Bieber tagged, Bauer sharp in Dodgers debut

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Shane Bieber‘s final start last season was rough. His first one in 2021 wasn’t too much better.

The AL Cy Young winner gave up four runs and didn’t make it through his scheduled two innings on Monday as the Cleveland Indians lost to the Kansas City Royals 8-6 in Goodyear, Arizona.

But while he wasn’t thrilled with his outing, Bieber wasn’t disappointed either. He committed to throwing certain pitches and working on areas he’d like to improve.

“There’s some positives to take away from today in learning how to shape the slider how I want to,” he said. “I started to figure it out in the second inning. I just got to look at the positives. It’s spring training. Go out there and get the next one.”

Bieber led the majors in wins, ERA and strikeouts last year, completing a rare triple crown during the pandemic while becoming Cleveland’s fifth Cy Young winner since 2007.

The right-hander was dominant until the playoffs, when the New York Yankees tagged him for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the wild-card round. The Indians were swept out of the wild-card round the next day.

Bieber’s arrival at camp was delayed after he tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, the 25-year-old said he was feeling fine and eager to build on his strong third season in the majors and erase the “sour taste” left by his postseason flop.

Bieber coasted through the first against Kansas City, retiring the Royals in order with former Indians first baseman Carlos Santana hitting a grounder for the final out with an uncharacteristic first-pitch swing.

“I looked at him and I said, `What’s wrong with you? You never do that,”‘ Bieber said. “He looked back and said, `spring training, bro.’ He was trying to punk me, that’s for sure.”

In the second, Jorge Soler and Michael Taylor singled before Emmanuel Rivera delivered a two-run double to center. Bieber bounced back with a pair of strikeouts, but Nick Heath hit a single to put the Royals up 3-0.

Bieber has prided himself on pitching deep into games, but he got away from that some last season while trying to be too perfect.

“That’s really my identity,” he said. “At the end of the day that’s something I’ve really relied on and held close to my center for me for a long time as a pitcher is just being able to go deep into ballgames and eat up innings.

“With the shortened season, every run, every pitch seemed so elevated. I found myself, (catcher) Roberto (Perez) and I kind of found ourselves going for more swing-and-miss and missed bats and found ourselves in more crucial situations than we would have liked,” he said. “Going into this year, that’s something I’d like to continue to improve on and get back to my old ways.”

Ryan McBroom homered, doubled and drove in three runs for Kansas City.

FROM AROUND THE GRAPEFRUIT AND CACTUS LEAGUES:

ASTROS 7, NATIONALS 6

Ryan Zimmerman appeared in a game for the first time in almost exactly a year — he sat out the pandemic-shortened 2020 regular season because of concerns about his family’s health — and hit one of Washington’s three consecutive homers off Houston righty Steve Cishek in the third inning.

“I’ll be sore, like I always am,” said the 36-year-old Zimmerman, who walked in his first plate appearance and played three innings at first base.

“You can’t mimic a sprint to first base. Or there’s a couple foul balls near our dugout that I had to run full-speed over there for,” he said. “So that’s the good thing about this first week to 10 days: You get that sort of soreness out. … Mentally getting back into that rhythm, that’s the most important part for me.”

The two-time NL All-Star, expected to back up Josh Bell this season, hadn’t played since an exhibition on March 10, 2020.

“The biggest thing for him is to keep him healthy and keep him going,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Just seeing him on the field again, we were all excited to have him back.”

Josh Harrison and Yadiel Hernandez also went deep off Cishek as the Nationals built a 6-2 lead in their Grapefruit League home opener. The Astros, who are managed by ex-Nationals skipper Dusty Baker, came back to win by scoring five runs in the ninth.

Former Washington outfielder Steven Souza Jr. hit a two-run homer for Houston.

DODGERS 10, ROCKIES 0 (6 INNINGS)

Trevor Bauer, pitching for the first time since signing a $102 million, three-year contract, debuted in Dodger blue with two scoreless innings. He gave up one hit, struck out two, walked none and threw a wild pitch.

Bauer won the NL Cy Young Award with Cincinnati last year. The right-hander threw sharp curveballs for his pair of strikeouts.

“All my pitches are pretty much where I want them to be,” Bauer said.

Los Angeles reliever Kenley Jansen struck out two in an inning.

Colorado starter Dereck Rodriguez allowed two runs in two innings.

ANGELS 4, WHITE SOX 4 (5)

Albert Pujols went 2 for 2 and drove in two runs, Shohei Otani got two hits and scored twice and Mike Trout had a hit and walk for Los Angeles. Angels newcomer Alex Cobb pitched a scoreless first.

Adam Eaton had a double and sacrifice fly for Chicago.

BRAVES 5, RED SOX 3 (7 INNINGS)

Atlanta rookie catcher William Contreras, brother of Cubs two-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, drove in three runs and Ozzie Albies scored twice.

Boston newcomer Garrett Richards allowed two runs on three hits and two walks in two innings. He was pulled with one out in the first after loading the bases and walking in a run and throwing 23 pitches — this spring, teams can end an inning after a pitcher has thrown 20 pitches. Richards came back for the second inning.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts has a sore right shoulder and hasn’t played yet. Manager Alex Cora said Bogaerts pushed himself during his offseason program and should resume throwing in the next couple of days.

ORIOLES 4, PHILLIES 4 (7)

DJ Stewart homered off Philadelphia starter Aaron Nola. Baltimore leadoff man Austin Hays got two hits.

Well-traveled Matt Joyce homered in his first spring game for the Phillies.

YANKEES 5, TIGERS 4 (7)

New York catcher Gary Sanchez, a two-time All-Star who batted just .147 last year, hit a long home run over the batter’s eye screen in center field.

Yankees starter Gerrit Cole gave up one run on three hits and a walk in one inning. Jameson Taillon followed with a scoreless inning.

Detroit newcomer Wilson Ramos homered and singled. New York minor leaguer Chris Gittens hit a grand slam.

TWINS 6, RAYS 5 (6)

Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow gave up two runs on two hits and three walks in 1 2/3 innings.

Brent Rooker homered and drove in two runs for Minnesota.

MARLINS 2, METS 0 (7)

Starter Sandy Alcantara and four Miami relievers combined on a five-hitter. Jesus Aguilar hit a two-run homer.

Francisco Lindor was 0 for 2 in New York’s spring opener. Brandon Nimmo had two hits.

PIRATES 2, BLUE JAYS 2 (7)

Anthony Alford, claimed by Pittsburgh off waivers from Toronto last August, homered off Robbie Ray.

Rowdy Tellez doubled for the second straight day for the Blue Jays.

ATHLETICS 13, REDS 5 (7)

Matt Olson, Pete Kozma and Buddy Reed each hit two-run homers for Oakland. Nik Turley pitched the last inning for the A’s and allowed three runs.

Scott Heineman and Alfredo Rodriguez connected for Cincinnati.

GIANTS 1, RANGERS 1 (6)

Kyle Gibson pitched a scoreless first inning for Texas. Charlie Culberson got two hits and scored for the Rangers.

Joey Bart had two hits for San Francisco. Nick Tropeano pitched a scoreless first.

CUBS 1, PADRES 0 (7)

Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks struck out two in two scoreless innings. Javier Baez had one of the Cubs’ two hits.

San Diego starter Chris Paddack fanned three in two hitless innings.

BREWERS 7, DIAMONDBACKS 1 (8)

Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta each threw a scoreless inning for Milwaukee before Jordan Zimmermann gave up a run. Manny Pina had two hits, including a homer, and drove in two runs.

Arizona starter Merrill Kelly struck out five in two innings.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.