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Rays’ Kiermaier sprains thumb on headfirst slide

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier has left Tampa Bay’s game against the Chicago White Sox with a sprained left thumb.

Kiermaier was hurt diving headfirst into first base on an infield single for the Rays in the eighth inning Saturday night. He will be evaluated on Sunday.

The two-time Gold Glove winner has missed time in each of the past three seasons due to a variety of physical issues, including right hip, left wrist and right thumb injuries.

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MLB to ban playing in Venezuela league

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Major League Baseball is expected to ban all affiliated players from participating in the Venezuela winter league this year, a response intended to comply with President Trump’s embargo against the country’s Nicolas Maduro-led government, sources familiar with the plan told ESPN.

The potential repercussions of the prohibition, which would prevent major league and minor league players from joining the 75-year-old Liga Venezolana de Beísbol Profesional (LVBP) and was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, could be significant. Multiple sources said they feared the ban would warp the heretofore strong bond between MLB and Venezuela and spawn a similar situation to Cuba, another embargoed country whose complicated relationship with the league has festered for decades.

Dozens of affiliated players either return home to Venezuela or travel there annually to play winter ball, as many supplement paltry minor league incomes with low- to mid-five-figure sums to play in a 63-game season. The LVBP, whose champion participates with those from the Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban and Panamanian leagues in the annual Caribbean Series, is sponsored by PDVSA, the country’s state-run oil company, according to sources.

The murkiness of the LVBP’s link to a government-run business spurred MLB to consider the ban and consult with the MLB Players Association, according to sources. The fear, sources said, is that players agreeing to deals, or agents consummating them, with a government-affiliated entity would run afoul of the Aug. 5 executive order, which banned any such transactions.

Venezuela, once a bustling economic power in Latin America, has plunged into crisis, with widespread food and medicine shortages, millions of refugees leaving the country and toxic political infighting. The U.S. recognizes Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition, as president instead of Maduro, who remains in power.

One consequence of MLB’s plan, sources said, could be Maduro reciprocating by banning the league from signing amateur players in Venezuela. The country has proved to be a hotbed of talent, with Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres among the 95 Venezuela-born players who have logged major league time this season.

In recent years, as the economic strife worsened, teams shut down academies in Venezuela and consolidated their Latin American operations in the Dominican Republic. Top Venezuelan prospects have begun doing the same, according to sources. Some of the best players 12- and 13-year-old players in the country have moved with their families to the Dominican Republic in anticipation of signing with major league teams at 16 years old, sources said.

While all of the concerns about the executive order could be mollified by an agreement between the United States and Venezuela — both countries Thursday acknowledged recent backchannel discussions — MLB’s desire to abide by it comes at a moment when the league’s international dealings have been under scrutiny.

The Trump administration in April scuttled a deal between MLB and the Cuban government that would have allowed Cuban players to sign directly with the league instead of taking the circuitous and dangerous paths offered by traffickers. The Department of Justice continues a wide-ranging investigation into baseball’s Latin American business — including deals for Cuban defectors — that sources said have targeted a number of teams, including the Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

MLB this week contacted the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury department that imposes economic sanctions, seeking clarity on the executive order, according to a source. Teams expect to continue to sign amateur players as long as Venezuela does not prohibit it, believing that doing so would not breach the executive order because individual teenaged players are not under the Venezuelan government’s purview.

Whether that legal argument holds up is unclear and part of the complications caused by the embargo. While a number of major league and minor league players planned to play in the LVBP, contracts are typically agreed upon until September and October. With no affiliated players allowed, Luis Amaro, the general manager for the Aguilas del Zulia, said he expected Venezuela natives playing in the Mexican and Italian leagues this summer to fill out the rosters.

Until then, the MLB and the MLBPA only can wait to see the consequences of the potential action. The lockdown of the Venezuelan talent pool, while not crippling, would significantly hinder the talent base in the minor leagues, where hundreds of Venezuelans play. The lack of a winter option for young players in Venezuela concerned one agent, who said LVBP helps keep players out of trouble when they return home. Another agent, who expected multiple clients to make up for below-minimum-wage minor-league salaries by playing in Venezuela, said he hopes clients still can get jobs in the Dominican, Mexican or Puerto Rican leagues.

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O’s break record for HRs allowed in a season

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BALTIMORE — Somewhere, the Cincinnati Reds are toasting.

On Thursday at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles surrendered their 259th home run of the year, breaking a tie with the 2016 Reds for most roundtrippers allowed by a team in a single season.

The record-breaking bomb came in the top of the third inning of Baltimore’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, when Austin Meadows sent a 1-2 curveball from O’s starter Asher Wojciechowski just barely over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field for his 22nd dinger of the season. A former first round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, Wojciechowski came into the contest having allowed 12 homers in 49 innings.

Entering play on Thursday, the Orioles were on pace to yield 329 longballs. With power numbers up across Major League Baseball, Baltimore isn’t the only team that’s been giving up taters at a record rate. Through Wednesday’s games, the Mariners, Angels, Yankees, and Phillies were all on target to surpass the ’16 Reds.

Nearly a quarter of Baltimore’s historic 2019 total has come against the division-rival Yankees. In 19 games against New York, Birds hurlers surrendered 61 jacks, shattering the mark for most homers allowed to one team in a single season.

This season, 3.7 percent of all MLB plate appearances have resulted in taters, up from 3.0 percent a year ago. Compared to 2014, when the league-wide rate was 2.3 percent, home runs have increased by roughly 60 percent. If the current rate holds throughout the rest of the season, it would break the all-time single season record of 3.3 percent, set during the 2017 campaign.

The rebuilding Orioles began play on Thursday in last place in the American League East, owners of a 41-86 record that was second worst in the majors. Their team ERA of 5.89 was the highest in baseball by nearly half a run.

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Angels shut down Canning (elbow) for season

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The Los Angeles Angels announced Thursday that they’re shutting down rookie starter Griffin Canning for the rest of the season after an MRI showed mild inflammation in his right elbow joint.

The team said Wednesday night that he was going back on the injured list just three weeks after the same issue landed the 2017 second-round pick out of UCLA on the shelf.

Thursday’s announcement comes just four days after Canning had perhaps the best start of his career, going seven innings and allowing just one run in leading the Angels to a 9-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Canning went 5-6 with a 4.58 ERA in 17 starts and one relief appearance. He has 96 strikeouts through his first 18 major league games, second in Angels history behind Jered Weaver, who had 100.

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