It was a Dodgers second baseman making headlines again Thursday.
This time, it was for good reasons.
Two days after top prospect Gavin Lux was optioned to the Dodgers' alternate training site in a somewhat surprising development, one of his chief competitors for the starting second base gig, Enrique Hernandez, showed why the Dodgers were comfortable sending out the talented youngster by leading the Los Angeles club to an Opening Day win over the Giants. Hernandez was the star of Thursday's nightcap, finishing 4-for-5 with a two-run home run, career-best five RBI and two runs scored in an 8-1 victory.
Generally viewed as a platoon bat who performs best against lefties, the mustachioed 28-year-old staked his place among his peers in the high-powered Dodgers offense by doing damage against starter Johnny Cueto and the Giants' bullpen throughout the night. He started in the fourth inning when his RBI single got the Dodgers on the board, and he delivered a two-run, opposite-field single as part of a five-run seventh inning that broke the game open for the home team.
Hernandez then put the cherry on top of his memorable evening when he yanked a Conner Menez delivery down the left field line and into the stands for a two-run homer. In 643 career games, Thursday's was the first time Hernandez collected five RBI in a contest.
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The good night overshadowed some bad news for the Dodgers after presumed Opening Day starter Clayton Kershaw went on the injured list before the game. Kershaw was placed on the 10-day IL, retroactive to July 20, with back stiffness.
In his place, hard-throwing Dustin May got the start and kept the Giants to one run over his 4 1/3 innings. The game was also the Dodgers debut for Mookie Betts, who finished 1-for-5 with a run scored. On the Giants side, Cueto tossed four innings of one-run ball but the Giants offense wasn't able to muster much against May and the Dodgers bullpen.
Earlier in the night the Yankees and Nationals met in the nation's capital to kick off the 2020 season. Aces Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer both allowed first-inning homers -- Scherzer, a mammoth two-run blast by Giancarlo Stanton; Cole, a solo dong by Adam Eaton -- and for Cole he yielded nothing more, blanking the Nats over his next four innings in his Yankees debut.
Scherzer, meanwhile, struggled to keep runners off the bases, giving up six hits and walking four in his 5 1/3 innings. He had allowed four runs and the Yanks had runners on the corners with one out in the sixth inning when the heavens opened, leading to the game eventually being called.
For the Yankees it was a pair of hitters who might not have even been in the Opening Day lineup had the season begun in late March that made the biggest contributions in the late-July opener. Aaron Judge, who was sidelined earlier this year with a stress fracture in his rib and a punctured lung, went 2-for-3 with an RBI double and a run scored in the win, and Stanton, who was nursing a Grade 1 strain in his right calf during spring training, ended the night 2-for-3 with the two-run bomb and three RBI in total.
Soto the Latest Sidelined by COVID-19
If Stanton's blast was a bad omen for the Nationals' fate in the opener, it still wasn't as devastating as the blow dealt to the club a few hours before the first pitch.
Juan Soto, one of baseball's brightest young stars and a consensus first-round pick in drafts this spring and summer, was placed on the injured list before Thursday's game after it was announced he'd tested positive for COVID-19. No other Nationals players tested positive in the most recent round of testing.
“It’s a challenge, but we’ve faced challenges before,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday afternoon. “We like the depth that we have on this roster. We like the players that are going to fill in for him. They’re not going to replace Soto, but we’re going to have to win games in a different way.”
Fantasy players may find Soto's replacement options less favorable. Andrew Stevenson started in left field and batted eighth in Soto's stead Thursday, and the only other outfielders on the team's 30-man roster are Michael Taylor and Emilio Bonifacio.
As for Soto, it's hard to know exactly what this means for his outlook going forward. The 21-year-old is reportedly asymptomatic and the nature of the COVID-19 injured list means there's no minimum stay, so the only determining factor will be how quickly Soto can test negative -- twice, 24 hours apart -- and return to the team.
That question, like trying to measure Soto's massive potential or quantify just how much he means to the Nats, is impossible to answer right now.
Teres Major a Minor Inconvenience for DeSclafani?
It's a strain of the teres major, but the Reds are optimistic Anthony DeSclafani's absence from their Opening Day rotation will be only a minor setback.
DeSclafani was placed on the 10-day injured list Thursday with a mild right teres major strain, a strain of a muscle near the rotator cuff. The move was retroactive to July 20.
Despite sounding ominous, Reds general manager Nick Krall told reporters the injury shouldn't keep the right-hander out for long. Krall estimated DeSclafani might miss just one start before being ready to return.
“It’s definitely the wise decision to have him miss a start, but he’s responded very well to the injury," Reds manager David Bell said. "He’s already anxious to get back out there. When things like this happen, and you escape without it being a long-term injury, you believe it happened for a reason. He’ll be that much more ready next time. We fully expect him to be back by his second start.”
With DeSclafani on the shelf, Tyler Mahle will take a turn in the rotation, likely in DeSclafani's place for his scheduled start Tuesday against the Cubs. Mahle makes for an interesting streaming consideration, but not a must-start against a good Cubs lineup at Wrigley Field.
"It’s definitely disappointing because it’s such a short season and every game matters," DeSclafani said. "I want to be out there competing with this team because we’re really good and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Obviously, I want to be out there for Game 1, but I think I’m lucky it can only be one game, and I can be out there for start No. 2. That’s a big positive as well that it’s not anything serious. Really, it’s just looking forward. I’m going to try to get in the best shape as I can, in this time being, get as healthy as I can, and I’ll be ready for start No. 2."
National League Quick Hits: Braves activated Freddie Freeman off of the 10-day COVID-19 injured list. Freeman was symptomatic with the disease, and it appeared that the All-Star first baseman was going to open the year on the injured list. He returned to summer camp, and while Atlanta may take things slow with the 30-year-old, it appears he'll be in the starting lineup - possibly for Opening Day? - in a short time. Stay tuned. ... Kris Bryant (back) said Thursday that he is ready to go for Opening Day. Bryant was scratched from the Cubs' final exhibition game on Wednesday due to back stiffness, but it was never a serious concern. He took batting practice on Thursday morning and will be in Chicago's starting lineup for Friday night's season opener against the Brewers. ... Rockies activated OF Charlie Blackmon from the 10-day injured list. Blackmon showed up late to summer camp in Colorado after being diagnosed with COVID-19, but it's looking like he will be a full-go for the beginning of the regular season. The veteran outfielder slashed .314/.364/.576 with 32 homers, 86 RBI, and 112 runs scored in 140 games last year for the Rockies. ... Will Smith did not start at catcher in Thursday's opener, instead serving as Austin Barnes' backup. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed that Smith will start in 3-of-5 games to open the year, with Barnes getting the other two nods. Smith impressed as a rookie both behind the plate and with his power, but it sounds like the Dodgers want to keep the young backstop fresh for the 60-game campaign. ... Braves placed LHP Cole Hamels on the 45-day injured list with left triceps tendinitis. Hamels inked a one-year, $18 million deal with Atlanta during the offseason, but he came down with a shoulder issue in the spring before his triceps flared up earlier this month. As of now, the Braves are hoping to have the veteran southpaw back in September and for a possible postseason run. But that all depends on how things go in the next few weeks. ... Padres recalled OF Edward Olivares. Olivares has made the Opening Day roster in San Diego and could get semi-regular action in the outfield, especially against left-handed-hitters. The 24-year-old batted .283/.349/.453 with 18 home runs and 35 stolen bases in 127 games last season at Double-A Amarillo. He carries an intriguing long-term fantasy profile but may be more of a wait-and-see guy in standard formats for the 60-game 2020 campaign. ... Braves purchased the contract of 1B Matt Adams. Adams was just signed to a minor league deal a few days ago after requesting his release from the Mets. He figures to see a lot of time out of the DH spot against right-handers, so there's a chance he'll be relevant in deeper mixed fantasy leagues. ... Derek Dietrich went on Instagram to announce that he's signed with the Cubs. Financial terms are not available. The infielder was released by the club after Dietrich opted out of his minor league contract. The 31-year-old was a late arrival to camp after a positive test for the COVID-19 virus. Dietrich could provide some depth for the Cubs as a bench bat from the left side.
American League Quick Hits: According to Ken Rosenthal and Dan Connolly of The Athletic, the Blue Jays are now discussing using Camden Yards for most of their home games. The plan has been approved by the Orioles, and Major League Baseball would certainly welcome it, but the Blue Jays still need the go-ahead from the Maryland governor's office. They thought they had a plan in place to stage games at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, but the Pennsylvania state government denied the proposal in the end. Buffalo remains the likely fallback if the Camden Yards idea is not approved. ... Eduardo Rodriguez has been shut down from baseball activities due to "minor complications" related to COVID-19. Rodriguez threw a bullpen session on Saturday at Fenway Park, but apparently didn't feel so great afterward. He was a couple weeks late arriving to summer camp after testing positive for COVID-19, and it's unclear when he might be an option for the Red Sox starting rotation. That pitching staff in Boston is looking rough. ... Roberto Osuna is on the Astros' Opening Day roster. Osuna just started throwing off a mound this week and probably won't be quite at full strength for the start of the 2020 regular season, but the good news is that he doesn't have an injury or illness. Ryan Pressly is expected to either serve as the Astros' primary closer at the outset or share the role with Osuna. ... Mariners placed C Tom Murphy on the 10-day injured list with a fracture in his left foot. Murphy suffered the metatarsal fracture on Sunday when he got hit by a foul tip and will likely miss at least the first couple weeks of the 2020 regular season. He carried some sneaky fantasy appeal this year after posting an .858 OPS with 18 home runs over 75 games last summer for the Mariners. Austin Nola now projects to open as the primary catcher in Seattle, with Joe Hudson backing him up. ... According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Royals are close to an agreement with free agent right-hander Matt Harvey. It will presumably be a minor league contract, or a one-year major league deal for the prorated MLB minimum salary. Harvey struggled to attract legitimate interest all offseason after he posted a brutal 7.09 ERA over 12 starts for the Angels last season, but he could ultimately find a rotation spot with the rebuilding Royals. ... Despite being activated ahead of the game, DJ LeMahieu was not in the Yankees' starting lineup Thursday night. LeMahieu is recovered from COVID-19, but he's not quite ready to play a full game. It's a situation to monitor but not cause for panic, yet ... Orioles placed LHP John Means on the 10-day injured list with left arm fatigue. Means was set to serve as the Opening Day starter for the O's before coming down with arm fatigue in the final week of summer camp workouts. He could be ready to join the starting rotation for the team's second regular season series against the Marlins. Tommy Milone will get the Opening Day nod instead. ... Orioles placed RHP Hunter Harvey on the 10-day injured list. Harvey came down with a bit of elbow soreness toward the end of summer camp workouts and will miss at least the first week of the 2020 regular season. The 25-year-old former top prospect could be an option at closer for the Orioles if he is able to work back to full health, though he has a bad history with injuries.