Daily Dose: Bossman Junior back on track

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B.J. Upton spent the first week of the season on the disabled list
following winter shoulder surgery and hit just .204 with two homers, 60
strikeouts, and a measly .587 OPS in 45 games through the end of May.
Everything changed for him once the calendar flipped to June and
Upton’s hot stretch continued Sunday as he tied career-highs with four
hits and four RBIs in a win over the Mets.

Upton is now hitting .330 with three homers, six doubles, 13 runs,
and 15 RBIs in 18 games this month while going 11-for-13 swiping bases.
He’s also struck out in 22 percent of his plate appearances after
whiffing 28 percent of the time through two months and as usual Upton
has drawn walks in bunches. He’s still sporting a sub-.700 OPS, but the
time to buy low is clearly disappearing in a hurry.

While the Rays score double-digit runs for the 11th time in 71 games
to increase their MLB-best total to 401, here are some other notes from
around baseball …

* CC Sabathia was yanked from Sunday’s start against the Marlins in
the second inning with left biceps tendinitis. Sabathia wanted to
remain in the game and said afterward that he plans to make his
scheduled start Friday against the Mets, but manager Joe Girardi
expressed less optimism about his status. For now at least no MRI exam
is planned and he’s slated for a bullpen session Wednesday.

Sabathia has just 70 strikeouts in 102 innings after racking up 251
in 253 innings last season, but his fastball velocity is actually up
slightly compared to 2008 and prior to Sunday’s abbreviated start he
was 5-1 with a 2.92 ERA and 45/15 K/BB in his previous eight outings.
Phil Hughes would likely get the nod to replace him if needed, but
Sabathia will no doubt try to pitch through the injury if possible.

* Barry Zito had a season-high with eight strikeouts Sunday against
the Rangers, missing that many bats for just the fifth time in 79
starts with the Giants. Zito had 205 strikeouts during his first full
season in 2001 and averaged 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings through the
age of 24, but has failed to reach 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings in
any of seven seasons since then.

However, after eight strikeouts in seven innings Sunday his
strikeout rate is up to 6.8/9 for his highest mark since 2004. Zito’s
average fastball was under 85 miles per hour in 2007 and 2008, but his
velocity has improved to a 86.5 mph this year and he’s again having
tons of success with his amazing curveball. Since two bad outings to
begin the season Zito has a 3.85 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 74 innings.

AL Quick Hits: Justin Morneau’s league-high streak of 319
straight games ended Sunday because of “general soreness” … David Ortiz
homered Sunday for the fifth time this month after going deep just once
through 46 games … Mike Lowell missed his second straight game Sunday
because of soreness in his surgically repaired hip … Kevin Millwood had
a season-high 10 strikeouts Sunday, but took a loss while allowing
three runs … Gil Meche came into Sunday with 16 straight scoreless
innings and a 3.31 ERA, but was rocked for nine runs … Mark Buehrle
tossed seven shutout innings Sunday, improving to 7-2 … Denard Span
(ear) is expected to come off the disabled list when eligible Thursday
… Evan Longoria broke out his June slump by going 4-for-5 with a pair
of doubles Sunday … Ricky Romero hurled his fourth straight Quality
Start on Sunday … Dallas Braden cut his ERA to 3.26 with seven innings
of two-run ball Sunday.

NL Quick Hits: Albert Pujols homered twice and drove in six runs
Sunday, giving him an MLB-leading 26 long balls and 68 RBIs … Ryan
Howard homered as a pinch-hitter Saturday, but returned to the hospital
Sunday and saw his MLB-high streak of 343 straight games snapped
because of the flu … Cole Hamels struck out 10 and allowed just two
runs in eight innings Sunday, but took a loss … After giving up 25 runs
in his previous five outings, Wandy Rodriguez allowed one run on two
hits over seven innings Sunday … General manager Dan O’Dowd denied
Saturday that Brad Hawpe is being shopped … Geovany Soto homered Sunday
for the fourth time in June after going deep just once through 40 games
… Khalil Greene homered Sunday for the third straight game, but left
with a bruised leg after being hit by a pitch … Troy Tulowitzki notched
his first three-hit game of the season Sunday and also added a walk.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.