The Braves now have an Upton monopoly

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The Braves now have an Upton monopoly

From Comcast SportsNetPHOENIX (AP) -- Justin Upton is having a family reunion in Atlanta.Arizona traded its star right fielder to the Braves on Thursday in a seven-player deal that sent former All-Star infielder Martin Prado to the Diamondbacks.For the first time since he was a high school freshman, Upton will have older brother B.J. Upton as a teammate.The brothers combine with Jason Heyward, who won a Gold Glove in 2012, in an outfield potentially packed with power and speed."If we push ourselves to the next level, I feel with the extra push from each other there's no question we can be the best outfield in baseball," Justin Upton said in a telephone interview. "I'm not going to give us that label until we prove it."The Braves, who also get third baseman Chris Johnson, are giving up one of their top pitching prospects, Randall Delgado, and three minor leaguers in the deal.They are right-hander Zeke Spruill, shortstop Nick Ahmed and first baseman Brandon Drury.Prado, projected to play third base for the Diamondbacks, can become a free agent after this season, but Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said he already was working with Prado's agent on a long-term deal.B.J. Upton, 28, signed a five-year, 75.25 million contract with Atlanta in November.Justin Upton, who has five full seasons in the majors but is just 25, said he already got tips from his brother from afar. Now there will be more chances for the two to help each other."I think from that standpoint it will be good, but I think more than anything being able to show up at the ballpark genuinely excited every day and have that energy," he said. "The more energy you can bring from the start every day, it makes you a better player."Braves general manager Frank Wren said he expects the brothers will push each other."I do think it will drive them," Wren said. "We've been looking for that young dynamic, right-handed, power-hitting outfielder that can hit in the middle of the lineup and makes that other team think a little bit."The younger Upton, who has three years and 38.5 million left on his contract, had been the subject of trade speculation throughout the offseason and vetoed a trade to the Seattle Mariners.Upton had his ups and downs in Arizona, and Towers believes the change of scenery will benefit the young player, who was just 19 when he came to the majors."The expectations were through the roof on him," Towers said. "When the team struggled, it seemed like it was always because of Justin. That's hard. We're human beings. It's hard to take when you're a young individual trying to establish yourself."Now, Towers said, Upton has "an opportunity to go to a different place to where he's going to fit in with some star players over there, where he's just kind of a piece of the puzzle versus kind of the centerpiece and the big piece of the puzzle."I think some pressure will be off of him."Arizona manager Kurt Gibson, his left arm in a sling after shoulder surgery, said he sent Upton a long text wishing him the best."I said, You must be ecstatic to be able to play with your brother.' I could certainly understand that. It's got to be a great thrill for him."Gibson said Upton reminded him of himself as a player."I had some things that happened with my manager Sparky Anderson over the years where maybe we butted heads a little bit and I didn't agree with him," Gibson said, "but when it was all said and done it all made sense and it was for me to become a better person and a better ballplayer. I would say similar things have happened with me and Justin throughout our association. I know he respects me and I respect him."Prado, who joins fellow Venezuelan Miguel Montero in Arizona, made the All-Star team in 2010 as a second baseman and played mostly in left field last season. Prado was projected to move to third base for the Braves this season to replace the retired Chipper Jones.Arizona had accumulated a glut of outfielders, signing Cody Ross as a free agent last month. Upton, an All-Star pick in 2009 and 2011, was the most marketable.Upton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, has played five full major league seasons. Last season, he hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs and a career-high 107 runs.In 2011, while helping Arizona win the NL West, Upton hit .289 with career-best totals of 31 home runs and 88 RBIs and finished fourth in NL MVP voting. Overall, he's a career .278 hitter with 108 home runs, 739 hits, 147 doubles and 80 stolen bases.Upton said he hopes to become a more consistent player in Atlanta."I've had a couple good years where I put up good numbers and my goal all along has been to put those years up consistently," he said. "I think now I'm in a position with Atlanta ... we can really feed off each other throughout that lineup to try to get everybody to that consistent production rate."Delgado, a 23-year-old right-hander, had been expected to challenge for a spot in the Braves rotation. His acquisition bolsters the young pitching depth in Arizona depleted by the trade of Trevor Bauer. Delgado was 4-9 with a 4.37 ERA in 18 appearances, 17 as a starter, for the Braves. Rated Atlanta's No. 3 prospect by Baseball America the past two years, he was 4-3 with a 4.06 ERA with Triple-A Gwinnett last season.The trade leaves Arizona with three veteran outfielders -- Ross, Jason Kubel and Gerardo Parra -- along with two youngsters the team feels are ready for the majors -- Adam Eaton and A.J. Pollock. Towers projects Eaton as a center fielder and a prototypical leadoff hitter.Towers said the addition of Ross and a top contact hitter in Prado changes the character of the club."I would say we're going to be a little different club," he said. "I think we can still hit home runs, but I think the last couple of years we've relied too much on the long ball. If you look at our record, those days that we didn't homer, we usually didn't win."

Wake-up Call: Miggy gets the boot; Rodon's rocky debut; More bad news for Cubs?

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”