- Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic tweets that there’s a “tentative” timeline of four to six weeks for Nationals star Trea Turner (from the time of his injury). Turner landed on the injured list with a fractured index finger last week. Light-hitting Wilmer Difo has filled in for Turner since he exited last Tuesday’s game after injuring his right (throwing) hand on a bunt attempt in his first plate appearance.
The Nationals are showing interest in free agent reliever Bud Norris, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). Per the report, the club would still like to stay beneath the luxury tax line with any new additions.
With bullpen issues jumping up right out of the gate this year, the Nationals are understandably looking to find reinforcements. While superstar closer Craig Kimbrel remains available, he’ll still cost quite a bit. Otherwise, the market is largely devoid of appealing options outside of old friend Ryan Madson, who never seemed to be pursuing a contract in earnest.
Norris dealt with some forearm fatigue this spring after signing late. He was cut loose recently by the Blue Jays when he and the team did not see eye to eye on his readiness for MLB action. He had signed a minor-league deal with the Toronto organization — quite a surprising result after he turned in a solid 2018 season.
Working as the Cardinals closer for much of the ’18 campaign, Norris pitched to a 3.59 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 over 57 2/3 innings. He sat at 95 with his four-seam fastball and carried a 12%+ swinging-strike rate for the second consecutive season.
Nationals reliever Trevor Rosenthal’s hellish early season start continued Sunday when he failed to retire either Met he faced, walking one and hitting another. Rosenthal also threw a pair of wild pitches and totaled just one strike during his seven-pitch outing. Worse, the 28-year-old hasn’t recorded an out against any of the nine batters he has gone against this season, making him the first pitcher since 1995 to achieve that ignominious feat, Jon Heyman of MLB Network notes. Rosenthal, who missed all of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, expressed confidence in his health Sunday and his chances of eventually escaping this slump, per Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com. Meanwhile, asked if the Nationals can continue to put Rosenthal on the mound, manager Dave Martinez said: “We have to come up with something. We have to figure something out for him. We tried to tweak something with his mechanics, but we’ve got to keep working on it.”
Martinez added the Nationals are “going to need Rosey,” who was their most noteworthy bullpen addition of the offseason. Thanks to a successful run with the Cardinals from 2012-17, Rosenthal’s earning a guaranteed $7MM this season with Washington, which took a chance on him in the wake of his injury. His return has gone about as poorly as possible thus far, of course, though Rosenthal’s hardly the lone problem in the Nationals’ bullpen. The unit entered Sunday with a league-worst 10.02 ERA and nearly blew a 12-1 lead before hanging on for a 12-9 win.
A grueling seven-month rehab process is finally nearing its end for Gregory Polanco, reports MLB.com’s Adam Berry, as the Pirates outfielder is set to begin a rehab assignment tomorrow for High-A Bradenton. The initial rehab outlook for the torn labrum on Polanco’s left shoulder was seven to nine months, so even a full 20-day rehab stay will have him set to return on the short end of the timeframe. The 27-year-old’s imminent return will be manna from the proverbial heaven for the run-starved Pirates, who’ve already lost outfielders Corey Dickerson and Lonnie Chisenhall to injuries at the season’s outset. Polanco’s status as a perennial breakout candidate finally came to fruition last year, as the big lefty slashed a career-best .254/.340/.499 (123 wRC+) in 130 games before suffering the injury in early September. His hard-hit rate, which had dipped to a shockingly pedestrian 25.9% in 2017, jumped nearly nine percentage points, and the newfound plate discipline he exhibited reaped huge benefits.
In further rehab news from around the game…
- Clayton Kershaw’s dominant rehab performance on minor-league Opening Night doesn’t mean he’s ready for the show, writes Bill Plunkett of the OC Register. The three-time Cy Young award winner will need at least another rehab outing – this one in the 75-80 pitch range – before rejoining the big club in the coming weeks. Dampening the much-needed flames throughout the outing were the stadium’s radar gun readouts, which reportedly had the seven-time all-star sitting at a frightening 88-91 MPH with the fastball. A career-low 90.9 MPH average fastball velocity in ’18 led to the lefty’s lowest strikeout rate since his rookie season of 2008, and the once-untouchable ace was again vulnerable to the longball. The club may not need a halcyon Kershaw to contend for the pennant, and may not need him at all to run through a sloppy NL West. Still, even a compromised version of the lefty should be quite effective, and the Dodgers, who doubled down on their substantial investment this offseason, will continue to hold out out hope for the ace of seasons past.
- Per Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic, Nationals outfielder Michael A. Taylor will play seven innings in a rehab game today. It’s good news for the Nationals, who expected the extra OF to miss “significant time” after he sprained his knee and hip mid-March. There seems to be precious little playing time in the Nats outfield for Taylor, who followed up a solid 2017 season with a .227/.287/.357 stinker last year. Strikeouts have long been an issue for the speedy centerfielder, who’s posted a K rate of 30% or higher in each of his four major-league seasons.
TODAY: Turner is officially going on the 10-day injured list. Infielder Adrian Sanchez will take his spot on the active roster for the time being. Since Sanchez already has a 40-man spot, no further moves will be necessary.
YESTERDAY: The Nationals received bad news on shortstop Trea Turner tonight, as X-rays revealed that he sustained a fractured right index finger on a bunt attempt, manager Dave Martinez revealed following tonight’s loss (Twitter link via ESPN’s Buster Olney). He’ll be out for a yet-to-be-determined period of time.
Turner, looking to bunt his way aboard in the first inning of tonight’s game, left too much of his hand exposed and caught the brunt of a 92 mph Zach Eflin fastball on his right index finger. He was replaced by Wilmer Difo without finishing the at-bat and could very well be replaced by Difo for the foreseeable future with a trip to the injured list surely around the corner. Alternatively, the Nats have one of the game’s best infield prospects in Carter Kieboom, though the 21-year-old is not yet on the 40-man roster and has only played in 62 games above A-ball.
The loss of Turner comes at time when the Nats have opened the season 1-3 and been outscored by opponents at a 26-16 clip. Swapping out Turner, one of the team’s best offensive players, for the light-hitting Difo won’t do the lineup any favors. There’s little available on the open market at present, though the A’s did just cut veteran middle infielder Cliff Pennington loose if Washington is eyeing some veteran minor league depth from outside the organization.
Following an offseason that featured an arms race between several of the NL East’s contenders, expectations are higher than ever for the Braves, Mets, Nationals, and Phillies. For that reason, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post, there will be no excuses for managers Gabe Kapler, Dave Martinez, and Mickey Callaway this time around. The trio of rookie managers all endured disappointing 2018 seasons, but with their ballclubs making significant additions in the winter, the new year comes with heightened pressure to deliver and win now. It bears mentioning that first-year Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was not part of the front office that hired Callaway prior to last season. Though it’s still early to speculate about managerial turnover, the developing bloodbath in the NL East will be a story to watch throughout the season and into the winter.
Here are some other notes from the East…
- Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy, once an uber-prospect with tantalizing potential, has undergone well-documented struggles in recent years, culminating in his surrendering 41 home runs last season. Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun details new pitching coach Doug Brocail’s plan to implement changes that will help Bundy return to the form that brought him success earlier in his career, including his career-best 2016 season.
- Also in Baltimore, new skipper Brandon Hyde has thus far refrained from anointing a closer and does not intend to do so anytime soon, writes Meoli. Though Mychal Givens, who finished the 2018 season in the closer role after the midseason trades of Zack Britton and Brad Brach, appeared the best candidate to close, Hyde’s Orioles are comfortable sticking to a committee approach for the foreseeable future.
- Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has been dealing with left knee inflammation and began the season on the IL, will begin a rehab assignment on Thursday with the Class-A Greenville Drive, per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. Pedroia has been receiving at-bats in extended spring training; the timetable for his return to MLB action is yet unknown.
- Nationals left-hander Vidal Nuno III decided not to exercise his March 27 opt-out clause, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post tweets. Nuno, who did not make the Nats’ season-opening roster, will have another chance to exit his minor league deal June 15 if he’s still with the organization. In the meantime, the 31-year-old is set to begin the season at the Triple-A level, per Dougherty. Nuno spent most of 2018 in Triple-A with the Rays, but he did amass 33 innings in the majors and pitch to a stingy 1.64 ERA (alongside an unspectacular 4.46 FIP and a paltry 28.6 percent groundball rate) with 7.91 K/9 and 2.73 BB/9.
The Nationals announced Wednesday that they’ve selected the contract of infielder Jake Noll, who will occupy a bench spot and make his MLB debut when he first gets into a game. Washington also announced that righty Koda Glover (forearm strain), Howie Kendrick (left hamstring strain) and Michael A. Taylor (left knee/hip sprain) have all been placed on the 10-day injured list.
Noll, 25, was Washington’s seventh-round pick back in 2016 and impressed the organization with a strong spring effort: .320/.393/.520 with a pair of homers and four doubles in 56 plate appearances. A right-handed hitter, Noll split the 2018 campaign between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, slashing a combined .291/.341/.412 in 549 plate appearances. Defensively, he’s spent time at first base, second base and third base, so he’ll be a candidate to back up several spots around the diamond and give manager Dave Martinez a bit of versatility. Noll will join a Nationals bench that also includes first baseman/left fielder Matt Adams, infielder Wilmer Difo, catcher Kurt Suzuki and outfielder Andrew Stevenson.
As for the trio of Nats now officially on the injured list, there’s no clear timeline as to when any of the bunch will return. Kendrick is staying down in extended Spring Training after appearing in only five Grapefruit League contests. Glover was originally shut down due to said forearm strain in late February after tossing just a third of an inning in his lone spring appearance. Taylor is expected to miss a “significant” amount of time with his injury.
- Infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick won’t begin the year on the Nationals’ roster, according to Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com. Kendrick will instead remain in Florida to continue rehabbing from the hamstring strain he suffered two-plus weeks ago. It’s unclear when Kendrick will rejoin the Nationals, but when he does, he’ll be in line for his first major league action since incurring a ruptured right Achilles last May. That catastrophic injury derailed what was shaping up to be another quality offensive campaign for Kendrick.
Even though it’s extension season in Major League Baseball, a new deal between the Nationals and contract-year third baseman Anthony Rendon doesn’t appear imminent. General manager Mike Rizzo said Saturday there isn’t anything new to report vis-a-vis Rendon, nor does the recent flood of extensions across the majors have any effect on the two sides’ talks, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post tweets. Rendon spoke about his future earlier in the week and didn’t sound particularly optimistic about an extension coming together. As things stand, Rendon’s on track to be one of the rare high-end players available in next winter’s free-agent class, which has rapidly lost its shine because of the extension trend.