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Jesse Biddle gets call up to majors

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On Wednesday, the Braves placed reliever Jose Ramirez on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation and called up reliever Jesse Biddle from Triple-A Gwinnett.

Lots of minor leaguers get to the call to the majors in any given year, but Biddle’s promotion is even better because of everything he has endured in his career that has served as a roadblock. The 26-year-old was selected by the Phillies 27th overall in the 2010 draft. Biddle was one of baseball’s top prospects in the 2012-14 seasons, but as he reached the upper levels of the minors, he ran into some really tough luck.

In April 2013, Biddle came down with whooping cough. In an interview with Kelsie Heneghan for MiLB.com in 2014, Biddle said, “It became very difficult when every pitch, I felt like I was going to cough up my lung.”

In May 2014, Biddle was caught in a hailstorm. After hail shattered both windshields in his car, Biddle escaped to seek shelter elsewhere, but was struck in the back of the head by a hailstone and suffered a concussion. Via the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bob Brookover, Biddle said, “After that, I didn’t really feel right and I was very confused. I had a concussion when I was younger, but I didn’t really remember what it felt like.” 2014 was the lefty’s worst season as a professional up to that point. In March 2015, then-Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. suggested that Biddle’s concussion wasn’t a big deal and that he took time off for other reasons, saying, “That wasn’t the reason we gave him the break.”

After the 2015 season during which he posted a 4.95 ERA in 24 starts between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Biddle underwent Tommy John surgery. The Phillies designated him for assignment in January 2016 and the Pirates decided to acquire him shortly thereafter. The Pirates DFA’d him in March and then traded him to the Braves. Biddle debuted with Double-A Mississippi in April 2017, but switched into a relief role. From April 7 to July 11, he posted a 2.90 ERA, but he went back on the disabled list and didn’t pitch the rest of the season.

Biddle only pitched 3 1/3 innings in spring training this year but he held the opposition scoreless on two hits with no walks and no strikeouts. To start the 2018 minor league season, he’s yielded zero runs on three hits with one walk and eight strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings, which helped him finally earn his call-up to the majors.

This is why Biddle’s promotion today is such a cool moment. He may be one of the most unlucky players in professional baseball but he may also be on a major league mound facing his former team tonight.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”