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Nationals drop struggling Ian Desmond from the leadoff spot

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After going hitless in 12 at-bats during this week’s series against the Phillies, Ian Desmond has been dropped from first to seventh in the lineup for tonight’s game against the Brewers.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman changed his mind about dropping Desmond in the lineup early last week, but tells Paul Tenorio of the Washington Post that he’s hopeful the change will allow him to relax at the plate.

“I just really want to let the attention get off [Desmond] in that spot, let him settle in a little bit deeper in the lineup, take some of that off of him,” Riggleman said. “We thought about doing it earlier and I didn’t, it was only three or four games into the season. Dezzy’s doing fine. He’s going to go through some times like this just like all of them are. Just trying to take a little attention off the leadoff spot for him. He’s a heck of a player and he’s doing some really good things for us out there that are kind of under the radar that people don’t see, but as far as swinging the bat maybe let him relax a little bit deeper in the lineup today.”

Desmond is batting just .180/.212/.300 with a 12/2 K/BB ratio over his first 52 plate appearances this season. He has just 35 walks over his first 715 plate appearances in the big leagues, so he’s hardly an ideal leadoff man.

Danny Espinosa will replace him at the top of the lineup and while he’s a poor bet to maintain his current .281 batting average, he is at least seeing 3.88 pitches per plate appearance so far this season. The Nationals need something to kickstart an offense which is missing third baseman Ryan Zimmerman with an abdominal strain.

Report: Dodgers could pursue three-year deal with Rich Hill

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs in game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Free agent left-hander Rich Hill is rumored to be entertaining a three-year, $40+ million offer from the Dodgers, reports Peter Gammons. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo corroborated the report, adding that Hill could receive somewhere between $46 and $48 million from his former team.

Hill, 36, pitched to a 2.12 ERA and 3.91 FIP in back-to-back stints with the Athletics and Dodgers in 2016. While a chronic case of blisters on his pitching hand limited the frequency of his starts, he still figures to be one of the most productive and noteworthy starting pitchers on the market this winter.

The Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Astros have all been mentioned as potential suitors for the left-hander’s services, though Orioles’ GM Dan Duquette said the club has yet to make a play for Hill and ESPN’s Jim Bowden pointed out that the Red Sox are less involved in trade talks than other interested parties.

Yankees in, Red Sox out on Edwin Encarnacion

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 19:  Edwin Encarnacion #10 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on against the Cleveland Indians during game five of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 19, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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In light of the Astros’ deal for veteran designated hitter Carlos Beltran on Saturday, the Yankees are thought to be intensifying their pursuit of free agent Edwin Encarnacion, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. The Yankees never made an official offer to Beltran, but remain in need of a DH/first baseman to give them a little more power outside of a Tyler AustinGreg Bird combo in 2017.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, are reportedly withdrawing their interest when it comes to the Encarnacion sweepstakes. According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, they will look for a hitter to beef up their lineup without taking a “big plunge” on the 34-year-old.

Encarnacion enjoyed another All-Star run with the Blue Jays in 2016, hitting at a .263/.357/.529 clip with 42 homers and a league-leading 127 RBI in 702 PA. He’s expected to command a significant contract in free agency, and agent Paul Kinzer said that a potential deal is unlikely to be finalized before the Winter Meetings as Encarnacion is not close to agreeing to any offer. Interested teams include the Blue Jays and the Astros, though Beltran’s signing appears to have effectively taken Houston out of the running for the slugger.