Several top pitchers on display Wednesday in Grapefruit, Cactus Leagues
By Andrew Simon
In less than a month, teams will send out their aces for Opening Day.
Wednesday had little of that pomp and circumstance -- it's still early in Spring Training, after all -- but it did feature an impressive collection of starting pitchers for early March. Between the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, both defending Cy Young Award winners took the mound, as well as five others who received votes, plus some other big names.
For pitchers making their first and second starts of the spring, results take a back seat to building up stamina, sharpening command and even testing out new pitches. But despite each of Wednesday's starters logging only three innings at most, there still was time for each to provide a glimpse of his talents.
Here is a look at the day's best moments from the mound.
Who says pitchers aren't athletes? Jacob deGrom certainly qualifies as one. The Mets right-hander is, first and foremost, an All-Star pitcher who posted a 2.54 ERA last season and helped lead New York to the World Series. Yet deGrom also is a respectable .200 career hitter, and the former college shortstop at Stetson University knows how to to field his position. While he didn't get a chance to swing the bat on Wednesday against the Yankees, he did put his other skills on display.
With a runner on first and no outs in the top of the first inning, deGrom lunged to the first-base side of the mound to snare an Aaron Hicks comebacker, then fired with pinpoint accuracy to second to start a double play. Just how they drew it up in pitchers' fielding practice drills.
Consider Keuchel's season off to a good start. Facing the Braves, he allowed one hit and one walk over two scoreless innings, throwing a fastball by Atlanta's Kelly Johnson to strand a pair in the first.
The D-backs' big offseason acquisition wasn't exactly in peak form on Wednesday against the Padres, but Zack Greinke still managed to toss three scoreless innings. The righty gave up four hits and didn't record a strikeout but wiggled his way out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the second inning.
Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, held Chicago scoreless over three frames and struck out four. Arrieta, who claimed National League honors last year, retired all six Tribe hitters he faced and racked up four Ks while hitting 96 mph on the stadium gun. That's how you pick up where you left off.
It didn't exactly come as a shock when A's manager Bob Melvin named 26-year-old Sonny Gray his Opening Day starter on Wednesday. After all, Gray also got the assignment in each of the past two years.
"You look up Opening Day starter in the dictionary, and there's a picture of Sonny Gray," Melvin said, "and he's been that way for us since he's gotten here."
A Giant debut Johnny Cueto pitched in a Giants uniform for the first time since signing a six-year, $130 million contract in December, and the veteran righty made a strong first impression by catching Rockies leadoff man Gerardo Parra looking with a breaking ball.
JV gets Nats' varsity
Lineups can be weak during Spring Training, especially for teams playing on the road, since accomplished veterans often don't travel. The Nationals, however, sent several regulars to Lakeland, Fla., to face the Tigers and right-hander Justin Verlander.
Archer off target
Rays All-Star Chris Archer wasn't qute on top of his game against the Blue Jays, allowing two earned runs on three hits over 2 1/3 innings and uncorking two wild pitches. But hey, that's what Spring Training is for. And there were some highlights for the righty, who struck out three, including two in the opening frame.
Walker rolls through K.C.
Mariners righty Taijuan Walker doesn't really belong in this group of aces -- at least not yet.
But Walker did show promise last year and carried that into his second spring start on Wednesday against a Royals split squad. The 23-year-old gave up a home run but showed off his impressive arsenal by racking up five strikeouts over three innings.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.