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.

Video: Angels use eight pitchers in spring training no-hitter

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Who says no-hitters can’t be just as fun when they happen during spring training?

Angels’ right-hander Bud Norris delivered two perfect innings on Friday night, paving the way for an eight-pitcher no-hitter against the Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Austin Adams, Drew Gagnon and Justin Anderson each filed a hitless inning of their own, leaving right-hander Abel De Los Santos to close out the ninth inning with just three pitches — and three game-saving plays by the defense.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels were facing a bevy of Mariners’ backups, rather than their starting lineup. In fact, Seattle’s lineup featured just two starting players — outfielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jean Segura — while the majority of their everyday position players took on the Royals in a 4-3 win elsewhere in the Cactus League. The Mariners managed to reach base twice, first on catcher interference in the fourth inning, then on a four-pitch walk in the sixth, spoiling the Angels’ chances of turning their combined no-hitter into a combined perfect game.

Still, whether it’s executed in spring training or the regular season, against an All-Star lineup or one comprised of minor leaguers, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The team’s eight-pitcher effort marked the first spring training no-no the Angels had completed since 1996, when they took on the Giants in a 15-0 showdown. Unfortunately for the 1996 squad, their regular season ended with a 70-91 record, good for last place in the AL West. Perhaps this no-hitter will prove a better omen for the coming season.

Tanner Scheppers leaves Cactus League game with lower core injury

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Rangers’ bullpen candidate Tanner Scheppers left Friday’s Cactus League game with pain in his “lower half,” according to reports by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The specifics of the right-hander’s injury have yet to be determined, but he was accompanied by the athletic trainer when he exited the game and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday.

Scheppers, 30, has a long history of elbow and knee injuries. He missed all but 8 2/3 innings of the 2016 season after undergoing a procedure to repair torn articular cartilage in his left knee. While he appeared healthy enough through his first seven appearances this spring, he failed to impress with three runs, five walks and six strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings with the club.

Should Scheppers find himself on the disabled list for another lengthy stay, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan speculates that his absence could clear some room in the bullpen for Rule 5 draft pick and fellow righty Mike Hauschild. Hauschild, 27, has dealt seven runs, five walks and 15 strikeouts through 17 1/3 innings in camp.