Daily Dose: Nationals give up on Milledge

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Pittsburgh made a pair of trades to shake up the outfield Tuesday,
sending Eric Hinske to the Yankees for a pair of mid-level prospects
and then swapping Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals along with Sean Burnett
for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan. Morgan has emerged as a very
solid all-around player, offering elite defense and nice on-base
skills, but Andrew McCutchen made him expendable.

Morgan dramatically upgrades the Nationals’ outfield defense and
certainly has a good deal of value, but he’s also 29 years old with a
modest .286/.351/.376 mark in 157 career games. Milledge has far more
long-term upside even considering his various issues, but clearly
Washington had given up on him and Hanrahan as pieces of the puzzle
going forward.

Morgan was already playing every day in Pittsburgh, so the only big
change from the trade will be his moving back to the leadoff spot. That
should give him a little boost, but his basic value remains the same.
Hanrahan’s value dries up now that he has no chance for another crack
at closing duties and Burnett isn’t worthy of a fantasy roster spot in
any circumstances, leaving Milledge as the deal’s winner.

Demoted to Triple-A all of seven games into the season, he’s
currently rehabbing a broken finger and should get an extended shot in
the Pirates’ new-look outfield once healthy. Milledge has been a large
disappointment both on and off the field so far, but he’s still just 24
years old with a promising power-speed combo. If he can get on track
and live up to some of the hype, the Pirates will have done well.

While the Pirates likely look to trade Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson next, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Carlos Beltran received good news Tuesday as the second opinion on
his knee injury confirmed the initial diagnosis of a bone bruise. He’s
been advised to rest through the All-Star break, which while longer
than the original return timetable is better than possible year-ending
and perhaps career-threatening microfracture surgery. Fernando Martinez
and Jeremy Reed have been splitting full-in duties.

* Mike Lowell would have been unavailable for as long as week after
receiving a lubrication injection in his surgically repaired right hip,
so the Red Sox decided to place him on the disabled list Tuesday. He’s
expected to return once the 15-day stint is finished, but in the
meantime Kevin Youkilis started at third base Tuesday as call-up Jeff
Bailey went 3-for-4 with a walk while playing at first base.

AL Quick Hits: Josh Hamilton (abdomen) reportedly could come off
the disabled list as soon as this weekend … As expected, Josh Outman
underwent Tommy John elbow surgery Tuesday and will be sidelined until
at least mid-2010 … Erik Bedard (shoulder) has been penciled in to come
off the DL for Saturday’s game against Boston … Adam Jones left
Tuesday’s game with shoulder and neck pain after crashing into the
outfield wall … Scott Downs threw off a mound Tuesday for the first
time since spraining his toe two weeks ago … Ervin Santana (triceps)
threw a bullpen session Tuesday and is expected to rejoin the rotation
at some point this weekend … Adrian Beltre opted to go under the knife
Tuesday and will miss 6-8 weeks following shoulder surgery … Matt Garza
tossed seven innings of one-run ball Tuesday for the Rays’ seventh
straight win … Justin Duchscherer (elbow) has finally been cleared to
begin a throwing program.

NL Quick Hits: Jimmy Rollins went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in
his return to the lineup Tuesday and is now hitless in 24 at-bats …
Albert Pujols had his seventh multi-homer game of the year Tuesday,
extending his MLB lead to 30 … Edinson Volquez (elbow) has been cleared
to begin a throwing program … David Wright homered Tuesday for the
first time in 78 at-bats … Bronson Arroyo allowed six runs Tuesday,
serving up his MLB-high 19th and 20th homers … Colby Ramus is available
to pinch-hit despite being diagnosed with a hiatal hernia that he
blamed on “heavy late-night eating” … Martin Prado went 4-for-5 and
drove in four runs Tuesday, including a walk-off single in the 10th
inning … Yunel Escobar (hip) and Nate McClouth (hamstring) were
scratched from the lineup Tuesday … Chad Tracy came off the disabled
list Tuesday after missing 27 games with an oblique injury … Ross
Ohlendorf tossed seven scoreless innings with a career-high eight
strikeouts Tuesday … Dan Haren allowed just one run and hit a homer
Tuesday.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.