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Red Sox – Alex Cora admitted to wrongdoing on Astros

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BOSTON — Alex Cora admitted to playing a central role in the sign-stealing scheme that the Houston Astros used in their 2017 World Series title run, according to the brass for his current team, the Boston Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, president Sam Kennedy and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom addressed the media for the first time since Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended by MLB and subsequently fired. Cora was mentioned prominently in MLB’s ruling and he and the Red Sox decided to part ways Tuesday night.

“Alex, by his own admission, we agreed, played a central role in what happened in Houston,” Werner said. “And we all agreed that it was wrong, and we had a responsibility as stewards, as John has said, to have a standard here where that sort of behavior is not acceptable.”

When Astros owner Jim Crane dramatically announced on live television that he was letting go of Hinch and Luhnow, the architects of the analytics-driven behemoth in Houston, the microscope turned its focus towards Boston and its 44-year-old manager.

“It’s not ideal,” Henry said. “It’s not what we would like to be doing at this point. We were all surprised to read this report on Monday. But this is … I don’t know if you would call it a logical conclusion, but this is where are as a result of that.”

When asked about the ongoing investigation by MLB into the allegations that the Red Sox stole signs during their 2018 World Series run using the video replay room, the leadership group repeatedly declined comment and added that the league has directed them not to talk about the investigation. Red Sox officials noted that it was made clear to Cora what the rules were regarding the use of in-game video.

“Regarding the ongoing investigation here in Boston, MLB is doing a thorough investigation — as thorough as what took place in Houston — and we believe that all the facts will be ascertained,” Henry read from a prepared statement. “We would ask that everyone reserve judgment until MLB completes its investigation and determines whether rules were violated.”

The group was asked if they believe the Red Sox beat the Dodgers fair and square in 2018, when they clinched a World Series title in five games.

“Absolutely, yes,” Kennedy said.

On Monday, MLB said that the investigation into the Red Sox is ongoing and that a punishment for Cora is coming soon. The statement on the Astros mentions Cora’s name on 11 different occasions, saying that he was the only coach or front-office person who actively helped implement the system the Astros used to steal signs.

The Red Sox decided not to wait for Cora’s punishment to make a decision, especially with the team’s Winter Weekend event on Friday and Saturday, where Cora was scheduled to appear. Kennedy added that the team decided to part ways with Cora was “exclusively” related to the results of the report on the Astros, and unrelated to the ongoing investigation in Boston.

“We met with Alex yesterday, and as John has said, everyone went into that meeting trying to answer the question, what was in the best interest of the Boston Red Sox?” Werner said. “Alex was professional, understanding that he had made a mistake, so after a couple of conversations, we all mutually agreed that we needed to part ways. … He admitted that what he did was wrong, but that doesn’t mitigate, in our opinion, the extraordinary talent that he has. And we continue to be very fond of Alex.”

The most awkward moment of the press conference arose when the Red Sox leadership group was asked if they believe will ever manage again in the big leagues. After a long, awkward, pregnant pause, Kennedy jumped in to answer.

“I think Alex is an incredibly talented manager, and accomplished great things with us,” Kennedy said. “And he’s now — he expressed remorse; he apologized yesterday to us for the embarrassment that this caused. And I think, he’ll go through a process of rehabilitation and we’ll see what happens. It’d be hard to speculate, but he is an extreme talent.”

Bloom did not rule out an interim managerial solution for the 2020 season but said he’d like to “get it done as soon as possible.” He did not rule out the possibility that the team could enter spring training without a manager.

“There’s no question it’s an unusual time to be doing a managerial search — being at the point in the winter that we are, being this close to spring training,” Bloom said. “It’s impossible for that not to be a factor in how we process, but it’s not going to be the only factor, and we want to make sure we do this justice.”

Bloom acknowledged that the new manager enters a “unique situation.”

“We would want to make sure that whoever is in that chair next has the ability to handle,” he said.

Several longtime former managers are on the market, such as Bruce Bochy, Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia and Dusty Baker, but Bloom is known for his analytically-driven approach. He said he doesn’t like to categorize people by their age or experience level.

“In my past with the Rays, I worked with someone who would probably roll my eyes to hear me say this, but over time especially as [Joe Maddon] got some tenure on the job, became one of the older managers in baseball and then worked with one of the youngest,” Bloom said. “Everyone brings different things to the table. I don’t like to categorize people, typecast people. It’s unfair to them and in doing that, it would be unfair to us. It’s the sum total of all the characters that someone brings to the table.”

Bloom shared his disappointment that he would not be working with Cora, once one of the main attractions of the Red Sox baseball operations department.

“It’s really disappointing. I told you guys on that day that I had really high regard for his talents as a manager and I still do,” Bloom said. “Unfortunately because of what came out in that report, it just wasn’t possible for this to go forward about that. Although I don’t know him as well as the other folks that were up on the stage with me, I would echo everything. It was very clear in the time we spent together and getting to know each other that he was an extremely impressive person and there’s nothing but sadness that this is where we are.”

Over the course of the 45-minute press conference, the Red Sox leadership group praised Cora for everything from his passion, to his energy, to his sense of humor, to his ability to work with all personality types. But they stressed that Boston’s focus now must turn toward the new season, despite the dark cloud of MLB’s investigation.

“Well, of course it’s disappointing, but yesterday we all mutually agreed that Alex couldn’t lead this organization going forward,” Werner said. “And so we’ve turned the page, and after this press conference, we’re gonna address the 2020 season. So we move on.”

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Angel’s Shohei Ohtani gets driver’s license for first time

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani doesn’t just drive the ball anymore.

The Los Angeles Angels‘ two-way star said he got his California driver’s license in the offseason, putting the 25-year-old behind the wheel of a car for the first time.

“I’m enjoying it,” Ohtani said through his interpreter Saturday after rolling up to the Angels’ spring training complex in his Tesla. “I was able to pass it the first time, so, not too much stress.”

Ohtani never got a license in his native Japan because the process is longer and more expensive, and he didn’t need to drive himself anywhere in Sapporo thanks to public transportation and his team. Since he joined the Angels in 2018 and moved to car-centric Southern California, he had been driven around by other people.

Ohtani said he thinks he’s a “pretty good” driver already, although he still hasn’t driven onto the Los Angeles area’s famous freeways by himself.

With his recovery from Tommy John surgery in its final stages, Ohtani has plenty of other work to do this spring as he prepares to return to the Angels’ rotation in mid-May.

Ohtani will be able to hit for the Halos from the opening game of spring, but manager Joe Maddon has said the team is ramping up his pitching work gradually in a bid to keep him fresh for the long season ahead.

Ohtani made 10 starts for the Angels during his AL Rookie of the Year season in 2018, going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.161 WHIP. Although he clearly demonstrated the tantalizing talent that made every team in baseball eager to land his services, Ohtani is taking nothing for granted as he prepares for his mound return.

“I still can’t say I’m fully confident, because I only pitched in 10 games,” Ohtani said. “A lot of the teams were facing me for the first time. I think in that case, the pitcher has the edge. So after I face the same team multiple times and still have good results, that’s probably when I’ll start building more confidence.”

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Red Sox won’t rush Chris Sale’s return from illness, Ron Roenicke says

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Boston Red Sox starter Chris Sale, still recovering from a case of the flu and pneumonia, continued to work with teammates Saturday at spring training. But interim manager Ron Roenicke made it clear Boston will not rush Sale’s progress, even if it means he misses Opening Day.

Roenicke told reporters in Fort Myers, Florida, that Sale, who missed the last six weeks of last year’s regular season with a left elbow injury, played catch on Saturday, stretching out his arm and that the thought is that he’s “progressing along fine.”

Sale has made the past two Opening Day starts for Boston.

“We’re going to still go a little bit easy with him,” Roenicke said. “He’s huge for our starting rotation, and he’s one of the best pitchers in the game. So whenever we can get him to start up, it would be silly for us to try to push him to come back sooner than probably he should physically.

“It’s not worth taking a risk on having him Opening Day exactly and where we’re pushing him to get him there. He’s important to us as we go through the season, and hopefully get into the playoffs, and keep him strong there.”

Sale, 30, like the Red Sox overall, struggled last season, finishing 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 147 1/3 innings. He won his last two starts in August, over the Dodgers and Indians, before the club shut him down.

Boston, a year after winning the World Series, finished in third place in the American League East, at 84-78.

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Kenley Jansen says Astros’ cheating worse than steroids, gambling

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Kenley Jansen threw a cutter more than 85 percent of the time during the 2017 season. But when he faced Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in Game 4 of the World Series, with two outs in the ninth inning of a game the Los Angeles Dodgers led by five runs, he was surprised by the way Bregman reacted to his two-strike slider, a pitch Jansen was throwing for only the 94th time all year.

“I’ve never seen a hitter sit on [my] slider,” Jansen said before the Dodgers’ second official workout on Saturday morning. “I threw a slider to Bregman and he took me deep. Even if it was not a good pitch — hitters don’t seem to sit on my off-speed, on the best year that I had. But it is what it is, man.”

Jansen, speaking a day after Cody Bellinger torched the Astros for their sign-stealing practices, wanted to keep the focus on the 2020 season, a particularly exciting one for the Dodgers after bringing in Mookie Betts and David Price. But Jansen couldn’t help but voice his frustration over one of the greatest cheating scandals in baseball’s prolonged history.

Jansen believes using technology to steal catchers’ signs — and, specific to the Astros, using a center-field camera and a trash can to alert hitters of upcoming pitches in real time — is “worse than steroids,” a statement echoed by Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. Jansen believes the Astros’ crimes were “worse than gambling, too.” He didn’t much care for their apologies.

“I can apologize,” Jansen said. “I can go hit you in your face right now and apologize — ‘I’m sorry, I will be a better player’ — and not get suspended. What are you gonna teach kids out there? You’re not gonna teach anything.”

Jansen is among many in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, and many others throughout baseball, miffed that none of the Astros players were punished for what was described as a player-driven system. Jansen believes teams caught illegally stealing catchers’ signs should be disqualified for the upcoming playoffs, referencing Manchester City, which was recently barred from the Champions League for the next two seasons for breaches of European soccer’s financial regulations.

Jansen said “everybody in the world is laughing” at MLB’s handling of the Astros, but he can’t help but think of how it has affected his own teammates. Jansen brought up Yu Darvish, who was derided by fans for allowing eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Astros in the World Series. And he brought up Clayton Kershaw, who surrendered two leads of three or more runs in a game that might have singlehandedly decided the championship.

“I’ve never seen Kersh, in my life, have that comfortable of a lead in Game 5 and blow it twice,” Jansen said. “That will never happen with Kersh, I’m sorry. To see how he had to pay for it, fans, everybody giving him a tough time — that’s what I’m saying. You killed a lot of young careers during the season. Pitchers used to come up and get crushed and get sent down. And then all you gotta say is, ‘I’m sorry.’ People are not having a job right now because of that, and that’s why I’m saying it’s worse [than steroids]. At least back then everybody used to use steroids, so it was a fair game. It was a fair game, you know? I’m sorry, man. I think it’s worse than gambling, too.”

Jansen was speaking hyperbolically and somewhat tongue-in-cheek while alluding to the widespread use of steroids in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His point was that pitchers could theoretically level out the playing field by using performance-enhancing drugs and that there is no counter when hitters know which pitch is coming.

It’s important to remember, however, that very few of the affected pitchers truly know the instances when Astros hitters knew what was coming. Only the Astros players themselves know, and they will probably keep that information to themselves. Pitchers like Jansen will have strong suspicions, but they might also be susceptible to confirmation bias. It’s why Kershaw has struggled with processing all this.

“It would be awesome if you could know every pitch they knew something that was coming, which pitch and all that stuff,” Kershaw said on Friday. “But you know what? It’s not gonna happen. I’m OK with it. I’ve made peace with it. I’ve moved on, personally.”

Jansen hasn’t really been the same since the 2017 World Series. He finished that season fifth in National League Cy Young Award voting, but hasn’t been anywhere near as reliable since, blowing a combined 12 saves over the next two seasons.

Jansen, 32, spent some time at the esteemed Driveline Baseball facility in Kent, Washington, over the offseason to get his stride and his delivery back to normal. He’s starting to notice more life on his cutter because of it. But few could rationally expect Jansen to return to the level he displayed in 2017. Finishing that season with a World Series title could have changed everything about how the Dodgers, and Jansen in particular, are perceived.

“All that stuff went to my head, but then — you just pray about it,” Jansen said. “Move forward, man. It happened. It happened for a reason. And yeah, a lot of people were tough on us. The fans and everything. I was tough on myself. … But we have a good chance to win it this year, so I think all of us should spend our energy focused on 2020 instead of ‘what if’ in ’17. You can’t do anything about it.”

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