MLB Notes: Reds fire manager Dusty Baker

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MLB Notes: Reds fire manager Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker is out as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, three days after his team lost the National League wild-card game to Pittsburgh.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the Reds will announce Friday that Baker will be replaced. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because there had not yet been an official announcement. It was not immediately clear whether Baker was fired or chose to step down.

The 64-year-old Baker had one season left on a two-year contract he signed last October.

Baker guided the Reds into the playoffs three of the last four years, but they never advanced.

Cincinnati went 90-72 this season and finished third in the NL Central behind St. Louis and the Pirates. The Reds lost their final five games of the regular season and cost themselves a chance to host the wild-card playoff, which they dropped 6-2 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

Baker has managed 20 years in the majors with San Francisco, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati. His teams have won five division titles and he is a three-time NL Manager of the Year (see full story).

Yankees: Rodriguez files suit against MLB
NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez sued Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig, accusing them of pursuing "vigilante justice" as part of a "witch hunt" designed to smear the character of the Yankees star and cost him tens of millions of dollars.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for what it alleges was a relentless campaign by the league and Selig to "destroy the reputation and career of Alex Rodriguez."

The suit was filed during the first week of hearings in the grievance by the Major League Baseball Players Association to overturn the 211-game suspension of Rodriguez imposed by MLB on Aug. 5 for alleged violations of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract. The suspension stemmed from baseball's investigation of the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic, headed by Anthony Bosch.

A decision on the grievance by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz is not likely for several months (see full story).

Cardinals: Pujols sues Clark over steroid comments
ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols sued Jack Clark on Friday over comments on a local radio show accusing the three-time NL MVP of using steroids.

The lawsuit between former Cardinals stars was filed in Circuit Court in St. Louis County, where Clark lives. It seeks unspecified damages that would be donated to charity, and asks for a determination and declaration that Clark's statements are false.

The petition says Pujols' "character and reputation are impeccable and beyond reproach" and cites his charitable work with the Pujols Family Foundation, while calling Clark "a struggling radio talk show host" who was chasing ratings in the first week his new show was on the air.

Pujols, a nine-time All-Star, played for the Cardinals from 2001-11, then left to sign a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

"My lawyers have told me that the upcoming legal fight will not be an easy one, and that in cases like this even a liar can sometimes be protected under the law," Pujols said in a statement. "I have never shied away from standing up for the truth, and I believe that the principles at stake are too important to sit back and do nothing" (see full story).

Mets: Harvey to have surgery, miss 2014
NEW YORK -- Mets ace Matt Harvey will have surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his right elbow, an operation that will sideline him for the 2014 season.

The 24-year-old, who started the All-Star game for the National League was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament on Aug. 26 but said he wanted to try to rehab the elbow and avoid surgery.

The Mets said Friday that Dr. James Andrews will operate during October.

Projected recuperation time for elbow ligament operations is about a year.

The No. 7 pick of the 2010 amateur draft, Harvey went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 178 1-3 innings (see full story).

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79⅔ innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.