Heyward, Walker go yard with new ballclubs while aces return to mound
By Chad Thornburg
It was a day of firsts for many Major Leaguers participating in Monday's slate of Spring Training games. As we inch closer to Opening Day, several players took the initial step toward regaining regular-season form.
Among those players was Mike Trout, who flashed the speed and power the Angels' star has come to be known for in the club's Cactus League game against the White Sox. Trout swiped second base in the first inning, then followed that up with his first homer of the spring in the third, a two-run shot on a first-pitch fastball from Erik Johnson.
It's likely the first of many stat-stuffing performances from Trout, who hit a career-high 41 home runs in 2015. The 24-year-old former Most Valuable Player Award winner has been vocal this offseason about his desire to improve his baserunning. Trout swiped a Major-League-best 49 bags as a rookie in '12, but that number has plummeted since, reaching 11 stolen bases last year, when he was also caught stealing a career-high-tying seven times.
"Last couple of years," Trout said last month, "my confidence has been down -- not getting good jumps, not getting good reads. Just getting back to the way I used to be."
Two other players also went yard for the first time this spring, but they did so while sporting new uniforms. Jason Heyward's first hit with the Cubs was a 385-foot homer to right field at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Heyward, who signed an eight-year, $184 million deal with Chicago this winter, entered the day 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Cactus League play.
Neil Walker also homered for the first time with the Mets. His fourth-inning solo shot against Tigers righty Mark Lowe put his club ahead, 4-1. The 30-year-old switch-hitting second baseman homered 16 times for the Pirates last season, all as a left-handed batter.
Monday's spring milestones weren't just limited to offensive feats, however. Adam Wainwright and Jose Fernandez each returned to the mound for their Grapefruit League debuts.
Both hurlers missed extended time last season due to injuries. For Wainwright, Monday marked his first start for St. Louis since he ruptured his left Achilles tendon in April 2015, pitching only in relief at the end of the '15 season and the postseason. Fernandez, meanwhile, made just 11 starts for Miami in '15 as he returned from May '14 Tommy John surgery.
If there were any lingering effects from either player's injury, they didn't show, as each tossed two scoreless frames Monday. Fernandez shut down the Nationals, walking one, while Wainwright worked out of multiple jams, keeping the Mets hitless with runners in scoring position (0-for-4).