders the other three guys' problem.
Puig has been diagnosed with a strained ligament in that left thumb. What that means for his near-term availability remains to be seen. L.A. has Monday off, which could delay any possible disabled-list decision concerning Puig.
When the Dodgers return to action Tuesday, they'll welcome the Tigers to Chavez Ravine in a matchup of last year's alternate World Series, that is, of the two teams that lost their league's Championship Series in 2013. That series is just two games followed by another off-day Thursday. If Puig doesn't need to be placed on the disabled list, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly may still try to avoid using him in the Tigers series, giving him four more days off while only making him miss two games. In reporting Puig's diagnosis to the media after Sunday's game, however, Mattingly left open the possibility of Puig playing on Tuesday.
Of the 43 pitchers to make two starts thus far this season, just one has yet to allow a run. That man is the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo, who threw six shutout innings in a 2-0 Brewers victory over the Braves on Opening Day and 6 2/3 scoreless frames against the Red Sox in a 4-0 Milwaukee win on Sunday. The latter performance helped the Brewers complete a three-game sweep of the defending champion Red Sox in the latter's first home series of the season.
Gallardo wasn't dominant on Sunday. He scattered seven hits, two of which were stranded by Zach Duke in the seventh inning, struck out just three batters, and didn't get a swing-and-miss in the entire game. However, he walked no one, and it's hard to argue with 12 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings to start a season, particularly when those innings all came against two of the four best teams in the majors (by record) from the previous season. The Brewers also got an encouraging performance from Ryan Braun, who returned to the lineup and picked up a pair of singles after sitting out Saturday due to numbness in his right thumb, an issue which has bothered him since early last year.
As for the Red Sox, they lost more than just three games this weekend as third baseman Will Middlebrooks landed on the disabled list on Sunday with a strained right calf. Middlebrooks, who had gone 3-for-6 with a double and a home run in his last two games before sitting out Saturday's game, joins right fielder Shane Victorino on the DL. With Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, the rejuvenated Grady Sizemore, and rookie Jackie Bradley Jr., the Red Sox have sufficient depth in their outfield to cope until Victorino is able to return from his strained right hamstring, which could be as early as next week. They're stretched thin at third base, however, where they will go with some combination of Jonathan Herrera, who started Saturday and Sunday, and Brock Holt for at least the next two weeks.
The Brewers now move on to play the Phillies in Philadelphia's first home series of the season, the first game which has been moved from Monday to Tuesday due to a rainy forecast. The Red Sox stay home and welcome the Texas Rangers.
Yu Darvish returns with strong outing, becomes quickest to 500 strikeouts
Speaking of the Rangers, their starting pitching woes lessened significantly on Sunday with the return of Yu Darvish, who had opened the season on the disabled list with a sore neck. Darvish looked as sharp as ever, throwing seven scoreless innings against the Rays in St. Petersburg, striking out six and walking just one in a 3-0 Rangers win that prevented a Rays sweep.
Darvish's second strikeout of the game, he got Will Myers swinging in the bottom of the first, was his 500th in the major leagues and pushed his career innings total to 401 2/3. That combination made Darvish the quickest to 500 strikeouts among starting pitchers, breaking the record of 404 2/3 innings set by Kerry Wood in 2001.
Rookie Nick Martinez, who turned in a quality start in his major league debut on Saturday, was optioned to Double-A to make room for Darvish on the roster, but that may not be the only change in the Rangers' rotation this week. Joe Saunders is questionable for his next start due to a bruised left heel suffered when he was hit by a comebacker in his season debut. Meanwhile, Tanner Scheppers, who will take the hill in Boston on Monday, will have to prove his awful Opening Day start (4 IP, 7 R) was a fluke for the Rangers not to rethink their decision to convert him to starting. After all, those seven runs were a third as many as he allowed in 76 appearances as the team's primary set-up man last year. Colby Lewis, who turned in a middling start for Triple-A Round Rock on Sunday, and Scott Baker, who turned in a strong one Saturday (6 IP, 1 R, 7 K), lurk as alternatives. Not yet an option, however, is Matt Harrison, whose last rehab start was cut short by rain on Thursday.
Tommy John surgery claims two more arms
The Pirates had hoped that top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon might serve as a mid-season reinforcement for their rotation, much like Gerrit Cole did last year, but that's no longer a possibility. The team announced on Sunday that Taillon will have Tommy John surgery, ending his 2014 season before it began. That puts added pressure on fifth starter Edinson Volquez, who posted a 71 ERA+ over the last three seasons. (ERA+ is a measure of a pitcher’s ERA adjusted for ballpark factors in which 100 generally represents an average score.)
Volquez made a solid debut in the Pittsburgh rotation on Sunday in the Pirates' 2-1 rubber-game win over the division-rival (and defending division and league champion) Cardinals at PNC Park. Volquez worked 5 2/3 innings of three-hit ball in that game, allowing one run and walking just one. Combined with the a relief outing he made on Thursday, that puts Volquez's season totals at 7 2/3 innings with just four hits, one walk, and one run allowed against six strikeouts.
With Taillon out for the season, the team's best hope should Volquez stumble will be 26-year-old lefty Jeff Locke, who pitched his way off the team in the second half of last season (6.12 ERA) after making the All-Star team in the first half (8-2, 2.15 ERA). Worst of all, however, is that Taillon has been considered a significant part of the team's future since he was drafted second overall in 2010. That future is here now, but Taillon won't be until well into next season.
In other Tommy John news, Mets closer Bobby Parnell, who was diagnosed with a partially torn medial collateral ligament on Tuesday, will also have the season-ending surgery. Parnell's apparent replacement, Jose Valverde converted his only save chance since Parnell went on the disabled list on Friday and has made three scoreless appearances on the season, including one in the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Reds on Sunday. That game also included a scoreless inning thrown by Kyle Farnsworth, who may wind up being Valverde's set-up man. No, seriously.
Derek Jeter passes Paul Molitor on all-time hits list
Derek Jeter caught and passed Paul Molitor for ninth on the all-time career hits list with his first multi-hit game of the season on Sunday in Toronto. Jeter singled off Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison leading off the top of the third to tie Molitor at 3,319 hits and singled in his next at-bat in the top of the fourth to drive Hutchison from the game and pass Molitor with hit 3,320. Jeter will remain in ninth place on the hit list for a while, if not indefinitely, as he now needs another 99 safeties to catch eighth-place Carl Yastrzemski at 3,419 hits. If Jeter can stay healthy, however, he could very well move all the way up to sixth, as he's now just 115 hits behind Cap Anson's 3,435, and if he has one last 200-hit season, he would pass Tris Speaker's 3,514 and move into fifth place all-time.
Jeter's two hits were encouraging without the milestone given that he was just 2-for-11 on the season coming into the game, though he is still looking for his first extra-base hit of the year. Also encouraging for New York was CC Sabathia's performance on Sunday. After echoing Masahiro Tanaka by giving up a leadoff home run to Melky Cabrera on a pitch that floated toward the top of the strike zone, Sabathia didn't allow another run until there were two outs in the sixth inning. In fact, the 19 batters that followed Cabrera combined for just two singles -- one of which didn't leave the infield -- and no walks. The Yankees also got another RBI double from their new third baseman, 26-year-old rookie Yangervis Solarte, who is now in an eight-way tie for second in the majors with four doubles and is fourth in the majors among qualified hitters with a .471 batting average (he's 8-for-17 on the season). Solarte, who beat out Eduardo Nuñez for the Yankees' utility-infield job, has been forced into duty by Mark Teixeira's hamstring injury and his own hot bat. He hit .282/.332/.404 for Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers system over the last two years.