D.J. Short

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 23: Ryan Lavarnway #34 of the Baltimore Orioles bats in the third inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 23, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Braves sign Ryan Lavarnway to a minor league contract

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The Braves have signed catcher Ryan Lavarnway to a minor league contract, reports Kevin McAlpin of the Braves Radio Network. He’ll report to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Lavarnway opted for free agency this week after being designated for assignment by the Orioles. The 27-year-old batted just .107 (3-for-28) with Baltimore and made eight starts behind the plate. He owns a .192/.246/.300 batting line over 333 plate appearances in the majors.

Lavarnway spent his first four seasons in the majors with the Red Sox, but he has now switched teams four times since December.

Bryce Harper scratched from Saturday’s lineup with sore back

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 29:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals stands at home plate after striking out in the 1st inning during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 29, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The Nationals have scratched outfielder Bryce Harper from tonight’s lineup against the Reds due to a sore back. This will be the first game he hasn’t started this season.

Harper was hit square in the middle of his back by a 93 mph fastball from Reds left-hander Tony Cingrani in the seventh inning last night. There was a little bit of drama involved, as the Reds were peeved that he took too long to make it down to first base. It turns out that getting hit in the back by a 93 mph pitch hurts. Who knew?

Clint Robinson will start in Harper’s place in right field tonight while Michael Taylor will start in left.

Nationals place Stephen Strasburg on the 15-day disabled list with neck tightness

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 29:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals walks off the field in the 2nd inning during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 29, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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After making an early exit from last night’s start, Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg has been placed on the 15-day disabled list due to neck tightness.

Strasburg threw just 16 pitches in his start against the Reds last night before leaving in the bottom of the second inning. The specific diagnosis was tightness in his left trapezius muscle. Strasburg left a start against the Marlins on May 5 with discomfort under his right shoulder blade, but it’s unclear whether the issues are related.

One thing that is clear is that Strasburg hasn’t looked like himself for a while now. He owns a 6.55 ERA through 10 starts this season (second-highest in the majors among pitchers with 40 innings pitched) and hasn’t completed six innings in a start since April 25. He has a 45/14 K/BB ratio over 45 1/3 innings and his velocity has been fine, but his swinging strike rate sits at seven percent, which is four percent below his career average and 1.9 percent below the league average for starters so far this season.

It’s worth noting that Strasburg sprained his left ankle late in spring training, so some have speculated that he changed something to compensate for the injury. Who knows if that’s actually the case, but simply getting some time off just to regroup could be beneficial.

Adeiny Hechavarria out of Saturday’s lineup with shoulder injury

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria #3 and left fielder Christian Yelich #21 of the Miami Marlins both dive but can't make a catch on a ball hit by Daniel Murphy #28 of the New York Mets for an RBI  double during the ninth inning on May 29, 2015 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Marlins defeated the Mets 4-3. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria injured his left shoulder in a collision with teammate Christian Yelich last night and he told Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald that he expects to be sidelined until at least Monday.

The collision occurred when Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy hit a bloop into shallow left field in the ninth inning. Hechavarria dove and appeared to get a knee into his shoulder from Yelich. You can watch the play here.

Hechavarria said his shoulder hurts when he does “any type of movement, up or down,” which doesn’t sound promising, but more should be known when after he’s seen by doctors this afternoon.

Hechavarria, 26, is batting .300/.330/.394 with two home runs and 20 RBI over 49 games this season.

Must-click link: The strike zone is getting bigger and lower

Strike zone
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Craig linked to a piece from Jon Roegele at the Hardball Times last October which showed that the strike zone has been growing significantly, particularly in the lower part of the zone. This has coincided with decreased scoring in MLB. There was a report in February that MLB’s Playing Rules Committee planned to keep an eye on the strike zone this season to see if it needs to be changed for 2016. Well, according to Roegele, two months into the season, it’s actually expanding:

When I checked in on the strike zone after just the first weeks of this season, its overall size was noticeably smaller than last year. In addition, while the bottom of the strike zone was as robust as it was during the initial weeks of the 2014 season, there was still room for it to grow to reach the level where it settled by the end the year.

Now two months into the season, the story has changed. The fact that the zone has been expanding downward since the start of spring training has been noted elsewhere, and these numbers paint the same picture.

There is some really interesting data in this piece, particularly about the difference in the strike zone between right-handed batters and left-handed batters. It would appear that the deck is increasingly stacked against right-handed batters. Be sure to check this out.