Indians to count on strong starting pitching again in 2019
By THERESA SMITH
Saturday, March 9
GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Presumably, they will all be ready to pitch the first week of the season. Right now, Cleveland’s loaded starting rotation is in limbo.
With the March 28 opener at Minnesota drawing near, manager Terry Francona has yet to say who he will start against the Twins or how he will configure his starters in the early stages of the season.
There is a lot to consider.
Potential trades involving two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and All-Star Trevor Bauer never materialized this winter, leaving the lndians with an arsenal of right-handers, including Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber. The strength of the rotation is one reason the Indians are predicted to win the AL Central for the fourth consecutive year.
Francona and pitching coach Carl Willis are evaluating how to seize momentum in April by lining up the pitchers in the most efficient early season order.
One factor is recognizing that only Bauer will have pitched enough in spring training to build up the arm strength to go longer.
“We want to keep Trevor in between Carrasco and Kluber, the reason being, for early in the season, Trevor is the one guy situated to probably go deeper in the games,” Francona said of Bauer, who went 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA in 28 starts last season. “Staffs are never quite stretched out when the season starts, so Trevor is the one guy (stretched out). So, we want to keep him in between, so we don’t tax our bullpen.”
Bauer, a proponent of frequent throwing, along with long toss and weighted ball use, has started three Cactus League games, completing 11 innings, including extensive experimentation on his new changeup.
Bieber, in his first major league camp, has made two starts, for five innings.
Clevinger pitched for the first time on Wednesday and Carrasco and Kluber will make their Cactus League debuts on Sunday and Monday.
“We have it lined up where Kluber could go Game 1 or later if need be,” Francona said. “We’ve kind of lined it up where we can do some things. At some point, you kind of have to make a decision, but Carl’s done a good job. Like we have one game where Kluber’s pitching and Clev’s (Clevinger) coming in after him. Then, we’ll separate them after that. Clev needs to repeat his three innings, and so he’ll do it coming in after Kluber.”
If Kluber rested five days between Cactus League starts, he would start again on March 17 and March 23. Then, on four days’ rest, his fourth consecutive opening day assignment is conceivable.
The prestige of starting on opening day is another factor. Francona was asked if the feelings of a player should be a factor.
“We try to take into consideration what’s best for our team,” he said. “We try to instill in our guys team-first attitudes, also recognizing that there are some things (that matter). Yeah, we get it. We’ve talked to Kluber about it. I think he’d like to be ready for that opening day. And if he is, for all he’s done, he’s very worthy of pitching on opening day.”
In the next breath, Francona noted that Bauer and Carrasco are worthy of getting the ball on opening day, too.
“We’re pretty fortunate in that we got pitchers — that if something happened — we could throw any of them out there and we feel like we got a good chance to win,” he said.
Catcher Kevin Plawecki, who was acquired in a trade with the Mets on Jan. 6, spent the past four seasons working with exceptional starters Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. He knows the Indians have something unusual.
“The guys here are all special,” he said. “One through five, you are going to have a guy who has a chance to win every night.”
The quintet is at different stages of their careers.
Bieber, 23, is at the beginning. The former University of California-Santa Barbara standout rose from Double A to win 11 games and post a 4.55 ERA in 2018.
Carrasco, who will turn 33 on March 21, recorded more than 215 strikeouts in three of the past four seasons.
Clevinger, 28, combined with Kluber, 32, to become the fourth duo in Indians history to pitch at least 200 innings and exceed 200 strikeouts.
Bauer, 28, pitched so deeply into games in 2018 that he logged 175.1 innings, one fewer than in 2017 despite missing six weeks recovering from a stress fracture in his fibula, incurred by a line drive on Aug. 12.
“Trevor Bauer had a year that was like a kind of a coming out (party),” Francona said. “And I actually think he’s going to get better with the development of his changeup.”
NOTES: Jake Bauers, who has shown versatility as a first baseman and an outfielder, said he played shortstop in Little League, even though he’s left-handed. He also caught and pitched. … OF Greg Allen, contending for playing time among several outfielders, made an impressive catch Friday night, slamming against the center-field wall. Allen is hitting well, too, batting .421 (8-for-19).
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation appoints new leaders
COLUMBUS, Ohio (OFBF) – Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation recently added two new board members and elected officers of the 15-member board, which oversees the charitable, nonprofit organization.
New to the board are Doug Miller, vice president of statewide services for Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, Inc., and Lane Osswald, who farms with his father and brothers in Preble County and is currently serving his third term as an Ohio Farm Bureau trustee. They replace Lisa McClure, executive director of the Paulding County Area Foundation, and Katherine Harrison of Harrison Farm.
The board also elected three board officers. Heather Thiltgen, senior vice president of strategic markets at Medical Mutual, was named president; Wade Smith, owner of Whitehouse Specialty Crops was named vice president; and Cy Prettyman, owner of Prettyman Farms, was named treasurer.
Founded in 1985, Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation is a 501(c) (3) charitable, nonprofit organization.The foundation funds programming in four priority areas: cultivating an interest in agriculture, investing in tomorrow’s leaders, driving economic growth and promoting environmental stewardship and conservation.
Opening day intrigue: Ichiro keeps ‘em guessing about future
By STEPHEN WADE
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, March 19
TOKYO (AP) — This is the Ichiro effect.
Richard Snitzer had never been to Japan. What finally drove the Japanese-American to travel here from his home in Hayward, California, was Ichiro Suzuki; not family ties, not pure wanderlust, but a chance to see a player he called “simply the best.”
And get this. He’s not even a Mariners fan, which he’s advertised by wearing his A’s jersey around the Tokyo Dome.
He’ll be there Wednesday when Major League Baseball opens the 2019 season with Seattle facing Oakland to start a two-game series. The 45-year-old Ichiro is expected to play in both. What happens next? Ichiro isn’t saying.
One thing is sure. It will be great theater.
“I’ll have my phone ready to go, and I’ll shoot and stand up and applaud when he bats,” Snitzer said. “I just hope he doesn’t get the winning hit against the A’s. If he hits a home run that doesn’t affect the game, I’ll be thrilled.”
A’s pitcher Liam Hendriks probably spoke for both teams.
“We’re just happy to be along for the ride,” he said. “I can’t wait for the opening series when they announce Ichiro and hear that crowd.”
Chances are, most baseball fans in other places will be asleep when A’s right-hander Mike Fiers throws the first pitch of the year — around 5:30 a.m. EDT.
That’s OK, there will be plenty of time for everyone to catch up before the other 28 teams open on March 28 at Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium and points in-between. Plenty to see, too, in a season that will stretch to end of October — Bryce Harper now batting in Philly, the Boston Red Sox trying to repeat as World Series champions and more talk about changing how the game is played.
In the meantime, Ichiro slipped into Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Friday under the cover of a gray and black cap pulled way down. He’s been highly visible since then; at a rare news conference, showing off in practice with trick catches in right field, and signing autographs to fans lining the foul lines before exhibition games against the Tokyo Giants.
Almost the only shirts for sale in the Tokyo Dome are Ichiro models. And they’re not cheap: between $35-45 for a T-shirt, $62 for a sweat shirt, and a baseball with No. 51 goes for $30.
“Yes, we are selling well because Ichiro is a man of effort,” said Yu Takamiya, a vendor answering questions through his translator app.
Ichiro told reporters on Saturday that — based on spring training — he’s lucky to be here. He hit .080 in Arizona, and he hasn’t played a regular-season game in a year. He was 0 for 6 in two exhibition games against the Tokyo Giants. They don’t count officially. But if they did, he’s hitting .065.
“This is a great gift for me,” he said a day after arriving. “I will treasure every moment here on the field. One week after this event, I will be reflecting back on these days.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin knows Ichiro well from managing the Mariners 15 years ago.
“There are certain guys that create that kind of buzz,” Melvin said. “He’s used to it, but it’s going to be a long few days for him. Once he gets on the field, that’s when you just do your thing and insulate.”
Melvin recalled Ichiro’s relentless training. It hasn’t changed. Ichiro was alone running across the outfield in several practices in Tokyo.
“As far as playing and preparing, there was nobody better,” Melvin said.
A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty, making his first visit to Japan, called Ichiro “a master.”
“He still in control of his destiny here,” Piscotty said. “He’s pretty special and it’s an honor to be on the field with him. Obviously you look around, and you see how important baseball is in Japan, and Ichiro’s a part of that.”
Other key parts of the upcoming season:
Bryce Harper was the biggest name to change places since last season, leaving the Nationals and signing a record $330 million, 13-year contract with Philadelphia. The Phillies were especially busy, adding J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. Also on the move were Manny Machado (Padres), Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals), Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz (Mets), Nelson Cruz (Twins), Patrick Corbin (Nationals) and Josh Donaldson (Braves).
But another slow market for many free agents meant All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel didn’t have jobs on the brink of a new season.
New Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo quickly showed he’s all for trying new strategy — he played a four-man outfield defense against Harper in spring training. There are six new skippers in the majors this year: Montoyo, David Bell (Reds), Rocco Baldelli (Twins), Chris Woodward (Rangers) and Brandon Hyde (Orioles) are doing this for the first time in the bigs, Brad Ausmus (Angels) has experience.
Despite a lot of discussion, nothing major for this season. No prohibition on shifts, no pitch clocks, and no requirement for pitchers to face at least three batters until next year. No robot umpires for now. One change could affect pennant races this summer — no trades after July 31, so no more deals in late August for an extra player in the postseason.
REPEAT AFTER ME
It’s been quite a while since a team won back-to-back crowns — the Yankees were the last to do it, taking their third straight title in 2000. Now, AL MVP Mookie Betts and the Red Sox will try to stop baseball’s longest gap without a repeat champion. Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers, meanwhile, will try to avoid becoming the first team to lose three straight World Series since star pitcher Christy Mathewson, famed manager John McGraw and the New York Giants fell in 1911-13.
After the Mariners and A’s leave Japan, they’ll return to the United States to finish out spring training games. Then everyone is in action for regular season play on March 28. Among the matchups: Red Sox at Seattle, Baltimore at Yankee Stadium and Arizona at Dodger Stadium. Also, the Cubs will play at Texas — this will be the Rangers’ last season at the park they opened in 1994 before moving into a nearby new home next year.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Swede Felix Rosenqvist strong in IndyCar debut for Ganassi
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
Tuesday, March 12
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Felix Rosenqvist was buckled into his brand new race car and ready to pull off pit lane when his boss leaned into the cockpit.
“Hey,” Chip Ganassi told his newest driver, “it’s nice to finally have you here.”
Very nice indeed.
Rosenqvist had a stellar IndyCar debut that validated all the buzz surrounding Ganassi’s new hire. He finished fourth, one spot shy of the podium, but used two strong on-track passes on former series champions Josef Newgarden and Will Power to officially announce his arrival. He passed Newgarden for second at the drop of the green flag, then chased Power — one of the drivers Rosenqvist said he most admires in the series — and used a strong inside move on a restart to claim the lead.
He led 31 laps, was never passed on the track and fell out of contention for the victory only because of troublesome pit stops. That he still finished fourth — two spots behind teammate and reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon — was no small feat because Rosenqvist drove the final third of the race with a pinched nerve in his right arm.
“We don’t really do a lot of long runs during testing, so during the long race something in the way I was set up pushed into a nerve in my shoulder and I couldn’t really grasp onto the steering wheel, it was like I had the strength of a 10-year-old,” Rosenqvist said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It was really, really tough, the most painful experience. After the race I couldn’t even shake people’s hands.”
The 27-year-old Rosenqvist was among a handful of IndyCar newcomers to shine on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Colton Herta, the 18-year-old son of former driver Bryan Herta, was fast all weekend for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. The second-year team received a boost during the offseason when George Steinbrenner IV, grandson of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, signed on as a backer and Herta has consistently defied his age and limited experience with strong driving. Herta would have made the Fast Six in qualifying but his two fastest times were thrown out on a blocking penalty, so the American started 11th and finished eighth.
Also impressive was the debut of DragonSpeed, a sports car racing team that has committed to five IndyCar races this season. British driver Ben Hanley made his series debut and finished 18th in his first single-seater race since 2010. DragonSpeed only acquired its Dallara chassis three weeks before the season opener.
“We knew we were jumping in at the deep end, so simply finishing is an achievement in itself,” said Hanley.
But it was Rosenqvist who entered St. Pete with the most hype based on a long career spanning multiple series. He spent the last two seasons in Formula E and in 2016 won three races in Indy Lights. He and Dixon share the same manager and that got Rosenqvist a test at Mid-Ohio with the Ganassi team. Rosenqvist was just as fast as Dixon that day, but it took nearly three years to get him into a full-time Ganassi ride.
When finally offered a deal last summer, Rosenqvist said it was an easy decision to pack up and move to Indianapolis to join one of the elite IndyCar teams.
“What I’ve found with Chip is that he tells you exactly what he means, he wants to win races and he’s going to do everything possible to put his teams in position to win,” he said. “That’s what I’m here to do, win ASAP.”
Dixon had yet to sign his extension with Ganassi when Rosenqvist joined the program. The five-time IndyCar champion was being courted by other teams but was part of the draw for Rosenqvist.
“I was probably happier when Scott signed his contract than I was when I signed mine,” Rosenqvist said.
Rosenqvist is in Dixon’s sister car, once driven to three consecutive titles and a pair of Indianapolis 500 victories by Dario Franchitti, who was forced to retire because of concussions after the 2013 season. The No. 10 has won just one race since, the 2014 season finale with Tony Kanaan.
Franchitti is now Rosenqvist’s in-house driver coach, and he appreciates how blunt Franchitti has been. He’s not quite the third wheel in the tight friendship Franchitti and Dixon have, but praised both for how helpful they’ve been in his transition to a new series.
“Felix has worked with the team for two or three years now with open tests we’ve done with him. The guy has got a ton of experience in so many different cars, so it’s been really refreshing, actually, to not be in the same ecosystem and thinking of the same things,” Dixon said. “It’s kind of thinking outside the box which has been really refreshing. He’s a strong guy, very committed and obviously very talented and he’s going to be a hell of a fighter for the whole year.”
More AP IndyCar coverage: https://apnews.com/IndyCar
Another race and another Penske victory with IndyCar win
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
Sunday, March 10
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Team Penske’s hot start to the motorsports season continued Sunday with a Josef Newgarden victory in the IndyCar season opener — the fourth win for a Penske car in seven days spanning three series.
Newgarden crossed the finish line on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg at almost the exact same time Ryan Blaney, another Penske driver, led the field to green in the NASCAR race outside Phoenix. Team Penske won consecutive NASCAR races with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to lock both into the playoffs, two Supercars races in Australia in the new Ford Mustang and now one of the showcase events on the IndyCar schedule.
The organization is off to such a strong start that Penske acknowledged his three-driver IndyCar lineup arrived at the opening race feeling pressure to match their counterparts.
Will Power and Newgarden delivered in qualifying by sweeping the front row, then Newgarden used tire strategy to put his Chevrolet out front.
“So proud of our group, we have the best of the best working for Team Penske,” Newgarden said. “There’s a lot of pressure at Team Penske, everybody is rising up, and we joined the group today.”
It was the 204th victory in IndyCar for a Penske driver.
“To come out here and have a pole with Will, sweep the front row and win the race with Josef is a great way to start our season on the IndyCar side with Chevrolet,” Penske said. “Next week, we will be at Sebring and try to get our Acura Team Penske program in victory lane in the historic 12 hours race.
“But we need to keep looking out the windshield. The competition in all these series is strong and they will keep improving. So we need to keep pushing. There is a long season ahead of us.”
The sports car program, which started last year, had a third-place podium finish in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January.
Scott Dixon finished second in a Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing but was stymied by lapped traffic in his bid to catch Newgarden.
“You know the lapped traffic is trying to stay on the lead lap,” Dixon said. “I thought we had a run on Josef, but once we caught the traffic it wasn’t enough.”
Power finished third.
Felix Rosenqvist was the breakout star of the race by finishing fourth in his IndyCar debut. The Ganassi rookie from Sweden led 31 laps and used a strong pass on Power on a restart to move to the front. He was taken out of contention for the victory during pit stops and just missed a podium finish in his debut.
“We are starting off the season better off than anyone could have expected,” said Rosenqvist, winner of three Indy Lights races in 2016.
The race finished with Penske and Ganassi, the two top teams in IndyCar, on top of the standings and the final scoring tower. Alexander Rossi was fifth for Andretti Autosport, James Hinchcliffe finished sixth for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Simon Pagenaud, the third driver in the Penske lineup, was seventh.
Colton Herta finished eighth as the 18-year-old debuted for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
The race was slowed by only two cautions, the fewest in the 16-year history of the race.
Sebastien Bourdais’ shot at a third consecutive victory ended 11 laps into the race with a mechanical problem.
Bourdais has called St. Pete home since he returned from Europe when his Formula One career ended after the 2009 season and has grown into the unofficial ambassador for the city and the showcase IndyCar event.
His back-to-back victories the last two seasons were a point of pride for both Bourdais and the city of St. Pete.
IndyCar will make its debut at Circuit of the Americas in Austin on March 24th.
More AP IndyCar coverage: https://apnews.com/IndyCar