Twins drop slumping Justin Morneau in lineup

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Justin Morneau finished the spring in a frenzy, but it hasn’t carried over, as he’s hit just .206/.270/.353 with two RBI and 10 strikeouts in 34 at-bats since the regular season started. As a result, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has decided to drop him down to fifth in the lineup and insert Josh Willingham in between Joe Mauer and Morneau.

MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger reports that it’s the first time since April 4, 2008 that Mauer and Morneau have been in the lineup and not hit back-to-back. Mauer was a No. 2 hitter that day, with Michael Cuddyer hitting third ahead of Morneau.

Dropping Morneau in the lineup seemed like the smart choice from the moment Willingham was signed by the Twins, particularly against left-handers. If nothing else, it would have served to separate the team’s two (hopefully) potent left-handed bats. Gardenhire, though, wasn’t eager to take the step, and he wasn’t willing to have Willingham and Morneau ‘platoon’ between the two spots (batting Willingham fourth versus lefties and Morneau fourth against righties would have made tons of sense).

But if there’s some hurt feelings, hopefully Gardenhire can convince Morneau that this is less about him and more about Willingham, who has been one of the game’s hottest hitters with a .419/.514/.871 line to date. Morneau has actually been pretty good against righties so far, hitting .292. However, he’s 0-for-10 against lefties.

Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg’s status for 2023 ‘a mystery’

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Stephen Strasburg‘s status for 2023 is up in the air after a series of injuries that limited him to one start this season, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said.

“It’s still a little bit of a mystery,” Rizzo said about the 2019 World Series MVP before the Nationals were scheduled to play a doubleheader at the New York Mets. “I know that he’s working hard strengthening his core and the other parts of his body. We’re just going to have to see. With the type of surgery and rehab that he’s had, it’s unfamiliar to us. It’s unfamiliar to a lot of people. We’re going to have to take it day by day.”

The 34-year-old right-hander has thrown a total of 31 1/3 innings across just eight starts over the past three seasons combined. He had carpal tunnel surgery in 2020, then needed an operation to correct thoracic outlet syndrome in 2021.

After his only start of 2022, he went back on the injured list with a stress reaction of the ribs.

“We’ll have to see where the rehab process takes us later on in the winter,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to monitor him. He’s local, so we’ll see him all the time and we’ll see where he’s at going into spring training mode.”

Strasburg is a three-time All-Star who signed a $245 million contract after helping Washington win a championship in 2019.

He is 113-62 with a 3.24 ERA for his career.

Meeting with reporters toward the end of a rough season – Washington entered with a majors-worst and Nationals-worst record of 55-104 and shipped away the team’s best player, outfielder Juan Soto, at the trade deadline – Rizzo talked about doing “an autopsy of the organization.”

“I look at the season as a disappointment. I’ve always said that you are what your record says you are, and our record says we’re the worst team in the league right now. It’s hard to argue with that,” Rizzo said. “The flip side of that is we’re in a process.”

Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez were given contract extensions during the season. Martinez said his entire coaching staff will return next year.