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Jessica Mendoza bashes Mike Fiers for spilling the beans on sign-stealing

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One: About a year ago, the Mets hired ESPN commentator Jessica Mendoza as an advisor to GM Brodie Van Wagenen’s front office. Mendoza kept her broadcasting gig while also working for the Mets, which created its own potential conflict of interest.

Two: The Mets are tangentially caught up in the hoopla surrounding Major League Baseball’s investigation into the 2017 Astros as new manager Carlos Beltrán was a player on that Astros squad and the only player mentioned by name in the league’s report on its investigation. While Beltrán avoided punishment from the league, the Mets are under mounting pressure to oust their skipper like the Astros and Red Sox did.

These two items met each other in the middle on Thursday as Mendoza appeared on ESPN Radio’s Golic and Wingo to discuss the sign-stealing controversy. Mendoza chose to criticize pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on the ’17 Astros, for telling The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich about the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme. Here’s what was said:

Golic: You have a problem with Mike Fiers leaving the Astros, going to another team, and then going public with all of this?

Mendoza: Going public, yeah. I mean, I get it. If you’re with the Oakland A’s and you’re on another team, I mean heck yeah, you better be telling your teammates, “Look, hey, heads up. If you hear some noises when you’re pitching, this is what’s going on.” For sure. But to go public, yeah. It didn’t sit well with me. And honestly, it made me sad for the sport that that’s how this all got found out. This wasn’t something that MLB naturally investigated or that even other teams complained about because they naturally heard about, and then investigations happen. But it came from within. It was a player that was a part of it, that benefited from it during the regular season when he was a part of that team. When I first heard about it, it hits you like any teammate would. It’s something that you don’t do. I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know. But to go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it’s hard to swallow.

Mendoza isn’t listed in the Mets’ front office directory, so it’s not clear if she is, to the letter, considered an official employee of a Major League Baseball team or simply a freelancer. The league doesn’t like for team employees to comment on ongoing matters such as this. At any rate, something involving Mendoza and her nebulous tie to a club was bound to pop up, so here we are.

Mendoza’s comments are just as baffling. Fiers is a whistleblower. For as uncomfortable as they make things for those involved, whistleblowers are ultimately a collective good, seeking to improve the industry from within. And Fiers didn’t do so anonymously, which lent credibility to what he was saying at his personal expense. Baseball is better off for having learned what Fiers shared with The Athletic about the Astros’ scheme. The league should strive for cleaning up the game and leveling the playing field, just as it attempted to do with performance-enhancing drugs.

By criticizing Fiers, Mendoza is helping to create and maintain social pressure against those who dare to speak out. For Major League Baseball, that is antithetical to its mission. Remember: the bad actors here are the Astros and (likely) the Red Sox. Saying anything else obfuscates that fact.

In the end, though, Mendoza’s criticism doesn’t hold up because people had been suspecting the Astros of being up to no good long before Fiers spoke up. In a mid-September 2017 appearance against the Astros, White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar noticed “a banging from the dugout” and changed the signs with his catcher in the middle of an at-bat against Evan Gattis. As The Athletic’s Eno Sarris notes, other players were talking to reporters off-the-record about it. It’s not like this never would have come up if not for Fiers. He just provided specifics.

Update: Mendoza posted a statement on Twitter to clarify her comments. It reads:

Thought it was important to clarify my earlier remarks about the sign stealing situation in MLB. Most importantly, I feel strongly that the game of baseball will benefit greatly because this sign stealing matter was uncovered. Cheating the game is something that needs to be addressed and I’m happy to see that the league is taking appropriate action. The point I should have been much more clear on was this: I believe it’s very critical that this news was made public; I simply disagree with the manner in which that was done. I credit Mike Fiers for stepping forward, yet I feel that going directly through your team and/or MLB first could have been a better way to surface the information. Reasonable minds can disagree. Ultimately what matters most is that his observations were made public and the game will be better for it. In regards to the Mets, I want to make it extra clear that my advisor role with the team does not shape my opinion in any way, shape or form on this matter. I feel this way regardless of what teams, players or managers are involved.

Maddon: Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again for Angels this year

Shohei Ohtani
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Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again this season for the Los Angeles Angels after straining his right forearm in his second start, manager Joe Maddon says.

Ohtani likely will return to the Angels’ lineup as their designated hitter this week, Maddon said Tuesday night before the club opened a road series against the Seattle Mariners.

The Angels’ stance on Ohtani is unsurprising after the club announced he had strained the flexor pronator mass near the elbow of his pitching arm. The two-way star’s recovery from the strain requires him to abstain from throwing for four to six weeks, which covers most of the shortened 2020 season.

“I’m not anticipating him pitching at all this year,” Maddon said. “Any kind of throwing program is going to be very conservative.”

Ohtani was injured Sunday in the second inning of his second start since returning to the mound following Tommy John surgery in late 2018. Ohtani issued five walks during the 42-pitch inning against the Houston Astros, with his velocity dropping later in the frame.

The arm injury is another obstacle in Ohtani’s path to becoming the majors’ first true two-way player in decades. He made 10 mound starts as a rookie in 2018 before injuring his elbow, but he served as the Angels’ regular designated hitter last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani has pitched in only three games since June 2018, but the Angels still believe in Ohtani’s ability to be a two-way player, Maddon said.

“I’m seeing that he can,” Maddon said. “We’ve just got to get past the arm maladies and figure that out. But I’ve seen it. He’s just such a high-end arm, and we’ve seen what he can do in the batter’s box. Now maybe it might get to the point where he may choose to do one thing over the other and express that to us. I know he likes to hit. In my mind’s eye, he’s still going to be able to do this.”

The veteran manager believes Ohtani will benefit from a full spring training and a normal season. Ohtani wasn’t throwing at full strength for a starter when the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training in March because he wasn’t expected to pitch until May as he returned from surgery.

“Going into a regular season with a normal number of starts and all the things that permit guys to be ready for a year, that’s what we need to see is some normalcy before you make that kind of determination,” Maddon said.

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