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While it is folly to make too much of performance on the sun-soaked spring fields of Arizona and Florida, there are important developments that can play out in March. The spring is a time for players to explore and experiment in a relaxed atmosphere where their play does not affect the standings or their future earning potential. The following are 10 things ESPN wants to see players show in spring training before the games count.

1. Whether Shohei Ohtani falls out of love with his fastball. The legend of Ohtani begins with the fastball. The pitch averaged 97.5 mph last year — with a max reading of 101.6 mph — in an injury-shortened season in Japan. For reference, Luis Severino, James Paxton, Nathan Eovaldi, Stephen Strasburg, Noah Syndergaard and Luis Castillo are the only starting pitchers who averaged 96.5 mph or better with their fastballs in the PITCHf/x era, which dates to 2007. Ohtani leaned on the pitch heavily in Japan, throwing it on 59.6 percent of his offerings last season, according to NPB pitch-tracking. Only two major league starters — Kevin Gausman and Ty Blach — threw four-seam fastballs at a higher rate last season, when the MLB average was 37 percent for four-seamers. Despite the radar gun readings, Ohtani should rely less on the pitch.

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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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