Pirates bench Akinori Iwamura, move ex-catcher Neil Walker to second base

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Back in November the Pirates traded reliever Jesse Chavez to the Rays for Akinori Iwamura and then picked up his $4.85 million option for 2010, but manager John Russell announced today that they’re already cutting bait on the struggling second baseman.
Iwamura has batted just .173 in 44 games while showing decreased range defensively following knee surgery last year, so benching the 31-year-old in what is yet another rebuilding season for the Pirates makes sense. In fact, acquiring him in the first place seemed like an odd move for a non-contending team.
More surprising is that the Pirates have decided to replace Iwamura at second base with Neil Walker, who was just called up from Triple-A last week and has a grand total of 23 career games at second base. He was the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft and moved to third base after not cutting it as a catcher, but he’d never played second base prior to this season and seems unlikely to be more than passable there.
Of course, in the short term the Pirates don’t lose much by taking a defensive hit to get him regular playing time and see what they have in Walker offensively long term, at which point they can better decide how he fits into the plans. Starting third baseman Andy LaRoche is hitting just .254 with a .685 OPS and now has a .669 OPS in 1,110 career plate appearances, so at age 26 he’s looking more and more like a full-blown bust.

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Stephen Strasburg hit a new career high today

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Good luck getting a hit against the Nationals this weekend. Stephen Strasburg followed Max Scherzer‘s 13-strikeout performance on Friday with a dazzling outing of his own on Saturday afternoon. The right-hander whiffed a career-best 15 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in the Nats’ 3-0 win.

It took Strasburg several innings to get into a groove after pitching into (and out of) a jam in the first inning. The Padres loaded the bases with Allen Cordoba‘s leadoff single, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a four-pitch walk to Cory Spangenberg. By the third, Strasburg was cruising, striking out the side on 18 pitches and keeping the Padres off the basepaths until the sixth. He recorded his 15th and final strikeout in the seventh inning, catching Padres’ prospect Franchy Cordero swinging on a 1-2 pitch to effectively end his outing.

While 15 strikeouts set a new career record for the Nationals’ ace, he came close to reaching the mark twice before. The first time, he struck out 14 of 24 batters during his major league debut against the 2010 Pirates, though the 5-2 win did little more than keep the Nationals neck-and-neck with the Marlins at the bottom of the NL East. Five years later, he tied his 14-strikeout record against the 2015 Phillies, tossing a one-hitter in eight innings to cement his ninth victory of the season.

The only one who doesn’t seem overly enthused by the new record? Strasburg himself, who told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and AJ Cassavell: “It’s pretty cool, but there’s another game five, six days from now. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow.”