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Jayson Werth delivers walkoff homer vs. Cardinals to force a Game 5 in NLDS

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We’re going to have yet another Game 5 in this already thrilling postseason.

Jayson Werth clubbed a walkoff solo homer to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning this evening to power the Nationals to a 2-1 victory over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLDS. It forces a fifth and deciding game in the series tomorrow night in Washington, D.C.

The home run came on the 14th pitch of an intense duel with Lance Lynn where Werth battled back from 0-2 and fouled off a number of tough pitches. But he eventually found a pitch to his liking and put it over the left field fence and into the bullpen for the first playoff win in Washington, D.C. since 1933.

Ross Detwiler allowed an unearned run over six six innings before Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen combined for three innings of shutout relief. Eight of the nine outs recorded by the trio were via the strikeout, though they did get some help from a very questionable strike zone from home plate umpire Jim Joyce. Pete Kozma drew a walk with two outs in the top of the ninth and likely would have scored on a bloop into shallow left field off the bat of Matt Carpenter, but Ian Desmond was able to chase it down while making an impressive over-the-shoulder catch.

Kyle Lohse was very solid in a no-decision, allowing just one run on two hits and walk over 7 2/3 innings. His only mistake was a solo home run by Adam LaRoche in the second inning, but he simply didn’t get enough help from his offense on this day.

We’ll get a rematch from Game 1 tomorrow night, as Adam Wainwright will get the call for the Cardinals and Gio Gonzalez will pitch for the Nationals.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.