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Tim Tebow ‘feels more comfortable’ in pro baseball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) There are still too many strikeouts. His patience at the plate is a struggle. And the batting average remains below .250. But Tim Tebow believes he’s making steady progress in his life as a pro baseball player.

“It feels more comfortable,” Tebow said Tuesday night , a short time after scoring the winning run in the Columbia Fireflies’ 2-1 victory over Delmarva. “I’m definitely seeing pitches better. I feel like I’m getting better every week, too.”

The numbers bear that out, minus his flashy start for the New York Mets Class A affiliate – Tebow homered in first pro at-bat , then added a second homer three games later. An average that hovered in the mid-.100s for the first couple of weeks has jumped to .231. Tebow had three multi-strikeout games in his first six starts, yet just one in his last 10.

“His at-bats, you see the consistency,” Fireflies manager Jose Leger said. “Once he finds the rhythm, this guy’s got the right tools to play this game.”

Tebow displayed patience against the Shorebirds, reaching three times despite going 0 for 2. His one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth started Columbia’s winning rally, with the former Heisman Trophy quarterback for Florida crossing the plate with the winning run after Gene Cone’s bases-loaded walk.

Tebow awaited his charging teammates for congratulations, but they passed him right up to continue down the first-base line where one had successfully stepped on the bag.

“We haven’t had many walkoffs like that,” the former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner at Florida said with a smile. “I’m just glad I didn’t get the Gatorade.”

Tebow, 29, has put in the work to improve, Leger said. He shows up at the park early for extra batting practices or shags fly balls late to better his skills in left field. He’s also dealt with the throngs of fans, home and away, clamoring to say hello, take a selfie or get an autograph.

One fan Tuesday night was decked out head to legs in Gators gear. Another group arrived with one person in Tebow’s No. 15 Broncos jersey and a second wearing Tebow’s New York Jets jersey.

It’s not always easy, Tebow acknowledged, balancing the discipline and focus on the field necessary to get better at baseball with the demands of others off it.

“I feel I’m making progress,” he said. “But it’s a process. It’s just continuing to have that work ethic whether you’re oh for 4 or whether you’re 3 for 4. It’s something I’ve tried to focus on this entire time. I don’t want to get too good after a good game or too bad. I’m just trying to stay level headed.”

Columbia president John Katz said there’s no timetable for Tebow’s stay in South Carolina.

“We don’t control any of that,” Katz noted.

Leger would love to have Tebow around a lot longer. He’s been a leader in the clubhouse, showing the younger guys that extra work is essential to succeed at this game.

“I try to bring that even keel every single day, with energy,” Tebow said.

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.