Guardians lose a key reliever for season and have a starter that won't be ready for opening day

Thu, Mar 14, 2024
MLB News (AP)

Guardians lose a key reliever for season and have a starter that won't be ready for opening day

The Cleveland Guardians have lost a key reliever for the year, one of their starters won't be ready for opening day, and a top pitching prospect is expected to miss his second full season in a row.

Trevor Stephan, who was in line to set up All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase, will have ulnar collateral ligament reconstructive surgery within the next two weeks.

Cleveland made that announcement Thursday, then later added that right-hander Gavin Williams will begin the season on the injured list. That all came a day after hard-throwing Daniel Espino had his second shoulder surgery since being a first-round draft pick in 2019.

The Guardians are counting on Williams to build off a solid rookie season, but he won't have enough time to ramp up for the start of the season because of elbow discomfort after an awkward throw of a weighted ball last week. The 24-year-old went 3-5 with a 3.29 ERA in 16 starts last year.

Stephan sought additional opinions and saw Drs. Keith Meister and Neal ElAttrache after a conservative approach in spring training didn't relieve discomfort in the 6-foot-5 pitcher's right elbow.

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The Guardians said in a release that the exams determined Stephan's UCL wasn't providing adequate stability, which resulted "in more stress to his bony anatomy."

The 28-year-old Stephan was 7-7 with a 4.06 ERA in 71 appearances last year. He has pitched 195 2/3 innings over 180 games in his three big league seasons, going 16-13 with a 3.73 ERA and 232 strikeouts.

Espino had surgery to address issues with his right shoulder and rotator cuff. The team had no timetable for his recovery, but doesn't expect him to pitch this season.

"This is just heartbreaking in a lot of ways," said Chris Antonetti, Cleveland's president of baseball operations. "There is not a person that could do any more than Daniel has, and every time he's faced an obstacle, he commits fully to the rehab process."

The 23-year-old Espino last pitched four games at the Double-A level in 2022. He experienced shoulder soreness then while building back up after dealing with knee tendinitis, and later had his first shoulder surgery.

BREWERS CLOSER WON'T OPEN SEASON

Milwaukee Brewers closer Devin Williams won't throw for six weeks and could miss at least three months because of two stress fractures in his back.

The two-time All-Star and 2020 NL Rookie of the Year pitched through back soreness at the end of last season, when the Brewers were NL Central champions. The right-hander was feeling discomfort again this spring. He had an initial MRI in Arizona before the fractures were diagnosed Wednesday after an exam in California by Dr. Robert Watkins, a leading spine specialist.

"My understanding is it's going to be six weeks of no throw just to shut him down, and then Devin will determine the pace beyond that," Brewers general manager Matt Arnold said Thursday.

The 29-year-old right-hander was 8-3 with a 1.53 ERA and 36 saves in 40 chances last year, and has 183 strikeouts over 119 1/3 innings the past two seasons.

40-70 MVP BACK IN LINEUP

National League MVP Ronald Acuna Jr., who last year became the first player ever with more than 40 homers and 70 stolen bases in the same season, was back in Atlanta's spring training lineup for the first time in two weeks.

Acuna was hitless in three at-bats, striking out twice, while batting leadoff as the designated hitter against Tampa Bay on Thursday, two weeks before opening day. He hadn't been in a game since feeling soreness in his right knee after a rundown against Minnesota on Feb. 29.

The right fielder has been gradually increasing baseball activities since Dodgers head team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who did the surgery on the same knee in 2021, found only irritation in the meniscus during an exam this month.

Atlanta added another outfield option Thursday by re-signing slugger Adam Duvall for a third stint with the team.

OAKLAND SCRATCH

Outfielder-third baseman Miguel Andujar was a late scratch from Oakland's lineup for its spring training game Thursday because of right calf tightness. Manager Mark Kotsay described the move as mostly precautionary.

In 11 spring training games for the Athletics, Andujar has hit .406 (13 of 32) with four home runs, 13 RBIs and no strikeouts. They got him on a waiver claim from Pittsburgh, where he played in only 19 games last season.

SHARP LYNN

Lance Lynn had four strikeouts and allowed only a single over four innings in his second spring training start for the St. Louis Cardinals. He threw 39 of 58 pitches for strikes in what ended as a 0-0 tie with the New York Mets.

In his spring debut last Friday, Lynn gave up four runs and walked three against Washington. All the runs and walks came in a 27-pitch first inning, and his night ended when he was ejected by Angel Hernandez after having words with the home plate umpire one out into the third.

Lynn got a guaranteed $11 million contract in November, including a $10 million team option for 2025, to return to St. Louis after six seasons away. The 36-year-old right-hander was part of a World Series title with the Cardinals as a rookie in 2011.

KOPECH TO THE PEN

Hard-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech will be a reliever instead of a starter for the Chicago White Sox.

"It's not my first choice where I want to be. I like starting, but I've had success in that role," he said Thursday of relief duty.

Acquired from Boston in the trade that sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox in 2016, Kopech had success pitching primarily in relief in 2021, when he had 3.50 ERA in 44 appearances for the AL Central champion White Sox. That was after he missed two seasons because of Tommy John surgery and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kopech has since been inconsistent as a starter. He went 5-12 with a 5.43 ERA last season and struggled in three games this spring.

NY TRAVEL PLANS

Giancarlo Stanton, Juan Soto and DJ LeMahieu are among Yankees regulars that manager Aaron Boone plans to take to Mexico City for split-squad games March 24-25 against Mexican League team the Diablos Rojos.

None of the Yankees' starting pitchers are on the projected travel roster for the games in Mexico, only days before they open the regular season March 28 in Houston.

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