Madison Bumgarner gets Opening Day start for Diamondbacks

Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic Mlb Los Angeles Angels At Arizona Diamondbacks

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Madison Bumgarner will make his second straight opening day start for the Arizona Diamondbacks when they travel to face the San Diego Padres.

Manager Torey Lovullo said on Sunday the four-time All-Star would lead the rotation despite a rough 2020 season, when he had a 1-4 record and 6.48 ERA. He’ll be followed in the rotation by Merrill Kelly, Caleb Smith, Taylor Widener and Luke Weaver.

Bumgarner signed an $85 million, five-year contract before last season but didn’t look anything like the dominant pitcher he was for much of his 11 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, where the left-hander helped the franchise win three World Series titles.

The 26-year-old Widener takes the rotation spot of right-hander Zac Gallen, who was in contention for the opening day start before a hairline fracture was discovered in his right forearm. He suffered the injury while getting jammed during batting practice.

Gallen was one of the best pitchers in the National League last season, finishing with a 3-2 record, 2.75 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 72 innings. He finished ninth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Lovullo said he’s unsure how much time Gallen will miss.

Widener will be making his first big league start. The right-hander, who pitched in college at South Carolina, had a 4.50 ERA in 12 relief appearances in 2020.

Lovullo also said Sunday that starting shortstop Nick Ahmed was battling soreness in his right knee and received an injection, though the manager is hopeful Ahmed will still be ready for opening day. If Ahmed is limited, Josh Rojas could be the part-time starter.

The 26-year-old Rojas has started just two big league games at shortstop but Diamondbacks management was impressed at how he handled the position during spring training. He can also play at second base or in the outfield.

The D-backs also moved closer to finalizing their opening day roster by sending outfielder Trayce Thompson and pitchers Joe Mantiply and Anthony Swarzak to minor league camp. That likely means that utility players Josh VanMeter and Wyatt Mathisen, along with veteran reliever Chris Devenski, have secured a spot on the roster.

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.