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Scherzer pitches simulated game, nears return

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WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer is getting closer to returning.

The Washington Nationals ace threw a simulated game Tuesday, a key step in his progression toward returning to active duty. Facing a trio of Washington players that included Howie Kendrick, Gerardo Parra and Ryan Zimmerman, Scherzer tossed about 30 pitches during two innings on the main mound at Nationals Park.

Prior to that, he threw roughly 30 pitches during warm-ups in the bullpen.

The mock outing, which featured the veteran hurler’s game-day walkout song (“Still D.R.E”) and Parra’s walk-up music (“Baby Shark”), comes three days after Scherzer threw his first bullpen session since going back on the injured list with back issues.

Manager Davey Martinez was encouraged by what he saw and heard Tuesday.

“He said he felt really good,” Martinez said. “But the whole deal with this injury is his recovery, so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

If Scherzer feels like his normal self Wednesday, the plan would be for him to throw a light bullpen session Thursday. As for whether Scherzer would work another simulated game or perhaps go on a rehab assignment before being activated, Martinez was noncommittal. One thing the Nats skipper does know is that when his ace eventually returns, his workload will be restricted.

“If we decided to pitch him in a game,” Martinez said, “it wouldn’t be 100 pitches right away. I can tell you that right now. We really gotta be very careful where we’re at with him right now. This is to get him through the rest of the season and then some.”

Scherzer has been dealing with back issues since the end of June, a month in which he went 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and won National League pitcher of the month honors. On July 13, after skipping the All-Star Game in an effort to get healthy, the three-time Cy Young winner was placed on the injured list with a mid-back strain, retroactive to July 10. He returned from the IL to face the Colorado Rockies on July 25, when he allowed three runs in five innings and threw a season-low 86 pitches. Four days later, Scherzer landed on the IL again (back-dated to July 26) with a mild rhomboid strain.

In other Nationals news, slugger Juan Soto is back in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. Soto missed Monday’s series opener after spraining his right ankle while rounding third base against the New York Mets on Sunday. The injury appeared serious at the time, but X-rays were negative on the 20-year old outfielder, who fractured the same ankle in 2017. Despite walking gingerly around the clubhouse Monday, Soto was cleared for action a day later.

“He checked all the boxes,” Martinez said of Soto. “We got him on the field. He ran angles. He turned like he was running the bases. The biggest thing was the turns. He said he felt great. He was bugging me yesterday to go in the game, and I told him just sit down and relax. But he was not happy that he had to sit and watch. He kept bugging me to pinch-hit. I was like, just sit down. You’ll be fine.”

Soto entered Tuesday hitting .288 with 24 home runs and 77 RBIs in 107 games. His 75 walks ranked third in the NL.

Scherzer is 9-5 with a 2.41 ERA. Despite spending time on the shelf, his 189 strikeouts were tied for most in the NL entering Tuesday.

The Nats went into Tuesday’s action with a 63-55 record. They were in second place in the NL East, six games behind the Atlanta Braves, and in possession of the top wild-card spot in the NL.

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MLB prospects to watch on each team’s 60-man pool

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With Major League Baseball scheduled to open camps for “spring training 2.0” in the coming days, teams had to submit their initial 60-man player pools Sunday. Players still can be added with many teams listing fewer than 60 names, but this at least gives us a glimpse of whom we’ll see when the players finally hit the diamond.

Many of the game’s top prospects, Rays phenom Wander Franco chief among them, will be in camp, although there’s no guarantee they’ll see any big league action this season. With the minor leagues shut down, these camps will provide the best opportunity for development for many players.

Players must be in their team’s 60-man pool to be eligible to play for the major league club this season. The pool can change throughout the season through standard transactions, such as waiver claims, free-agent signings and trades. A 30-man roster will be set for the start of the season, with the remaining players continuing to train at an alternate site. Roster size will be reduced to 28 two weeks into the season, then to 26 two weeks after that.

Borrowing liberally from the work of ESPN MLB prospect expert Kiley McDaniel, here’s a look at some of the notable prospects on each team’s initial 60-man pool, with teams grouped by division. We’ll update this story as more teams release their lists.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles

Outfielder Austin Hays was solid in a call-up last season and has a chance to contribute if his health issues are behind him. Catcher Adley Rutschman (No. 3 on McDaniel’s top 100) isn’t big league ready and isn’t on the Orioles’ initial list, but they have room to add to it.

Boston Red Sox

Powerful Bobby Dalbec should have a shot at making at least the early roster. Also noteworthy: Connor Wong, the lesser prospect who came over in the Mookie Betts deal, is on the initial list, but Jeter Downs, the bigger prospect in the Betts trade, is not.

New York Yankees

Righties Deivi Garcia (No. 45 on McDaniel’s top 100) and Clarke Schmidt (No. 82) both could be useful arms for New York.

Tampa Bay Rays

Wander Franco, the phenom who is the consensus top prospect in the game, won’t necessarily make his debut this season — it would be a big leap from Class A — but he’ll get a good look and create a lot of buzz at camp.

Toronto Blue Jays

Fireballing righty Nate Pearson, No. 6 on McDaniel’s list, is the biggest name and could make an impact this season, but infielder Jordan Groshans (No. 68) should be fun to watch in camp, too. Austin Martin, the fifth pick in the 2020 draft, remains unsigned.

AL Central

Cleveland Indians

Nolan Jones (No. 22 on McDaniel’s top 100) is the Tribe’s top prospect, with intriguing Bo Naylor a potential everyday catcher.

Detroit Tigers

We knew Detroit’s young pitchers — Casey Mize and Matt Manning leading the way — would be here as they’re knocking on the big league door. Adding to the fun are catcher Dillon Dingler, part of the Tigers’ 2020 draft class, plus Riley Greene, their first-round pick in 2019. Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, could be added once he signs.

Kansas City Royals

Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, will get a chance to develop here, though he’s not ready for the bigs yet.

AL West

Houston Astros

Righty Forrest Whitley has been tantalizing with his talent, but he still hasn’t pulled it together. His ceiling remains high.

Los Angeles Angels

Jo Adell (McDaniel’s No. 10 prospect and just 21 years old) was expected to make his big league debut this season; time will tell if the 60-game format changes that.

Oakland Athletics

Keep an eye on Robert Puason, a huge international talent who drew scouts’ attention when he was 13 and would have made his pro debut this year. He flashed above-average-to-plus tools across the board, according to McDaniel.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are bringing all their top prospects to the party, including 19-year-old Julio Rodriguez (No. 9 on the top 100) and fellow outfielder Jarred Kelenic (No. 12), as well as four of their 2020 draft picks, first-rounder Emerson Hancock among them.

Texas Rangers

Second baseman Nick Solak and third baseman Josh Jung, both big hitters, are the players to watch.

NL East

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have a lot of young prospect talent on their initial list, with outfielder Cristian Pache (McDaniel’s No. 17 prospect) the headliner.

Miami Marlins

The Marlins, as one would expect, have all their top prospects coming to camp, including shortstop Jazz Chisholm (No. 37 on McDaniel’s top 100), right-handers Sixto Sanchez and Edward Cabrera, and outfielder JJ Bleday.

New York Mets

David Peterson, a 6-foot-6 lefty who works with a solid average four-pitch mix and above-average command, has a good shot to see some big league action.

Philadelphia Phillies

Alec Bohm, the No. 3 overall pick in 2018, has a ton of raw power and is worth keeping an eye on.

Washington Nationals

Jackson Rutledge will be fun to see; the right-hander is 6-foot-8 and can hit 100 mph with a very good slider — if he can pull it all together.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

Catcher Miguel Amaya and outfielder Brennen Davis aren’t ready for the bigs, but both have some pop and already are top-100 material.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds will have four players in McDaniel’s top 100 in camp — catcher Tyler Stephenson, shortstop Jose Garcia, lefty Nick Lodolo and third baseman Jonathan India.

Pittsburgh Pirates

One scout told McDaniel that 6-foot-7 Oneil Cruz looked like a “left-handed[-hitting] Aaron Judge playing shortstop.” Cruz might not stay at short, but he’s a talent. As McDaniel wrote, “Cruz is fun and exciting and good for baseball — and he hasn’t failed yet.”

St. Louis Cardinals

Top prospect Dylan Carlson (McDaniel’s No. 28 prospect) could be ready to contribute after a breakout 2019 in Double-A and Triple-A.

NL West

Colorado Rockies

Brendan Rodgers, who played 25 games with Colorado last year before hurting his shoulder, is the Rockies’ top prospect.

Los Angeles Dodgers

There has been buzz that Josiah Gray could be the best pitcher in the Dodgers’ system — and that’s saying something.

San Diego Padres

The Padres have a boatload of talented prospects and are bringing many of them to camp, including pitchers MacKenzie Gore (No. 8 of McDaniel’s list) and Luis Patino (No. 11).

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Korea Baseball Organization prepping for fans in stands as soon as Friday

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The Korea Baseball Organization is trading in its cardboard cutout fans for real ones.

South Korea announced Sunday it will begin reopening stadiums to spectators this week. A KBO official said the league is working to welcome fans back as soon as Friday.

“We haven’t yet established specific guidelines, and we have to monitor the situation with the virus, but we expect to have fans back in the stands by Friday at the earliest,” the league’s secretary general Ryu Dae-hwan told the Yonhap News Agency on Sunday. “We’ll make the health and safety of our fans the No. 1 priority.”

The KBO aims to open stadiums at 30% capacity before working its way up to 50% in the coming weeks, according to the news agency.

The league had been playing in empty stadiums since the season began on May 5.

The highest level of baseball in South Korea, the KBO was one of the first sports to return during the coronavirus pandemic. With games airing on ESPN throughout the summer, the league has become popular among baseball fans awaiting MLB’s return.

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Rays’ Wander Franco one of many top prospects picked for 60-man player pools

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Top prospect Wander Franco is part of the Tampa Bay Rays‘ 60-man player pool, and the Detroit Tigers are including their most heralded young pitchers as baseball gears up for its abbreviated season.

Sunday was the deadline for teams to submit player pools, although additions can be made later. Many teams announced pools well below the 60-player limit.

Franco, a 19-year-old shortstop, is ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline. He spent last season at Class A, so it would be quite a jump for him to contribute in the majors in the immediate future, but putting him in the player pool makes him an option for the Rays — and could help his development in a year when the coronavirus shut down the minor leagues.

Pitcher Brendan McKay and infielder Vidal Brujan, two other top Tampa Bay prospects, also made the pool.

“They are some of our more advanced prospects,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said. “Certainly on the position player side that’s where things went and why Wander was a leading candidate for a spot.”

The Tigers are rebuilding around pitching prospects — including Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s in their player pool, along with Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, Alex Faedo and Franklin Perez.

The defending champion Washington Nationals included a whopping 36 pitchers in their pool, while the Baltimore Orioles announced only 44 players total at this time — not counting outfielder Trey Mancini, who was listed on the 60-day injured list and is likely to miss the season following colon cancer surgery in March.

The Nationals included infielder Ryan Zimmerman in their pool, although he said recently he was still deciding whether he would play.

The New York Yankees listed Miguel Andujar and Tyler Wade as infielders/outfielders, a sign they could see more outfield time if Aaron Judge (broken rib), Giancarlo Stanton (strained right calf) and Aaron Hicks (Tommy John surgery) aren’t sufficiently healed. New York put right-hander Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) on the 45-day IL, agreed to minor league contracts with infielder Matt Duffy and catcher Max McDowell and released right-hander Dan Otero, then re-signed him to a minor league contract.

The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ player pool was without reliever Edgar Santana, who will miss all of the 2020 season after being suspended 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. MLB announced Sunday that Santana tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

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