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Ross has been boss for Nats

Jun 20, 2015, 12:12 AM EDT

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One morning in March, Matt Williams and Steve McCatty ventured over to the minor-league complex in Viera, Fla., to watch left-hander Felipe Rivero pitch out of the bullpen. Before Rivero took the mound, though, a young right-hander named Joe Ross pitched.

Ross didn’t make an overwhelming impression on the Nationals manager and pitching coach, but it’s not like either was there looking to be wowed.

“That’s the only time I’d seen him pitch,” Williams said Friday night. “You don’t get a chance to see him from the back side [of the spring training complex]. It’s a long way from our viewing perspective.”

Consider Williams, McCatty and everybody else who has watched Ross through the first three starts of his big-league career very much wowed now. Three starts in, the 22-year-old owns a 2.66 ERA, 23 strikeouts to only two walks in 20 1/3 innings and a couple of wins, including Friday’s 4-1 dismantling of the previously unbeatable Pirates.

Surely, the Nationals have to be surprised by this development.

“I don’t know if we can be surprised,” Williams said. “Because we just didn’t know.”

Fair enough. The Nats’ big-league staff didn’t have enough first-hand knowledge of Ross to formulate an opinion. What they’ve seen now over the last two weeks, though, is enough to convince them they’ve really got something here.

“It’s the impression that we all hoped he would make, and I’m sure he’s proud to have made,” Williams said. “So we’ll see where we go from here.”

Ross’ long-term future looks promising, but his short-term future is very much uncertain. Though he’s pitched more than well enough to merit more big-league starts, the Nationals’ rotation is about to be 100 percent healthy again. Doug Fister returned from a forearm strain Thursday, and Stephen Strasburg is on target to make his return from a strained trapezius muscle early next week, most likely Tuesday against the Braves.

So where does that leave Ross? Probably headed back to the minors, either back from whence he came at Class AA Harrisburg or perhaps at Class AAA Syracuse for the first time in his career.

Whatever ends up happening, wherever he ends up pitching, Ross will take plenty from this first major-league experience and know it’ll come in handy down the road.

“All the things that have helped me successful so far: staying aggressive and really knowing that I can pitch here or have been able to pitch here,” he said. “I guess just keeping that confidence no matter where I’m at. Just keep going with it.”

Ross’ previous outing — eight innings of 2-run ball in Milwaukee when the Nats desperately needed a quality start — felt like a high point for the rookie. But Friday night’s win might well have trumped that. Ross allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings, striking out 11 while walking only one.

He thus became only the third rookie in club history to strike out 10 or more batters in a game, joining John Lannan in 2008 and Strasburg in 2010.

“I always thought of myself as being good enough to be up here,” he said. “I guess that’s kind of a big part of being confident out there on the mound, just thinking I belong. I don’t think I could’ve imagined it going so well so early, but you gotta run with it.”

What has made Ross so successful so far? There’s his consistently well-placed sinkers down in the zone. There’s a devastating slider that was responsible for 10 of his 11 strikeouts on Friday. And there’s also an intangible quality, a desire to learn as much as he can from veteran pitchers on staff, that has particularly impressed teammates.

“He’s always aggressive,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “To me, like Max Scherzer. When he gets a man on base, he’s like twice more aggressive than when he doesn’t have runners on base. I think he’s watching Max Scherzer videos. He looked pretty aggressive with runners on base. That’s what he needs to do.”

Along the way, the Nationals have begun to get to know Ross a little bit. They know his background growing up in Northern California. They know his pedigree, with older brother Tyson a reigning All-Star for the Padres. And they know he isn’t fazed by anything thrown his way.

“He’s got that leadership quality,” said Tyler Moore, who wound up rooming with Ross this spring in Viera. “I feel like he wants the ball, even though he’s young like that. He just goes right after that. He kind of did the same thing to me on the golf course, which wasn’t good. But he’s a good dude, and he’s very mature.”

  1. faridrushdi - Jun 20, 2015 at 12:50 AM

    His brother all-star Tyson Ross is 3-7 this year for the Padres with a 3.90 ERA. In just two weeks in the majors, little brother Joe is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA, a 9.6 strikeout rate per 9-innings and a 23:2 strikeout to walk ratio.

    I thought Ross was a throw in with the big piece of that trade being Trea Turner, but goodness, he’s going to be a good one.

    And speaking of Turner, he went 3-5 for the second time in Harrisburg. After hitting .323 in 227 at-bats in Double-A San Antontio, he’s hitting .333 in his first week with the organization.

    This may be Rizzo’s best of the best trades he’s made.

    • virginiascopist - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:32 AM

      I didn’t think Ross was a throw-in, but I certainly never expected him to rise this quickly. Truly amazing to think that he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. I have a feeling the Padres are or soon will be kicking themselves over what they’ve given up. Rizzo strikes again!

  2. Section 222 - Jun 20, 2015 at 1:29 AM

    Ross is Boss is also the title of Quick Pitch’s segment on the game. I guess it’s too good to resist.

  3. 3on2out - Jun 20, 2015 at 4:27 AM

    A friend of mine in Pittsburgh watched the game and we texted back and forth while I was at the ball park. He was very impressed with Ross. He can’t believe the Nationals are sending him back to the minors. I guess I can’t either. I know. I know. They can’t take proven starters like Gio or SS out of the rotation to leave the kid in. But damn! I’d like to see another outing from Ross rather than a melt down from one of those other two.

  4. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 20, 2015 at 6:41 AM

    “So where does that leave Ross? Probably headed back to the minors, either back from whence he came at Class AA Harrisburg or perhaps at Class AAA Syracuse for the first time in his career.”

    If he goes anywhere, I hope it’s AA as the Nats AAA this year is littered with retreads and I would be concerned about those around him. He should go where he will learn as the reportoire has a major league sinker and a great slider but he still needs to get that changeup to work and could work on that in the Minors.

    • rayvil01 - Jun 20, 2015 at 6:54 AM

      According to Phil Wood on the radio after the game Ross only threw one changeup last night. That was ball four and his last pitch of the night.

      If he can develop a change he’s going to be something else. His slider must look just like his fastball to the batters.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 20, 2015 at 6:58 AM

        I’ve been too lazy to check but FP had him at 9 and the first hit was off a changeup.

        After the game they did say his slider was varying speeds so could’ve been they were counting slow sliders as changeup pitches.

    • laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:16 AM

      Good call on that slider Ghost. You spotted that right away. Scary good.

  5. Joe Seamhead - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:07 AM

    According to Phil Wood after the game, on the Web Gem catch, Michael Taylor took a poor route to the wall but caught the ball anyway. I don’t know what Phil was talking about. MAT was playing a bit shallow and turned and did a fine job getting to the ball. Everybody in our section thought that ball was going out.

  6. laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:20 AM

    Way for the lesser known guys to step up. The bottom of the order each had 2 hits except for Joe Cool, who made up for that deficiency with the most entertaining hit of the game. And the other bench bat in the game also had a hit, and scored a nice insurance run on Danny’s triple in the 7th.

    Even Matt upped his game, finally yanking his starter at just the right time.

  7. MicheleS - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:28 AM

    Well the good news is we found another starter for next year! Rizzo is so good and finding these guys. Who would have thought that lineup would beat the Pirates?

  8. laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:31 AM

    Does anyone not feel a lot less anxious, now, about possibly losing both Fister and JZ in the off-season? Rizzo has their replacements primed and ready, in case – Roark and Ross. Carpenter and Janssen seem to have settled down the back of the pen for the 8th inning, as well, leaving Matt a choice of Treinen, Rivero, Thornton or Barrett (when he comes back) to be the 7th inning guy. One of those 4 will have to go when Roark returns to the long relief role.

    The way Ross and Turner are playing, will revise Rizzo’s rap sheet to move that trade up in the pecking order.

    There is at least one baseball writer who thinks Turner will be called up in August to replace Desmond at SS. He assumes Rizzo will move Desmond by then. Turner was only drafted just last June. Now, that is a very fast track for a guy who has been in the Nats organization for a week, and in MLB baseball about a year. Haven’t seen him play, but those who have must be duly impressed.

    • unkyd59 - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:54 AM

      I think that “writer” is our own Jim Bowden….

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:35 AM

        Ha! I understand why laddie chose to omit the source.

    • laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:55 AM

      “There is at least one baseball writer who thinks Turner will be called up on August 1 to replace Desmond at SS.”

      It was none other than Jim Bowden:

      Does anyone think Desmond’s return to the starting lineup will make the Nats a better team than the one which took the field behind Ross last night, on either side of the ball?

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:26 AM

        In addition to his 3 hits last night, Turner was 2 for 2 in stolen base attempts. He not only would replace Desmond at SS, he would also make an excellent lead-off hitter should Span leave.

        And Michal A. has upped his own game, cutting way down on his strikeout numbers. Dan Kolko mentioned that in the Nats pre-game show. The kid is a fast learner, and he is adjusting his hitting game in the toughest baseball laboratory in existence. Putting him in the 8-hole was the right move. He will probably remain there for the rest of the season, or can spell Span when Denard needs a day off, or two.

        The Nats have moved Bostick to LF in AA. He is struggling since the recent promotion, but he struggled in single A when the season started.

        Managing change is one of the toughest tasks of any management team, but Rizzo is making it look easy. Add Stevenson to the new outfield mix, and you’ve got young studs out there, from MAT in LF, Stevenson in CF to Bryce inRF, with Bostick potentially moving as the 4th outfielder. Good grief. Talk about a defensive juggernaut that can cover the whole field, and can hit, hit for power (MAT, Bryce) and steal their way around the bases when necessary.

        And next year, if not sooner, we could be looking at Ant at 3rd, Turner at SS and Danny at 2nd – a team built for both power and speed everywhere you look except for 1b and catcher. And then there are Will Difo and Escobar still in the mix. That is a very loaded, very deep infield, as well.

  9. TimDz - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:47 AM

    There has been chatter about the Nats trading for the Reds Chapman….If that is the case, I am fearful that they might ask for Joe. If that is the price. Rizzo needs to hang up.

    • lphboston - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:03 AM

      Really? I’d do that deal. The only downside is the possibility of one of Chapman’s 103-mph fastballs breaking the hamate bone in Ramos’s hand again.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:06 AM

        “I’d do that deal.”

        Why? The Nats already have a better, younger closer, and they now have the 8th inning covered.

      • virginiascopist - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:03 AM

        “The only downside is the possibility of one of Chapman’s 103-mph fastballs breaking the hamate bone in Ramos’s hand again.”

        I could be wrong, but I believe the standard treatment for a hamate bone fracture is removal of the bone, so unless Ramos’ hamate grew back, we shouldn’t have to worry about that.

      • Eric - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:24 AM

        Yeah, I see zero reason to trade for Chapman. Roark can go back to the pen soon, Janssen appears to have stabilized, Carpenter appears to like the NL East better than the AL East, and Storen is more than capable as a closer.

      • unkyd59 - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:27 AM

        That deal is just crazy talk, given what we’ve seen from Joe Cool. The bullpen IS a work in progress, I’ll grant you, but I like the back end, now. And Rizzo has plenty of time to find his characteristic diamonds in the rough. Just say no, to trading any meaningful prospects for bullpen help…

        Now…. Did Beane sign Clip to a deal, or is he still a free agent after this year? Because a half year of Tyler might not break the prospect bank, at the deadline…..just sayin’…

    • laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:04 AM

      Rizzo has reportedly been interested in Chapman from day one, but the Reds outbid him. I really don’t see the pressing need for Chapman, now that the Nats have both Janssen and Carpenter to cover the 7th and 8th. Carpenter has yet to be scored upon in 4 appearances, so far, and Janssen has had only one poor showing since his arrival.

      Even if they use both Janssen and Carpenter to cover the 8th, they have multiple young arms to choose from to cover the 7th – Rivero, Treinen, Barrett, as well as the veteran Matt Thornton (Rizzo got him for virtually nothing). I figure the vet Thornton, and two of the remaining three, with Roark resuming the long man role.

      Rizzo has addressed the back end of the rotation with what he already has under contract, and has done so at little cost to the Nats. They no longer have a pressing need for Chapman, especially at a cost the Reds are likely to demand for him.

      • rlndtln - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:43 AM

        The pressing need is to win now.To say we have the 7th and 8th covered with a couple of appearances is a huge stretch.You will have the 7and 8th covered for sure with chapman and Storen.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:10 AM

        “To say we have the 7th and 8th covered with a couple of appearances is a huge stretch.”

        It would be, if that were true. Both Janssen and Carpenter are veterans with substantial major league resumes. They are both well-known quantities with long track records Rizzo and the Nats are especially familiar with Carpenter from his stint as a shut-down, back-end guy for the Braves.

        Why do you think Rizzo traded for him?

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:32 AM

        There are reasons to be encouraged about Janssen and Carpenter, but it is too soon declare them successes.

        Janssen hasn’t had strike out stuff in years, but his velo is down and his K rate is alarmingly low–3.27 K/9. Of 142 qualifying relievers last season, none had a K rate that low.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:13 AM

        “Janssen hasn’t had strike out stuff in years, but his velo is down and his K rate is alarmingly low–3.27 K/9.”

        But Carpenter had 67 Ks for Atlanta just last year in 61 IP.

        Having both guys is a luxury. Matt can go power pitcher or finesse pitcher, depending upon the matchup. And having a successful resume is important. Carpenter, for example, is back pitching in the NL East, so there should be no doubt about his ability to produce in that environment. The gun says he is still throwing 97.

        How much marginal value does Chapman offer over Storen or Chapman as a back end guy? Sure, there is probably some (I’ll take Storen over Chpman, myself), but cost is a big consideration. The Reds control Chapman through 2016, and are reportedly not shopping him this year, if you can believe the reports from MLB rumors. Rizzo will have to convince them it would be worth their while to part ways with Chapman.

        We don’t know what they’re asking, but they have the superior negotiating position. I don’t think a deal gets done.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 20, 2015 at 12:03 PM

        Agree need for Chapman doesn’t justify likely cost.

        Just not as confident of Carpenter and Janssen yet as you are.

  10. MicheleS - Jun 20, 2015 at 7:57 AM

    I am re-watching the game now. Remember when we would all say put 4 fingers up when McCutcheon came up? Part of the Votto/Stanton group of Nats killers. All I can say is WOW, Joe totally made him look silly.

    • Eric - Jun 20, 2015 at 8:58 AM

      Storen didn’t do him any favors, either!

  11. natsjackinfl - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:01 AM

    My favorite part last night was watching Ian Desmond cheer from what should be (but won’t, unfortunately) his permanent position on the bench.

    • Jfmii - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:27 AM

      Why be nasty? Guy is struggling, why do you have to pile on? Most here probably agree he should be sitting.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:30 AM

        I thought that Jack was giving Desmond credit.

      • natsjackinfl - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:31 AM

        How’d this end up way down here?

      • dcwx61 - Jun 20, 2015 at 12:12 PM

        somebody hit the report comment button

      • Jfmii - Jun 20, 2015 at 1:11 PM

        Yes, my post replying to Natsjack was reported

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:29 AM

      natsjack, are you surprised that they don’t put Escobar at SS with Desmond sitting out for however long? From all that I have heard from my friends that follow the Rays, they say Yunel plays a very good short, in spite of last year’s poor year.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:33 AM

        Even Esco is still decent at SS (and I have my doubts), Danny is probably better.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:36 AM

        Maybe so, but I feel that Rendon at 3B, Danny 2B, and Yunel at SS would be the strongest overall IF. Danny is better at 2B than AR, AR is better at 3B than Yunel is, IMHO.

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:36 AM

        Even *if* …

      • Hiram Hover - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:41 AM

        I hear you, Joe.

        But I also see the advantage in letting well enough alone. Rendon has been a bit shaky at 2B this year but generally played it well in 2013-4. And I know people like to treat Esco’s alarmingly poor performance at SS last year as a one-off, but there’s good reason to be cautious.

        And all of this assumes Ian is out of the lineup long term, which I doubt. So it’s probably irrelevant.

      • Jfmii - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:41 AM

        I agree, Rendon 3rd, Escobar short, Danny 2nd. That said , sure do like seeing Espinosa at short

      • natsjackinfl - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:52 AM

        Not really, Joe. I think having Espinosa at shortstop with Rendon at 2nd is the correct way to go.

        While Rendon certainly is a better 3rd baseman than Yunel, Espinosa is even a better shortstop and that’s your most important position defensively.

        But both Yunel and Espinosa are far more dependable at shortstop than Desmond.

        And you are correct. I was complimenting Desmond. If I wanted to be nasty, I would point out how a kid like Michael A. Taylor can alter his approach at the plate and show significant improvement in plate discipline while Desmond continues to chant his Popeye mantra by saying “I yam what I yam”.

    • Jfmii - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:11 AM

      I don’t like the part of sports fandom that tears players down. Like we all have the talent to get in the batters box and perform at a high level. I certainly know I do not. It is one thing to opine on whether someone should be playing or where or should hit 2nd or 7th, it is another to trash him as though his lousy performance is a personal attack on you/me, the fan, that he is doing poorly

  12. lovedanats - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    I left the game last night mentally writing Joe’s name in the rotation for Gio. I was thoroughly convinced going in that I was about to witness a pounding of epic proportion. Great job of all the guys stepping up. So nice to be wrong about that one!

  13. Doc - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:48 AM

    Chapman for Joe Cool, wouldn’t be cool. The Reds Big Lefty Machine turns cold after 2016, and becomes a FA.

    Rizzo needs to keep both his cool and Joe Cool. I trust that Rizzo won’t lose his Cool.

    • natsjackinfl - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:55 AM

      Definitely agree with you Doc. Ross is a keeper.

  14. Doc - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:51 AM

    According to FP , MAT didn’t take a bad route. The fly ball hooked and took a left turn.

  15. Doc - Jun 20, 2015 at 9:53 AM

    Maybe trade pending FA Fister, and his 82-84 FB now, and put Joe Cool in the rotation.

    • therealjohnc - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:04 AM

      Three starts don’t outweigh three+ years of production from the other starts. Ross’s debut has been excellent, but he is not a Jedi yet. Excellent depth, a piece for the future, absolutely! But we’ve all seen fast starts fall apart. Remember when Shairon Martis was 5-0?

      • therealjohnc - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:06 AM

        “from the other starters” obviously. My kingdom for an edit function!

      • ITGSOT - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:50 AM

        I thought there was an edit function now, called Preview. Keep your kingdom and use that.

    • therealjohnc - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:10 AM

      I love the “trade [Fister/Desmond/Moore/other struggling, possibly expensive player” easy solutions. Just what do you think they’re going to get for a three month rental of an expensive, struggling player? You don’t think other teams have radar guns?

    • Doc - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:53 AM

      Ah yes, Sharon Martis. Good reminder!

  16. Drew - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    The Padres got a lot of offseason buzz for bringing in name players in the offseason in order to put fannies in the seats and compete with the Giants and Dodgers.

    I understood it, but it was nuts to mortgage their future by dealing blue chippers like Turner and Ross.

    Rizzo always is mindful about doing what’s best for the present AND the future simultaneously.

    Even when he swapped the four guys for Gio, none was higher than a third rounder – and he soon got A.J. Cole back.

    The only first rounder I can remember Rizzo dealing is compensatory pick Alex Meyer and that has turned out to be a very judicious deal.

    Denard Span has given the Nats three valuable seasons in CF and I don’t think Meyer has made his major league debut.

    So, fear not. There is no way Rizzo will deal Joe Cool for a Chapman rental.

    If he did I would scream like the annoying lady on the incessant Nissan ad.

    • stoatva - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:28 AM

      Wonder if Rizzo might try to get Billy Burns back, as the A’s fade away.

      • Doc - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:55 AM

        Good idea. Right now the deal with A’s shapes up as den Decker for Burns.

    • Drew - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:08 AM

      BTW, Meyer is having a disastrous year at Rochester, with a 5.33 ERA.

      He’ll be 26 Jan. 3 and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:17 AM

        He’s not even a starter any more. They are now hoping to turn him into a reliever now.

  17. Doc - Jun 20, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    That should be ‘past deal” with the A’s. now that Blevins is with the Mets.

  18. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    I think, between Espinosa, Desmond and Escobar, Escobar is the third choice at SS (not that it matters, because Turner will play SS before Escobar does). I am all for Escobar’s bat; he’s done marvelously so far, far above anyone’s expectations following last year. But he’s a “tunnel” 3B — if the ball is right at him, he’s fine. Unless he’s playing deep, in which event his throws to 1B often fade, pulling Zimmerman, Moore, Robinson, Espinosa, etc., off the base. (With a bunch of novices playing 1B, the problem is aggravated.) I think this is the reason Escobar plays “in” so far and so often, and why hard hit ground balls get smoked past him. This is a long way of saying I don’t see, with his range (ltd) and arm (sub par) how he handles SS at this point in his career. (Looking down the road, I can’t see him succeeding Desmond at SS — successfully — in 2016.)

    I’m sorry to be critical because he’s been a hitting machine and from everything we’ve seen fits in well with the rest of the team. He’s been a good acquisition for this team, and would be even if everybody were healthy, because they have long needed a guy who goes out there every day, puts up a lot of hits and doesn’t strike out (much). There are a lot of third basemen who aren’t good defenders and most of them aren’t hitting nearly as well as Escobar. If you wanted to optimize the defense with the players currently available you might consider Rendon at 3B, Desmond at SS, Espinosa at 2B (I don’t think Rendon has been nearly as good at 2B as he was in 2014) and Escobar at 1B.

    • ITGSOT - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:23 AM

      Last year people would complain about Zimmerman playing too far in at 3B. Now they complain about Escobar playing too far in. Ever consider the possibility that this isn’t their choice but rather what they’re being told to do by defensive positioning guru Weidemeir?

  19. micksback1 - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    really like this young man. Will he like alost 90% of pitchers have to through Tommy John, maybe not?

    but, he is an example of the young pipeline of pitchers that the organization has in its future.

    That is why I can live with Gio and would not be upset if Stras does not ever get it going.

  20. micksback1 - Jun 20, 2015 at 11:17 AM

    also..could nats somehow get Clip back this year? maybe he solves all 8th inning woes?

  21. rlndtln - Jun 20, 2015 at 12:26 PM

    Rendon has to be the 3rd baseman.Esco was traded to pay second.It makes zero sense.This has nothing to do with who plays anywhere else.

    • TimDz - Jun 20, 2015 at 1:42 PM

      My guess is that Esco will stay at 3rd for this season. Moving him now may be disruptive. Next year, Desmond is gone, opening up SS, where Espi or Esco will play (Not sure if Turner gets there next year), with whoever doesn’t play short will play second. That leaves third base for Rendon….

  22. rlndtln - Jun 20, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    What is disruptive about it?





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