Adam LaRoche expected to be Nationals’ first baseman next season

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We’ve heard plenty of speculation that the Nationals could emerge as a suitor for free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, but general manager Mike Rizzo is doing his best to downplay the situation.

The Nationals held a conference call earlier today to discuss the Gio Gonzalez deal. Amanda Comak of the Washington Times reports that Rizzo was asked flatly whether Adam LaRoche would be the club’s first baseman next season. His answer? “That’s correct.”

LaRoche signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Nationals last offseason, but was only limited to 43 games this past season before undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in June. Nationals manager Davey Johnson told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post earlier this month that the 32-year-old is back to 100 percent.

We’ll have to take Rizzo’s word on the matter for now, but remember that the Nationals were heavily involved on Mark Buehrle before he signed a four-year, $58 million deal with the Marlins earlier this month. The newly-acquired Gonzalez is only expected to make a little over $4 million through the arbitration process, so there could be some room left in the budget. Oh, and don’t forget that Rizzo has quite a lengthy history of doing business with Scott Boras. Like it or not, the Nationals will be mentioned as a possibility until Fielder is signed, sealed and delivered somewhere.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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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.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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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.