Baseball briefs – August 19

A day after Stephen Strasburg was hit hard in the minors, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson insisted he wasn’t worried about the young ace.

Nationals not worried about Strasburg’s rocky start

WASHINGTON — A day after Stephen Strasburg was hit hard in the minors, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson insisted he wasn’t worried about the young ace.

Strasburg lasted less than two innings Wednesday in a class A start, his third rehabilitation outing since Tommy John surgery last September.

“Not at all. I’ve seen it many times — Jim Palmer — anybody — going down and getting some work. I’ve seen him and other guys get rocked,” Johnson said before the Nationals hosted Cincinnati on Thursday night.

Pitching for Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League, the overall No. 1 pick from the 2009 draft gave up five runs and four hits in 1 2-3 innings against Lexington.

Strasburg’s next start is set for Monday night in Hagerstown. Johnson said the 23-year-old right-hander would throw 65 pitches or four innings.

Strasburg is expected to make three more starts before returning to the majors next month. He made an impressive debut in the big leagues last year before needing major surgery on his elbow.

In his three starts, Strasburg has thrown 6 1-3 innings, allowing six runs and nine hits with 12 strikeouts and two walks.

Strasburg cruised through his first two rehab starts. But in his latest outing, he gave up a walk, double, single and double before retiring his first batter.

Strasburg also allowed a double and a walk in the second inning before being pulled as he approached his pitch-count limit of 50. He struck out three and walked two.

“He’s not worried about pitching to hitters — setting them up,” Johnson said. “He’s worried about throwing pitches — his release point — his rhythm. He’s not concerned about results.”

Johnson noted that few of the players in Wednesday’s game are likely to eventually reach the major leagues.

“It’s their first chance — and maybe the last chance — to face a big league pitcher,” Johnson said. “They’re sky high, and they’re swinging from the get-go.”

A-Rod held out of Yankees lineup

MINNEAPOLIS — Alex Rodriguez has rejoined the New York Yankees — but not at the plate yet.

Rodriguez was not in the lineup Thursday night against the Twins. In the afternoon, Rodriguez took grounders at third base and ran at full speed to first and second, looking a little stiff.

He played the night before for triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to finish his rehabilitation assignment for his recovering right knee and travelled to Minnesota for the start of a four-game series. Rodriguez said in Pennsylvania on Wednesday night he wasn’t quite ready to return to major league action. He hasn’t played for the Yankees since July 7 and hasn’t hit a home run since June 11.

Rodriguez had surgery July 11 to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his knee.

Youkilis put on DL

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Boston Red Sox have placed third baseman Kevin Youkilis on the disabled list because of a back injury and called up catching prospect Ryan Lavarnway from triple-A Pawtucket.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona announced the moves before Thursday night’s game against the Kansas City Royals. Lavarnway was due to make his big league debut as the designated hitter.

Youkilis, who is hitting .266 with 17 homers and 78 RBIs, has missed several games recently because of a sore back. Francona said the team finally decided to shut him down after Wednesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Youkilis remained in Boston to be examined by doctors while the team hit the road.

Lavarnway will remain the DL for now with David Ortiz sideline by a sore foot. The 24-year-old was batting a combined .293 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs at double-A and triple-A.

Royals re-sign Francouer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jeff Francoeur signed with the Kansas City Royals in the off-season hoping for a chance to prove that he could be an everyday player. He agreed to a contract extension Thursday because he succeeded.

The Royals announced the two-year extension shortly before opening a four-game series against the Boston Red Sox. It should keep the 27-year-old right-fielder with the club through the 2013 season, when those within the organization expect the youngest roster in the majors to be competing for championships.

“We have enough pieces in place, and hopefully guys to come, that hopefully this will turn around quick. We’re in a division where you don’t have to win 95, 96 games a year,” Francoeur said. “We’re in a good division to hopefully finish this season strong and play well next season. And for me, I want to be a part of that, I do. I want to be part of when this thing turns around and Kansas city starts winning again. I want to say I was here.”

It’s been a while since someone said that in baseball’s backwaters.

Kansas City hasn’t finished better than third in its division since 1995, and that includes a stretch of three consecutive seasons from 2004-06 in which the franchise lost 100 games.

But with the arrival of general manager Dayton Moore, the Royals began to restock the farm system and add some key free agents.

Francoeur was someone Moore had been targeting.

After bouncing through the New York Mets and Texas Rangers, Francoeur was eager to sign with a team that would allow him to play every day. Moore didn’t make any promises other than to give him a chance, and that proved to be enough. Francoeur is hitting .277 with 15 homers, 66 RBIs and a career-high 19 stolen bases.

“He’s done a great job of coming in here and proving he can still be a productive, everyday player, and I’m glad to see that,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He fits a lot of bills for us. He’s a consistent producer offensively, he’s a gold glove-calibre defender, and his clubhouse presence and leadership are very high.”

That may be where Francoeur has been most valuable.

The affable outfielder, who signed a one-year deal last December, has taken the youthful Royals under his wing this season. Even though he’d be considered a pup on most major league rosters, Francoeur has several years on most of the rest of the Kansas City clubhouse. In fact, there have been games this season where the starting lineup has an average age of about 24 years old, similar to that of many minor league teams.

“We’re so young,” Yost said, “and Frenchy has been through a major league experience, if you will, at a young age. He knows the road, knows where the potholes are and can help the young guys.”

Francoeur certainly knows something about potholes. He was just 21 when he broke into the majors with the Atlanta Braves, hitting 14 homers and batting .300 in about half a season. Three years later, his average had dropped to .239 and he was soon shipped to the Mets, where he was never quite comfortable.

He was dealt to Texas down the stretch last season and hit .340 in 15 games, mostly in a platoon role, but he couldn’t help but feel he could be an everyday player given the right situation.

“When Dayton kind of approached me about this kind of stuff, and we kind of talked, I knew this was the right place,” Francoeur said. “And I will say, I knew this was a chance to have a bounce-back kind of year.”

Francoeur wasn’t all that familiar with Kansas City having played most of his career in the National League, but the young and rapidly improving roster combined with a city that reminds him of his hometown of Atlanta — at least, much more than New York did — sold him on wanting to stick around a couple more years.

“I live in a house that takes me 20 minutes to get here every day. I know there’s not going to be traffic, maybe a little construction here and there after a game. You know what you’re going to get,” Francoeur said. “I came from a place for two years in New York that’s obviously a lot different.

“Not to say I couldn’t handle it,” he added, “but I enjoy this. I enjoy this kind of lifestyle.”

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