A new contract for Adam Eaton and a much-anticipated bullpen session by Chris Sale added up to a spring day that should leave Chicago White Sox fans smiling.

First, let’s talk Eaton, who inked a five-year extension, per MLB.com’s Scott Merkin:

Bob Nightengale of USA Today provides details on the option years:

The center fielder, acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to last season, posted a .300/.362/.401 slash line in 2014 to go along with 15 stolen bases and an American League-leading 10 triples.

“I’m thrilled. It’s something we’ve worked on for a few weeks here, and we were able to get done,” Eaton said after the deal was consummated, per ESPNChicago.com‘s Doug Padilla. “All things point to being excited for [the] Chicago White Sox.”

All things, that is, except Sale’s fractured foot.

The ace left-hander suffered the freak injury in late February while climbing off the back of his truck. On Friday, he resumed baseball-related business with a 60-pitch bullpen session.

Here’s how general manager Rick Hahn summed it up, per Padilla:

Sale had a really good day today…and he remains on track to not miss significant time. We’re not going to set a specific [return] date. We’re working with what we expect internally in terms of the timing of him coming back and so far, knock on wood, he is progressing as we had hoped.

Even with all the additions Chicago made this offseason—including significant upgrades to the offense, starting rotation and bullpen—Sale is probably the most important puzzle piece.

The 25-year-old southpaw enjoyed another dominant season, leading the AL with a 178 ERA+ and whiffing 208 hitters in 174 innings pitched.

That’s a guy you want back on the field as soon as humanly possible, and a positive day in the pen is an essential first step.


Around the League

Verlander Out As Tigers’ Opening Day Starter

It’s been eight years since someone not named Justin Verlander took the ball on Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers. That impressive streak will end soon, manager Brad Ausmus announced Friday.

In Verlander’s place, the Tigers will go with left-hander David Price, their big deadline acquisition from a year ago.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Ausmus said, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. “But looking at it from a baseball perspective, I thought that this was the decision.”

Other than sentimentality, there’s really no argument for Verlander over Price. Once the undisputed ace of the Tigers’ star-studded staff, Verlander was downright mediocre last season, posting a 4.54 ERA with 159 strikeouts in 206 innings, his lowest strikeout total since his rookie year.

Price, meanwhile, enjoyed another dominant campaign in 2014; his 248.1 innings pitched and 271 strikeouts paced all of baseball.

Verlander took the news graciously, as Fenech notes:

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” the 2011 American League MVP said, per MLive.com‘s Chris Iott. “I didn’t have a good season last year by anyone’s measure, especially my own. I feel like Opening Day is earned, not given.”

For a long time, Verlander earned it. In fact, his run of seven consecutive Opening Day starts is the longest in the Motor City since Jack Morris got the honor 11 straight times between 1980 and 1990, per Fenech.

Verlander will take the hill in the Tigers’ second game, as Iott notes, though because of a scheduling quirk it won’t be until the third day of the season. Detroit opens April 6 at home against the Minnesota Twins, then has an off-day April 7; meaning Verlander will go April 8.

Whenever he pitches, Tigers fans will be hoping he looks less like the pitcher who’s struggled the last two seasons and more like this guy:

Detroit, of course, lost two key pieces of its rotation this offseason. Max Scherzer left via free agency for a massive payday with the Washington Nationals, and sinkerballer Rick Porcello was shipped to the Boston Red Sox for slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. 

If the Tigers are going to defend their division crown in the wide-open American League Central, a little vintage Verlander would go a long way.


Kershaw Takes Ball off Face, Keeps Dealing

It started out as a hold-your-breath moment and ended with a joke.

Clayton Kershaw took a comebacker off the face in the third inning of Friday’s exhibition against the Oakland A’s and chipped a tooth for his troubles, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

The Los Angeles Dodgers ace recovered and finished his scheduled five innings, striking out four and allowing just three hits. As if you needed another reason to admire the three-time Cy Young Award winner and reigning National League MVP.

Oh, so what about that joke?

“My first reaction: I felt that Gold Glove was a sham,” catcher A.J. Ellis said afterward, per MLB.com‘s Ken Gurnick. “A broken-bat changeup? He should have made a double play.” 


Castillo Goes Deep in First Grapefruit League At-Bat

Rusney Castillo’s belated Grapefruit League showing began, quite literally, with a bang.

Stepping to the plate for the first time since an oblique strain shelved him March 3, the Boston Red Sox outfielder crushed a three-run homer to left-center over the Fort Myers’ version of the Green Monster. 

Incidentally, Castillo’s first big league home run was also a three-run shot, and it also cleared the Green Monster (the real one):

“Well, for his first at-bat in spring training, he steps in, makes a pretty quick impression,” manager John Farrell said, per MLB.com‘s Ian Browne. “He’s starting tomorrow and will continue to get regular at-bats.”

The touted Cuban is in the mix for an Opening Day starting gig, though he’s playing catch-up compared to other outfield contenders such as fellow rookie Mookie Betts, who’s hitting .438 this spring.


Lester Sidelined With ‘Dead Arm’

Pessimism runs deep with Chicago Cubs fansa century-plus streak of championship futility will do that to you.

So you could almost hear the groans emanating from the Windy City when word came down that Jon Lester will skip his next start, scheduled for Saturday, because of a “dead arm,” per CSN Chicago:

The left-hander, who inked a six-year, $155 million deal with the Cubbies this winter, might have been trying too hard “to impress everybody,” manager Joe Maddon told MLB.com‘s Carrie Muskat. 

As if to reassure the frazzled faithful, Maddon added, “I checked with him this morning, and he felt great.”

Probably this is only a precaution. The 31-year-old has been consistently durable, eclipsing 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons.

But Cubs fans will undoubtedly be anxious until their shiny new ace takes the hilland looks like himselfagain. 


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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