Blister to blame for Santana's struggles?

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Johan Santana tied a career-high by serving up four homers to the
Phillies last week and turned in the worst start of his career against
the Yankees yesterday, allowing nine runs while failing to make it out
of the fourth inning.

After watching Santana get clobbered for the second straight start, pitching coach Dan Warthen suggested that a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand may be to blame by changing the grip on his fastball:

He’s fought through it for almost a month, but now that it’s healed,
the ball plane has changed. It’s going to decrease the velocity if it’s
cutting like it is. The two-seamer is cutting at times also.
Physically, he’s in good shape. And the arm feels good. We just have to
find out what the delivery issue is right now.

Santana dealt with blisters and cracked finger nails at various times
in Minnesota, but insisted yesterday that the latest issue is not a big
deal. His velocity is indeed down, but only slightly, as his fastball
averaged 90.1 miles per hour during the past two starts compared to
90.9 mph for the season overall.

Of course, 90.9 mph is the worst fastball speed of his career and
his average velocity has dropped from 93.1 to 91.7 to 91.2 to 90.9
since his Cy Young-winning 2006 campaign. All eyes will be on Santana
when he takes the mound next against the Rays this weekend, but in the
meantime I’ll pass along a bit of encouraging history for Mets fans.

The last time that Santana allowed five or more runs in back-to-back
starts was in July of 2003, which was his first month as a full-time
member of the Twins’ rotation. He shook off those struggles to go 8-0
with a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts to finish the season. As the world’s biggest Santana fan I’m hoping that history repeats itself.

Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.