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Jays Acquire Grilli From Braves in Bid to Strengthen Struggling Bullpen



The bullpen of the Toronto Blue Jays has been a revelation this season – mostly for how bad it has been.

And now the American League club is hoping that a 39-year-old, 14-year MLB veteran, whose best-before date just might have been in 2015, can come to the rescue.

Just prior to Tuesday night’s game against the New York Yankees at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays confirmed that they had made a trade with the Atlanta Braves for Jason Grilli, a right-handed reliever.

In exchange, the Blue Jays sent pitching prospect Sean Ratcliffe, a native of Whitby, Ont., who was their 18th-round selection in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft, the other way.

But Grilli, with an unsavoury 5.29 earned-run average pitching in 21 games in 2016, playing for one of the worst teams in the league, was not exactly in high demand at the moment.

In fact, the Braves had to agree to pick up a portion of Grilli’s $3.5-million (U.S.) salary before the Blue Jays would sign off on the deal.

“We’ve been looking for help from the day I got here to complement our team, so there’s a lot we like about Jason and how he complements this team,” Toronto general manager Ross Atkins said Tuesday night. “The first thing that comes to mind is experience. He’s been on winning teams, in very high-leveraged situations, gets a ton of swing and miss.”

Swing and hit has been a more common occurrence for some members of the Toronto bullpen so far this year.

That said, it was the Yankees bullpen that blew up on Tuesday, with the Blue Jays cashing three runs in the seventh inning off flame-throwing Dellin Betances to earn a 4-1 victory.

Toronto took its second straight win over its division rival, and sixth victory in the last seven outings.

It was Pillar’s single off Betances that got things going for Toronto in the seventh, cashing Edwin Encarnacion from second and breaking a 1-1 tie.

Barney then followed with a two-out poke to right that brought in two more runs.

The game featured two stellar defensive plays by the Blue Jays to help anchor the win. Kevin Pillar laid himself full out in centre field to make a terrific grab to rob Austin Romine of a hit in the fourth.

And shortstop Darwin Barney did him one better in the eighth after shifting to shallow right to defend against Carlos Beltran. Beltran sliced a pitch foul down the right side that Barney took off after and made an artful grab while sliding into the wall.

The Blue Jays headed into the 2016 season confident that the bullpen would be the least of their worries as they tried to defend their American League East division crown.

But it has not worked out that way. Injuries and subpar performances have troubled Toronto manager John Gibbons, who has been trying to find dependable arms to bridge the late innings leading to Roberto Osuna, the closer who has been the one constant.

Toronto headed into Tuesday’s game with a collective 3.89 ERA from its relievers, 10th-worst among AL teams. Blue Jays

relievers had posted a 6-14 record with eight blown saves in 23 save opportunities, a 65.2-per-cent success rate that is the AL’s fourth-worst ranking.

Drew Storen, acquired in an off-season trade with the Washington Nationals, has not lived up to expectations, with an alarming 6.75 ERA in his first 21 appearances. Lefty Brett Cecil, who was expected to be a mainstay at the back end of the bullpen, has also struggled and is currently sidelined while recovering from a torn lat.

Grilli does have 76 career saves to his credit, including 33 with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. He was the Atlanta closer last season and was enjoying a solid start with 24 saves before his year came to an abrupt and painful end in July, when he ruptured his left Achilles tendon.

This year, Grilli has not been the same; he has struggled with his control, issuing 13 walks in 17 innings pitched.

“I think he worked really hard to get back from that injury – could have potentially come back too quick, and that was on his own doing,” Atkins said. “So he’s really committed to being a part of a Major League Baseball team, and I think that could have contributed to a slower start. He’s been pitching a lot better over the last few outings.”

As to the role Grilli will assume in the bullpen, Atkins said that has yet to be worked out but something will have to give. The Blue Jays are currently carrying eight relievers.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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