Pirates homer twice in second inning to take early lead in National League Wild Card Game

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Pirates starter Francisco Liriano struck out Reds leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo on four pitches to open the game and then induced groundouts from Ryan Ludwick and Joey Votto for a quick, nine-pitch first inning. That set the early tone in this NL Wild Card Game at a fired-up and blacked-out PNC Park.

Liriano was even more dominant in the top of the second and the Pirates’ offense came alive against Reds starter Johnny Cueto in the bottom half of that frame with solo home runs from Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin. Near-constant chants of “Cue-to, Cue-to” are ringing through the PNC Park stands and the Reds righty sure looks rattled.

It’s a 2-0 lead for host Pittsburgh as we move to the top of the third inning.

Blue Jays release John Axford

John Axford
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The Blue Jays have released right-handed reliever John Axford from his minor league contract, per an announcement on Saturday. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi speculates that the move could provide an avenue for the club to rework Axford’s contract, but the Blue Jays have yet to confirm or deny the report.

Axford, 35, was dealt a blow on Thursday after getting diagnosed with a stress reaction in the olecranon bone of his right elbow. Elbow soreness dogged the right-hander through much of his time in camp, and although he was scheduled for a follow-up examination later this spring, a definite return date had not been established.

Prior to the diagnosis, Axford was tabbed for a setup role with the team in 2019. He pitched to mixed results in 2018 (thanks in part to a late-season fracture of his right fibula) with a 5.27 ERA, 4.9 BB/9, and 9.8 SO/9 through 54 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays and Dodgers. Now, however, it’s not certain that he’ll return to the mound this season in any capacity.

Axford isn’t the only reliever the Blue Jays have lost to injury lately, either, as right-handers Ryan Tepera and Bud Norris have been sidelined with right elbow inflammation and forearm fatigue, respectively. Per Davidi, the Blue Jays offered Norris a $100,000 retention bonus to prevent him from opting out of the minor league contract he signed in February.