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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — On his first day back at spring training after his dad’s funeral, Terry Francona seemed to exhale when the questions eventually turned to baseball.

“Thanks, I made it,” the Cleveland manager said.

He spent the first six minutes of his media session Sunday reflecting on his father, former Indians player Tito Francona.

While Francona remained composed, it was clear what his dad meant to him and how good it was to be back with his baseball crew.

“It’s so nice to be back. I went back for two days to be with my family and then I came back here to kind of be with my family,” he said. “That’s about as close as you could feel with the people that aren’t your family. … It’s not just baseball. It’s Cleveland, it’s the people here, and I know that.”

Francona left the Arizona camp on Thursday afternoon to go to Pennsylvania to attend the private services for his father.

John “Tito” Francona, who proudly watched his son follow his footsteps to the major leagues, died unexpectedly at his home on Tuesday night in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. He was 84.

The Indians manager is also known as “Tito,” a nickname his grandfather had given his father.

“The way he explained it to me is that it’s kind of a little, kind of a kid that’s in the way, kind of a little ornery, like energetic,” Francona said. “But not always complimentary, maybe. Kind of depended who gave you the description.”

The elder Francona made his big league debut in 1956 with the Baltimore Orioles, and retired as a player after the 1970 season with Milwaukee

Terry Francona was born in 1959, the first year his dad played in Cleveland. Tito hit .363 that season and finished fifth in the AL MVP voting. He led the AL in doubles the following year, and in 1961 he was an AL All-Star and led the league in singles.

Flooded by messages about his father in the past several days, Francona said he believes he answered every one of them.

“Because people took the time to say something kind, but it was a lot,” he said. “When you play for nine teams and you’re a good guy, you’re going to know a lot of people.”

Francona said the Indians had a family feeling in a professional setting for both he and his father, who was only about 90 minutes away and could come up whenever he wanted to watch his son’s games. The elder Francona threw out a first pitch before Game 1 of the AL Division Series two years ago, as he had before the Indians home opener in 2013, his son’s first season as their manager.

“Just the way he was treated when he would come back, not just for me to get to see him, but the way he was treated,” he said. “My son did kind of a eulogy yesterday, and he mentioned that, that like what a fitting way to kind of wind down your life as being that happy.”

Describing himself as the luckiest kid ever with the best parents, Francona said he knew how fortunate he was growing up like that. His love for baseball definitely came from his dad.

“The majority of whatever I do know, or what I care about, came from him,” Francona said. “I care about the game, I respect the game, I love the game because of my dad, I guarantee you that. He taught me to care about baseball so deeply.”

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Given ‘his stats are beyond amazing,’ New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom becomes betting favorite to win NL MVP award

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It often takes eye-popping statistics for a pitcher to win a regular-season MVP award, something that’s happened only twice since 1992. Sportsbooks believe New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom has what it takes.

DeGrom, who is sporting a 0.56 ERA and has driven in more runs at the plate than he has allowed on the mound, has emerged as the consensus favorite to win the National League MVP at U.S. sportsbooks. After opening at 40-1, he is now the National League MVP favorite at 2-1 at Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. He went from 9-1 to the favorite at 2-1 in a week at BetMGM sportsbooks.

DeGrom moved ahead of San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. last week, despite leaving his most recent start on Friday with flexor tendinitis. DeGrom is expected to be available for his next scheduled start on Wednesday. DeGrom’s departure caused William Hill’s Nevada sportsbooks to halt betting on the NL MVP, but the company’s New Jersey shops kept the odds on the board. A bettor with William Hill in New Jersey placed $1,000 on deGrom to win NL MVP at 6-1 odds prior to his last start.

In the past 28 seasons, only two pitchers have won regular-season MVP awards, the most recent being Clayton Kershaw in 2014. Only 25 pitchers have won the award in Major League Baseball history.

“He goes out every game and just shuts the other team down,” Adam Pullen, second director of trading for William Hill U.S., said. “It’s hard for people to get past that he’s not an everyday player, but he’s just so dominant. For a pitcher to win the MVP, you have to have dominant stats, and his stats are beyond amazing.”

DeGrom is also the favorite to win the NL Cy Young and has attracted 79.3% of the amount wagered on the odds at BetMGM sportsbooks.

The Mets have been favored in each of deGrom’s 10 starts this season, going 7-3 with him on the mound. The price to bet the Mets with deGrom on the mound, however, was so high that if a bettor backed him for $100 on each of his starts, they’d be down $55 on the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Tatis is the second-favorite to win NL MVP at 3-1, followed by Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves at 4-1.

In the American League, the Los Angeles Angels‘ two-way star, Shohei Ohtani, is the favorite to win MVP at +120. Before the season, William Hill reported taking a $30,000 bet on Ohtani to win MVP at 30-1 odds. The bet would pay $930,000.

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Kansas City Royals’ Andrew Benintendi hits IL, won’t face Boston Red Sox this weekend

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The Kansas City Royals placed outfielder Andrew Benintendi on the 10-day injured list Monday with a fractured right rib.

The move means that Benintendi won’t be able to face his former team when the Royals host the Boston Red Sox this weekend.

“He had something grab when he threw yesterday [against the Oakland Athletics] with the ball off the wall,” Royals manager Mike Matheny told reporters, according to the Kansas City Star. “He’d been feeling a little bit of something for a while. Obviously, it wasn’t affecting his swing. On the throw, it grabbed him. He was fine last night. Woke up today and it wasn’t right. He had it X-rayed.”

Benintendi, who was traded by the Red Sox to the Royals before the season, is hitting .283 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in his first season with Kansas City.

He missed most of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season because of a strained right rib cage.

The Royals recalled outfielder Edward Olivares from Triple-A Omaha in a corresponding move.

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Day after uncharacteristic loss, Cleveland Indians ace Shane Bieber placed on 10-day injured list with right shoulder injury

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CLEVELAND — Cleveland Indians ace Shane Bieber, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, has a strained right shoulder and will not pitch for at least two weeks.

Manager Terry Francona said Bieber complained of tightness in his shoulder after pitching Sunday and underwent an MRI. The tests showed the muscle strain, and Bieber will be temporarily shut down.

The Indians placed the right-hander on the injured list and recalled reliever Kyle Nelson from Triple-A Columbus.

Bieber’s loss is a major blow to Cleveland, which has managed to stay in contention in the first 2 1/2 months of the season despite a rash of key injuries. The Indians will now have to survive without Bieber, one of baseball’s best pitchers, for at least a few weeks.

Bieber allowed a season-high 10 hits and five runs while losing to the Seattle Mariners on Sunday.

“Today, I got beat for not executing,” Bieber said after the loss. “That’s obvious. Whether it’s curveball, fastball, slider, changeup, cutter, it doesn’t really matter. I just got to be better and continue to hit spots, execute throughout the game, strike one, two and three and then continue momentum.”

His velocity was noticeably lower vs. Seattle, but Francona didn’t make much of it when asked in his postgame news conference.

Bieber is 7-4 this season in 14 starts, covering 90.2 innings. He has 130 strikeouts, opposed by just 33 walks and has maintained momentum from last season, when he led the majors in wins (8), ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122).

Seattle has beaten Bieber twice this season, scoring eight runs on 15 hits in 10.1 innings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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