FORT MYERS, Fla. — Craig Kimbrel is away from Boston’s spring training camp while his infant daughter has surgery.
Kimbrel’s wife Ashley gave birth to the couple’s first child, Lydia Joy, in November. Lydia Joy was born with a heart ailment and had a first medical procedure when she was a few days old. Surgery is scheduled at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“I love baseball, but I also love my family,” the Red Sox closer said Tuesday. “I’m here to work. I’m here to focus and try to get better. When I leave the ballpark, my heart and my mind are definitely at home.”
“The doctors have been amazing, very encouraging,” he added. “There’s a plan for everything. You want to be there and do everything you can, but you have to step back and trust the doctors and we’re doing what we can.”
Kimbrel is making $13 million this year and can become a free agent after the season. He turns 30 on May 28 and had 35 saves in 39 chances last year; he led major league relievers with 16.43 strikeouts per nine innings.
Under new manager Alex Cora, Kimbrel could be used earlier in games in important situations.
“I think I’ll be used in positions I need to be used in, closing a lot of games and getting us out of some tough spots when I need to,” Kimbrel said.
Cora maintains usage won’t change much.
“People think it’s a big adjustment,” he said. “But if you start looking at the numbers, you don’t lose too many saves if it’s the way you want to use him. We’re not talking about the lower third of the lineup. We’re talking the middle of the lineup, eighth inning, certain situations — what I feel is game on the line.”
Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera hopes to reach 500 home run, 3,000 hits in 2021 season
Specifically, Cabrera has an opportunity to reach two major milestones in 2021. He is 13 home runs shy of 500 and 134 hits short of 3,000. And yes, he’s aware of those numbers.
“I hope so. We can do both,” Cabrera said Friday with a laugh. “I hope I can get to 500, 3,000 this year. It’s one of my goals this year. Mentally, I feel good. I feel mentally strong. I’m trying to go day by day and trying to play hard.”
It’s been a while since Cabrera resembled the player who was the American League MVP in 2012 and 2013. The last time he was really impressive with the bat was in 2016, when he hit .316 with 38 home runs. From 2017-19, he played just 304 games as an assortment of injuries limited his availability.
In the meantime, the Tigers entered a major rebuild, trading away many of their top players. Cabrera, who turns 38 in April, is still on the team, which says a lot about his declining production and huge contract.
Only a half-dozen players have reached both 500 homers and 3,000 hits: Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro and Eddie Murray.
Cabrera certainly has a chance to reach both this year. He did manage to play in 57 of his team’s 58 games in the shortened 2020 season, and he hit 10 homers. In 2019, he had 139 hits in 136 games.
“I want to be healthy, and I want to do my best, and I want to do whatever I can to help the team to win games,” Cabrera said Friday.
Cabrera didn’t play in the field last year, but new manager A.J. Hinch said he’s open to him playing some at first base.
“He wants to play first. I didn’t know he voiced it near as much as I learned after I even said it,” Hinch said. “My plan for him is to make an opportunity for him to be a little more of a complete player, and not just fall in the DH category.”
Cabrera said he’s talked to Nelson Cruz about some of his work habits — the 40-year-old Cruz is still one of the game’s top home run hitters.
“I love playing baseball,” Cabrera said. “I love having fun in the field. I love going out there every night.”
Chicago Cubs’ Joc Pederson, Javy Baez both have something to prove, but for different reasons
The lefty-hitting Pederson wants to show he can be an everyday player instead of just a platoon guy against righties, while Baez wants to erase last season and get back to improving his game.
“I felt in a rush,” Baez said about 2020. “I didn’t have time to make adjustments. I’m not the guy that shows you everything I have in the first half. I can have a bad half or a decent first half and my second half. I can make my first half disappear. I was not mentally ready for what happened last year.”
Baez cites the lack of fans in the stands and his inability to watch his at-bats with in-game video as contributing factors to a down season. His .599 OPS was the lowest since he broke into the big leagues. The high-energy player didn’t want to make excuses, but plenty around him say he missed the fans in the stands more than most. He concurred.
“It was the worst,” Baez said. “It was worse than facing a pitcher in spring training in the back fields.”
Baez went deeper with his concerns about his own game, claiming he lost focus soon after the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. Players were treated as rock stars, and Baez was pulled in many directions.
“I got away from baseball because all this other stuff that we did. People saw me in different ways,” he said. “I wanted to play baseball and people didn’t see me as a baseball player. I wasn’t trying to get better every day. Now that I’m into it again, I have more confidence. I’m letting the game teach me what I can do.”
Baez was down the road on signing a long-term deal with the Cubs before the pandemic hit last spring, so those negotiations will pick up again soon, according to sources familiar with the situation. He could be in line for a deal that pays him around $200 million.
“We had a good conversation [last year],” Baez said. “I want to stay here. I don’t want to play for another team.”
Pederson is in a similar rebound situation after hitting just .190 in 43 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. But his postseason opened some eyes after he hit .400 in 34 at-bats last October. He said he turned down multiyear offers this winter because he wasn’t guaranteed playing every day, choosing the Cubs for one year at $7 million.
“I don’t feel like I’m respected as an everyday player,” Pederson bluntly stated in his Zoom call with reporters on Friday.
After going through team rosters in the offseason, Pederson landed on the Cubs, who had an opening in left field. He had his agent called Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, who subsequently talked with manager David Ross, assuring Pederson he would play against righties and lefties.
“Obviously, the Dodgers have a ton of depth which allows them to do certain things, which allows them to be successful,” Pederson said. “You do what you have to do to win, and you play your role, and it was awesome. But I’m excited for a new opportunity.”
Pederson has a career .191 batting average against left-handers and expects some leash to start the season. But that playing time will only last so long if he’s not producing. Cubs’ manager David Ross told him as much.
“He said ‘Hey, if we come to July and you’re not cutting it and you’re hitting .150 against lefties, we’re still here to win ball games,'” Pederson recalled. “I understood. I just want a real opportunity.”
Los Angeles Angels re-sign veteran right-hander Jesse Chavez to minor league deal
Chavez will join the Angels’ spring training camp in Tempe, Arizona, after he clears their intake protocols, the team confirmed Friday.
Chavez appeared in 38 games for the Angels in 2017, including 21 starts. He left for Texas as a free agent after one season, and he excelled after being traded in July 2018 to the Chicago Cubs, where he was managed by current Angels skipper Joe Maddon.
Chavez spent the past two seasons back with the Rangers, struggling last season with a 6.88 ERA in 18 appearances.
With experience as a starter, a long reliever and a late-inning reliever, Chavez could provide experience and versatility for the Angels, whose long-struggling pitching staff can use all the depth it can get.
Chavez is a native of the Los Angeles area, graduating from high school in Fontana before pitching in junior college in Riverside. He has also pitched for Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Kansas City, Toronto, Oakland and the Dodgers.
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