Tanaka's return to action for Yankees a highlight of the Sunday slate
By Chad Thornburg
The first week of spring games is nearly in the books, and MLB.TV has you covered for much of the action with some of baseball's biggest names set to make their Grapefruit or Cactus League debuts on Sunday.
Sunday features a packed slate of 16 big league exhibitions, nine of which will be available for streaming live on MLB.TV, the most so far this spring. Among those contests is a meeting of National League West arch-rivals as well as the returns to the field of Angels star Albert Pujols, Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and third-year hurler Masahiro Tanaka.
Here are a few things to watch for throughout the day (all times ET).
• Tanaka returns to the mound: NYY@PHI, 1:05 p.m., MLB.TV
Tanaka, New York's expected Opening Day starter, will see his first game action since taking the loss in the American League Wild Card Game and undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur in his pitching elbow. Tanaka faced hitters in batting practice on Wednesday without issue and is scheduled to throw 30 to 35 pitches in two innings of work.
Tanaka has impressed in two seasons with the Yankees, going 25-12 with a 3.16 ERA through 44 big league starts. Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius will also make the trip to Clearwater, Fla., where Philadelphia will send veteran righty Charlie Morton to the mound as he also makes his first appearance of the spring as well as his first start in a Phillies uniform.
• Pujols rejoins Angels' lineup: KC@LAA, 3:10 p.m., MLB.TV
Pujols is set to return to the field earlier than expected after undergoing foot surgery this offseason. The 36-year-old veteran will make his Spring Training debut as the Angels' designated hitter against the defending World Series champion Royals.
Pujols wasn't expected to engage in full baseball activities until at least the middle of March, but he has been fully participating in batting practice, and he upped the intensity of his defensive work this week. Pujols says he'll be ready for Opening Day, but it's unclear when he'll resume first-base duties.
• California clash in Scottsdale: LAD@SF, 3:05 p.m., MLB.TV
An NL West rivalry will be on display when the Giants host the Dodgers. San Francisco won the season series vs. Los Angeles in 2015, but the Dodgers still finished atop the division, eight games ahead of the Giants. Both clubs shuffled their rosters this winter; one of the newest additions, right-hander Jeff Samardzija, will start for the Giants.
"This organization is not going through the motions," Samardzija said of his new club. "There's a mind-set. There are expectations. They have had the success here for a reason. There's no busy work. They work to get better."
Zach Lee, a former LSU quarterback recruit who put his football career on hold to sign with L.A., will take the mound for the Dodgers. Lee is one of several candidates competing for the rotation spot vacated by the injured Brett Anderson.
• Warren premieres in Cubs uniform: CHC@ARI, 3:10 p.m., MLB.TV Adam Warren will make his debut in a Cubs uniform when Chicago heads to Scottsdale to play the D-backs. The Cubs acquired Warren from the Yankees this offseason as part of the Castro trade, and they are trying to find a fit for the 28-year-old right-hander, who was both a starter and a reliever in New York. The D-backs will counter with lefty Patrick Corbin, who's also making his first start of the spring. Arizona's All-Star center fielder A.J. Pollock is scheduled to bat leadoff as manager Chip Hale experiments with lineup combinations.
• Braves' top prospects take on Mets: ATL@NYM, 1:10 p.m., MLB.TV
When the Braves travel to Port St. Lucie, Fla., to play the Mets, they'll have two of their top prospects with them in shortstops Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, who rate as Atlanta's No. 1 and No. 3 prospects, respectively, according to MLB.com. Ender Inciarte and Hector Olivera are also scheduled to make the trip, along with rotation candidate Kyle Kendrick, who will make his first spring start. For the Mets, Sean Gilmartin will take the mound at Tradition Field. Gilmartin is competing for one of two available spots in New York's bullpen.
But the action doesn't stop there. Two teams expected to contend in the NL next season -- the Cardinals and Nationals -- will meet on the field for the first time this spring in Jupiter, Fla., while AL East rivals Baltimore and Boston clash for the first of many matchups in 2016, with O's right-hander Mike Wright and Red Sox righty Clay Buchholz on the mound.
In Peoria, Ariz., James Shields will make his debut with a split-squad Padres team against the Athletics. Shields, the highest-paid pitcher in franchise history, went 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 33 starts last season, his first in San Diego. Opposing Shields will be Chris Bassitt, who's competing for a back-end rotation spot with the A's.
And rounding out the nine-game MLB.TV slate is a meeting between a split squad of Astros and Pirates. Brad Peacock is among the Houston players headed to Bradenton, Fla. The 28-year-old pitched in just one game last season before eventually undergoing back surgery. Reliever Juan Nicasio, who signed a one-year deal with the Pirates this winter, will start for Pittsburgh.
There are many intriguing storylines among the seven additional games not available on MLB.TV. On Gameday Audio, you can catch several talented hurlers making their spring debuts, including Iwakuma. Although it seemed for a time that Iwakuma may have been headed elsewhere in free agency, he is back with the Mariners for a fifth season, and the 34-year-old right-hander is set for his first Cactus League start against the Rangers on Sunday.
For the Indians, Carlos Carrasco will toe the rubber for his first appearance of spring, looking to build on his breakout 2015 campaign. And at Camelback Ranch, Carlos Rodon gets the start for the White Sox against the Padres. The 23-year-old will try to pick up where he left off last season, as he finished with a 5-2 record and 1.81 ERA through his final eight starts.
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.