“Pretty cool,” Lester said after pitching 1.2 innings against the White Sox. “Anytime the manager picks you to do that it’s a huge honor. I’m excited. It’s probably the earliest I’ve ever been told.”
Like the rest of the team, Lester feels refreshed after a little bit longer offseason than last year, when the Cubs broke a 108-year championship drought. A season removed from the “hangover” he says the team is coming together quickly.
“Guys are opening up a little more,” Lester said. “It’s our fourth year together. I feel like I’ve gotten older and they’ve grown up.”
He might be a year older, but Lester doesn’t think he’s over the hill — even after a down year in 2017. He spent time on the disabled list, fell short of 200 innings and compiled a 4.33 ERA. Most of it can be chalked up to expending so much energy on winning the World Series in 2016.
“Last year was ‘Hey, we need to slow down, we need to be ready more or less for May than April,'” Lester stated. “For a few of us, that put us behind the eight ball. I don’t think we realized that until the end of the year.”
Lester admits to having a little “chip on his shoulder” as 2018 kicks off. More than anything, he wants that 200 innings back. He missed out on that goal for just the second time in the past 11 seasons.
“Starters need to be more accountable and go deeper into games,” Lester opined. “I don’t think out of a No.1 or No. 2 guy, that 170 or 180 innings is enough. … I think it’s terrible for the game. I think it puts too much pressure on your bullpen. They’re on call every night. I feel like there is a time and a place (for that). The playoffs are a different animal.
“The season is too long to rely on your starters to go five, maybe six. There are too many outs for those guys to get to have them fresh and ready to go.”
As for being named Opening Day starter, it wasn’t a hard decision for Maddon, who admitted early-season matchups were part of the equation. By pitching Opening Day against the Miami Marlins, Lester will miss the run-happy Milwaukee Brewers in the season’s third series of the year. More than anything, Maddon simply believes in his workhorse and the leadership he’s already shown in camp.
“There is an organic change in him that I’m loving,” Maddon said. “He’s feeling this leadership thing but he’s not forcing it whatsoever. … You grow into this spot and people want to follow you.”
When told of Maddon’s comments, Lester downplayed his effect and simply focused on his game. He thinks a rebound season is in order.
“I like my odds to have another good year,” Lester said.
Pete Rose to sell picks for baseball, other sports through website
Pete Rose’s baseball predictions are for sale for $89 a month.
Rose announced Wednesday that he was joining Upicktrade, a pick-selling website based in Mexico that recently made headlines in the U.S. with a short-lived partnership with the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL. Rose will be making daily predictions about baseball and other sports.
Rose, who turned 80 on Wednesday and resides in Las Vegas, was banished from baseball in 1989 after an investigation revealed that he had bet on the game while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He has appealed to be reinstated multiple times but has been denied, most recently in 2015 by then first-year commissioner Rob Manfred.
During a conference call with the media Wednesday, Rose said he won’t be placing wagers on his picks and doesn’t believe working for the sports betting site would damage his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame.
“By me working with Upick, I’m not hurting Rob Manfred. I’m not trying to show him up by doing that,” Rose said. “I’m trying to make a living like everyone else. I’m not making a bet on the baseball game; I’m picking a baseball game. I’m using my knowledge to pick a game for whoever is working with Upick.
“But picking games on Upick don’t make me a bad person,” he added. “It’s not me trying to give baseball a black eye, because I’m not. I love baseball.”
It has been over 30 years since Rose’s banishment, and Major League Baseball is now embracing the legal sports betting market in the U.S. MLB has partnered with bookmakers, and select stadiums have announced plans to install retail sportsbooks.
Rose said he understands baseball’s change of heart on sports betting.
“Why is baseball doing what they’re doing? Because of the dollars, because there’s money in it,” he said. “Baseball was kind of stubborn for so many years, worried about gambling. But gambling is a big part of our country right now.”
Legal sportsbooks are operating in more than 20 states and the District of Columbia, with another wave of jurisdictions preparing to launch sports betting markets in the near future.
Upicktrade, which is based in Guadalajara, Mexico, partnered with the Golden Knights in February. Just days after the deal was announced, the Knights terminated the partnership with no explanation.
Yasiel Puig denies accusations in sexual assault lawsuit
In a statement released on his Twitter feed Tuesday, free-agent outfielder Yasiel Puig has denied claims in a lawsuit that he sexually assaulted a woman in 2018 and said that the allegations have prevented him from continuing his Major League career.
“I am speaking out now to defend my name against false and malicious allegations by a woman who claims I assaulted her in 2018,” Puig wrote. “These allegations are totally false, the evidence proves they are false, and I look forward to all the facts and the truth coming out.”
The woman, identified in federal court documents only as Jane Roe, sued Puig last October, saying the former Dodgers outfielder followed her into a Staples Center bathroom after a Lakers game on Oct. 31, 2018, “pinned her with one arm” to prevent her from leaving, groped her and masturbated in front of her.
The woman did not file a police report. Puig has not been charged with any crime and he has previously denied the allegations in a court filing.
In his statement Tuesday, released by his attorneys, Puig said: “The fact is that I had consensual sex with a woman I met at a Lakers game after she propositioned me. Afterward we talked about going out together, but she said she did not want her fiancé to find out.”
Attorney Taylor Rayfield, who is representing the woman, said in a statement to ESPN Wednesday, “The simple fact of the matter is that our client never engaged in consensual sexual activity with Mr. Puig — not at the Staples Center Chairman’s Club, and not anywhere else.”
In her own statement, released through Rayfield, the woman said, “I am an out and proud lesbian and have been during my entire adult life. My female fiancée and I were enjoying a Lakers game at the Staples Center when this attack occurred.” She added that the notion that she would leave her fianceé for a sexual encounter in the bathroom with someone she’d just met “is demeaning and ridiculous.”
Puig said Tuesday that he and the woman “messaged each other” after their encounter and planned to get together but never did.
Puig’s Los Angeles-based attorneys, Alan Jackson and Caleb Mason, also said in their statement Tuesday that text messages between Puig and the woman help to confirm Puig’s account of what happened.
“On November 2, 2018, two days after their encounter, when Mr. Puig wrote to ask her when they could see each other again, she replied “I[‘m] working it out! I didn’t forget about you.”
Puig’s attorneys point out that the woman sent Puig heart emoji messages and that, on November 23, 2018, several weeks after the Lakers game, she messaged Puig asking him when he would be back in town.
ESPN has reviewed text message exchanges between Puig and the woman, which became public through an exhibit filed as part of the woman’s federal lawsuit.
She did send the text messages Puig’s legal team referenced but only after Puig had sent her several messages in an apparent attempt to meet privately.
Rayfield said the woman only sent those messages because she was “fearful of a further attack or retribution by Puig,” and in an attempt “to de-escalate his behavior by providing curt responses.”
In their statement Tuesday, Puig’s attorneys did not include a text message Puig sent the woman hours after the Lakers game. In that text, Puig wrote: “Private between me and me [sic] everything that happens no one has to know,” according to the transcript of text messages that appears in court documents.
Last month, ESPN reported that a number of teams had factored the allegations, as well as Puig’s declining play, into their decision making when considering him as a free-agent signing.
“Nobody wants the headache,” one front-office source told ESPN.
Puig said Tuesday he initially remained silent about the allegations against him on the advice of his attorneys and is speaking out now because of delays in the legal system and a civil case that has unfairly tarnished his image in baseball circles.
“With a mere unsupported accusation, the sports world has turned against me without ever hearing my side,” Puig said in the statement from his attorneys.
“All I ask is that I be given the chance to prove these claims false, and in the meantime, play the game that I love so much.”
Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman among Houston Astros players on IL for health and safety protocols
The Houston Astros have placed Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Robel Garcia and Martin Maldonado on the injured list “as a result of health and safety protocols,” general manager James Click said Wednesday.
Click said the moves were not a function of the players breaking COVID-19 protocols.
“Absolutely not. The guys have been exceptionally vigilant of making sure that at the ballpark, away from the ballpark, they’re following the rules,” Click told reporters. “I think this is just another reflection of the situation we’re in, not just in baseball but in the country.”
The Astros, who are not at the 85% vaccination threshold to loosen the protocols, said they didn’t know about having to make these moves until after Tuesday’s game. All other players on the team will go through increased testing, and all coaches and staff have been cleared to continue working.
In corresponding moves, the Astros called up infielder Taylor Jones, catcher Garrett Stubbs, infielder Abraham Toro, infielder Alex De Goti and outfielder Ronnie Dawson from the team’s alternate training site.
All five players are expected to arrive in time for Wednesday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers at Minute Maid Park.
“When it rains it pours,” Click said. “It’s a difficult situation, but we can’t let that take our focus away from winning this game.”
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