Spring training has different meanings for different players.
To veterans and big league stalwarts, the exhibition contests are a time to shake off the winter rust. To budding stars, the spring can be another platform to build on the previous season’s success. And for the unknown prospects and the journeymen trying to crack the big leagues, it can be the chance to make a lasting impression.
Several local players found themselves in any of these situations the last six weeks.
Here is a look at how five former area standouts performed in spring training in leading up to Opening Day on Monday.
Rex Brothers Colorado Rockies
The left-handed specialist made quick work of opposing bats. The former Lipscomb standout and Chapel Hill native allowed just one run and struck out 13 in eight innings out of the bullpen. A workman like spring was necessary for Brothers, who was demoted to Triple-A last summer. With a fastball in the mid-90s and a blazing slider, he enters his third season in the big leagues with a chance to cement his status as a set-up man and continue to make his case as a future closer.
R.A. Dickey Toronto Blue Jays
The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner split his spring between his new team and pitching for the United States in the World Baseball Classic. The results were less than stellar for the former Montgomery Bell Academy and University of Tennessee standout. He made just two starts for the Blue Jays and allowed five runs in five innings. Team Mexico drilled the knuckleballer for four runs and six hits in four innings.
Ryan Flaherty Baltimore Orioles
The former Vanderbilt standout is doing his best to make the opening day roster. He hit .229 with three homers, four doubles and 10 RBIs in 23 games but he also improved his defensive range at the middle infield positions. Flaherty showed flashes of brilliance as an utilityman last year in his first season in the big leagues with six home runs and 19 RBIs. He had hits in each of his three playoff starts and became the first Baltimore rookie to homer in the postseason. A solid spring leaves the Orioles and manager Buck Showalter with a tough decision — send him down to Triple-A to get everyday starts or keep him on the bench with the big league club?
Michael McKenry Pittsburgh Pirates
Recently acquired Russell Martin might be the starting catcher but that hasn’t slowed McKenry. A former All-American at Middle Tennessee State, McKenry is pleading his case as a viable backup. In 38 at-bats this spring, he hit .316 with 12 hits, including a home run. Despite being undersized at 5-foot-10, the Knoxville native is trying to prove his worth in his second season with the Pirates after being traded from Boston last season. The 28-year-old is behind Martin and in front of Tony Sanchez, a first-round pick in 2009 who is being groomed in Triple-A. McKenry recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I’m going to work every single day. … I’m going to go down with a fight. I want to play every day.”
David Price Tampa Bay Rays
Winning the American League Cy Young Award didn’t soften Price. At least that’s what his spring training numbers say. The lefty went 2-0 in four starts with a 2.77 ERA and 17 strikeouts. He evened tweaked his mechanics, keeping his body back instead of drifting towards home plate. His pursuit of perfection shouldn’t surprise anyone who saw the former No. 1 draft pick pitch at Vanderbilt. As he told The Washington Post, “I don’t care if it is backyard baseball or whatever, if it’s my day to pitch and my day to play, I’m going to take it serious.”