There were some familiar faces in new places Tuesday as teams picked up the pace on the second day of spring training.
Justin Verlander threw his first bullpen session for the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, Florida, six days before he turns 40. Verlander helped Houston win the World Series for the second time in six seasons and won his third AL Cy Young Award before signing an $86.7 million, two-year contract with the free-spending Mets.
In Peoria, Arizona, suspended San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. went through outfield drills alongside Juan Soto. Manager Bob Melvin said Soto will move from right field to left field, where he started his career with Washington in 2018. That presumably means Tatis, an All-Star at shortstop in 2021, will play right field when his 80-game drug suspension ends April 20, although the Padres haven’t committed to that.
Verlander agreed to a free agent deal with the Mets in December, replacing Jacob deGrom and reuniting with his former Detroit Tigers teammate and fellow three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.
Scherzer or Verlander figure to start the March 30 opener at Miami, when baseball gets its first official look at the team that has baseball buzzing after owner Steve Cohen’s record spending spree. Verlander and Scherzer were teammates with Detroit from 2010-14, when they each won one Cy Young Award. Scherzer won two NL Cy Youngs with Washington while Verlander went on to win two AL Cy Youngs with Houston.
“Just like all pitchers, regardless of their background and their success, you’re trying to serve their needs and create an atmosphere that they can be as good as they can be,” manager Buck Showalter said a day ahead of the team’s reporting date.
Verlander was 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 2022 and helped the Astros beat Philadelphia in the World Series.
The Mets are hoping for a deeper postseason run than last year when, after winning 101 games and finishing behind Atlanta in the NL East, they were eliminated by San Diego in a three-game Wild Card Series.
Now they’ll carry the heavy expectations that come with a record payroll projected at $370 million.
“Is our season a failure if we win 90 – whatever number you want to come up with?” Showalter said. “It’s about the endgame.”
Showalter doesn’t need to remind his team about last year’s disappointment.
“You don’t talk about it,” Showalter said. “It’s kind of those looks, without saying anything. They know, believe me. Like, who in here likes talking about unpleasant times?”
LARGE PEPPERONI TO GO
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora put MLB’s new, larger bases in perspective.
“The bases, they’re the bases. Wait ’til you see them — they look like a pizza box, to be honest with you,” Cora said in Fort Myers, Florida.
MLB is increasing the bases from 15 square inches to 18 square inches in the interest of safety and more stolen base attempts.
ZERO IS IN IN NEW YORK
New York Yankees right-hander Domingo Germán is on track to become the third player in team history to wear No. 0.
The team released its spring training roster on Tuesday night and Germán is listed as 0 after wearing No. 55 from 2019 through last year. Adam Ottavino and Jordy Mercer are the only two Yankees to use the number in a regular season game.
Ottavino is wearing No. 0 this year for the crosstown New York Mets.
Nos. 1 through 9 are retired by the Yankees.
Soto, who came over from Washington in an Aug. 2 trade, will be moving back to left field after playing right field the last three seasons.
“Left is what we’re going to work on with him, and we’re going to try to keep him in that one spot,” Melvin said. The Padres haven’t committed to Tatis in right, but that makes the most sense since he has a strong arm and center fielder Trent Grisham is coming off his second Gold Glove Award in three seasons.
The Padres don’t need to rush into a decision on Tatis since he won’t be active until April 20. He’s a full participant in spring training after surgery on his troublesome left shoulder in early September, not quite a month after being suspended following a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug. Tatis made 16 starts in right field and seven starts in center field in 2021, when the Padres temporarily moved him from shortstop after he injured his shoulder.
Tatis missed all of 2022. He was on the cusp of returning from left wrist surgery when he was suspended.
“From where he’s come from, he just wants to play and contribute and get out on the field,” Melvin said. “He does a lot of his damage with the bat in his hand.”
Xander Bogaerts will play shortstop after signing a $280 million, 11-year deal in December. That pushes Kim Ha-seong to second base and Jake Cronenworth to first.
PADRES ADDING WACHA
Right-hander Michael Wacha has agreed in principle to a contract with the Padres, according to two people with knowledge of the deal. The people spoke with The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the deal is still being finalized and pending Wacha passing a physical. The addition of the 31-year-old Wacha will allow the Padres to start the season with a six-man rotation.
CARDINALS EXTEND MOZELIAK
The St. Louis Cardinals extended the contract of president of baseball operations John Mozeliak through the 2025 season. Mozeliak is the longest-tenured head of baseball operations in the National League. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. had said last month that he was pleased with Mozeliak and wanted to retain him. The Cardinals won the NL Central last year and matched a franchise record with their 15th consecutive winning season.
RAYS GOOD UP THE MIDDLE
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said second baseman Brandon Lowe looks ready after being limited to 65 games last season due to a lower back injury. Lowe had 39 homers and 99 RBIs in 2021,
“He has gone through the last month of normal batting practice, machine batting practice, just full-go and not having any setbacks,“Cash said. “So we’re really, really encouraged by that.”
Shortstop Wander Franco also looks good after playing in just 83 games in 2022 due to a right quadriceps injury and a broken right hamate bone.
“Wander is in a good spot,” Cash said. “He’s actually worked really hard this offseason to get his body as lean and probably as flexible as he has ever been. So, good for him.”
JUDGE CHANGES GLOVE
Could Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge provide first base depth behind starter Anthony Rizzo?
Judge worked out at the position Tuesday during a pre-spring training workout at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa, Florida.
Ace Gerrit Cole arrived and shagged batting practice in right field.
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