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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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Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa admits he didn’t know extra-inning rule

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Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa is under the microscope again.

La Russa said he didn’t fully know the extra-inning rule that would have allowed him to avoid using closer Liam Hendriks as a baserunner in a 0-0 game against the Reds on Wednesday in Cincinnati.

Hendriks had double-switched into the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, taking the No. 5 spot in the batting order, which made the last out in the top of the frame. Per MLB rules, as extra innings begin, the spot in the order to make the last out in the previous inning becomes the baserunner at second base. However, if that spot is occupied by a pitcher, the team has the option to use the preceding player in the batting order as the runner. In this case, it would have been Jose Abreu.

“I didn’t know that,” La Russa said after the 1-0 loss. “We all thought Liam was going to be the runner. I wasn’t aware Abreu could have run. I thought it was the guy that made the last out or the spot in that order.”

Besides the obvious injury risk to a player who has run the bases once in his entire career, the choice to run Hendriks impacted the inning. While he was on third base with one out, Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart didn’t hesitate to throw to second base to nail Leury Garcia, who was trying to steal — despite the potential winning run at third. Barnhart knew Hendriks likely wasn’t going to go home on a double-steal attempt.

“[Garcia] can run,” La Russa said. “We wanted to be aggressive. They threw him out.”

Even in talking out the White Sox strategy, the team was concerned with Hendriks’ safety. La Russa said he was hoping for an easy sacrifice fly or another way for Hendriks to score that wasn’t stressful. It didn’t matter after Billy Hamilton struck out to end the inning.

“We were going to try and avoid any kind of contact at home plate,” La Russa said.

La Russa admitted he wasn’t aware of the rule until hearing it read by a reporter in the postgame Zoom session.

“I’m guessing you know the rules better,” he said. “Now I know.”

The White Sox named La Russa their manager in October.

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Joey Votto of Cincinnati Reds suffers broken left thumb after being hit by pitch

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Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto suffered a broken left thumb in the team’s 1-0 victory against the visiting Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.

Votto is not expected to need surgery but could miss up to a month.

Kyle Farmer is among the options at first.

“We’ll figure it out,” manager David Bell said.

Votto was hit by a Dallas Keuchel pitch in the fourth inning. He remained in the game, but in the sixth was replaced at first base by Farmer.

“I knew I was in pain,” Votto said after the game, according to MLB.com. “I thought I was being a baby. I just wanted to stay in the game, but I didn’t think I could grip the bat and I was having a hard time putting my glove on. I could run and I was moving well, and I thought, ‘Just give it some time, it should shake at some point. Maybe it’s just one of those [where] your thumb gets jammed in a door or something like that and it just goes away.’ It broke, what are you going to do?”

Keuchel expressed regret.

“It’s a joy to pitch against him,” Keuchel said. “You never want that to happen. I wish him well.”

Votto is hitting .226 with five home runs and 17 RBIs.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Longtime Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller dies at 76

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Longtime pitching coach Ray Miller, who served as manager of the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles during his career, died Tuesday at the age of 76, it was announced Wednesday.

“His legacy will forever be enshrined in our organization’s history, having guided some of the greatest Orioles pitchers,” the team said in a statement. “… We send our deepest condolences to his beloved family and his many fans throughout our great game.”

Miller served three stints as a coach with the Orioles, including two seasons as manager in 1998 and 1999, when he compiled a 157-167 record. He also served as manager of the Twins during parts of the 1985 and ’86 seasons, going 109-130.

The Orioles listed Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Scott McGregor, Steve Stone and Mike Boddicker as just some of the pitchers Miller coached during his time with the team, which included the 1983 World Series title and the 1979 American League pennant.

He also served as pitching coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1987 to 1996.

“Ray Miller was a beloved member of the Pirates organization for 10 seasons whose passion and dedicated played an instrumental role in the team’s three straight postseason appearances from 1990-92,” the Pirates said in a statement. “He was respected not only as a pitching coach by players in the Pirates organization, but also throughout the entire game of baseball.”

He was enshrined in the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2010.

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