Jose Leclerc to miss extended time for Rangers with elbow issue

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Texas Rangers have another potential long-term elbow issue with a late-inning reliever they hoped to count on in a rebuilding season.

One-time closer Jose Leclerc has returned to Texas because of right elbow soreness, a setback that comes about two weeks after fellow right-handerc was diagnosed with a sprained elbow ligament.

The Rangers have already indicated they plan to start the season with Hernandez on the 60-day injured list.

General manager Chris Young said Monday the club won’t know how long Leclerc will be out until after he is examined by team physician Dr. Keith Meister. The 22-year-old reported the soreness after a recent spring training outing.

“Certainly not good news this morning,” Young said.

Leclerc began the 2019 season as the Texas closer before he was demoted after a rough opening month. The Rangers didn’t even get to find out if he was ready to resume the role last year because he made just two appearances before getting sidelined for the rest of the 60-game season by a shoulder injury.

Hernandez has been a consideration as the closer this year after leading the club with 27 appearances in 2020, going 5-1 with a 2.90 ERA. The 23-year-old said he felt something after throwing a bullpen session.

“You’re going to look at it two ways, panic and doom or opportunity,” manager Chris Woodward said. “It’s really, really frustrating just from an empathy standpoint. But the rest of the guys in the time being, we got to step up. Good organizations have depth.”

The Rangers have two non-roster veterans with experience as closers in right-handers Matt Bush and Ian Kennedy.

Bush was the 2004 No. 1 overall draft pick as a shortstop whose career was derailed by alcohol abuse before a big league debut as a reliever with Texas in 2016. The hard-throwing right-hander saved 11 games in a three-year stint before surgery for a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in 2018. Bush hasn’t pitched in the majors since then.

Kennedy was a starter for 11 years before converting to a reliever and recording all 30 saves of his career in 2019 with Kansas City. The 36-year-old had a 9.00 ERA in 15 relief appearances with no saves for the Royals last year.

Young said left-handed relievers Brett Martin and Joely Rodriguez should return from injuries by mid-April. Martin has been battling a back issue. Rodriguez, who had a 2.13 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings last season, sprained an ankle before spring training.

“We have good arms, none of them fully experienced, but this is what happens,” Young said. “This is a great opportunity for a lot of our guys to step in and establish themselves. We’re looking for players who are going to seize this opportunity.”

Young said the Rangers still planned to start the season without outfielder and designated hitter Willie Calhoun, who has been battling a groin issue. Catcher Sam Huff, a top prospect who made his big league debut last season, is expected to stay in Arizona for minor league spring training while recovering from a strained left hamstring.

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

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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.