As pitchers and catchers open spring training camps this week in Arizona and Florida, here’s a look at the pitching storylines:
Question: How will the Angels use Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese pitcher that wants to be a hitter and pitcher?
Answer: Angels manager Mike Scioscia won’t reveal specifics, but Ohtani will pitch and then be in the lineup between starts. Ohtani, 23, who signed for $2.3 million, has a fastball in the upper 90s and an excellent splitter. He’s a left-handed batter that makes good contact with power. One solution would be to use a six-man rotation. If Ohtani pitches on Monday, he could take Tuesday off, be available to hit Wednesday through Friday, and use Saturday as a prep day to pitch on Sunday. The Angels rotation has been riddled with injuries, but they are expecting health at the start from Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker. Then, considering the solid years of Parker Bridwell and J.D. Ramirez in 2017, the Angels are likely to have a deep rotation.
Q: What does pitcher Yu Darvish do for the Cubs?
A: Darvish, 31, fills the rotation spot opened by free agent Jake Arrieta, 32. Darvish has 2,700 innings on his arm - including Japan and the U.S. - so that’s a concern, but even though he hasn’t been good in the postseason, he’s still averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings for his career. He didn’t pitch well for Texas in the postseason and last year, as a Dodger, the Astros lit him up in the World Series. But the Cubs remember that he had seven strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings against them in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 - Arrieta has never had arm problems - and his 94 mph fastball will be in a rotation that has Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Carlos Quintana and Tyler Chatwood, another newcomer. The Cubs gave Lester $155 million in 2015, Jason Heyward $184 million in 2016 and Darvish $126 million. And the Cubs are still under the threshold for the luxury tax, showing the value of scouting and development, producing talented and inexpensive players that can contend for championships.
Q: After losing Darvish, will the Dodgers add another starter?
A: Probably not, unless the price is team-friendly, and, in Arrieta’s case, it could well be a favorable market for teams. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill at the top, and even though Kershaw missed a chunk of last season with a back injury for the second consecutive season, the Dodgers still led the league with a 3.39 rotation ERA. The Dodgers are expecting Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda to be solid and top prospect Julio Urías to be back from injury. The Dodgers will work their top prospects into the mix, including Walker Buehler, Brock Stewart and Dennis Santana.
Q: How good is the Astros rotation?
A: It is best in the American League. The Astros will have two Cy Young winners (Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander) and three that were opening day starters in 2017, including Keuchel, Verlander and Gerrit Cole, acquired in a trade from Pittsburgh. Throw in Charlie Morton, the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and World Series, a healthy Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers, and a developing Brad Peacock - the former Nationals prospect had a 3.21 ERA in 21 starts last season - and it’s easy to see why Houston expects another trip to the World Series. Of course, the Astros might need the extra arms. Keuchel spent two stints on the disabled list last season, McCullers has had constant health issues and McHugh was limited because of injuries to 63 innings last season.
Q: Who has the second-best rotation in the AL?
A: That would be Cleveland. Consider that Cory Kluber, who won his second AL Cy Young in 2017, leads the big three that also has Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Combined, those three starters were 53-19 with a 3.20 ERA and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. And the three pitchers competing for the final two spots in the rotation aren’t bad either: Danny Salazar, (4.28 in 103 innings), Mike Clevenger (3.11 ERA in 121 2/3 innings) and Josh Tomlin (4.98 ERA in 141 innings).
Q: The Nationals are loaded with healthy pitchers and because of that, are heavy favorites to win the National League East. Who has pitching to catch them?
A: The Marlins are in total rebuild, but the first three in their rotation - Dan Straily, José Ureña and Adam Conley - aren’t bad. The Phillies have Aaron Nola and questions. The Braves have Julio Teheran and a list of impressive prospects, but if the Mets are healthy, they have the best chance at a stable rotation. Jacob deGrom is a sure thing at the top. At 25, Noah Syndergaard (right lat) missed virtually all of last season, but the Mets are confident he’s healthy. Matt Harvey is in prove-yourself mode, but the Mets like his motivation, and Steven Matz, the only lefty in the rotation, had elbow surgery in August but thinks he’s going to be fine. Matz already in his career has had to deal with Tommy John, bone spurs, a torn lat and his latest surgery. The Mets’ new manager, Mickey Calloway, is a former Cleveland pitching coach, and they hope his experience working with pitchers will mean health and fewer trips to the disabled list.
Q: Who has the best pitching in the AL East?
A: The Yankees, given their depth. Their rotation has Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery, and the three backups - Adam Warren, Chad Green and Luis Cessa - are strong. The Red Sox have a chance to make the postseason for a fourth consecutive year if lefty David Price is healthy. After leading the league in innings pitched (230) in 2016, an elbow injury limited him to 11 starts and a 3.82 ERA in 2017. Price was dominating as a reliever in the Division Series, even though the Red Sox lost to Houston. Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi lead Tampa Bay’s rotation, but either of those pitchers could be traded, leaving the developing Blake Snell and Jake Faria as the best pitchers in the rotation. Also, the Rays’ closer, Alex Colomé, who had 47 saves last season, could be traded as well. Toronto is led by Marcus Stroman and banking on the return of Aaron Sanchez, who was an AL All-Star in 2016 but had blister and a ligament injury in his finger that shut him down. The rest of the rotation has J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Joe Biagini. The Orioles’ thin rotation behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman is well documented.
Q: What are the San Francisco Giants expecting from lefty Madison Bumgarner?
A: They are expecting redemption after last season was cut short to 111 innings after he injured his shoulder in a dirt bike accident, something he said he shouldn’t have done. Before last season, Bumgarner had pitched six consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings. He’s working out harder than ever to prove himself. He came back at the end of last season, and though he didn’t feel completely normal, he had 11 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings covering two starts against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.