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Dodgers to try top prospect May as reliever

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The Los Angeles Dodgers will try Dustin May, their top pitching prospect, as a reliever this weekend as they look to determine if he has a place on their postseason roster.

May had been slated to start Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, but manager Dave Roberts told reporters Friday that they will instead use the 21-year-old as a reliever at some point in the series.

“Right now, we’re just trying to keep our options open as long as we can,” Roberts said in explaining how the team plans to use May going forward.

The manager said May is open to being used as a reliever, something he hasn’t done since 2017 with Class A Rancho Cucamonga.

May has made three starts since making his major league debut Aug. 2. He is 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA, going 5 2/3 innings in each appearance.

Roberts said Tony Gonsolin, who is at Triple-A Oklahoma City, could start Sunday or the Dodgers may treat it as a bullpen game.

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Red Sox minor leaguer tests positive for coronavirus

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A Boston Red Sox minor league player has tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced on Tuesday. The player received the results of his positive test on Monday and is “doing well” according to a team announcement. His identity has not been revealed.

The unnamed player was last at the Red Sox complex in Fort Myers on March 15, three days after Major League Baseball officially suspended its season, according to the announcement. The team believes the player contracted the virus after he left Fort Myers, but the Red Sox are shutting down operations at their Fenway South facilities for the next two weeks and will perform a deep cleaning to disinfect the buildings.

“During this pandemic, the health and safety of our players and employees and those in our community is prioritized over all else,” a team spokesman said in a statement. “The club will continue to follow recommendations set forth by health officials, Major League Baseball and our own medical team.”

The player is now recovering at home after receiving the results of the positive test, and all players and staff who came in contact have been advised to self-quarantine for the next two weeks. Two minor leaguers in the Yankees system previously tested positive for the coronavirus, with the Red Sox minor leaguer marking the third known professional baseball player to test positive.

Several players, including many who live in the Fort Myers area, continued working out at the Fenway South after the suspension of the season. The Red Sox said most coaches have gone home, but players have still been showing up, with around 8 to 15 players showing up daily, according to interim manager Ron Roenicke.

“We do have a crew there, a reduced crew, of medical staff, and we have guys who are able to work out with players who are coming,” Roenicke said last week. “They are showing up in waves. So the pitchers are showing up first in the morning. The guys who are in the area. And then in the afternoon, the guys who are still there, the regulars are showing up to hit in the batting cages and to stay sharp that way.”

In a conference call with the Boston media last Thursday, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said he would not be surprised if someone in the organization contracted the virus that has shut down the United States in recent weeks.

“That’s something we’re being very vigilant in monitoring,” Bloom said last week. “You look around the way this is going, we know it’s very, very possible it’s going to happen at some point. So we’re just trying to make sure everybody is educated and stay in touch with everybody.”

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Noah Syndergaard joins growing list of injured hard throwers in MLB

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The first pitch that Noah Syndergaard threw in Major League Baseball was 97 mph. His second pitch was 98 mph. His fifth pitch was 99 mph. From that first start in 2015 it was perhaps inevitable that this day would arrive. The human elbow isn’t built to regularly throw baseballs at such velocity.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan is reporting that the New York Mets pitcher will undergo Tommy John surgery on Thursday, the end diagnosis of the discomfort Syndergaard had experienced before the suspension of spring training earlier this month. That would put him out for the entire 2020 season with an optimistic timeline for a return next April and a conservative estimate more like 15 months out — something like the All-Star break in 2021.

It’s hard to evaluate the impact on the Mets for 2020, since we don’t know when the season will start — or even if we’ll have a season. The Mets still do have five potential quality starters in two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. The issues there are Porcello had a rough 2019 with a 5.52 ERA for the Red Sox and Wacha had a 4.76 ERA (and 5.61 FIP) for the Cardinals. They allowed a combined 57 home runs in 300 innings.

There is also little depth behind those five, with the next-in-line candidates including Corey Oswalt, Walker Lockett and Stephen Gonsalves. The Mets’ upper-level pitching in the minors is probably about as weak as that of any franchise, with no projected impact starters.

Losing Syndergaard puts a lot of pressure on Stroman to step up as a strong No. 2 behind deGrom. In his 11 starts with the Mets last season he had a 3.77 ERA, although his walk rate increased from 2.5 per nine with the Blue Jays to 3.5 with the Mets. Like Porcello and Wacha, he’s not a huge strikeout pitcher for this era (although he did increase from 7.1 strikeouts per nine with Toronto to 9.1 with the Mets), so the Mets’ defense — which doesn’t exactly project as a strength — will have to perform better than it did in 2019.

Syndergaard has remained a frustrating enigma. After a terrific first full season in 2016, when he posted a 2.60 ERA and league-leading 2.29 FIP with a 29.3% strikeout rate, he has battled injuries and inconsistency. His injuries have included a torn lat that caused him to miss most of 2017, a strained finger and viral infection in 2018 and a strained hamstring in 2019. While he still managed a career best 32 starts and 197 ⅓ innings, he also had a career-worst 4.28 ERA, led the NL in earned runs allowed and his strikeout rate dipped to 24.5%.

Out of 130 pitchers with at least 100 innings, Syndergaard’s strikeout rate ranked 39th — good, but not reflective of his raw stuff. His biggest problem has always been that his fastball, despite the highest average velocity among starting pitchers last season, has always been more hittable than you would expect. Batters hit .275/.341/.440 against his four-seamer and .305/.361/.466 against his two-seamer. FanGraphs calculated a run value for all pitches and Gerrit Cole, who had the second-highest fastball velocity among starters, saved an estimated 37.1 runs above average with his fastball, best among those 130 pitchers with 100 innings. Syndergaard ranked 61st. This gets into why pitchers are obsessed with spin rate — Syndergaard’s fastball ranked in the 24th percentile in spin rate while Cole’s ranked in the 96th percentile.

Still, one reason the Mets were going to be a popular pick heading into the season was the 1-2 punch of deGrom and Syndergaard, with the belief THIS would be the season Syndergaard matches deGrom to become a Cy Young contender. Mets fans are not only locked in their apartments and homes, but now they’ve lost some hope during the virus shutdown as well.

There’s a bigger issue here, of course, related to the unending pursuit of velocity. Syndergaard joins Luis Severino and Chris Sale as Tommy John victims this spring. Flamethrowing Padres reliever Andres Munoz also underwent TJ surgery this week. In 2017, Severino had the highest average fastball velocity among starters. In 2018, Sale eased into his velocity but hit 100 mph that summer and from June through August 12, when he landed on the injured list, he threw 253 pitches of 97-plus mph while averaging 97.2 on his fastball.

You can go on down the list. Of the 25 hardest throwing starting pitchers from 2018, 11 had or have since had TJ surgery. That doesn’t include Shohei Ohtani (he didn’t throw enough innings to qualify for my list), Lance McCullers Jr. (who just missed the top 25), Yu Darvish (who was not in the top 25), Michael Kopech (called up that year and lasted four starts before blowing out his elbow), Dinelson Lamet and other high-end velocity guys who have had the surgery as well. It’s a long list.

Of course, due to the miracles of modern surgery, many pitchers who have Tommy John surgery return as good as ever. Syndergaard only has to look in his own clubhouse for inspiration as deGrom had the surgery as a minor leaguer in 2010.

You do wonder how the game will evolve over the next five years. Spin rate may be more important than just throwing hard. The percentage of fastballs continues to trend downward. Velocity will always be king, but it’s not everything. Maybe Syndergaard would have been better off throwing 95 instead of 100, not that that would have guaranteed good health. Teams do a much better job than a generation ago in attempting to protect their pitchers, with starters making fewer starts and throwing fewer pitches per game than ever. In 2019, there were just 70 games were a pitcher threw at least 115 pitches. In 2009, the tally was 316, and in 1999 it was 780.

Still, pitchers get hurt and we’ve had three major stars now go down this spring. It makes you wonder: Who’s next?

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Classic Home Run Derby showdowns on ESPN2

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On Thursday, March 26, ESPN2 will be airing a Home Run Derby Classics marathon starting at 6 p.m. with 2019’s epic battle between Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Pete Alonso. After that, it will be 2018 (Washington, D.C.), 2017 (Miami) and 2015 (Cincinnati).

The best home runs we ever saw: Rocking Wrigley, Game 7 drama and Bat Night fun

How the Home Run Derby became America’s national pastime

Inside the long list of home run records set in 2019

2019: Cleveland (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Inside Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s incredible Derby performance

Pete Alonso stole the show in classi Derby

2018: Washington, D.C. (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Harper wins Derby in dramatic fashion

2017: Miami (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

What you might have missed while Aaron Judge was destroying baseballs

2015: Cincinnati (12 a.m. ET, ESPN2)

Best HR Derby ever

Gallery: 2015 Home Run Derby

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