Clay Buchholz continues work to fine-tune high fastball

Clay Buchholz continues work to fine-tune high fastball

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz is continuing to refine his latest weapon in the battle to get batters to swing and miss -- the high fastball.

Buchholz struck out six in 3 1/3 innings of work against the Yankees on Friday. He gave up four hits, including a three-run homer to Chase Headley in the first inning, but he also showed he can sit batters down if he can keep his four-seamer high and out of danger.

"I started [throwing high fastballs] last year and I don't know why it took me 10 or 11 years to figure out that could help but it did," Buchholz said. "It's one of those things to where if you don't get it up there high enough, it's an easy pitch to hit. You have to make sure that you set your target high above the belt and at the letters and try to make it a pitch that's good enough to offer at."

The pitch that Headley took deep over the right-field wall wasn't a high fastball but rather a breaking ball that caught too much of the plate.

"Yeah, it was the one pitch I didn't quite get it where I wanted it to and it was a homer," Buchholz said. "I've faced a pretty big group of those guys throughout my career ... if you don't make your pitches against the veterans in that group, they will make you pay."

Buchholz started the game by using the high fastball to retire Aaron Hicks swinging and slowed things down to get Gary Sanchez with a 78-mph breaking ball off the plate. Greg Bird was able to reach for a first-pitch fastball and get a single to shallow right field and Matt Holliday walked on four straight pitches to set the table for Headley, who took the breaking ball right over the 330-foot sign in right field.

But Buchholz was able to bounce back and get Headley with the high fastball the second time he faced him.

All of Buchholz's strikeouts were swing-and-misses.

"It's good when you're getting swings-and-misses against a team that doesn't have a lot of free-swinging guys," Buchholz said. "And they can be dangerous if you aren't in command of your pitches. Getting strike one and getting them in a swing mode is key to getting quick at-bats and not letting them stay out there and see more pitches."

Buchholz said he began tinkering with the placement of the pitch to try to get batters to climb the ladder when his sinker wasn't effective. And now he's focused on trying to control both pitches to force batters to adjust their eye levels.

"I've been a sinker-ball guy my whole career," Buchholz said. "You don't want to throw sinkers up, you want to throw them down. So, whenever the sinker started getting hit we had to switch it up a little bit, so we went back to four seams and it's working."

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

MLB Notes: Tigers star Miguel Cabrera could return soon from back stiffness

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera could soon return to the lineup after being sidelined by back stiffness.

Cabrera has been out since leaving the Dominican Republic's game last Saturday in the World Baseball Classic.

Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said Cabrera might play Friday against Atlanta.

"Just not going to rush it," Ausmus said before Wednesday's game against Toronto. "There's no reason to rush it. He's got plenty of at-bats. We'll see how he is on Friday."

Cabrera hit .316 with 38 homers and 108 RBIs last season.

Outfielder J.D. Martinez, who sprained his right foot making a shoestring catch Saturday, is scheduled to be re-examined Friday.

Martinez hit .307 last year with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs.

Blue Jays: Bautista says he is over lower back stiffness
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista says the lower back stiffness that prevented him from playing for the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic last weekend is no longer an issue.

Bautista was in the original lineup for Wednesday's spring training game against Detroit. But with an off-day Thursday, it was determined to have him play Friday instead.

"I'm feeling great," Bautista said. "I talked to the staff and it makes no sense to just kind of crank it up. Just take a day off."

Bautista is hopeful that his strong start, hitting .563 with two homers and six RBIs in six games before leaving for the WBC, will continue.

"I'm seeing the ball well and feeling good at the plate," Bautista said. "Just excited to be back in the swing of things with the guys, and looking forward to getting ready for the season” (see full story).

Twins: May has Tommy John surgery
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Minnesota Twins right-hander Trevor May has undergone Tommy John elbow surgery that will keep him off the mound this season.

The Twins announced on Wednesday that the replacement of May's torn ulnar collateral ligament was successful. The 27-year-old was transitioning back to starting, following a move to the bullpen halfway through the 2015 season.

With May's injury and their release on Tuesday of veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, the Twins are down to Jose Berrios, Tyler Duffey and Adalberto Mejia in the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation.

May was placed on the 60-day disabled list, making room for the Twins to add left-hander Craig Breslow to the 40-man roster. The 36-year-old Breslow is among the finalists for a middle relief role.

Cardinals: Martinez to pitch on opening night
JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have picked Carlos Martinez to start on opening night against the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Martinez about the choice before he pitched Wednesday in an exhibition game against Washington.

The Cardinals host the NL Central rival Cubs on April 2.

Adam Wainwright had started the past four openers for the Cardinals. Matheny said Wainwright took the news well about Martinez getting the assignment this year.

The 25-year-old Martinez was an All-Star in 2015. He went 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last year.

Yankees 7, Phillies 3: Long balls hurt Vince Velasquez; Daniel Nava auditions at first base

Yankees 7, Phillies 3: Long balls hurt Vince Velasquez; Daniel Nava auditions at first base

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin got right to the point after this one.

"Well, I wish Joe Girardi didn't bring Bird along," he said after the Phillies' 7-3 loss to the Yankees. "It would have been a different ballgame if he didn't show up."

Mackanin was referring to Greg Bird, the Yankees first baseman and owner of a sweet lefty swing that has produced six home runs this spring, including a pair on Wednesday.

Both of the home runs came on down-and-in fastballs from Vince Velasquez. On one of them, Velasquez missed his spot badly.

"Velasquez pitched better than what he gave up," Mackanin said. "He had a good fastball. He got his pitch count up and he got through six innings. We're happy about that."

Velasquez lines up to pitch the home opener on April 7.

Nava auditions at first 
Daniel Nava, fighting to make the club as a non-roster player, played the entire game at first base. He had a walk, drove in a run and made a nifty play with the glove at first.

The Phillies have a serious roster crunch. If Andrew Knapp makes the club as the backup catcher -- a strong possibility because he is already on the 40-man roster -- then Nava could be battling with Chris Coghlan and Brock Stassi for one of the final two spots on the bench. Nava and Stassi are similar in that they both play first base and outfield, so it could come down to one or the other. Both have swung the bat well this spring (see 25-man roster projection).

"I could go out there and do everything right and they could go in a different direction, and I could do everything wrong and they could want me," Nava said. "I've been in this spot numerous times so I'm just trying to control things that I can control. That's a classic cliché or phrase, but there's a reason it's a phrase because there's a lot of truth to it. I just don't look into that stuff because it's out of my control.

"They could go a lot of different ways and that's actually good because it's so far out of your control you can't worry about it.

"We have a bunch of guys here who are good players. We'll see what happens."

Up next
The Phillies host the Twins on Thursday (1:05 p.m./TCN). Aaron Nola will start.