The Astros lost one ace over the winter when Gerrit Cole signed a record contract with the Yankees. They’ve now lost another due to injury.
Tests have revealed that Justin Verlander is dealing with a mild right lat strain. The veteran right-hander suffered the injury during Sunday’s Grapefruit League start.
It’s not clear at this point how long Verlander will be shut down, so his timetable for a return is up in the air. However, a stint on the injured list to begin the season in a virtual certainty.
“I would say it would probably take a miracle to be back by Opening Day,” Verlander said. “But I don't want to leave miracles off the table.”
The initial diagnosis of the injury was a sore triceps, and it was a triceps strain that cost Verlander the first two months of the 2015 season. For what it’s worth, the 37-year-old said Monday that “I feel better than I did then, physically.” General manager James Click added that “by and large, I think the news we got today was on the positive side.”
So, perhaps Verlander’s absence will be a relatively brief one, but that’s obviously too soon to speculate on now. If you’ve already had your draft and used an early-round pick on the reigning American League Cy Young winner, try not to gnash your teeth too hard.
As far as who will replace Verlander in the Astros’ rotation, that also looks to be up in the air. Josh James was looking like a good bet to capture the No. 5 spot, so it’s probably fair to peg him as the team’s No. 4 starter going into the season. The hard-throwing James has allowed just one hit with a 5/0 K/BB ratio over five innings this spring. His arrow in fantasy is most definitely pointing up.
Austin Pruitt, Framber Valdez and Bryan Abreu look like the main competitors for the other spot. They’ve all had great springs so far, with Abreu standing out the most with a 12/2 K/BB ratio across 6 2/3 scoreless frames. The Astros might still prefer Abreu begin the season in the minors, though, after he skipped Triple-A last year when the big club used him as a reliever in the final month.
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Conforto Headed Back to NYC for Tests
Could the Mets be without their All-Star outfielder on Opening Day?
I’m talking about Michael Conforto, who apparently injured his side badly enough while catching a fly ball on Saturday that he’s on his way back to New York to undergo additional testing.
Conforto already underwent an MRI in Florida, the results of which the Mets have not shared. However, the fact that they want their starting right fielder to be examined further by medical director Dr. David Altchek probably isn’t a great sign.
If Conforto suffered a strained oblique, he’s almost surely looking at an IL stint. Hopefully we’ll find out more soon.
Should the Mets need to replace Conforto in the Opening Day lineup, it seems likely that they would shift Brandon Nimmo over to right field and start Jake Marisnick in center. They could also keep Nimmo in center and use J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith in the corner spots, although neither Davis nor Smith have started a game in right field in the majors.
Akiyama Pegged for Leadoff
Shogo Akiyama is making a nice first impression during Cactus League play, and his manager has taken notice.
Reds skipper David Bell said Monday that he expects Akiyama to be his leadoff hitter on days he is in the lineup. That figures to be against most right-handers for the left-handed swinging Akiyama.
Akiyama is sporting a .346/.370/.385 batting line over 27 plate appearances so far this spring. The 31-year-old posted a .303/.392/.471 line with 20 home runs and 12 steals over 143 games with the Saitama Seibu Lions in 2019 before inking a three-year, $21 million contract with the Reds over the winter.
Bell also noted Monday that, because outfield depth is a strength for the Reds, “I don’t know if any of our guys will have to play every day.” That could wind up causing some headaches for fantasy owners, but Akiyama should still get enough opportunities to produce value as a late-round selection.
With Akiyama and Joey Votto slated to hit 1-2 against right-handers, that’s going to lead to a lot of RBI opportunities for Eugenio Suarez, Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos. Suarez, by the way, is slated to make his Cactus League debut Friday and it’s looking like he has a real chance to be ready for Opening Day.
Quick Hits: Francisco Lindor told Jason Lloyd of The Athletic that he and the Indians have suspended contract extension talks … Willie Calhoun's fractured jaw did not need to be wired shut during Monday's surgery. He will be re-examined in two weeks … Byron Buxton (shoulder) will take live batting practice Tuesday … A.J. Puk (shoulder) will play catch on Tuesday … Mike Clevinger (knee) threw a bullpen session Monday … Astros manager Dusty Baker is hopeful that Yordan Alvarez (knees) will return to Grapefruit League action on Wednesday … Gary Sanchez (back) isn't expected to return to game action until Friday … Franmil Reyes launched a pair of homers on Monday to propel an Indians’ split-squad to an 11-10 victory over the Angels in Cactus League action … Hyun-Jin Ryu tossed 4 1/3 shutout innings and struck out four Monday as the Blue Jays beat the Rays 8-3 … Madison Bumgarner tossed 3 2/3 shutout innings on Monday in a Cactus League start against the Royals … Yasmani Grandal went 2-for-3 with a solo homer and a pair of runs scored on Monday as the White Sox and Reds played to a tie in Cactus League action … Nick Senzel slugged a leadoff homer on Monday as the Reds and White Sox played to a 3-3 tie in Cactus League action … Justin Upton went 2-for-2 with a solo homer and a walk in the Angels’ loss to an Indians’ split-squad in Cactus League action on Monday … Giants manager Gabe Kapler said Friday that he can see Mauricio Dubon playing center field "quite a bit" this season … Kwang-Hyun Kim threw three shutout innings with four strikeouts against the Twins on Monday … J.A. Happ pitched four innings of one-run ball and struck out five versus the Phillies on Monday … Elieser Hernandez pitched four scoreless innings and struck out five Monday as the Marlins and Mets played to a 1-1 tie … Alex Wood has been named as the Dodgers' fifth starter …