Nationals add backup catcher Alex Avila on 1-year, $1.5M deal

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WASHINGTON (AP) Alex Avila finalized a $1.5 million, one-year contract Wednesday with the Washington Nationals, who are expected to use him as the primary backup to starting catcher Yan Gomes.

Avila, who turned 34 last week, was a free agent after playing in 2020 for the Minnesota Twins, batting .184 in 49 at-bats during the coronavirus-shortened season. His deal calls for a $500,000 signing bonus that is protected against a shortened season and a $1 million guaranteed salary.

While he hasn’t had any detailed discussions about his role with manager Dave Martinez or GM Mike Rizzo, Avila said: “Whenever Davey needs me in the lineup, I’ll be ready to go.”

He has played 12 years in the majors for five clubs and has a .235 career batting average with a .348 on-base percentage, 104 homers and 388 RBIs.

“I don’t think I’m going to be hitting fourth for this team,” joked Avila, who has thrown out 14 of 32 runners trying to steal over the past two seasons.

He has caught current Nationals starters Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester in previous stops. Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, was the first new-slash-old teammate to text Avila after he agreed to go to Washington.

Avila said Scherzer wrote: “You get on, I’ll drive you in.”

“It’ll be a lot of fun catching Max again,” Avila said. “He was always one of my favorite guys to catch.”

His father, Al, is general manager of the Detroit Tigers, and the younger Avila said he entertained the thought of returning to that team.

“One day that will happen,” Alex Avila said.

His addition was the latest in a flurry of moves by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo after the team tied for last place in the NL East.

Washington has brought in lefty starter Lester, lefty reliever Brad Hand, first baseman Josh Bell and left fielder Kyle Schwarber, and re-signed first baseman Ryan Zimmerman after he sat out 2020.

Note: Washington agreed on a minor league deal to bring back outfielder Gerardo Parra of “Baby Shark” fame. After being a part of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series championship, Parra went to play in Japan in 2020.

Blue Jays clinch playoff berth with Orioles’ loss to Red Sox

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TORONTO — The Blue Jays clinched a postseason berth Thursday without taking the field.

Toronto was assured of an AL wild card berth when the Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3.

If Toronto holds its current position as the first of the AL’s three wild cards, the Blue Jays would open a best-of-three wild-card series at Rogers Centre next week.

“These guys are excited to be in this position,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said after Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees. “You’ve got three really good pitchers lined up against a good Boston team, playing at home. So I think it’s more excitement more than it’s nerves or anything. I think the guys are going to come out and be ready to roll on Friday night.”

Toronto became the fourth AL team to clinch a playoff berth, joining division champions Houston, the Yankees and Cleveland. The Astros and Yankees have first-round byes.

The Blue Jays last went to the playoffs in 2020, when they were knocked out with two straight losses to Tampa Bay.

Eight of the 12 berths in the expanded postseason have been clinched: The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis earned division titles, and Atlanta and the New York Mets are assured no worse the wild cards while still competing to win the NL East. The Dodgers have a first-round bye.