Naylor Nails Grand Slam; Guardians Whip White Sox

Naylor Nails Grand Slam; Guardians Whip White Sox
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GOODYEAR, AZ. — Josh Naylor crushed a grand slam completely out of Goodyear Ballpark and Triston McKenzie had his best start of the spring Thursday as the Cleveland Guardians defeated the Chicago White Sox, 5-1.

Naylor launched a long, laser-like drive well over the stands in right field in the first inning off minor-league hopeful Nick Avila. The crowd, even those wearing White Sox garb, gave the big lefty a standing salute in admiration for one of the longest balls ever hit at the park that opened in 2009.

Guardians manager Terry Francona had to be even more pleased. Naylor, serving as the designated hitter, is slated to play first base or DH and hit in the middle of Cleveland’s order. A year ago, he hit 20 homers with 79 RBI in 449 at-bats as he worked his way back from a devastating leg injury that curtailed his 2021 season. Listed at 5-11 and 250 pounds, Naylor (.276 spring average) appears to have shed a few ounces over the winter without losing an ounce of power.

With one out in the first, Amed Rosario (.333) singled, Avila hit Jose Ramirez (.333) with a pitch and Josh Bell walked to load the bases. Avila, a right-hander claimed on waivers by Chicago from the San Francisco Giants in December, delivered a 1-0 fastball at the top of the zone and Naylor got full extension on it for his first spring homer.

Isn’t It Grand?

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“Wow!” said one excited fan wearing a Cleveland jersey. “That one would have been hit out of Yellowstone Park.” Nah, dude. You’re in Arizona. How about the Grand (Slam) Canyon?

McKenzie yielded a first-inning run but lowered his spring ERA from 12.00 to 8.10 in his fourth and best by far start. Elvis Andrus opened the game with a double to the wall in center and scored on a one-out single by Andrew Benintendi as McKenzie once again left pitches up in the strike zone. He then fanned Yasmani Grandal and settled in. The tall right-hander fanned five over four innings, finally flinging his fastball lower in the zone and getting sharper breaks on his usually fine curve.

The lineup for the Cleveland Guardians versus White Sox matchup - photo by Chuck Murr
The lineups for the Cleveland Guardians versus White Sox Spring Training matchup for 03/16/2023 – photo by Chuck Murr

All-star closer Emmanuel Clase (4.50 spring ERA) threw one scoreless inning, rookie right-hander Hunter Gaddis (2.89) two hitless innings and lefty bullpen hopeful Tim Herrin (5.87) two more scoreless innings. Herrin gave up three of Chicago’s eight hits.

Long-time Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw, signed by the White Sox in the winter, worked one scoreless inning. He is 2-0 and has not allowed a run in six spring outings.

Gabriel Arias (.355) and Micah Pries each had one of Cleveland’s eight hits. Oscar Gonzalez (.154) was 0-for-1 with two walks. The Guardians want the young outfielder, who caught Cleveland by storm and was a playoff hero in 2022, to be more selective at the plate. The free passes were a good sign, though the usually big hitter has seemed tentative in many at-bats all spring. The Guardians expect him to be a big part of the offense along with Bell (.192), signed to a hefty free-agent contract.

Going Green

An Array of Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Guardians hats - photo by Chuck Murr
An Array of Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Guardians hats – photo by Chuck Murr

Tomorrow night, the Guardians (6-11) and Cincinnati Reds (9-10) play their traditional St. Patrick’s Day game in Goodyear. This year it is at night– a 6:05 start (9:05 in Ohio). The Reds always wear green for the game and in recent years, Cleveland usually dons a ballcap with a green “C” logo.

Hope To See You Soon

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The Guardians sent highly regarded infielders Brayan Rocchio, Jose Tena, Angel Martinez, Juan Brito, and Jhonkensy Noel along with right-hander Jason Bilous to the minor-league camp on Wednesday. All of them most likely have a brighter future in the organization than some players still in the big-league camp — and that’s why Cleveland sent them down a little earlier.

The Guardians want them all playing many more innings in minor-league exhibition games than getting a scant shot as a defensive replacement or pinch hitter with the big boys. During the past few weeks, their job was to observe and absorb from the veterans as they in turn were being watched by the major-league coaching staff. Now, it is time to put to use things they may have learned. With a good performance for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers or Double-A Akron RubberDucks in 2023, they can put themselves in the running later this year or in 2024 for a job in Cleveland.

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