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Kluber (broken arm) throws 30 pitches off mound

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CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber threw 30 pitches in a bullpen session Sunday as the Cleveland right-hander continues his comeback from a broken forearm.

Kluber threw off the mound for the second time since being struck on the right arm by a line drive on May 1 against Miami.

Manager Terry Francona said the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner is scheduled to throw off the mound again Wednesday.

Kluber has thrown breaking pitches off flat ground, but has gone with only fastballs in the bullpen. Francona said Kluber will begin throwing breaking pitches off the mound in upcoming sessions.

The Indians have climbed back in the AL Central race without Kluber and right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in June.

Carrasco has been throwing in the bullpen, but told reporters earlier this month he doesn’t know whether he’ll pitch again this season.

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Cubs’ trip to Williamsport may have been just what they needed

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WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Maybe all it took was a trip back to their childhood. It’s as good an explanation as any for the Chicago Cubs finally winning a road series Sunday night with a 7-1 victory the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Little League Classic. After a day and evening of being reminded what the game is all about, the Cubs finally, mercifully, won their first road series in exactly three months, taking two of three from the Pirates.

“I would imagine every major league team would like to do this,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of coming to Williamsport. “It is exciting. It is pure. It is what it’s supposed to look like.”

And it could be just what the Cubs needed. The pressure of yet another pennant race doesn’t apply to the Pirates, who have fallen far out of the hunt since the All-Star break. And they’ve played at Williamsport before and probably will come again, given their proximity. But for the Cubs, it was a one-day respite. Yes, they had to take the game at night seriously — but not the entire day.

“I’m a really a tough routine guy,” winning pitcher Jose Quintana said. “I always do the same thing before the game. But today was really special. I said hello to the kids. It was different.”

The Cubs need something different in their road life, as it’s been the grind of all grinds away from home, where Chicago improved to just 25-39 on the year. But on Sunday, there was no one reminding them of that record, only about what the game is all about.

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Javier Baez talks about the joy he has playing baseball and how he wants kids to enjoy the game while they’re playing.

“It was really special,” Javy Baez said. “I came to the Little League World Series when I was young. We didn’t have this experience. We didn’t have major league players around. It was cool for them and for us too.

“It kind of brought us together. In the dugout, out of the dugout. Being around the kids, it was pretty cool.”

You could tell by the interactions that went on throughout the afternoon that this wasn’t going to be a night when the Cubs would play tight. They could have lost the game just the same, but perhaps it’s no coincidence they broke a 90-day road series drought on the same day they were sliding down a hill on cardboard boxes and letting Little Leaguers hold their bats while in the on-deck circle.

Team president Theo Epstein was asked what this day could mean for his team moving forward.

“It can’t hurt,” he said before the victory. “Everyone had fun today. The routine can get a little monotonous. Breaking it up and doing it in a way that makes everyone happy and reminds everyone how fortunate we are to still be playing this game, it’s pretty cool.”

Wouldn’t it be something if getting back to their 12-year-old selves was the key to unlocking what’s held the Cubs back, especially on the road? Even with the trip including back-to-back, heartbreaking ninth-inning blown leads, they return home on a high note. Not just from the series win, against the last-place Pirates, but because they had fun and won. Isn’t that what the Little League World Series is all about?

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Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon take part in the Little League World Series tradition of sliding down the hill on a piece of cardboard.

“For our team, it was a blessing in disguise to play and get out of our routine on the road,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “To win this road series means a lot.”

Like Baez, Rizzo is known as a big kid at heart. Surviving cancer will do that to you. As he watched others sled down the hill on cardboard boxes behind the main LLWS stadium, he couldn’t resist but to join in. There was no resisting anything on this day. Quintana’s regimented routine was thrown out the window as was everything about a typical major league game.

And the Cubs loved it. Just as important, they needed it.

“We do well when we’re relaxed,” Rizzo said. “Today was a fun day.”

Epstein added: “It put a smile on everybody’s faces. Hopefully that carries over.

“Whether it helps us or not, it was worth doing.”

No one can argue with that.

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Ronald Acuna benching latest twist in drama-filled NL East

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I love the National League East. If they gave a daytime Emmy Award for best soap opera of 2019, it would have to go the NL East. We have Bryce Harper, bullpen problems up and down the division, managers on the hot seat, cold spells, hot streaks, Pete Alonso mashing, Ronald Acuna Jr. hitting home runs and robbing home runs and stealing bases … and, on Sunday, not hustling and turning an extra-base hit into a single and a caught stealing.

We’ll get to Alonso and the wildness the past two days in D.C. in a moment, but Sunday’s Bravo-approved drama begins with Braves manager Brian Snitker pulling Acuna from a 5-3 victory over the Dodgers after Acuna watched a fly ball fall short of a home run, turning a sure double into a single. He then compounded his mistake by getting caught stealing.

At the time, the Braves were down 3-0, so it was a gutsy decision by Snitker to remove his young star from the game. “He didn’t run. You’ve got to run,” Snitker said after the game. “That’s not going to be acceptable here. The name on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back. … You can’t let your teammates down.”

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Ronald Acuna Jr. watches his hit go off the wall in the third inning, which results in a single. Acuna is taken out of the game after four innings.

Acuna said there was “no excuse” for watching the ball instead of running and that he respected Snitker’s decision. OK, it sounds as if this is one plotline that won’t develop into a full-blown melodrama. Indeed, the hopeful result is a valuable lesson learned for Acuna:

Acuna has earned a reputation for showboating at times, although I interpret that more as a young kid having fun. Still, there’s a time to have fun and a time when you hustle at all costs. As Cubs manager Joe Maddon said from the Little League Classic on Sunday about what advice he’d give Little Leaguers: “Run hard to first base. I think if you run hard to first base, it affirms the rest of your game. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.”

Snitker understands this more than most. He’s a longtime minor league manager who has seen countless players with a fraction of Acuna’s talent play hard at all times and fail to reach the majors. The last thing you want to see is a 21-year-old star develop bad habits.

I think it importantly shows Snitker’s confidence in doing his job the way he believes it needs to be done — a job that continues to mount in pressure as the Braves’ bullpen has struggled and Snitker has wavered on how he deploys his relievers. The Braves probably should be running away with the division given the often mediocre results from the Nationals, Phillies and Mets, but instead lead by only 5½ games. Remember, general manager Alex Anthopoulos inherited Snitker as manager. There’s always some lack of job security in a situation like that.

Maybe one reason everything seemed calm after the game is the Braves won, as outfielder Rafael Ortega, making his first start of the year, hit a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth off Dodgers rookie Dustin May. The bullpen even tossed four innings of one-hit relief, with Chris Martin, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon — the three deadline acquisitions — tossing the final three frames without giving up a hit.

So lesson learned for Acuna. And the bullpen might be rounding into shape. Maybe the Braves will make it a drama-free race in September.

Alonso sets rookie record: The Mets beat the Royals 11-5, trailing 4-3 in the seventh when they rallied for six runs on eight hits — all singles and doubles. Granted, it wasn’t Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis in relief for the Royals, but it was fun to see a team attack the strike zone, put the ball in play and spray it around for a big rally. Alonso hit an RBI double off the top of the wall in right field in that inning, then added his 40th home run in the top of ninth:

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Pete Alonso crushes a home run that gives him 40 on the season, making him the first National League player to hit 40 in his first MLB season.

That broke Cody Bellinger‘s National League rookie mark of 39 set in 2017. Next up: Mark McGwire at 49 and then Aaron Judge‘s MLB record of 52, also set in 2017. After a slow July in which he hit .177 with six home runs, Alonso has bounced back in August, hitting .355/.444/.710. Alonso is now slugging .604. The only Met with a .600 slugging percentage in a season: Mike Piazza, who slugged .614 in 2000 and .607 in 1998.

Nationals bounce back, slug eight home runs: Further evidence that there’s no such thing as momentum in baseball (unless you’re a pitcher for the Orioles). The Brewers beat the Nationals 15-14 in 14 innings on Saturday, in what was maybe the game of the year — and the toughest loss for a team all season. The Brewers took the lead in the ninth inning of that game when they hit three home runs off Nationals closer Sean Doolittle. The Nationals would tie it to force extras and tie it again in the 13th before finally losing. A gut-punch defeat.

Flip ahead to Sunday. Doolittle goes to the injured list because of a knee problem — he gave up 10 runs and five home runs over his past five outings. So what happens? The Nationals tie a team record with eight home runs in a 16-8 victory. Baseball is wonderful. Juan Soto smashed two of those, bringing his season total to 28, and has hit 50 home runs before turning 21. Only Mel Ott (61) and Tony Conigliaro (56) had more at that age. Kid can swat.

You know the home run binge this season has created all sorts of crazy stats. Here’s one more: There have been five games in MLB history in which both teams combined for at least 12 home runs — three of them have occurred this season and two this weekend:

6/10/2019: Phillies (5) and D-backs (8)
Sunday: Brewers (4) and Nationals (8)
Friday: Giants (6) and D-backs (6)
7/2/2002: Tigers (6) and White Sox (6)
5/28/1995: Tigers (7) and White Sox (5)

Everyone can swat, it seems.

So can Rafael Devers: The Red Sox trailed the Orioles 6-0 in the third inning, the day after Chris Sale went on the IL because of elbow inflammation. It could be worse than that: Sale will meet with Dr. James Andrews on Monday. So the outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Boston nine. In the bottom of third, Devers had an RBI groundout. He doubled in a run in the sixth as the Red Sox scored six runs to take the lead for good. He belted a two-run homer in the seventh. He ended up going 4-for-5 with two doubles, his 27th home run and four RBIs. His season line: .332/.380/.596, 101 RBIs. Kid can swat.

My favorite Devers stat: He’s up to 46 doubles. Through the season’s first two months, it was Josh Bell who was hitting doubles at an amazing pace. Now it’s Devers. His pace projects to 59 for the year. Only six players have hit 60 doubles in a season, the last in 1936. Getting to the record of 67 is an extreme unlikelihood, but I would love 60 doubles. Unless you were alive 83 years ago, you’ve never seen it happen.

Win of the day: All this drama and the biggest victory of the day probably goes to the Tampa Bay Rays, who rallied for two runs in the eighth and two in the ninth to beat the Tigers 5-4. (On Saturday, Rays pitchers struck out 24 batters and walked none in a 1-0 victory in 13 innings. No, the Tigers are not a good ballclub.) So back-to-back walk-off wins is pretty sweet. Here’s Ji-Man Choi doing the honors on Sunday:

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After trailing the Tigers for the entirety of the game, Ji-man Choi hits a single to center field to score Travis d’Arnaud and give the Rays a walk-off victory.

Finally … Congrats to Zack Greinke for picking up his 200th career victory, joining CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander as the only active pitchers with 200 wins. … Congrats to Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi for throwing a “Maddux”: a complete-game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches. He blanked the Blue Jays on 96 pitches for his first win since June. … Congrats to the Indians for splitting their four-game series at Yankee Stadium. Mike Clevinger fanned 10 in five scoreless innings. (Keep an eye out for updates on Corey Kluber, who left his first minor league rehab start after one inning because of abdominal tightness.)

Whew. Let’s turn to Monday and see what new home run marks can be set. And what new drama will unfold in the NL East.



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Indians’ Kluber exits rehab game with ab issue

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CLEVELAND — Indians ace Corey Kluber was removed from a minor league start after one inning because of abdominal tightness.

The team said Kluber, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since he broke his arm during a start on May 1, was taken out of Sunday’s game for Triple-A Columbus in Charlotte, North Carolina, for precautionary reasons. The two-time Cy Young winner was making his third start as he attempts to return from the injury.

Kluber walked two and didn’t allow a run in his one inning. The 33-year-old was scheduled to spend Monday in Cleveland — an off day for the Indians — before rejoining the club in New York.

It’s not yet known if Kluber’s abdominal issue is a setback. The Indians have been hoping that he might be able to pitch for them during their September playoff push.

Kluber won the Cy Young in 2014 and 2017.

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