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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has an answer for anyone wondering why Tim Tebow is in the team’s major league spring training camp less than two years after he returned to the game after a 12-year absence:

Tebow is going to play in the major leagues and the Mets want to get him there as quickly as possible.

“Somebody asked me whether I think he’ll be a major league player at some point,” Alderson said after a Sunday workout at First Data Field. “I think he will play in the major leagues. That’s my guess. That’s my hope, and to some extent now after a year and a half, a modest expectation.”

It’s the first time Alderson has been that definitive about his anticipation of the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback’s future, but he is pleased with the progress Tebow has made since the team signed him on Sept. 8, 2016. That’s why Tebow was one of the 15 non-roster invitees who will work in the Mets’ big league camp over the next six weeks.

“He’s dedicated himself to improving,” Alderson said. “Spent a lot of time in the offseason working with hitting coaches and so forth. So some people say, ‘Well, gee, why is he in the major league camp?’ I think realistically given his age, given where he started, he and we need to try and accelerate the process.

“This experiment, if you will, is not going to last forever, but he’s made meaningful progress. We thought he would best benefit from being in major league camp. That would accelerate his development rather than falling back on protocol.”

That’s a lot of pressure on a player whose entire professional baseball experience consists of 126 minor league games split between Class A and Class A Advanced teams in 2017. Tebow said Alderson’s prediction was nice, but he’s not thinking about anything other than what he needs to do to improve.

“My goal isn’t about what’s going to happen one day,” Tebow said. “My goal is to focus on this day and our outfield work, my training session, getting to know all the new coaches, and working as hard as I can. I think one of the important things about being an athlete is being able to lock in and have tunnel vision because I can’t worry about one day if I’m going to play in the bigs or not.

“I got into this because I love it. I’m passionate about it, and I think for me it’s being able to lock in and have tunnel vision regardless of what team I’m on wherever they decide to put me.”

Tebow said he spent the offseason working on his body and his swing. He said he’s 12 pounds lighter, more flexible, and moving better than he did last year. He spent considerable time with hitting coaches — as well as with Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, his neighbor in his home town of Jacksonville — and says his swing is freer, more aggressive and more athletic.

Having specifics to work on during the offseason has been a huge advantage, Tebow said.

“I think for me [the biggest difference] was going into the offseason knowing what I had to work on because [2017 was] my first time playing a season for 12 years, since my junior year of high school,” the 30-year-old Tebow said. “So it was really going into the offseason where I could really make the changes. It’s hard to fully make changes in a season when you’re competing one night, you work on the next day, you compete the next night, so it’s hard for those changes to really lock in.

“Going back, looking at all the changes that I wanted to make in every area of the game and then setting a plan of action of, ‘OK, we’re going to spend four weeks on this, six weeks on this,’ and so we had a plan going into of what we wanted to get changed. You don’t have to go compete that night, so that makes it a little bit easier to sink in.”

Tebow said there were plenty of up and down moments last year. He hit .226 with 24 doubles, eight homers and 52 RBIs while playing for the Columbia (South Carolina) Fireflies and the Port St. Lucie Mets. He had raised his average above .300 in July but went 3-for-44 in August and also finished his season with 10 errors.

He says he now knows what to expect on a daily basis, and that has allowed him to have a clearer mind heading into spring training.

“I tried to go in open-minded, learning, knowing that I haven’t played this game in 12 years and that I wanted to absorb as much information as I could, make the changes, try to improve, try to grow as an athlete — not only physically and mentally in every different way that I could understand the game,” Tebow said. “Instead of learning on the fly, now I get to have the chance … to be able to react, and that always makes you a much better athlete.”

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Mookie Betts goes ‘back to my roots’ at second base, homers in Los Angeles Dodgers’ victory

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PHOENIX — Mookie Betts looked right back at home playing his original position on Sunday.

Betts hit a homer in his first game back from the injured list and made a stellar defensive play at second base to help the Los Angeles Dodgers ease past the Arizona Diamondbacks 13-0 to win two of three in the series.

“It was a lot of fun going back to my roots,” said Betts, who usually plays in the outfield. “It was good easing myself back into play.”

With a sore left hip, manager Dave Roberts and Betts thought it wise to let him play second — the position he played when he came up with Boston in 2014 — to reduce the strain.

His hip didn’t seem to be a problem. In the first inning, he took a hit away from Arizona’s Drew Ellis. Playing on the shortstop side of the bag in the shift, Betts went back for a popup like a wide receiver hauling in a pass over his shoulder.

“That catch changed the landscape of the game,” Roberts said.

The Dodgers then scored five runs in the second, chasing Caleb Smith after Albert Pujols‘ bases-clearing double capped the scoring in the inning.

Betts later turned a double play when playing behind second, running to the base and firing to first to complete it. He’s likely to return to right field on Tuesday when the Dodgers host their 2017 World Series nemesis, the Houston Astros.

All told, Betts, who played one game at second last season for the Dodgers, had two putouts and three assists in the victory.

Trea Turner, acquired from Washington last week, is expected to play second and Max Scherzer is scheduled to start Wednesday in the second of the two-game set. Scherzer joined the team in Arizona on Saturday.

“It’s going to be a fun homestand,” Roberts said.

The Dodgers also play the crosstown rival Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium later this week.

Justin Turner hit his 20th homer with a three-run shot in the seventh and Betts connected off catcher Bryan Holaday, pitching the ninth, for his 15th. Betts was 2 for 5 with a walk and two runs scored.

One run would have been enough for the Dodgers. Julio Urias (13-3) pitched five scoreless innings and three relievers gave up no hits over the last four, capping the four-hit shutout.

A.J. Pollock peppered his former team with four hits, extending his hitting streak to 11 games.

“He’s carrying us right now,” Roberts said of the outfielder, who is batting .526 against Arizona this season over nine games.

Smith (3-8) struggled to find the strike zone for the Diamondbacks, walking five in 1 2/3 innings and throwing 70 pitches. The last pitch was Pujols’ three-run double on a full count. He walked Chris Taylor with the bases loaded to force in the first run.

“I hate walking guys. I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight,” Smith said. “Walks have killed me. I’ve gotta figure it out.”

Manager Torey Lovullo stuck with his starter because he got two outs after loading the bases before walking Taylor, giving up an infield hit to Turner and finally Pujols’ big hit.

“You want to give your starting pitcher a chance to work through those early-inning problems,” Lovullo said. “We needed Caleb to give us 4 or 5 innings. We were trying to get him through.”

Urias finished at 83 pitches, walking none and striking out seven while limiting Arizona to four singles.

To make room for Betts, the Dodgers optioned utility man Zach McKinstry to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Los Angeles also selected the contract of RHP Yefry Ramirez from Oklahoma City and sent RHP Mitch White, Saturday night’s starter, back to the Triple-A team.

The Associated Press contribute to this report.

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Kris Bryant joins ex-Chicago Cubs teammates Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez in mashing debut homer

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Kris Bryant on Sunday joined former Chicago Cubs teammates Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez in making an immediate good impression with his new team.

The now San Francisco Giant hit a two-out solo shot in the third inning of a 5-3 win over the Houston Astros. Two days earlier, Rizzo crushed a 449-foot solo home run in his New York Yankees debut while Baez mashed a two-run dinger in his first game with the New York Mets the following day.

The former Cubs became the first trio of ex-teammates in the Modern Era to start the season on the same team, and then homer in their respective debuts with a new team later that season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Acquired in a trade with the Cubs for two minor league prospects just minutes before Friday’s deadline, Bryant was greeted by chants of “KB, KB, KB” when he trotted onto the field for pregame warmups and received a standing ovation before his first at-bat.

The four-time All-Star was cheered again after striking out swinging. Those cheers got louder after Bryant crushed an 0-1 pitch from Luis Garcia (7-6) into the left field stands for his 19th home run this season.

“It’s nice to really feel welcome,” Bryant said before the game. “Barry Bonds was my favorite player. I still have the autograph that my mom went and bought at the mall. Now I’m here. It’s kind of weird.”

It wasn’t a perfect debut for Bryant, who started at third base. His throwing error on Martin Maldonado‘s grounder down the line in the fifth gave the Astros a runner in scoring position with no outs. Logan Webb retired the next three batters to work out of the jam.

Still, Bryant made it clear how valuable he will be to the Giants as they attempt to stay in front of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres in the NL West.

“It’s a bat that really lengthens our group and makes our bench better,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said of Bryant. “It makes it more difficult to get through the top of our lineup. He’s going to be good for us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Alex Cora encouraged as Chris Sale, Kyle Schwarber move steps closer to joining Boston Red Sox

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale will make a fifth minor league rehab start later this week for Triple-A Worcester as he moves closer to pitching in the majors for the first time since Aug. 13, 2019.

Sale had Tommy John surgery in March 2020.

“We’ll re-address the situation after that but he’s getting close,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said before Sunday night’s game at Tampa Bay. “We’ll see where it takes us.”

Cora said Sale “felt great” one day after allowing one run over five innings Saturday for Worcester.

The Red Sox had lost four of five entering Sunday, including the first two games of a three-game series with Tampa Bay, that dropped them a half-game behind the AL East-leading Rays.

There is also encouraging news about recently acquired slugger Kyle Schwarber, who is currently out with a hamstring injury. He will take part in an off-day workout Monday in Detroit.

Schwarber will continue doing defensive work at first base where the team hopes he will be able to play at the unfamiliar position. He is nearing a rehab assignment.

“We’ll sit down on Tuesday or Wednesday and see where we’re at,” Cora said. “As far as the progress of the injury, we’re excited. The progress has been great. We’re hoping he goes on a rehab assignment sooner rather than later.”

Boston got Schwarber from Washington for a minor league pitcher last Thursday. He last played on July 2.

Utilityman Marwin Gonzalez (right hamstring strain) will also join the team for Monday’s workout and could be back Tuesday night when the Red Sox open a three-game series with the Tigers.

Right-hander Matt Andriese (right hamstring tendinitis) had a live batting practice session.

Reliever Brandon Workman, designated for assignment last Thursday, was outrighted off the major league roster and elected to become a free agent.

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