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Jon Daniels traveled to Japan to evaluate Shohei Otani

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Rangers’ general manager Jon Daniels is in Japan for a special scouting trip this week, according to reports from MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, among others. Daniels, along with assistant GM Josh Boyd and team scouts Joe Furukawa and Hajime Watabe, are taking an extended look at Japanese pitcher/slugger Shohei Otani.

Otani is the top talent in Nippon Professional Baseball and very well may be one of the top talents in Major League Baseball if he chooses to continue his career in the United States. He’s been out of the Nippon-Ham Fighters’ lineup for nearly five weeks due to a lingering thigh injury, but was able to hold a workout session prior to the Fighters’ game, where the Rangers were reportedly in attendance.

There’s still some ambiguity surrounding Otani’s move to Major League Baseball. Last month, a 60 Minutes interview with the young star revealed that Otani was considering a transition as early as 2018, even in light of current league rules, which cap the posting fees at $20 million and stipulate hard salary caps for any international player under 25 years old. The Rangers, Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adds, are likely trying to build some goodwill with the young pitcher ahead of the decision process, and may even have an advantage due to one special relationship with another Texas pitcher:

Otani and Darvish are friends and off-season training partners. Otani considers Darvish to be his mentor. Speculation among the Japanese writers covering MLB is that the Rangers could greatly enhance their chances at signing Otani if they are able to keep Darvish, who hits free agency after this season.

Even if the Rangers successfully retain Darvish, however, they won’t be the only team competing for Otani’s services over the next couple of years. Daniels may have a leg up for the time being, but the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball is sure to attract considerable interest around the league as his MLB arrival date draws near.

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Stephen Strasburg hit a new career high today

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Good luck getting a hit against the Nationals this weekend. Stephen Strasburg followed Max Scherzer‘s 13-strikeout performance on Friday with a dazzling outing of his own on Saturday afternoon. The right-hander whiffed a career-best 15 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in the Nats’ 3-0 win.

It took Strasburg several innings to get into a groove after pitching into (and out of) a jam in the first inning. The Padres loaded the bases with Allen Cordoba‘s leadoff single, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a four-pitch walk to Cory Spangenberg. By the third, Strasburg was cruising, striking out the side on 18 pitches and keeping the Padres off the basepaths until the sixth. He recorded his 15th and final strikeout in the seventh inning, catching Padres’ prospect Franchy Cordero swinging on a 1-2 pitch to effectively end his outing.

While 15 strikeouts set a new career record for the Nationals’ ace, he came close to reaching the mark twice before. The first time, he struck out 14 of 24 batters during his major league debut against the 2010 Pirates, though the 5-2 win did little more than keep the Nationals neck-and-neck with the Marlins at the bottom of the NL East. Five years later, he tied his 14-strikeout record against the 2015 Phillies, tossing a one-hitter in eight innings to cement his ninth victory of the season.

The only one who doesn’t seem overly enthused by the new record? Strasburg himself, who told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and AJ Cassavell: “It’s pretty cool, but there’s another game five, six days from now. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow.”