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.
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.
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.