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How ’embracing the vanilla’ saved Justin Upton’s first season with Tigers

Sep
20

DETROIT — Justin Upton isn’t averse to outward displays of emotion. Fans have seen him chuck his bat, exchange choice words with plate umpires and rip off his batting glove in disgust. Anyone watching Sunday’s game would’ve also likely seen — and heard — when he let out a loud expletive following his seventh-inning strikeout as he strode back to the dugout.

But amid all these short, controlled outbursts, Upton has maintained a certain level of steadiness, a sort of professional equanimity, that has allowed him to navigate the turbulent peaks and valleys of his first season in Detroit after inking a six-year deal worth $132.75 million this winter. And now, he’s showing signs of why the Detroit Tigers chose to make such a splash in signing him. With a .273 batting average in September and nine home runs since Aug. 21, he appears to be heating up when the club needs clutch offensive production the very most.

“He’s had his struggles after signing a big contract — that was much deserved — but he never let it get to him or distract him from working hard,” teammate Ian Kinsler told ESPN.com. “And that’s refreshing.”

More so for Kinsler than most, considering he spends the most time with the 29-year-old outfielder in the clubhouse. Their lockers are right next to one another, so if anyone would have felt a vacuum of energy or negative pall from Upton, it would have been the veteran second baseman seated to his left. Instead, he saw Upton power through some of the difficult stretches this season with a blue-collar, meat-and-potatoes mentality.

That axiom could have been greatly tested last month when Upton was benched for a three-game stretch by manager Brad Ausmus to mentally regroup and recalibrate after a prolonged stretch of scuffling at the plate.

Upton could have thrown a fit or sulked when Ausmus delivered the news. But he didn’t. It helped that he has a good relationship with the 47-year-old manager, a former MLB catcher with 18 years of experience. But it also was because he knew Ausmus was right to sit him down.

He had gone eight straight games without a hit. His mechanics were off. His strikeouts were soaring. Something had to be done.

“It got to the point where I knew I wasn’t being productive, so I knew I didn’t have a leg to stand on,” Upton said. “So even if I wanted to fight him on this, I had to look at myself and think, ‘Is it time for you to get right and prepare to help this team?'”

Last Wednesday, in the 11th inning of a tie game, the Braves put Harper on to load the bases. The next hitter, Wilson Ramos, hit a walk-off single. On Monday, Rendon followed Harper’s IBB with a three-run jack. That’s a far cry from what happened back during the Cubs series in May, when Washington went 2-for-13 following a Harper walk, including 0-for-4 after an intentional walk. Of course, a big part of that was the fact that Nats cleanup hitter Ryan Zimmerman, who has been a shell of his offensive self this season, was the guy batting behind Harper each and every time. Since then, Baker has come to his senses and shaken up the order.

Wally Backman on Triple-A resignation: Mets didn’t respect me

Sep
13

Wally Backman insisted Tuesday that he resigned as manager of the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate because of a lack of respect and repeatedly getting passed over for the major league staff.

“It didn’t look like there was any future for me,” Backman told WFAN. “… I felt I earned more than I’ve been given.”

Backman, 56, had managed in the Mets system since 2010 and led the Triple-A affiliate for the past five seasons.

Backman called those allegations hogwash. He said Conforto started in 31 of 33 games while in the Pacific Coast League and pinch hit in the other two games. Conforto was 20-for-41 with three home runs against left-handed pitching, Backman added. Backman also noted that Nimmo batted first or second in 84 of 90 games this season with Las Vegas.

Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor has caused the Astros problems all season. He’s hitting .329 with a .686 slugging percentage against them, with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 17 games, including a game-winning homer on Monday night. Tuesday, he didn’t beat them with an RBI, but with a strikeout. He reached when Ken Giles’ pitch was wild, stole second and scored the tying run on Elvis Andrus’ two-out triple.

Two players have done a lot in limited duty. Jurickson Profar is hitting .360 with nine hits, including the game-winner on Tuesday. Carlos Beltran has four home runs and eight RBIs, with 10 hits in eight games.

Matchup Cy Young: Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels has two wins and a 1.66 ERA in three starts against the Astros. He allowed two runs or fewer in all three starts, the best of which was an 11-strikeout effort on May 22.

Reliever-wise, Jake Diekman has 12 strikeouts and one hit allowed in 7? innings, with two saves and six holds in 10 appearances.

The Astros’ top two starters entering the season, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh combined for a 6.44 ERA in six starts against the Rangers.

Mets sign former QB Tim Tebow to minor league deal, ‘intrigued’ by potential

Sep
08

Tim Tebow signed a minor league contract with the New York Mets on Thursday and will begin his professional baseball career in the fall instructional league on Sept. 19 in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson insisted that signing Tebow, a former NFL quarterback, is not a publicity stunt.

First, though, the Yankees must take care of business at home with the Rays. At this point, three of four is probably not good enough. To get to 90 wins, they need to go 17-7. Considering they are just eight games over .500 after 138 games, that’s asking a lot.

Strasburg’s injury will place greater emphasis on the role played by the perpetually underrated Tanner Roark, who doesn’t throw hard and doesn’t have electric stuff — but he gets people out. Also, the recovery of Joe Ross from his shoulder troubles becomes critical for Washington. If the postseason began today, Max Scherzer would presumably be the Nats’ Game 1 starter and Roark would get Game 2, with Gio Gonzalez and Ross serving as their Nos. 3 and 4 starters.

For now, with Ross out, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole will serve as the fourth and fifth starters. Scherzer and Roark have combined for a 2.90 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 6 2/3 innings per start this season, while Gonzalez, Giolito and Cole have a 4.59 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 5 1/3 innings per start.

“I’m playing Travis Wood first,” Zastryzny said. “On the flight to Houston I might have to do some trash talking because it’s the only time I know I’ll be on top. … I was excited to be in the league. It was the coolest thing in the world to be in the draft room with those guys. It was nice to come out on top with the website, but as you know that never makes a difference. I just wanted them to know I take it seriously. When they got the draft report, they knew it.”

As for playing against Wood, Zastryzny says they’ll have plenty of time in the bullpen to go over their matchup in the coming days. The rookie is already hearing it from his teammates, which only makes him feel like one of the guys

“They were giving me heck yesterday,” Zastryzny recalled. “‘Oh you’re on top with an A-plus draft. It means nothing.’”

Clayton Kershaw expected to throw 50 pitches in rehab outing

Sep
02

LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw is expected to create something of a regional tremor Saturday when he takes the mound for the Class A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, who play some 48 miles to the east of Dodger Stadium.

Puig was placed on revocable waivers last month, and at least one team claimed him. Fox Sports reported Friday that team was the Milwaukee Brewers and the “legitimate attempt” at a trade involved outfielder Ryan Braun.

“This is my job,” Puig said. “I can only do what helps me to play better and to be a good teammate. The rest is not up to me. I don’t decide those things. If I am here in Los Angeles, I am going to take advantage of the opportunity and enjoy the city. If it’s with another team, that is something I can’t control, but I am thankful for the opportunity, but I will do my best to try and be a good teammate.”

His addition could help a Dodgers lineup that has struggled against left-handed pitching this season and was nearly no-hit by San Francisco Giants lefty Matt Moore last week.

Through Thursday’s games, the Dodgers were last in the National League against left-handers in batting average (.218), on-base percentage (.297) and slugging percentage (.340).

Playing their first game of the final full month of the season, the Orioles slapped an 8-0 beatdown on the New York Yankees Friday night. The victory moved Baltimore to within three games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The O’s remain in a tie with the Detroit Tigers for the second American League wild-card spot. More important, it appears that Dr. Jekyll might be prepared to work overtime in September.

Despite being in first place for most of the season, the Orioles have been a model of inconsistency. In June, they ripped off seven straight wins, then followed that with five straight losses. In July, they won five in a row, only to lose five in a row right afterward. During an August in which they played sub-.500 for the second consecutive month (13-16), they were so haphazard that they never put together a win streak of greater than three games. And lately, when they’ve gotten good pitching, they haven’t hit — as in their most recent series against Toronto, when Baltimore got three quality starts but scored just nine runs en route to losing two of three. On Friday, that wasn’t a problem.

Facing a surging Yankees squad that had won six of its past eight (including two of three from Baltimore last weekend) to elbow its way into the wild-card chase, the Orioles displayed balance in recording the most lopsided of their six shutouts this season. Starter Dylan Bundy, who’d given up 12 earned runs in his previous 14? innings, allowed just two hits over 5? scoreless frames. The offense exploded for six runs in the second inning, featuring a Pedro Alvarez bomb that landed on Eutaw Street and back-to-back jacks by Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. And the bullpen, which has looked gassed since the All-Star break (AL-worst 4.95 ERA), was perfect over the final three-plus innings.