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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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Tampa Bay Rays prospect Shane Baz to start vs. Japan at Tokyo Games

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YOKOHAMA, Japan — Tampa Bay Rays prospect Shane Baz will make his Olympics debut Monday night, starting for the United States against Japan.

A 22-year-old right-hander, Baz is 3-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 12 minor league starts this season, striking out 82 and walking 10 in 55⅔ innings.

After starting 2-4 with a 2.48 ERA in seven starts at Double-A Montgomery, he was promoted to Triple-A Durham in mid-June and went 1-0 with a 1.96 ERA in five starts, striking out 33 in 23 innings. He was the Rays minor league pitcher of the month in June.

Baz pitched the second inning of the Futures Game at Denver’s Coors Field on July 11, throwing a called third strike past the Atlanta Braves‘ Michael Harris, fanning the Chicago Cubs‘ Brennan Davis and retiring the Colorado Rockies‘ Ryan Vilade on a groundout.

The United States and Japan enter the game with 2-0 records.

Joe Ryan, traded from Tampa Bay to the Minnesota Twins for Nelson Cruz, beat Israel in the U.S. opener Friday, and former Texas Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez got the victory over South Korea on Saturday.

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Israel ousts Mexico from Tokyo Games with 1st Olympic baseball win

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YOKOHAMA, Japan — Israel had just routed Mexico for its first Olympic baseball victory, riding a loud three-run homer by Danny Valencia that helped it jump to a six-run lead, and Nick Rickles wanted to check the reaction.

“I don’t think it’s so much about beating Mexico.” he said after Monday’s 12-5 win. “I think it’s a lot to just raise awareness for baseball in Israel. For me, I was just taking in the moment and seeing after the game the amount of love that we received from people back in Israel. We had messages on top of messages from people just saying thank you.”

Valencia went deep against a Double-A pitcher playing in his 15th consecutive minor league season, Rickles had three RBIs and Israel pounded relievers Fernando Salas and Oliver Perez in a six-run seventh inning to reach the tournament’s double-elimination phase.

Israel (1-2) plays South Korea (2-1) on Tuesday with the chance to advance to a matchup against the United States or Japan on Wednesday that will determine a berth in the gold-medal game.

Rickles has been with the national team program for a decade and played a role in the Olympic buildup. Israel won its group at the 2017 World Baseball Classic and beat Cuba in the second round, then won a two-continent Olympic qualifying tournament and beat out the Netherlands for one of the six Olympic berths. It lost its opener to South Korea 6-5 in 10 innings.

“I don’t think there was a lot of expectations coming into Israel playing baseball at all,” said Rickles, a 31-year-old catcher who retired from Philadelphia’s minor league system during spring training in 2019 to become a Milwaukee minor league coach.

With pitchers such as Julio Urias, Luis Cessa and Jose Urquidy unavailable because Major League Baseball doesn’t allow 40-man roster players to participate, Mexico started Manny Barreda (0-1), a 32-year-old right-hander drafted by the New York Yankees in 2007 and released seven years later.

He gave up six runs, four hits and three walks in two-plus innings.

“He is a great pitcher in Mexico. Last year in the winter, he even pitched a complete nine-inning game,” manager Benji Gil said through an interpreter. “Today just wasn’t his day. He didn’t have a lot of dominance. He had several balls he was missing the location.”

Mexico (0-3), the first country eliminated, was outscored 20-9.

“I’m in shock,” Gil said. “Not even in my worst nightmares did I think that this would be the result.”

Mexico lost right-hander Hector Velázquez and left-hander Sammy Solís just before the Olympics when they contracted COVID-19. Adrian Gonzalez, a 39-year-old, five-time All-Star who made his last big league appearance in 2018, finished 3 for 11 with an RBI and Joey Meneses went 6 for 12 with four RBI.

Zack Weiss (1-0), who allowed four runs and got no outs for Cincinnati in his only big league appearance on April 12, 2018, got the win by allowing one run in two innings in relief of starter Josh Zeid. Israel had 12 hits and set a tournament high for runs.

On a 91-degree Fahrenheit (32.7 Celsius) afternoon with blistering sun, Mexico clawed back to 6-5 before Salas, a 36-year-old right-hander, allowed Ian Kinsler’s leadoff double in the seventh and Valencia’s single.

Perez relieved and the 39-year-old left-hander gave up Blake Gailen’s RBI single, two-run singles by Mitch Glasser and Zack Penprase, and Scotty Burcham’s RBI double.

Ryan Lavarnway, 5 for 13 in the Olympics, doubled up the left-center gap in the first, and Rickles hit an RBI single with two outs. Lavarnway, who played four games for Cleveland in June when Austin Hedges went on the concussion injured list, tried to score from second on Rickles’ hit and was thrown out by left fielder Meneses.

Barreda walked his first two batters in the the third and Valencia, exactly a week shy of the third anniversary of his last big league at-bat, rocketed an armpit-high fastball 10 rows deep into the left-field seats. Rickles greeted reliever Sasagi Sanchez with a two-run single.

“I hammered it, to be honest. I crushed that ball,” Valencia said. “The team needed it. It got the momentum going.”

SOUTH KOREA 4, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 3

Kim Hyun-soo capped a three-run rally in the ninth inning with his fourth hit, a two-out single over Julio Rodriguez off Arizona minor leaguer Luis Castillo, and South Korea (2-1) got its second walk-off win.

Park Hae-Min hit a run-scoring single and Lee Jung-Hoo a tying double.

Former St. Louis Cardinals closer Oh Seunghwan (1-0) relieved with a runner on in the top half and got three straight groundouts.

Juan Francisco, seven years removed from his last major league at-bat, hit a two-run homer halfway up the center-field scoreboard, the ball bouncing off the figures indicating the pitch was 148 kph (91 mph). The 34-year-old Francisco stood at the plate, raised his bat in his right hand and pointed at the scoreboard with his left, then did a quick dance as he watched the fourth-inning drive off Lee Eui-lee.

Raul Valdes, a 43-year-old left-hander whose last big league appearance was with Houston in 2014, allowed one run — on Yang Eui-ji’s first-inning sacrifice fly — and seven hits in 5⅓ innings.

The Dominicans (1-2), who scored their first run on a wild pitch, play an elimination game Tuesday against the Israel-South Korea loser.

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White Sox rookie Seby Zavala first in MLB history to hit his first three career home runs in same game

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CHICAGO — White Sox rookie Seby Zavala hit the first three home runs of his career, including a grand slam, but the Cleveland Indians rallied to beat Chicago 12-11 on Saturday night.

Zavala became the first player in big league history to hit his first three career home runs in the same game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The 27-year-old catcher played his 18th game in the majors — he was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte on July 6 to replace the injured Yasmani Grandal.

Batting ninth, Zavala hit a solo homer in the third off Triston McKenzie. Zavala connected for a grand slam off McKenize in the fourth for a 6-1 lead and a solo drive against Bryan Shaw in the seventh.

With a chance to become the 19th player to hit a record-tying four homers in a game, Zavala singled in the eighth and finished with six RBIs.

Zavala — who will turn 28 on Aug. 28 — played at San Diego State, finishing up with the Aztecs in 2015. Later that year, he was a 12th-round selection by Chicago in the June entry draft. He hit 20 home runs at Triple A Charlotte in 2019.

His magic wasn’t enough to outpace the Indians on this night, however, as Austin Hedges, Owen Miller and Amed Rosario homered to help Cleveland overcome a five-run deficit.

The Indians totaled nine runs in three straight innings to take the lead. Justin Garza (1-0) threw two scoreless innings. Emmanuel Clase got five outs for his 13th save.

Brian Goodwin and Adam Engel homered for the White Sox, who lead the second-place Indians by eight games in the AL Central despite winning just three times in their last 10 games.

Michael Kopech (3-1) took the loss for the White Sox, allowing five earned runs in just one inning of work.

Perhaps more important to the long-term outlook of the White Sox staff, newly acquired Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth in his first appearance after they acquired him from the Cubs at the trade deadline Friday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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