Dodgers lefty Urias, 19, set for MLB debut in NY; Felix, Scherzer, Hamels on hill
By Andrew Simon
The baseball spotlight will shine on Citi Field tonight, when 19-year-old Dodgers left-hander Julio Urias makes his highly anticipated Major League debut against the Mets and Jacob deGrom.
But that's far from the only matchup of note on the day's full 15-game slate, as plenty of other intriguing contests await on MLB.TV.
After the first-place Nationals won their series opener, 2-1, against the Cardinals on Thursday in Washington, they will try to take a second straight behind Max Scherzer. Meanwhile, several other weekend series will be getting underway, with the first-place Red Sox heading north of the border to Toronto, the red-hot Pirates putting a win streak on the line against the Rangers' Cole Hamels, and the first-place Mariners trying to keep things going as they send Felix Hernandez to the mound against the Twins.
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Here is a look at what to watch for today in the Majors (all times ET):
Max in a groove: STL@WAS, 7:05 p.m.
The Cardinals' Jaime Garcia will be trying to rediscover his form when he takes the mound at Nationals Park. The left-hander had a 2.58 ERA through seven starts but has struggled during his last two, giving up five runs on 10 hits over 2 1/3 innings on Sunday against Arizona. Things have been trending in a better direction for Scherzer as the St. Louis-area native and University of Missouri product prepares for a rematch against a club he kept scoreless for seven innings at Busch Stadium on May 1. The right-hander allowed seven runs to the Cubs in his next outing but six total over the following three, with 38 strikeouts, including his 20-K effort on May 11.
"I'm just kind of getting in midseason form," Scherzer said after holding the Marlins to two runs over eight innings in his last start. "That's what you're always striving for. You'd love to have it when you get out of spring, but sometimes it takes a few starts. I've made some mistakes over the course of this year so far, but every start I just keep getting a little bit sharper."
Stat that matters: Scherzer's biggest issue this season has been his league-leading 14 home runs allowed, including nine over his last four starts. Those homers account for 21 of the 28 runs Scherzer has surrendered in 2016.
Division foes meet again: BOS@TOR, 7:07 p.m.
Jackie Bradley Jr.'s hit streak ended at 29 games on Thursday night, but the Red Sox still hold first place in the American League East as they open a seven-game road trip with a three-game set in Toronto. The Blue Jays, coming off a solid 5-2 trip, are 3-4 against the Sox this season but can return to the .500 mark overall with a victory. They will turn to right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who is 7-for-9 in quality starts this season, including a seven-inning, one-run effort at Fenway Park on April 17. Boston counters with righty Joe Kelly, who enjoyed a successful return from the disabled list last Saturday against the Indians, striking out seven over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Kelly had a no-hitter going until his final batter, Juan Uribe, ended it with a double.
"Overall command of the fastball was very big today," Kelly said afterward. "I was throwing it to both sides of the plate. I just felt super strong out there. All the work we've been putting in since I went on the DL of getting the shoulder stronger in the training room, it's just good to go out there and not even think about it and get a little more extension on the fastball and all the other pitches with that strong shoulder."
Stat that matters: Sanchez has allowed only a .350 OPS on non-fastballs, fifth-lowest among qualified pitchers.
Pirates roll into Texas: PIT@TEX, 8:05 p.m.
Though they're 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs, the Pirates are tied for the National League's fourth-best record at 27-19 after winning four straight and nine of 11. Now they head out on the road to begin a three-game series at Globe Life Park, where they last played in 2013. At that time, current Rangers manager Jeff Banister was the Pirates' bench coach. In fact, Banister spent 29 years with the Pittsburgh organization as a player, coach and field coordinator before the Rangers hired him as manager following the '14 season.
Banister's current club (27-20) has won five of its last six and sits 1 1/2 games behind Seattle in the AL West as it sends Hamels to the hill against Jonathon Niese in a matchup of left-handers. Hamels (2.83 ERA) struck out a season-high 11 and allowed one earned run over eight innings at Houston in his last outing.
Stat that matters: Left-handed batters have whiffed on 37.9 percent of their swings against Hamels, the third-highest rate among qualified pitchers.
Felix Day: MIN@SEA, 10:10 p.m.
The Rangers' recent success hasn't helped them gain any ground on the Mariners, who have won six of seven, their offense producing 13 runs, four homers and 17 hits against Oakland on Wednesday. Following an off-day, Seattle now gets to play behind Hernandez in the opener of a three-game set with Minnesota. Hernandez, pitching opposite Twins rookie lefty Pat Dean, owns a 2.21 ERA this season after tossing six scoreless frames at Cincinnati in his most recent start. The righty has been especially effective within the spacious confines of Safeco Field, with a 1.55 ERA and 27-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 innings across four games.
Stat that matters: The Mariners are tied for third in the Majors in home runs hit, while Twins pitchers are third in most homers allowed.
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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.