With balanced Nats bats, walk-a-Bryce strategy is risky business

WASHINGTON — For the Washington Nationals, the fact that opposing pitchers are starting to intentionally walk Bryce Harper again is good news. The fact that his teammates are making them pay is even better news.

In the second inning of Washington’s 8-1 rout over the Mets, Harper came up with two outs and a runner on second and received an intentional pass from New York starter Rafael Montero. The next batter, Anthony Rendon, blasted a 421-foot, three-run homer over the left-field wall that gave the Nats a 6-1 lead and all but ended the game. The sequence represents a welcome change for the Nats on two fronts.

For starters, teams are once again proceeding with caution when Harper is in the batter’s box. Last year, the reigning MVP led the majors with 17 intentional walks. Through the first two months of this season, he had 12 IBBs, including four during a four-game series with the Cubs in which they walked him a total of 13 times. But following the Chicago series, with Harper mired in a deep funk that may or may not have been induced by the Cubs’ unwillingness to give him anything to hit, teams stopped blatantly avoiding him. In fact, from July 10 to Sept. 6, a span of nearly two months, the Nats slugger didn’t receive a single intentional walk. But over the past week, Harper has been purposely passed twice, and with good reason: Since returning from a neck injury on Aug. 14, the reigning MVP is slashing .307/.413/.535, with 24 RBIs in 28 games.

“It’s just making a bigger deal out of it than it is,” said Justin Turner, who had a sixth-inning single off Sabathia and went 1-for-4. “We know there are lefties in our division and we have to win games. Just to sit around and talk about it all the time isn’t a solution to fix anything, so hopefully we don’t have to spend too much time talking about it.”

This even-keel temperament wasn’t always a calling card for Upton, who exited Monday’s game with a left calf strain but will potentially return to the lineup Tuesday night. Even recently, there have been reminders of his fiery tendencies (i.e. the eminently Gif’able time he spiked his helmet and inadvertently hit San Diego Padres teammate Yonder Alonso last season). Maintaining control over his emotions has been something he has had to consciously work at, especially since his younger days when, he admitted, “I was a bit of a firecracker.”

“Early in my career, I wore my emotions on my sleeve and I had to learn from that,” Upton said prior to Monday’s game. “It was too much. I had to learn how to be more even-keel and, as these guys have seen, I’ve gotten as pissed off as anybody this year, but I try not to treat my teammates any differently.”

Pirates place Gerrit Cole on 60-day DL with inflamed right elbow

The Pittsburgh Pirates placed pitcher Gerrit Cole on the 60-day disabled list Tuesday with a right elbow injury, effectively ending his season.

The team announced his injury as right elbow posterior inflammation. Cole returned to the mound Monday after missing three weeks, and he gave up five runs on four hits and four walks in two innings of a 6-2 loss to Philadelphia.

In the big picture, Cole’s health and future are of vital importance to the Pittsburgh organization. Last year, Cole graduated to the ranks of baseball’s elite starters when he finished among the National League’s top 10 in wins (19), innings (208), ERA (2.60), WHIP (1.09) and strikeouts (202). He fanned Mike Trout in the All-Star Game and finished fourth behind Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in Cy Young Award balloting.

Right-hander Lance McCullers, meanwhile, hasn’t thrown off a mound as he tries to come back from a sprained elbow suffered Aug. 2.

“It’s going to depend on where we’re at as a team and where they’re at,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Our idea is to continue positive progress with these guys and not set a timeline or a necessary deadline for them to have to meet. Otherwise we’ll threaten further injury. One more setback for any of these guys, and it’s over.”

Keuchel, 28, won 20 games and the Cy Young last season for an Astros team that advanced to the division series, losing to the eventual World Series champion Royals. McCullers, 22, was counted on to be a big part of the Astros this season after an encouraging rookie campaign.

Astros starters are struggling at the wrong time. Houston is 3? games out of the second wild card and 4-6 in its past 10 games. Hinch acknowledged that the team is walking a tightrope with the two pitchers.

“They’re not doing enough to be ruled in or out,” Hinch said, according to the newspaper. “McCullers is the closest guy, but you can play catch all you want — until you get on the mound, it’s when you really get serious about pitching. Keuchel’s not throwing yet, so there’s certainly some concern on both of theirs for different reasons because of where we are on the schedule, but we’ll go day-to-day.”

Circus act: Star-crossed Mets foolishly bring Tim Tebow sideshow back to Big Apple

Tim Tebow is going to mentor young prospects for the New York Mets, if only because he did such a wonderful job of that for the New York Jets. This is what Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was selling Thursday morning, and if you were buying, then you are likely among the precious few who still believe John Elway should never have replaced Tebow with Peyton Manning.

Alderson said he’s mindful of “the novel nature” of signing Tebow to a minor league contract, but that the decision “was strictly driven by baseball” and that the former Heisman winner “has demonstrated more than rudimentary baseball skills.”

How does 13-7 sound? Very doable. That’s why the Yankees have to get greedy. Win all four and they’re not in terrible shape.

You have to wonder if the Yankees have enough pitching to be so dominant. Thursday night, CC Sabathia (8-12, 4.20 ERA) goes against Alex Cobb (0-0, 3.60), which, numbers-wise, doesn’t really tilt in the Yankees’ favor. You wonder if Sabathia can lean on the muscle memory from all his clutch games of the past to muster enough against a poor Rays offense.

The Rays, mind you, are not total pushovers. Their run differential is -29 for the season, and the Yankees’ is -12. That is not a large discrepancy.

It is baseball, so you never know what will happen. For the Yankees, though, if they sweep the Rays, then this crazy run they are on will get real.

“While I and the organization, I think, are mindful of the novel nature of this situation, this decision was strictly driven by baseball,” Alderson said on a conference call with Tebow and agent Brodie Van Wagenen on Thursday to announce the agreement that includes a $100,000 signing bonus. “This was not something that was driven by marketing considerations or anything of the sort. We are extremely intrigued with the potential that Tim has.

Tebow acknowledged his upcoming baseball journey is “not one that will be necessarily easy.”

“I know this is a tough game,” Tebow said. “But I’m looking forward to putting in the work and I felt like this was the best fit.”

Yasiel Puig rejoins Dodgers after one-month stint in minors

Yasiel Puig returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday after a one-month stint at Triple-A Oklahoma City, going 2-for-4 in a 4-2 loss to the visiting San Diego Padres.

Roberts and Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, first discussed bringing Puig back with a handful of veteran players.

“They must’ve had a tough time picking player of the game, because there was a lot of guys you could make a case for,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Just a reminder what guys have been doing most of the year and what we’re capable of.”

Of course, facing rookie Chad Green is a whole lot different than facing a Toronto rotation that’s been the best in the AL. Particularly when you consider that Green might not have been at full strength. After he exited the game in the second inning, the Yankees announced that the 25-year-old righty was experiencing elbow pain. Not that the Orioles were going to let medical minutia mitigate their postgame buzz.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner is expected to throw 50 pitches and three innings against Modesto in a minor league rehab outing as he tries to return to the major leagues at some point this month.

Kershaw has been out since June 26 with a lower-back injury, and it is possible he could return to the Dodgers on the club’s next road trip, which starts next Friday and takes the team to Miami, Yankee Stadium and Arizona.

Depending on when he returns, Kershaw could make as many as four starts with the Dodgers down the stretch. And if the club lines up the starts just right, two of them could come against the division rival San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers are in first place in the National League West, two games ahead of the Giants, after Los Angeles’ 4-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on Friday night.

Rancho Cucamonga has been a popular landing spot for rehabbing Dodgers players this season. Los Angeles has put a record-tying 27 players on the disabled list this season.

Dodgers players who have made appearances for the Quakes this season include: Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Enrique Hernandez, Howie Kendrick, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Bud Norris, Casey Fien, Josh Ravin and Adam Liberatore.

Anderson also will pitch in Saturday’s game for the Quakes, as he is scheduled to take the mound after Kershaw departs. Anderson is trying to return from a blister issue that has him on the disabled list.

“If they said that they didn’t want him, I would have been surprised,” Roberts said. “They know the character of Yasiel and what he can bring to help us win baseball games and that’s the ultimate goal. I certainly would have been surprised if they had nixed the idea.”