Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Upton away

Every football fan knows the feeling of foreboding created by an ex-striker of your team coming back home to face you for the first time since their departure.

Whether you try to put him off through jeers or try to win him over with cheers, you know he’s going to score against you. Returning strikers always do.

Fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks must have had that exact same feeling last Monday when Justin Upton returned to Chase Field for the first time since being traded to the Atlanta Braves over the off-season.

A ground-out and a single in his first two at-bats suggested his first game back wouldn’t be too explosive. Then in the sixth inning Wade Miley hit B.J. Upton with a pitch as brother Justin waited in the on-deck circle.

That was Miley’s first mistake. The second came on a 2-0 change-up that Miley left up in the zone.

Justin Upton absolutely hammered it over the high wall in centre field for a two-run bomb; a swinging statement if ever there was one.

The D-Backs’ determination to trade away the gifted younger Upton brother remains one of the most perplexing roster decisions of recent times. It’s the sort of move that you would expect to be shrouded in rumours of the player being a ‘clubhouse cancer’, but reported comments from former teammates show that couldn’t be further from the truth. Arizona’s Front Office simply decided the organization was better off trading Upton for other pieces.

The team has had a promising start to the season, with Paul Goldschmidt really coming into his own as a leading hitter in the National League and Gerardo Parra reveling in a starting role manning the spot in right field that had previously been Upton’s. Martin Prado, the main established Brave that came Arizona’s way in the trade, has struggled so far and we’ll have to wait several years before finding out if the Minor League prospects they obtained will come good.

Whatever the thought process was behind the trade, the early returns from Arizona’s perspective have been decent and the Braves are certainly not complaining either. Upton has been everything they’d hoped he would be, leading the Majors in homers with 14, whilst Chris Johnson has been a more-than-useful contributor so far too, including whacking a two-run longball of his own against his former team on Monday.

Maybe it will turn out to be a trade in which both teams ‘win’. Still, I’d sooner have Justin Upton in my team for the next few years and his home run on Monday may well not be the last time he makes Arizona regret their decision to part with him.

One brother to another

Justin Upton’s blistering form has been a big help to his older brother. B.J.’s early days with his new team have been distinctly underwhelming. Signed to a five-year, $75.25m contract over the offseason, B.J. Upton was ‘hitting’ just .145/.237/.239 heading into the Braves’ game on Sunday,

His struggles have shown that spending money on a leading free agent doesn’t guarantee you instant returns. If you’re going to spend money to improve your roster, it has to be done as part of a wider plan to make sure that an injury or loss of form for your new recruit doesn’t completely scupper a season.

The Yankees’ fountain of youth

The Toronto Blue Jays thought they had followed that line of thinking to the letter when they brought in a whole host of new players over the offseason. Unfortunately for them, even the best laid plans can unravel.

Despite a four-game winning streak at the start of the last week, the Blue Jays sit dead last in the AL East. They lost the first two games of their series in New York before Sunday’s game was rained out, putting them ten games behind their opponents in the standings and 1-7 against the Yankees so far this season.

What is it about those magical pinstripes that brings the best out of players? Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner are the latest three discarded veterans to have found a new lease of life in the Bronx.  The Yankees haven’t yet found a lucky charm to turn around their Disabled List misfortunes, Andy Pettitte being the latest addition to the crowded treatment room, but Curtis Granderson made his season debut last week and both Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis shouldn’t be too far behind in returning to the field.

If Wells and co can continue to keep this team firmly in contention, the Yankees could really come on strong in the second half. My prediction that the Yankees will win the AL East might not turn out to be such a reach after all.

Harvey backs up the hype

The Yankees’ surprisingly strong start to the season isn’t quite the biggest baseball story in New York. That award has to go to the New York Mets’ young phenom Matt Harvey.

A day-game against the Chicago Cubs on Friday provided the perfect opportunity to watch Harvey at work and, after a slightly wayward first inning, he settled in and showed exactly why everyone is talking about him. Harvey even showed a flair for the dramatic by breaking a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning when he singled home the go-ahead run that decided the game and improved his win-loss record to 5-0.

ESPN America took the SNY feed for the game and co-commentator Keith Hernandez provided an insight into what Harvey is like as a character. Hernandez noted that whilst the young pitcher is keeping his head down among more experienced team mates, inside there is a steely confidence that drives his determination to not simply be a quality Major League starter, but to be the very best.

He’s got a long way to go to get there, but the early signs are that he has all the tools necessary to give it a good shot.

Reward for Rizzo

Finally, the only Cubs batter to get an extra-base hit against Harvey was Anthony Rizzo. He had an excellent week off-the-field too as the Cubs announced he had signed a seven-year contract with the team worth at least $41m (£26.6m).

It’s a well-deserved deal that will provide financial security for the player who, after his enthusiastic play for Italy during the recent World Baseball Classic, can surely be claimed by us as an honorary European.

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