Category archive: Jason Heyward

Spring Training Blog: Feb. 25

February, 25, 2010
02/25/10
12:27
PM ET
WEBB THROWS 45 PITCHES IN CAMP (4:41 p.m. ET)
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb feels good after his latest throwing session.

The former Cy Young winner is coming back from surgery on his right shoulder last August. He threw 45 pitches on Thursday and calls it another step forward in his recovery.

Webb expects to be ready to start the Diamondbacks' third game of the regular season. Dan Haren will pitch the opener, followed by Edwin Jackson.

-- The Associated Press

BRANYAN GOES TO WORK FOR INDIANS (4:53 p.m. ET)
Russell Branyan, his one-year, $2 million contract freshly signed, reported Thursday to the Indians' spring training camp in Arizona and prepared for his second go-around with Cleveland.

"There are a lot of good, positive things in coming back," said Branyan, who will get the majority of playing time at first base. "This is where I started. To get this opportunity, it was hard to turn down. It means a lot to me."

Branyan came through Cleveland's minor league system in the late 1990s. It was thought he would join the list of sluggers the Indians produced during the decade, which included Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. Standing 6-foot-3, Branyan hit 30 or more homers in three minor league seasons before being traded to Cincinnati in 2002.

Eight years and eight organizations later, Branyan believes he's learned from his experiences.

"I understand people a lot better," he said. "I don't let small things bother me as much anymore."

The Indians will hold their first full-squad workout Friday under new manager Manny Acta.

-- ESPN.com news services

BOSOX UNVEIL SPRING GREEN MONSTER PLANS (4:01 p.m. ET)
The future spring training home of the Boston Red Sox will have a replica Green Monster and duplicate the dimensions of Fenway Park.

The Red Sox, Lee County and Populous released preliminary renderings Thursday of the 11,000-capacity, $75 million ballpark, which is scheduled to open in 2012 about 10 miles from the current stadium. Five practice fields will be outside the main stadium, combining training camp for the Red Sox into one facility from the current two.

The Green Monster will have a manual scoreboard and seats atop the wall, which will be 310 feet from home plate down the line. The right-field fence will be 302 feet from the plate, and the bullpens will be beyond the fence in right-center, just as they are at Fenway.

"I like the Fenway similarity," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "The charm of Fenway Park. The Florida look and feel. Not a duplicate of Fenway Park with heavy red brick and New England style. It's meant to be different and lighter and airier and breezier and more Florida-like."

-- The Associated Press

STRASBURG THROWS LONGEST SESSION YET (3:52 p.m. ET)
Nationals rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg threw his longest bullpen session of spring training on Thursday, a 12-minute effort in 47-degree temperatures with winds in excess of 20 mph.

Pitching coach Steve McCatty was impressed with how the rookie fared in challenging conditions, noting that the winds made it difficult for Strasburg to throw his breaking ball.

Strasburg, the Nationals' No. 1 pick in last year's amateur draft, is already generating a buzz in spring training. On Sunday, about 150 fans, twice the normal number for Washington's first workout, watched Nationals pitchers and catchers practice -- and most were watching the hard-throwing right-hander from San Diego State.

-- ESPN.com news services

FEET, DON'T FAIL ME NOW (3:42 p.m. ET)
Nyjer Morgan is going feetfirst in trying to avoid headfirst slides, as part of the Nationals' new strategy for keeping their speedy center fielder in the lineup and off the disabled list.

Morgan fractured his left hand sliding into third base in Chicago in August, short-circuiting a promising start with a new team. After being traded from Pittsburgh to Washington on June 30, Morgan hit .351, stole 24 bases in 31 tries and played sparkling defense before missing the final five weeks of the season while on the DL.

Part of Morgan's penchant for the headfirst approach has been vanity. "I just like to get dirty," he laughed. "When you're all dirty, you look like you've been playing hard, and I play hard."

Morgan isn't the only Nationals player perfecting the new move. Manager Jim Riggleman wants players throughout the organization to employ the feet-first approach because it cuts down on hand, finger and wrist injuries.

"There's a transition there. It takes a little time, but that's why we got to keep practicing it," Riggleman said. "Our message to the guys -- not just Nyjer, but all of them -- is any of them who have always slid headfirst, we would like to get you going feetfirst."

-- The Associated Press

SANCHEZ WORKING HIS WAY BACK (2:21 p.m. ET)
Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez, still rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, hopes to begin taking ground balls within a week. If that goes well, he'll graduate to swinging a bat.

Sanchez is working out seven days a week with Tony Reale, the Giants' physical therapist. He's already throwing -- about 35 tosses from a distance of 75 feet -- but the Giants are still in one-step-at-a-time mode with him.

There's no timetable on Sanchez's return to the lineup, but it's a virtual certainty that he'll miss the start of the season. Juan Uribe can play second base in Sanchez's absence, and Eugenio Velez, Emmanuel Burriss and Kevin Frandsen will all get a look at the position in spring training.

The bigger issue for manager Bruce Bochy is reconfiguring his lineup without Sanchez in the second spot. Shortstop Edgar Renteria could hit second to begin the season, then drop down to seventh or eighth once Sanchez returns. But Renteria had a .290 on-base percentage in the No. 2 hole last year, so he's not a good fit for the top of the order.

-- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com

FELDMAN TAKES THE LEAD IN RANGERS' ROTATION (12:53 p.m. ET)
In less than a year, Scott Feldman has progressed from afterthought to anchor of the Texas Rangers' starting rotation.

Winning 17 games in five months last season -- and entering the closing weeks with a chance to reach the coveted 20-victory mark -- will do that for a pitcher.

"I thought it would have been cool if I could have gotten 20," Feldman said. "Just to get 17 was a pretty cool thing. We had a good team."

Feldman was a large part of that success, posting a 17-8 record and 4.08 ERA in 31 starts. Despite not joining the rotation until late April, the right-hander was second on the club with 189 2/3 innings pitched.

Though he has just 56 career starts under his belt, the 27-year-old has become an elder statesman in a rotation that this year adds oft-injured veteran Rich Harden. It's a role that Feldman didn't necessarily expect but has embraced since the departure of Kevin Millwood.

"It's about your work ethic around here," manager Ron Washington said of Feldman on Thursday. "He's a great guy to model. You can't put leadership on people. Your teammates draw it out of you. And he's got the work ethic."

-- The Associated Press

BRAVES EXCITED ABOUT FULL YEAR OF HANSON (12:38 p.m. ET)
The Braves are very encouraged about their starting pitching for several reasons.

First, Tim Hudson says "I haven't felt this good in six years." The discomfort in Jair Jurrjens' right shoulder has diminished "from a 7 to a 0.5," says manager Bobby Cox.

And, the Braves will have Tommy Hanson for the entire season.

When another top Braves starter, Derek Lowe, was asked what impressed him most about Hanson, he said, "Where do you want me to start?"

That's how good Hanson is. "Every pitcher in the big leagues has good stuff, the difference is the guy who has it mentally, and he does," said Hudson. "You could see it last spring. When he got to the big leagues last year, he thought he was better than the hitters."

"His stuff is sensational," Lowe said of Hanson. When asked about the trade of ace Javier Vazquez, Lowe acknowledged that the Braves had lost a terrific pitcher, but he said, "We're going to get 15 more starts from Tommy Hanson. That's a pretty good start."

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

HEYWARD TURNING HEADS AT BRAVES CAMP (12:33 p.m. ET)
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward has had some prodigious batting practices so far this spring.

"It sounds like a 30-aught six going off when he hits the ball," said Braves pitcher Tim Hudson. "I was walking through the outfield, I heard that sound, turned and said, 'What in the heck was that?' "

Pitcher Derek Lowe agreed about the sound, saying, "His BP is frightening."

Heyward said Thursday that he weighed in, clothed, at 250 pounds. He said in spikes, he stands 6-foot-6.

"He is huge," said Braves catcher David Ross. "His hands are huge. Hank Aaron was here the other day and talked about how big Jason's hands are. And Hank has big hands."

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

Spring Training Blog: Feb. 24

February, 24, 2010
02/24/10
11:50
AM ET
GIAMBI REPORTS TO ROCKIES SPRING TRAINING (8:30 p.m. ET)
In a perfect world, Jason Giambi would be reporting to spring training as a designated hitter for a contender in the American League. Instead, Giambi returned to the Rockies in Tucson on Wednesday, where he will be an occasional fill-in for Todd Helton at first base and a pinch-hitter.

Giambi signed a one-year deal for $1.75 million in January after not being able to secure a job as an everyday DH. Just because it was Plan B doesn't make it any less desirable, Giambi said.

"Trust me, in a perfect world, I'd love to say I could still go out there every day at first base and still play," Giambi said after reporting to camp Wednesday. "I would've loved that opportunity to see what I could do [as a] DH day-in and out with a team that had an opportunity [to win]. But I enjoy it here. I really had a great time, and I'm excited to be back."

The 36-year-old Helton admitted to wearing down at the end of last season. He told Tracy that he was amenable to more rest this season, which would open up at-bats for Giambi. And Giambi's presence bolsters the bench and gives Tracy another left-handed bat to go with outfielder Seth Smith.

Helton said Giambi, a lifetime .282 hitter with 409 home runs and .527 slugging percentage, brings "intimidation" at the plate and a "clubhouse presence" to the Rockies. One of Giambi's strengths, Helton said, is his ability to discuss hitting and do it with a calming influence.

-- The Associated Press

STRASBURG SLATED TO THROW MARCH 9 (6:58 p.m. ET)
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said RHP Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 pick in June's draft, would make his first exhibition start on March 9 against Detroit at Space Coast Stadium and will pitch every fifth day, regardless of where the game was to be played.

Washington pitching coach Steve McCatty told MLB.com he is looking forward to watching Strasburg throw against big league hitters.

"This will be my first chance to see him face hitters. Everybody is really excited," McCatty told MLB.com. "We'll see how it goes. Who knows what's going to happen after that. We are just going to go and see how it's going to works out. We are going to have a rain day every once in a while, so everything is always done in pencil."

-- ESPN.com news services

TIGERS' ZUMAYA, FASTBALL BACK (5:38 p.m. ET)
Joel Zumaya's overpowering pitching sessions have attracted a lot of attention in the early days of spring training. Just six months ago, as he was preparing for a second major operation in less than two years on his aching right shoulder, he wondered whether his career might be over at the age of 24.

"I've asked myself plenty of times: When does this stop? It's come down plenty of times to: That's enough, my arm is shot," Zumaya said. "I've had so many surgeries already. I've seen plenty of guys' careers end. They're done; they just make the decision to go home. I know I have some left. I have a lot left."

He has so much left that manager Jim Leyland sometimes shakes his head in disbelief.

"I watched him throwing the other day and I remarked to one of the coaches: 'How does a human being hit that?'" Leyland said. "That blows my mind ... the ball is exploding up there, and it's impressive enough that he can throw it that way; it's more impressive that somebody can hit it."

The Tigers would like Zumaya to take back the eighth-inning role he had in his rookie season of 2006, when he struck out 97 in 83 1/3 innings and they won the pennant.

"It bothered me all last year," Zumaya said. "I kept my mouth shut, but it hurt all year. I tried to do as much as I could to help this team, and it's probably my fault that I did it but I'm a competitor. I don't want to sit on the bench and watch my teammates go out there and battle it off, and then the seventh and eighth inning come along and the game goes the other way."

-- The Associated Press

PHILS FEEL THEY HAVE 'UNFINISHED BUSINESS' (4:43 p.m. ET)
The Phillies say they have some "unfinished business" this year after falling two wins shy of repeating as World Series champions.

"Last year didn't go the way we wanted it to," Ryan Howard said. "Hopefully everyone comes in here with the mindset of unfinished business, everyone gets locked in and we have a good spring training and carry it out to the season."

The two-time defending NL champions are hoping for another long season that carries into late October and possibly early November. But they've got a long way to go before they get there. The team held its second full-squad workout Wednesday and live batting practice starts Thursday.

Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez are among the hitters scheduled to face new ace Roy Halladay.

-- The Associated Press

WELLS READY FOR LEADERSHIP ROLE WITH JAYS (3:31 p.m. ET)
Vernon Wells says he's finally prepared to assume the mantle of leadership for the youth-laden Toronto Blue Jays.

"It's a fun role to be in," he said. "Guys look at you to do the right things and how to be successful at this level. It's a role I'm looking forward to. For me, it's pretty easy. You expect guys to go out and play hard. That's my point to everybody. There's one thing you can control in this game and that's going out and playing the game the right way and respecting the game. Things will work out after that."

Manager Cito Gaston said Wells and second baseman/designated hitter Aaron Hill, starting his sixth season, "are probably going to be two guys who step up and do it. You've always got to remember you lead by example.

"You're going to have bad nights and you're going to have to handle them the right way. You're going to have good nights and you're going to have to handle them the right way," Gaston said. "Leadership is tough to do. Some people are leaders, some are not."

One thing Wells has going for him this spring is a pain-free left wrist. He fractured it making a sliding catch in Cleveland on May 10, 2008, underwent surgery and missed 26 games, and 25 more because of hamstring problems.

-- The Associated Press

DOTEL OFF TO SLOW START (2:28 p.m. ET)
Pirates reliever Octavio Dotel is off to a slower start than he expected at spring training.

Dotel strained a muscle on the left side of his upper body Sunday while throwing a bullpen session. The injury is not considered serious, but Dotel has been shut down for a few days as a precaution.

The 36-year-old Dotel has pitched a total of 160 innings over the past three years. The Pirates signed the oft-injured pitcher in the offseason.

"It's good that it wasn't a big pop or a snap or anything," manager John Russell said Wednesday. "It's better it happened now than later in camp. There are no concerns he won't be ready for the season."

The Pirates already had planned on taking it easy with their new closer. Like Dotel, right-hander Brendan Donnelly also will be eased into his spring workload.

-- The Associated Press

A'S ANDERSON WORKING ON CHANGEUP (1:36 p.m. ET)
Brett Anderson, who went 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA and finished sixth in American League Rookie of the Year balloting last season, is concentrating on improving his changeup. He went home to Stillwater, Okla., in the offseason and worked on the pitch with his father, Frank, the head baseball coach at Oklahoma State.

Anderson hopes the pitch will help him put more balls in play early in counts and allow him to go deeper in games. He threw 175 1/3 innings in his rookie season.

"I've thrown a change before, but it's never been a confidence pitch for me," Anderson said. "I've always had enough confidence in my slider and curveball to throw them whenever I wanted to. [The changeup] is getting better, but it's a process."

Anderson also plans to do a better job of moving the ball around in the strike zone. He recalls a confrontation with Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval last year, when he kept pounding the inside corner with fastballs before finally surrendering a three-run homer.

"No matter how good your stuff is, if big league hitters are looking for one pitch in one location, they're definitely going to hit it," Anderson said.

-- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com

SPLIT-FINGERED PITCH GIVES IGARASHI EDGE IN METS' PEN (1:18 p.m. ET)
This spring, Mets manager Jerry Manuel is looking for someone to pitch the eighth inning, and deliver the ball to closer Francisco Rodriguez. When asked which of the many candidates might have a slight edge, he pointed at 30-year-old right-hander Ryota Igarashi from Japan.

"He throws strikes, and he has this," Manuel said, putting his right hand in a split-fingered grip position. "He could give a different look to hitters the first month of the season."

Igarashi, 30, was 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 56 games last year for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, in Japan. Kelvim Escobar, Bobby Parnell and Sean Green are other likely candidates for the set-up role.

The Mets opened camp with a rotation that includes Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine. Jonathon Niese is perhaps the leader among several candidates for the fifth starter spot.

Finding a complement for Santana at the top of the rotation will be crucial to the Mets' chances to contend in the National League East. Perez, always erratic, came to camp in very good shape, several Mets said. He has worked with Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in camp and has, from all reports, thrown the ball well in his bullpen sessions this spring.

-- Tim Kurkjian, ESPN The Magazine

INFIELD SWAP: LOPEZ, FIGGINS TRADE PLACES (12:15 p.m. ET)
When the Mariners trotted out for infield drills on Tuesday, second baseman Jose Lopez went to third base and newly acquired third baseman Chone Figgins headed over to second.

Was it spring training jitters? Or some clubhouse humor at the new guy's expense? No, and no. Lopez has been asked to give third base a try, while Figgins, who has big league experience at second, will move across the infield.

"I'll try to catch ground balls at third base and see what happens at spring training, play in a couple of games," Lopez said, according to The Seattle Times. "If I like it, I like it. I'll try."

Lopez said he had a hunch that he might be asked to make the shift when the Mariners signed Figgins, according to the report. And when Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu approached him with the idea, he agreed to give it a try.

"Figgins is a good guy and quick," Lopez said, according to the Times. "He's got better range. And we need it. I've got a better arm than Figgins at third base, especially with a diving catch. But it's no big deal. I'll wait for the games and see how I'm feeling in the games."

"We're going to look at it and see," Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said, according to the report. "There's nothing etched in stone right now. We're just looking to see what our different options are."

-- ESPN.com news services

GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR HEYWARD (11:56 a.m. ET)
The comparisons already are out of control for Atlanta Braves prospect Jason Heyward.

Chipper Jones says the 6-foot-5 Heyward looks like former Braves first baseman Fred McGriff, only bigger.

Eric Hinske says Heyward hits line drives like Cliff Floyd.

Leave it to manager Bobby Cox to trump those comparisons.

Cox says the ball sounds different coming off Heyward's bat. It's a sound Cox says he has heard before -- "kind of like ol' Hank Aaron's sound."

Heyward calls Cox's comparison to the Hall of Famer "awesome." Even more exciting to the 20-year-old is the word from Cox that Heyward can win a starting job in right field this spring.

-- The Associated Press