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Athlon updates all the action in the heated AL East division.
-by Nathan Rush
As the regular season approaches, Athlon will go around the majors with updates from every division. Today, we focus on the AL East.
On Sunday, second baseman Brian Roberts saw his first action since March 7, going 0-for-2 with a walk in a 9–8 win over the Rays. The 33-year-old has dealt with back spasms this spring after playing in only 59 games last season as a result of a herniated disk in his back. If the O’s leadoff man is unable to go on Opening Day, manager Buck Showalter will be left is a gaping hole at the top of his batting order and no clear replacement. … New first bagger Derrek Lee has also been banged up, missing time due to an injured wrist and sore left foot, in addition to recovering from offseason thumb surgery.
Boston Red Sox
Lefty ace Jon Lester had a no-hitter going until the fifth inning against the Phillies on Monday. But the pitchers duel with Roy Halladay went south, as Lester allowed four runs (three earned) in 5.1 innings during the 4–1 loss. … Adrian Gonzalez’s agent, John Boggs, will meet with general manager Theo Epstein this week in Fort Myers, Fla., to discuss a contract extension for the slugging first baseman who was acquired from San Diego in a summer blockbuster that included prized pitching prospect Casey Kelly. The 28-year-old is scheduled to make $6.3 million in the final season of his current contract.
New York Yankees
Jesus Montero has struggled at the plate (.206 with two RBIs, 7:1 K:BB ratio in 34 AB) but the Bill James Handbook’s statistical formulas forecast a .519 slugging percentage for the 21-year-old in his rookie year — which would easily top Johnny Bench’s age 21 catcher slugging record (.487) from 1969. Moneyball math aside, Montero is in direct competition with fellow prospect Austine Romine. But Montero’s defensive improvement makes it possible he will make the Opening Day roster as a backup backstop and DH. … After a 1-for-6 (.167) start this spring, Derek Jeter has gone 14-for-38 (.368). After making highly publicized — yet minor mechanical — swing changes, Jeter is hitting .341 with a .779 OPS in 14 games this spring.
Tampa Bay Rays
Once thought to be the heir apparent to the Carl Crawford throne, 24-year-old outfielder Desmond Jennings struggled to find his sea legs this spring — hitting .154 with seven strikeouts and only four total bases in 26 ABs over 15 games — and was sent down to the minors last week. … Veteran free agent outfield acquisitions Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon have been swinging the bat well this spring. Man-Ram is hitting .297 with three homers and eight RBIs; Damon is also hitting .297 with one long ball and four knocked in. … Florida governor Rick Scott will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Rays on Opening Day, April 1, against the Orioles.
Toronto Blue Jays
Last season, catcher J.P. Arencibia was the MVP of the Pacific Coast League, hitting .301 with 32 HRs and 85 RBIs while playing for Triple-A Las Vegas. This year, the 25-year-old will be counted on as the Jays everyday backstop. Although he is hitting just .140 with one RBI in 43 at-bats this spring, general manager Alex Anthopoulos is standing behind his star prospect, claiming his spring stats are “irrelevant” to Arencibia’s standing with the team. … Reliever Frank Francisco went to visit Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday to receive the renowned surgeon’s opinion on his torn right pectoral muscle. Francisco was thought to be the leading candidate to take over as the Jays closer this season.