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Nationals bring back Cabrera, add infield depth

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SAN FRANCISCO — Switch-hitting infielder Asdrubal Cabrera reached agreement on a one-year contract Tuesday for a second stint with the Washington Nationals, and manager Dave Martinez told him to be ready for multiple roles.

The 33-year-old Cabrera was released Saturday by the Texas Rangers as they turned to youth. He batted .235 with 12 home runs, 15 doubles and 51 RBIs in 93 games, drawing 38 walks.

“I was caught by surprise. I didn’t expect it,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera, who played all of his games at third base this season, joined his new team before the middle game of a series with San Francisco. He appeared in 49 games for Washington in 2014 after being acquired from Cleveland at the trade deadline.

“I’m very thankful to the Nationals. They gave me an opportunity to return to the team,” Cabrera said. “It’s a new challenge for me, I know this organization. … I’m going to come off the bench. I’ll hit for the pitcher, I’ll play different positions. I’ll be playing around the whole infield.”

That means taking ground balls at first, where he might just get some use.

Martinez appreciates having Cabrera’s power bat available off the bench.

“He hits the ball all over. It was a great addition for us,” Martinez said. “I told him, ‘Just be ready, you could play everywhere, come in, double-switch and help us in many ways.'”

The Nationals optioned infielder Adrian Sanchez to Double-A Harrisburg and designated right-hander Kyle Barraclough for assignment.

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Maddy Freking making her mark as only girl at Little League World Series

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SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Maddy Freking might be a young woman of few words, but thanks to her big plays on Little League’s biggest stage, she’s making a Mo’ne-like impact.

Freking is the first girl to play in the Little League World Series since 2014, when Mo’ne Davis and Emma March both made it to Williamsport and Davis captivated the country with her pitching wizardry.

“It’s an honor,” said Freking, the starting second baseman for the Coon Rapids-Andover (Minnesota) team. “I also think it’s really cool to be, out of however many boys, the 19th girl to be here.”

On Sunday, Freking also became the sixth girl to take the mound at the LLWS. She toed the rubber with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second inning for her team, which represents the Midwest Region. She caught a Southeast (Loudon, Virginia) opponent looking at strike three for the second out before sprinting off the mound to make a spectacular sliding play and fire the ball home for the final out of the inning.

Freking started the third inning on the mound and was eventually relieved as Minnesota lost 11-0. Freking and her team next take on Louisiana (Eastbank LL) at 8 p.m. ET on Monday and must win to remain in title contention.

Being the only girl among the field of 16 teams might be “cool,” but what really matters to this matter-of-fact Minnesotan is making plays.

“She’s quiet, but she leads by example,” said Minnesota manager Greg Bloom, who has coached Freking since she was 10. “Her teammates have never treated her any differently because she’s a girl.”

To them, she’s just a ballplayer.

“We’re not surprised when she makes a great play,” teammate Wyatt Myers said. “She does it every game.”

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Minnesota’s Maddy Freking records a strikeout and an incredible one-handed throw vs. Virginia. She’s become the first female to pitch in the LLWS since Mo’ne Davis.

In the Midwest Regional championship, with Minnesota trailing Iowa 5-1 in the fourth inning and the bases loaded, Freking snared a line drive and alertly fired a laser across the diamond to third to double off the Iowa runner and shut down a rally. Minnesota went on to win 8-6 and advance to Williamsport. In Minnesota’s opening LLWS win against Kentucky on Thursday, Freking led her team in assists.

Bloom called her the best defensive second baseman he has coached. “She’s a vacuum,” he said. “Everything that gets hit near her, she picks it up.”

Freking’s defensive wizardly might be old hat to her teammates, but the rest of the world is taking note.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had high praise for the 12-year-old as he watched her while Pittsburgh was in Williamsport to take on the Chicago Cubs in the MLB Little League Classic, comparing her to New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. “The last time I saw that much blond hair throwing that hard, it was Syndergaard,” Hurdle said during the game. Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve donned a Freking jersey prior to her team’s game Friday.

And Maria Pepe — who was barred from playing for the Hoboken Little League in 1972 after just three games, sparking a case that was ultimately decided in the New Jersey Superior Court and effectively broke down the barriers to sports for girls — is inspired too.

“I’m watching Maddy and rooting for her,” said Pepe, now the assistant comptroller for the city of Hoboken. “I cheered when I saw her turn that double play. It’s still a thrill to see a girl reach the World Series. Someday soon I hope we’ll see a girl playing in championship game.”

Girls were not allowed to play Little League Baseball until 1974, when the Little League Federal Charter was amended. In 1984, Victoria Roche, of Belgium, was the first girl to play in the Little League World Series. The first American girl to play in the LLWS was Victoria Brucker in 1989. In 2014, Davis was the first girl to win a game as a pitcher at the LLWS.

Nobody is rooting harder for Freking than her parents, Jessica and Richard, and her three siblings. Baseball is a family affair for the Frekings. Maddy’s younger sister, Ella, 8, plays kid-pitch. Two brothers, Evan, 13, and Matthew, 6, also play Little League. All three of them are in Williamsport cheering Maddy on. The Frekings have a batting cage and a full baseball field in their backyard.

“We’re kinda competitive,” Jessica said. “Evan and Maddy have played on the same team, and they really push each other.”

While games in the backyard can get “pretty wild,” said Ella, her big sis helps her with pitching tips. “Maddy pitched to one batter in regionals,” Ella said proudly. “And struck him out on three pitches!”

One of Freking’s role models is Davis, who will play softball at Hampton next spring. The two will meet later this week when Davis, as aspiring broadcaster, comes to Williamsport to call a Little League game. Perhaps Freking can ask Davis for advice on handling celebrity?

“We told her if the attention gets to be too much to let us know,” Bloom said. “But I’ve warned her to expect to get a lot of attention. This doesn’t happen very often.”

“Maddy from Minnesota” is a very big deal in Williamsport. The main gift shop at the Little League World Series complex had sold out of Midwest adjustable caps and adult jerseys by Saturday evening. “Minnesota merchandise is flying off the shelves,” store manager Kate Jacobs said. “Little girls have come in here asking for them.”

One of those girls, Kate Connors of Williamsport, was sporting a green Midwest T-shirt at Lamade Field before Minnesota’s game on Sunday. She doesn’t have any connection to the team. She simply asked her mom to buy the shirt because, “Maddy is my new hero.”

Freking’s own baseball hero isn’t a current player, but rather Jackie Robinson. Like Robinson, she hopes to break barriers through baseball.

“How he was able to fight through everything, and people doubting him, that inspires me,” she said. “For any little girls that are watching me, I’d tell them to keep playing their game and always do their best.”



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Power Rankings — Yankees, Dodgers rise, but only one can be No. 1

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Just last week they dethroned the Dodgers in our Power Rankings, but the Astros didn’t rule the roost for long. With L.A. moving back on top on the strength of three first-place votes, Houston didn’t even hang on to second place, as the Yankees were on top of two voters’ ballots. Suddenly, the injury-wracked B-team Bombers have emerged as the club that could break up the stranglehold that the Dodgers and Astros have had on the top spot since Opening Day.

That wasn’t the only shakeup at the top, as the Indians and Twins again traded places in our top five, and the Nationals displaced the Mets in the top 10. In a week filled with slight changes — 25 of 30 teams gained or lost ground — the biggest moves up were made by the A’s and Cardinals, who gained three spots apiece, and the biggest decline also was three spots, as the Mets fell that far from their brief return to the top 10.

For Week 19, our panel of voters was composed of Bradford Doolittle, Christina Kahrl, Eric Karabell, Tim Kurkjian and David Schoenfield.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers
    2019 record: 82-44
    Week 19 ranking: 2

    Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed four runs on Saturday against the Braves, marking just the second time all season that he has allowed more than two earned runs in a game. His ERA rose all the way to 1.58, but he still has a chance to finish with the lowest ERA by a starter since Bob Gibson’s historic 1.12 mark in 1968. Dwight Gooden’s 1.53 mark in 1985 stands as the best post-Gibson, and as the Dodgers run away with the National League West, Ryu is the man to watch down the stretch. — David Schoenfield

    ICYMI: Dodgers to try top prospect May in relief role

  • New York Yankees
    2019 record: 83-43
    Week 19 ranking: 3

    James Paxton just had another ho-hum start of five innings, six hits, four runs. That has been the story of his season: an occasional brilliant start, an occasional clunker, mostly a whole lot of mediocrity. When he was with Seattle, he was capable of runs of dominance, such as a seven-start stretch last season in which he had a 1.60 ERA, including a no-hitter, a 16-strikeout game and another complete game. The Yankees would love to see a flurry of his best pitching heading into the postseason. — Schoenfield

    ICYMI: How fan’s viral video turned Aaron Boone’s Yankees into ‘savages’

  • Houston Astros
    2019 record: 79-46
    Week 19 ranking: 1

    Even though Yordan Alvarez did not debut in the majors until June, he could end up leading American League rookies in myriad offensive categories, including home runs, OPS and WAR. With the team’s rotation and bullpen depth mild concerns, Alvarez, who has generally handled designated hitter duties, is hammering all pitching and has added length to the lineup. The 22-year-old Cuban might not have the bulk plate appearances to impress voters, but this looks like the top rookie season. — Eric Karabell

    ICYMI: Astros, Dodgers or Yankees: Which is MLB’s best now — and for October?

  • Minnesota Twins
    2019 record: 76-48
    Week 19 ranking: 5

    Lefty Taylor Rogers saved two games in his first three big league seasons over 198 appearances. This season, thanks to the struggles and release of Blake Parker, the closing role has been mostly Rogers’, and his performance will be key down the stretch. Perhaps right-hander Sergio Romo, acquired recently in trade, will see chances too. Rogers has made strides in strikeout rate this season, but, as with many others, home runs have become an issue, especially to right-handed hitters. Still, in a bullpen that has sputtered of late, Rogers needs to continue to thrive. — Karabell

    ICYMI: Nelson Cruz won’t need wrist surgery

  • Cleveland Indians
    2019 record: 74-51
    Week 19 ranking: 4

    Perhaps just as important as keeping up with the Twins, despite a tougher schedule, the Indians need the starting pitching depth to be able to hang with MLB’s elite. Corey Kluber just went to the minors for a rehab assignment, and for the Indians to avoid having to count on both Zach Plesac (5.32 FIP) and Adam Plutko (6.09), they need the former Cy Young winner to show that he has healed from his non-displaced ulna fracture to round out a front three with Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger. — Christina Kahrl

    ICYMI: Carrasco throws first BP since leukemia diagnosis

  • Oakland Athletics
    2019 record: 71-53
    Week 19 ranking: 9

    Taking for granted that the Athletics’ latest collection of pitching castoffs will continue to deliver on the mound, the player to watch down the stretch is Khris Davis. After hitting 113 home runs in the previous three seasons, the DH has just 17 so far this season while putting up a career-worst .288 wOBA, and since June 19, he has hit just one home run in 165 plate appearances (to go with an unemployable .232 wOBA). The A’s bid for a wild card or even catching the Astros needs all the help it can get; a return to form from Davis would be huge. — Kahrl

    ICYMI: Jurickson, Juremi and now Jurdrick — there’s another Profar ready to rock Williamsport

  • Tampa Bay Rays
    2019 record: 73-52
    Week 19 ranking: 6

    The Rays continue to mix and match a bevy of arms in pitching roles of varying durations. But as they hope to field a full and mostly healthy rotation before the postseason arrives, the one stable component has been Charlie Morton. In his first 11 seasons, the 35-year-old Morton topped out at 171⅔ innings pitched in 2011. He’s 15⅔ innings away from that total already, with six weeks left in the season. The Rays are locked in a tight battle for a playoff spot and need Morton’s continued stability. But they also need him fresh for October, beginning with a possible wild-card game start. For Morton, he’s chasing an ERA title and a possible Cy Young Award. — Bradford Doolittle

  • Atlanta Braves
    2019 record: 74-52
    Week 19 ranking: 7

    Who is the closer? Whoever that guy is or will be is the person to watch as the Braves continue to struggle in the late innings. Right now, it’s Mark Melancon, as Luke Jackson and Shane Greene have moved into setup roles. Really, the Braves just want to see Melancon, Greene and Chris Martin — the relievers they picked up at the deadline — start pitching better, no matter their roles. — Schoenfield

    ICYMI: Acuna plays his way into NL MVP race

  • Washington Nationals
    2019 record: 67-56
    Week 19 ranking: 11

    Right now, it has to be Max Scherzer, who is still on the injured list with a back strain and has made one start since July 6. That start on July 25 landed him back on the injured list, so Scherzer is going to fall short of 30 starts for the first time in his career. If he can make six or seven starts and pitch like he had been — 2.41 ERA, 189 strikeouts in 134⅓ innings (Jacob deGrom just passed him for the NL strikeout lead) — the Nationals’ playoff odds obviously improve. — Schoenfield

    ICYMI: Scherzer throws sim game, feels good

  • Chicago Cubs
    2019 record: 66-58
    Week 19 ranking: 8

    Jon Lester recently referred to himself as the Cubs’ weak link in the starting rotation. To be sure, he has suffered through more inconsistency this season than we’re used to seeing from one of MLB’s top lefties over the past decade-plus. Chicago has enough rotation depth to win the NL Central, or a wild-card spot, even if Lester continues on his up-and-down trajectory. However, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs’ playoff shot being maximized if Lester is not a key part of the equation, considering his 2.51 ERA over a staggering 154 career postseason innings. Chicago needs Lester to string together some quality starts to finish the season. — Doolittle

    ICYMI: Faltering pen fuels Cubs’ road woes

  • St. Louis Cardinals
    2019 record: 65-57
    Week 19 ranking: 14

    Plenty of things have gone right for the Cardinals as they try to win this year’s NL Central title, but one thing that has not is stability atop the lineup. The Cardinals’ .308 OBP from their Nos. 1 and 2 hitters combined this season ranks 27th out of 30 teams, so this team could sorely stand to see veteran Matt Carpenter rebound and reclaim one of those lineup slots. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

    ICYMI: Comparing contenders’ stretch schedulesInsider

  • Boston Red Sox
    2019 record: 67-59
    Week 19 ranking: 12

    With Chris Sale scheduled to talk about his elbow with Dr. James Andrews on Monday, it seems there might not be much of Sale to watch going forward. As such, we’ll cast our eyes toward Rafael Devers to see if he can finish one of the best age-22 seasons ever. He’s already the first Red Sox player since Ted Williams in 1941 with 100 runs and 100 RBIs in his age-22 or younger season. Also, Devers leads the league in hits (167), RBIs (101) and total bases (300). The only player to do that in his age-22 season was Ty Cobb in 1909, and that was before RBIs became an official stat. — Steve Richards

    ICYMI: Sale lands on IL as Sox seek second opinion

  • New York Mets
    2019 record: 64-60
    Week 19 ranking: 10

    Leadoff hitter and All-Star Jeff McNeil should not miss considerable time with a hamstring injury, but the team is already feeling his absence and longing for his return. McNeil still has a good chance to win the NL batting title, and we cannot help but notice his added power since the All-Star break. McNeil hit seven home runs in 318 plate appearances before the break, and he has mashed eight blasts in 124 PAs since. It is clear that the Mets were not aware what they had in McNeil, who surprised them as a rookie and forced his way into regular play this season, and if a playoff run is coming, they need him leading the lineup. — Karabell

  • Philadelphia Phillies
    2019 record: 64-60
    Week 19 ranking: 16

    Catcher J.T. Realmuto easily leads all Phillies position players in WAR, as not only has his bat heated up since the All-Star break but also defensively he has no peers in throwing out potential base stealers. Realmuto never won a Gold Glove Award in his Miami years, but that could change in 2019. At the plate, he should reach career bests in home runs, RBIs, walks and potentially OPS, as manager Gabe Kapler has moved him up in an inconsistent lineup. Bryce Harper gets most of the attention, but Realmuto’s role might be just as important. — Karabell

    ICYMI: Arrieta to have season-ending surgery

  • Milwaukee Brewers
    2019 record: 64-60
    Week 19 ranking: 13

    The recent recurrence of back trouble for Christian Yelich was frightening for Brewers fans, but he’s back and mashing, so for now, all is well. You hate to put even more on the shoulders of the reigning NL MVP, but it’s looking more and more apparent that the Brewers aren’t going to have a playoff-caliber pitching staff this season. Every time they seem to have plugged a leak, another spout appears. If Milwaukee is going to return to October, it needs Yelich to play at the level he has been for more than a year, which is that of a Triple Crown contender. That isn’t an easy pace for anyone to maintain. — Doolittle

  • Arizona Diamondbacks
    2019 record: 62-63
    Week 19 ranking: 15

    The D-backs have largely downplayed the significance of Robbie Ray‘s back injury, which has him on the injured list. It will be interesting to see what he looks like when he returns, as the lefty still hasn’t harnessed the elite stuff he flashes to become a legit top-of-the-rotation starter. With Zack Greinke in Houston, that role is vacant in Arizona, and with Ray a potential free agent after the 2020 season, the clock is ticking. — Richards

  • San Francisco Giants
    2019 record: 63-62
    Week 19 ranking: 19

    Buster Posey has spoiled us for so long that it’s important to remember that his coming back from the hip injury that ended his 2018 season early was no small thing. In July, the best catcher of his generation started hitting something like the Posey of old (.336 wOBA), but he has lost ground since. If that guy is still there, the Giants could take their best shot at earning an October extension to Bruce Bochy’s going-away party with a trip to the postseason. — Kahrl

  • Cincinnati Reds
    2019 record: 58-65
    Week 19 ranking: 17

    The Reds still find themselves on the periphery of the NL playoff race, but if they’re to close the gap in the NL Central or wild-card hunt, they’ll need much more consistently good outings from their big deadline acquisition, Trevor Bauer. Bauer was 35-of-51 converting quality starts, with a 2.94 ERA for the Indians between 2018 and 2019, but in three starts for the Reds, he has just one quality start, and his ERA is an unsightly 7.31. — Cockcroft

  • Texas Rangers
    2019 record: 60-64
    Week 19 ranking: 18

    Hunter Pence was scrambling for a job last offseason, and with good reason, considering his production (or lack thereof) in 2018. He had been a revelation the first half of the season, but then he missed a month with a groin injury. Since returning July 16, he hasn’t been quite as good — .293/.354/.453 with just three homers in 23 games. Can Pence crank it up the rest of the way to assure himself of a less stressful offseason this winter? — Richards

  • Los Angeles Angels
    2019 record: 62-64
    Week 19 ranking: 20

    Mike Trout is the team’s unquestioned MVP and probably in the AL as well (again). If the Angels are going to make an unlikely playoff run, they will need a healthy Andrelton Simmons providing runs and saving them at shortstop. Simmons — serving a second injured list stint this season, this time for an ankle injury — is on pace for the lowest WAR of his career. He provided 13.2 WAR the past two seasons and is at 1.5 WAR today. The Angels’ pitching has been unreliable and terrible, but better defense and contact hitting from Simmons would greatly help. — Karabell

  • San Diego Padres
    2019 record: 58-65
    Week 19 ranking: 21

    Plenty of young Padres will get a chance to audition for 2020 roles down the stretch, but there’s perhaps no individual who should get a greater opportunity than disappointing-to-this-point Manuel Margot, who started picking up starts in the leadoff slot following the injury to Fernando Tatis Jr. With the Padres’ outfield packed, how Margot finishes the year will have plenty to say about his 2020 role with the team. Is he part of their future, more of a backup or a potential trade chip? — Cockcroft

    ICYMI: Top rookie Tatis likely done for 2019

  • Toronto Blue Jays
    2019 record: 52-75
    Week 19 ranking: 24

    This might be cheating, but when considering what’s worth watching for the Blue Jays over the final six weeks, it’s hard to move beyond the firm of Bichette, Biggio and Guerrero. Their development will go a long way in determining the Jays’ future. The early returns are solid, particularly for Bo Bichette (180 OPS+) and Vlad Jr. Cavan Biggio has struggled to make contact (82 K’s in 240 ABs) but has shown some pop (10 homers) and speed (nine steals). — Richards

  • Colorado Rockies
    2019 record: 57-67
    Week 19 ranking: 22

    Four victories at Coors Field the past week probably won’t be enough to propel the Rockies back into the NL playoff race, but whether contenders or pretenders, they’ll want to get a long look at Ryan McMahon, their potential starting second baseman in 2020, down the stretch. He finally has begun to pick up starts against left-handers, grabbing seven of the team’s 10 at the position since the All-Star break, and has hit five home runs in the past week. — Cockcroft

  • Chicago White Sox
    2019 record: 55-68
    Week 19 ranking: 23

    Will the White Sox call up Luis Robert for the stretch run? We’ll find out soon. While we can debate the merits of starting Robert’s service time clock, there is no debate about whether he’s the best center fielder in the Chicago organization. His numbers this season have shown a mastery of every level of the minors. The ultimate decision from general manager Rick Hahn will give us an early glimpse of just how hard the White Sox are going to push for contention in 2020. Because if the plan is to shift into winning mode, then giving Roberts a start at learning and adjusting to big league pitchers is the most worthy goal of the last few weeks on the South Side. — Doolittle

  • Pittsburgh Pirates
    2019 record: 51-72
    Week 19 ranking: 26

    With 2020 now firmly in the Pirates’ sights, expect them to take a much longer look at Mitch Keller — their top prospect and one of the very best pitching prospects in the game at the season’s onset — over the next six weeks. Keller posted a 3.56 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 103⅔ innings for Triple-A Indianapolis at the time of his most recent recall and has a strong combination of mid-90s fastball and curveball that could make him a staff ace. — Cockcroft

    ICYMI: Taillon to miss 2020 after Tommy John surgery

  • Seattle Mariners
    2019 record: 52-73
    Week 19 ranking: 25

    Well, given that there isn’t much interest here, let’s go with Felix Hernandez in what likely will be his final month with the Mariners. He should make one final rehab start on Monday in Tacoma and then rejoin the Mariners in Seattle on Saturday. Let’s hope for some final King Felix moments if this is indeed the end of the line in Seattle. — Schoenfield

    ICYMI: Prospects dealt in Mets’ Cano deal thriving in Seattle

  • Miami Marlins
    2019 record: 45-78
    Week 19 ranking: 28

    Three of the four players received from the Brewers in the Yelich deal are on the roster, but while Jordan Yamamoto and Isan Diaz are making their first impressions, it’s up to Lewis Brinson to show one thing the rest of the way, measured any way you care to frame it: growth. His rookie season in 2018 was a disaster (.248 wOBA), but he has been worse this year (.206) when he hasn’t been in the minors. While Yelich vies for a second straight MVP award in Milwaukee, it’s on Brinson to fend off any lingering regret over the trade by demonstrating that he at least belongs in the Marlins’ lineup. — Kahrl

  • Kansas City Royals
    2019 record: 44-80
    Week 19 ranking: 27

    Slugger Jorge Soler is finally putting up the kind of numbers envisioned for him ever since he signed with the Cubs out of Cuba. He’s a cinch to break the Royals’ team home run record, which is the 38 dingers hit by Mike Moustakas in 2017. More important for the rebuilding Royals is for the streaky Soler to produce consistently down the stretch and give them confidence that he can be a lineup anchor going forward — or a key trade piece over the winter. Soler has one season left on his original Cubs deal after this season — for just $4.7 million. — Doolittle

  • Baltimore Orioles
    2019 record: 39-85
    Week 19 ranking: 29

    Can Anthony Santander earn a spot in the Orioles’ outfield for 2020? Since his June call-up, the 24-year-old Venezuelan has been pretty much an everyday player and has fared well, with a .286/.325/.484 slash line, 11 homers, a 113 OPS+ and 1.6 WAR. With Baltimore’s realistic expectations for next year (and the next few years) more about respectability than contention, Santander has a chance to show that he can be a fit. — Richards

    ICYMI: Breaking down Yankees’ historic ownage of the O’s

  • Detroit Tigers
    2019 record: 37-84
    Week 19 ranking: 30

    Breaking with the conceit, the big question is whether the Tigers can win six more games (in 41 attempts) to avoid tying the modern single-season loss record set by the Mets in 1960. That done, it would be a relief to see if Victor Reyes can settle in and be an everyday center fielder, given the opportunity and lack of useful alternatives. His bat probably won’t stick in a corner, but if he can handle center, it would be at least one item that the Tigers don’t have to shop for this winter. — Kahrl

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    Scherzer (back) expects to return Thursday

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    Nationals ace Max Scherzer expects to return to Washington’s rotation Thursday after missing nearly four weeks with a rhomboid strain, declaring himself “ready to pitch.”

    Scherzer discussed his schedule for this week Sunday, one day after throwing a 65-pitch simulated game. The three-time Cy Young Award winner will throw a bullpen session Monday and, unless he suffers a setback, will be activated from the 10-day injured list to start Thursday against the Pirates.

    “He’ll be on his normal schedule now and then if everything goes well, he’s probable for Thursday,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez told reporters.

    Scherzer said he experienced “anticipated” soreness Sunday morning and that “everything feels right where it should be.”

    “There’s no extra soreness other than what I anticipated,” he said. “To me, that’s right on par.”

    The Nationals (67-56) enter Monday 5½ games behind the first-place Braves (74-52) in the National League East but are 1½ games ahead of the Cubs (66-58) for the league’s first wild card.

    Scherzer originally hit the IL on July 13 before returning to pitch against the Rockies on July 25, allowing three runs in five innings and throwing a season-low 86 pitches.

    Four days later, Scherzer again landed on the IL, where he’s been since. The right-hander is 9-5 with a 2.41 ERA in 20 starts this season and is second in the NL with 189 strikeouts.

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