A few quick thoughts as we continue to count down to Opening Day ...
It's always fun to see 22-5 scores, even in spring training -- especially when the game happens in Florida and not Arizona. That was the Pirates beating the Blue Jays as they racked up 29 hits, including 21 in 5.2 innings against JA Happ and Esmil Rogers. Happ's poor spring -- he's allowed 21 hits and 16 runs in seven innings while walking more than he's struck out -- has opened up a rotation slot for Drew Hutchison, who was a promising rookie back in 2012 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Like everyone else, I see the Jays' rotation as one big question mark: R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle both posted ERAs over 4.00 last year and will be 39 and 35; Brandon Morrow pitched 54 innings last year; Hutchison has yet to prove himself at the major league level; the fifth spot is from the likes of Dustin McGowan, Todd Redmond and Happ, as Ricky Romero still can't throw strikes. In the tough AL East, that group just doesn't any inspire much confidence to call the Jays a playoff contender.
The Rangers are in the news with a bunch of stuff: Yu Darvish's stiff neck means he'll miss his Opening Day start, which probably now goes to Martin Perez; former closer Neftali Feliz was optioned to Triple-A; Robbie Ross pitched scoreless innings on Tuesday against the Indians, perhaps paving the way for him to get some starts in April as the Rangers wait on Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis. Speaking of that rotation, Tanner Scheppers is the third starter behind Darvish and Perez. Joe Saunders is apparently the favorite for the fourth spot even though he currently has a tired arm. I have my doubts as Scheppers as a starter (and definitely on Saunders, strong arm or tired arm). Yes, Scheppers has that power arm and put up a 1.88 ERA in relief last year, but this is a guy who only started eight games in the minors and while the ERA was nice last year as a reliever, his strikeout rate was below average for a reliever (59 in 76.2 innings). I'm not sure he has the secondary pitches and command to pitch deep into games. Meanwhile, poor Alexi Ogando is back in the bullpen. I don't remember a pitcher who has been handled this way before. He started in 2011 and pitched well (3.51 ERA); he went to the bullpen in 2012 and pitched well (3.27 ERA); he was back starting primarily in 2013 and pitched well (3.11 ERA, although injuries limited him to 104 innings). He started this spring but didn't pitch well and now may serve as the setup guy to Joakim Soria.
The Pirates optioned first baseman/outfielder Andrew Lambo to Triple-A, clearing room for journeyman Travis Ishikawa to make the team as the platoon partner at first base with Gaby Sanchez. Lambo hit .095 this spring while Ishikawa has hit .333 with three home runs ... because good results in 24 at-bats means something. Ishikawa is regarded as a plus defender but owns a .260/.324/.398 career mark in the majors in 859 plate appearances. His one stint at regular playing time came with the Giants in 2009. He hit .290/.389/.465 in Triple-A last year, so he probably won't be a complete disaster but a team trying to upend the Cardinals isn't going to do that with Travis Ishikawa playing first base.
Assuming Francisco Liriano's tight groin allows him to start Opening Day, the Pirates' first-week rotation is also, with Liriano, Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez scheduled to pitch the first series against the Cubs, with Gerrit Cole and Edinson Volquez in the four and five spots. While it may seem a little strange to start Morton and Rodriguez ahead of Cole, putting Cole at No. 4 does allow him to start against the Cardinals in the second series. I'm not sure if that's Clint Hurdle's reasoning or if he's simply putting the veterans ahead of the second-year righty, but it's not the worst idea. Back in the day, managers users to manipulate their rotations more so their best starters pitched more often against the best teams. But it's all about a strict rotation these days (and has been for about three decades).
No, you don't need to get your eyes checked. That was Verlander pinch-running and playing right field for the Tigers on Tuesday -- Ben Verlander, younger brother of Justin. He was a 14th-round pick last June from Old Dominion but hit just .219 in the New York-Penn League.
The Nationals released Jamey Carroll. At 40, this may be it for him. He was a 14th-round pick of the Expos way back in 1996 and didn't reach the majors until he was 28. He hung around long enough to finish with 1,000 career hits, however, and it's fair to say that few players have gotten more out of their abilities than Carroll.