Welcome back, baseball. We missed you. We'll start our roundup each night with a question to discuss and analyze and follow that up with some of the highlights and key news of the day.
Tuesday's star performer was Lance McCullers Jr., young right-hander for the Houston Astros, possessor of a curveball that should inspire poets and owner of a little something called swagger. I see a pitcher with an "it" factor, the fearlessness to go with this haircut and maybe a guy who could be a sleeper Cy Young contender.
McCullers' line score in a 2-1 win over the Mariners doesn't do his performance justice. He allowed five hits and one run in six innings, but three of those five hits were infield singles. He also worked around two errors from the Houston infield (Alex Bregman had a tough night at third base, throwing one ball in the dirt for an error and losing the grip on a little chopper that was scored a hit).
Despite needing those extra outs, he was pretty efficient, throwing 88 pitches -- including 61 for strikes. Given that health and walks were the knocks against him in 2016, that kind of strike ratio is a huge positive. He fanned five of the first 10 batters he faced and had 10 ground ball outs versus one fly out. Strikeouts + grounders = Cy Young stuff.
His curveball isn't a big 12-to-6 bender; instead, it's a rather hard slurvish kind of pitch with so much movement down and away from right-handed batters. Last season, he finished 89 of his 106 strikeouts with his curveball, and six of his seven K's against Seattle on Tuesday were swings-and-misses on the curve (Mike Zunino fanned looking on a fastball). I still think he'll need to mix in his changeup a little more against left-handed batters and also prevent hitters from sitting on his fastball early in the count, but if he can avoid the elbow issues he had in 2016, McCullers has ace potential.
Just a Twitter declaration that Lance McCullers is winning the AL Cy Young.— Evan (@evan_flow) April 5, 2017
Also in baseball on Tuesday ...
Take back all your mean tweets about the Padres: Yes, that was left-hander Clayton Richard tossing eight scoreless innings against the Dodgers in a 4-0 victory. The "IT'S ONLY ONE GAME" caveat applies, but worth mentioning to just create panic among Dodgers fans: The Dodgers hit .214 against lefties last season, worst in the majors.
The Cubs beat the Cardinals 2-1 looking a lot like the Cubs of 2016 -- with great defense. Jason Heyward made a nice running catch to take a potential double away from Matt Carpenter (who is now 1-for-30 off his former TCU teammate Jake Arrieta) and Javier Baez ended the game with a nice diving stab of Kolten Wong's grounder with the tying run at first.
Joey Gallo and the three true outcomes: With Adrian Beltre on the DL nursing a calf injury to start the season for the Rangers, Gallo is getting some time at third base. Once Beltre returns, it will be interesting to see what the Rangers do with Gallo. He could stick around to fill in at third base, first base, DH and even left field, or return to Triple-A, where he hit 25 home runs a year ago but also struck out 150 times in 102 games. He remains a tantalizing presence because of his ability to do this:
Still waiting for this one to land... pic.twitter.com/FfAPryLa08— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) April 5, 2017
ESPN Stats & Info estimated the home run at 442 feet, although maybe there's a typo in there and they meant 542 feet. Of course, Gallo also ended the game swinging through a 93 mph fastball from Cody Allen with the tying run at second base as the Indians held on for a 4-3 victory. Beltre's DL stint should be short, so Gallo might only get a few games in this temporary starting role. It's important to note he's still just 23 and is often compared to Chris Davis, who didn't have his breakout season until he was 26. Trouble is, that came after the Rangers gave up on him and traded him to the Orioles. At some point, they'll have to put Gallo in the lineup every day and let him do his thing -- hitting home runs and taking walks while living with the strikeouts.
World Baseball Classic injury fallout: There were injury updates from two pitchers who worked in the World Baseball Classic, and while it's impossible to directly trace the DL stints of Mets' right-hander Seth Lugo and Mariners' lefty Drew Smyly to their participation in the tournament, when the next WBC rolls around you know front offices will once again prefer their pitchers not partake. Lugo has a partially torn ligament in his elbow and had a platelet-rich plasma injection (PRP) on Tuesday. He'll rest for a couple weeks and then be re-evaluated. The Mariners moved Smyly to the 60-day DL and announced he also had a PRP injection. He'll wait six weeks to begin throwing.
It's easy to blame the WBC, and while Mets officials suggested Lugo's injury might have resulted from the 15 innings he threw for Puerto Rico, Lugo told local reporters on Monday that he pitched with tightness in his elbow last season. Smyly, who threw harder than he normally does during his one impressive start for Team USA, has also had injuries in his career, including a shoulder injury in 2015 that limited him to 12 starts. Blaming the WBC seems like a cop-out in both cases; pitchers get hurt all the time, and it might just be coincidence that Lugo and Smyly pitched in the WBC.
The worst pitch of the season. Maybe of the year. Maybe of ever, including 50 Cent or the mayor of Cincinnati: If I'm Adam Wainwright, I'd have nightmares all week that I wake up and suddenly can't throw a baseball more than 15 feet: