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Bieber, late addition to All-Star roster, wins MVP

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CLEVELAND — In a 4-3 American League All-Star Game victory with no clear MVP on Tuesday, hometown favorite Shane Bieber, a right-handed starter for the Cleveland Indians, earned the honors after striking out the side in the fifth inning amid a Progressive Field-wide chant of his name.

The 24-year-old Bieber, once a walk-on at UC-Santa Barbara, caught Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looking on a 95 mph fastball, punched out Diamondbacks second baseman Ketel Marte on an 84 mph curveball and froze Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. on an 86 mph slider.

Bieber is the third player in All-Star Game history to win the MVP award in his home ballpark, joining Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park in 1999 and Sandy Alomar Jr. also in Cleveland in 1997.

During the seven-pitch at-bat against Acuña, the crowd of 36,747 chanted, “Let’s go, Bieber!” and he responded with a strikeout that prompted Indians manager Terry Francona to clap his hands excitedly. The victory extended the AL’s All-Star Game winning streak to seven games.

“I really didn’t know what to think,” Bieber said of winning MVP. “Kinda lost all feeling in my body. But it’s an incredible feeling now. Now that it’s kind of sinking in, just to be able to do it in front of the hometown crowd in my first All-Star Game is definitely not something I expected.”

Bieber wasn’t named to the All-Star team until Friday, when he replaced Rangers starter Mike Minor, who wasn’t eligible to play because he pitched Sunday.

Bieber is the first pitcher to win All-Star Game MVP since Mariano Rivera in 2013 and is just the fifth pitcher to do so in the past 40 years, joining Martinez, Roger Clemens (1986) and LaMarr Hoyt (1985). Only Bieber, Rivera and Juan Marichal (1965) have taken home MVP honors without earning a win.

Bieber — no relation to Justin Bieber, for those wondering — beat AL teammates Michael Brantley and Joey Gallo for the honors by preserving a 1-0 lead against the final three hitters in the National League’s stout lineup. Brantley staked the AL to the advantage in the stadium where he spent the first 10 years of his career with a second-inning RBI double off Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw that scored Astros teammate Alex Bregman.

The 32-year-old Brantley, who joined Houston as a free agent this winter, sliced a 91 mph fastball from Kershaw into the left-center-field gap to open the scoring and hand Bieber the one-run lead he held.

“He is a phenomenal pitcher,” Brantley said. “He is gaining experience and getting better and better every time he goes out. He competes at a high level. I am so proud of him. I can’t wait to see him and tell him congratulations again. That was fun to watch.”

The award easily could have gone to Gallo, the Rangers slugger whose solo homer proved the decisive run. The 25-year-old Gallo, in the midst of a breakout season that has helped propel the surprising Rangers into contention in the AL West, walloped a first-pitch fastball from San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith into the right-field stands.

The run gave the AL a 4-1 lead that it held after a shaky eighth inning from Cleveland Indians closer Brad Hand shrunk the advantage to one run. Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the ninth inning to end a game in which the NL punched out 16 times.

With injuries sidelining stalwart starters Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger and a leukemia diagnosis keeping starter Carlos Carrasco out since the end of May, Bieber has proven a vital part of the Indians rotation.

In 112⅓ innings this season, Bieber has struck out 141 and walked just 23 to go with an 8-3 record and a 3.45 ERA.

In the fifth inning, during a Stand Up For Cancer moment that honored those who have fought the disease, Bieber stood alongside Indians All-Star teammates Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Hand with Carrasco, a widely respected 32-year-old nicknamed Cookie.

“It was unbelievable,” Bieber said. “Cookie, I’ve only known him for a year, but I can say for certain that he is one of the best teammates and best people I have ever met. Only he could turn what he is doing into a positive light, and he is going to the children’s hospital, and he is spending time with them, and he is kind of reversing it on its heels and turning it into a positive light. … We are here for him, we love him, and we are standing with him.”

Bieber’s rapid ascent since the Indians chose him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft has been aided by a significant rise in fastball velocity. He joined the Indians in May after just 50 games pitched in the minor leagues and has excelled this year, with four double-digit strikeout games, tied for fifth-most in the major leagues.

“I am just trying to throw strikes,” Bieber said. “I couldn’t really feel my body that much because, like I said, the electricity and the atmosphere we had going, but also you didn’t want to leave a cookie over the plate because these guys are so good, and they will take advantage of it. Really just tried to fill up the zone as much as I could and go out there and get three outs. That was the main agenda.”

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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Cervelli (3 hits, 3 RBIs) sparks Braves in debut

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NEW YORK — Newly signed Francisco Cervelli had three hits and three RBIs in his Atlanta debut, and the Braves beat the New York Mets 9-5 on Saturday night for their seventh straight victory.

The veteran catcher, released Thursday by Pittsburgh, signed with the first-place Braves earlier Saturday to help fill in with Brian McCann on the injured list.

After recovering from yet another concussion, Cervelli played his first major league game since May 25. The veteran backstop stroked a two-run double on the second pitch he saw for a 2-0 lead in the second inning.

“I was playing like a little kid,” Cervelli said. “That’s all that matters, man. From now on, just enjoy every game, every opportunity, and do what I have to do.”

He singled his next time up and added an RBI double to deep center in the ninth.

“Hasn’t played in three months, comes out and gets three knocks. Just makes it look that easy,” Billy Hamilton, another recent Braves addition, said.

From his knees, Cervelli also threw out Amed Rosario trying to steal second in a tie game in the seventh.

“He was excited about getting here — and it showed,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

About two hours before the game, Cervelli said he was still waiting for his catching equipment to arrive at Citi Field.

Atlanta will pay Cervelli $110,403, a prorated portion of the $555,000 major league minimum. That is offset against his $11.5 million salary in the final season of the $31 million, three-year contract with Pittsburgh that he was released from.

Cervelli, 33, joined the Braves at Citi Field and batted seventh against Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. Snitker said Cervelli will split playing time with Tyler Flowers behind the plate and likely remain with the club when McCann returns because by then rosters will have expanded in September.

Cervelli has dealt with multiple concussions this season and batted .193 with one home run and five RBIs in 34 games for the Pirates. He recently completed a minor league rehab assignment that began Aug. 11 at Double-A Altoona in the Pittsburgh organization. He played one game there and then caught six games at Triple-A Indianapolis.

“I’m not a little kid anymore, so I kind of know exactly what I need and how many games,” Cervelli said before Saturday’s game. “I’ve been working so hard besides the game for a long time to get back at my best.”

Cervelli acknowledged that two months ago, he was a little jittery about catching again after his most recent concussion in May. A report suggested he didn’t plan to go back behind the plate, but Cervelli insisted he didn’t say that — someone else did.

After working out in the infield, he moved back to catcher in the minors. He said he was bored at other positions and threw away his infield glove.

“I’m not a baseball player. I’m a catcher,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 17 years and that’s all I’m going to do. And, I like to be behind the plate. It sounds crazy, but I like to get hit and do my thing. So, I’m here now.”

He said he quietly underwent a new therapy with a new doctor and is feeling good.

“I put everything I had,” said Cervelli, the Pirates’ Opening Day catcher each of the past five years.

Cervelli began the night a .269 career hitter with 36 home runs and 261 RBIs in 700 major league games. His .362 on-base percentage in 450 games with Pittsburgh was second among big league catchers during that span to San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.368).

To make roster room for Cervelli, the Braves optioned catcher Alex Jackson to Triple-A Gwinnett and transferred left-hander Grant Dayton to the 60-day injured list.

Cervelli, from Venezuela, spent the first seven years of his career with the New York Yankees and played in 42 games for the 2009 World Series champions.

“I feel like a lucky man,” he said. “Just the fact that I went to Triple-A and played baseball. It doesn’t matter what it is. I played there like a kid again, and now I feel more grateful just to get picked up by a team who is in first place and they like to win. That’s the whole idea.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Indians’ Ramirez fractures bone in hand, on IL

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Cleveland Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez has been diagnosed with a fractured hamate bone in his right hand and has been placed on the injured list, the team announced Sunday.

Ramirez, a two-time All-Star, had an MRI after he exited in the first inning of Saturday’s game against Kansas City after fouling off a pitch.

“We’re really sad because Jose is a happy guy and you guys know that we definitely need him,” said teammate Franmil Reyes after Cleveland’s 4-2 win.

“We need his defense, we need his offense, and he’s a great guy. It seemed like he was in a lot of pain. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I hope everything is good.”

Indians manager Terry Francona said Ramirez has been dealing with a sore wrist, but the injury occurred in a different area of the joint. The 26-year-old was not wearing a protective brace in the clubhouse and did not speak with the media.

Ramirez is batting .254 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs in 126 games. Utilityman Mike Freeman replaced him and had two hits and an RBI.

In a corresponding move, the Indians called up infielder Yu Chang from Triple-A Columbus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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‘I get myself in trouble’ — Kenley Jansen adapts to his suddenly hittable cutter

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LOS ANGELES — It was the ninth inning, his Los Angeles Dodgers were leading by a run, and Kenley Jansen reared back and overmatched Randal Grichuk with three consecutive cutters on Wednesday night. The turn of events emboldened Jansen, instantly bringing him back to another time, when his cutter was virtually unhittable and secondary pitches were often unnecessary.

“F— it, it’s here,” Jansen thought. “Let’s go.”

Six of Jansen’s next eight pitches were, predictably, cutters. The last of those — traveling 93 mph, tailing middle-in — was sent well over the right-field fence for a game-tying home run by Toronto Blue Jays slugger Rowdy Tellez, handing Jansen another blown save in what has become another turbulent season.

Jansen was serenaded by boos as he retreated to the home dugout. Moments later, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was pushing against the idea of a change at closer. The following afternoon, Jansen was lamenting his mindset. The right-hander knows the cutter is no longer untouchable, and he understands the need to incorporate his slider and fastball more frequently — and yet sometimes he just can’t help himself.

“Sometimes I get myself in trouble, because when I blow hitters out like that with a few pitches, it’s like, ‘Aw, s—, I got it today,'” Jansen said. “And it’s like, ‘Hey, use your mind.’ It gave me all the signs to change yesterday, and I didn’t do it. You know what? It’s OK. It’s a mistake, you learn from it, let’s go. No excuses, man. No excuses from me. And I’m not gonna lose confidence, at all, in myself.”

But the fan base might be starting to lose confidence, an apprehension rooted in part by the Dodgers’ relative inactivity before the July 31 trade deadline. The first-place Dodgers never acquired another dominant, late-inning reliever, placing increasingly more pressure on Jansen, who has at times wavered.

His ERA, despite a somewhat encouraging 21-pitch save in Saturday’s victory over the New York Yankees, stands at a career-high 3.62. His six blown saves this season are topped by just five other relievers, only one of whom is a current closer. From 2011 to 2017, opponents slugged .315 off Jansen’s cutter, a rate that fell 103 points below the major league average on all pitches. In 2018, it rose to .403. This year, it’s .465. The Dodgers want Jansen to incorporate other pitches and Jansen wants to comply, but the transition has proved difficult.

“I’ve never been great,” Roberts said, “so when you’re talking about somebody who has always been great, with one specific pitch, and when they know it’s coming and to still not hit it, and to have to go through that transition — it’s a transition. I think he’s understanding that you can be just as effective as you have been in the past, but sequencing is a part of that process.”

The Dodgers met with Jansen late into Wednesday night in part to emphasize that point. Jansen, 31, was apologetic for not straying from his cutter, an issue that has materialized in multiple ninth innings this season. The meeting took place, Jansen said, because he is “sick and tired of just being angry,” the result of experiencing failure and confronting transition for the first time in his 10-year career.

“You just have to clear your mind, love the game again,” Jansen said. “I have love for the game. Be happy. Be happy when you go out there. And perform. Once I do that, man, it’s gonna be fun again.”

Jansen threw his cutter between 84% and 93% of the time each season from 2010 to 2018. This year, its usage is down to 76%. Over the past two months, it’s down to 65%. The velocity on the pitch has dropped a couple of ticks, down to 92 mph. But its effectiveness lies in its late life, which has at times been compromised by inconsistencies in Jansen’s delivery. Over the past three years, the pitch value on Jansen’s cutter, according to Pitch Info Solutions research, has dropped from 20.8 to 9.4 to minus-0.2.

Pedro Baez, continually booed before reemerging as a valuable weapon last season, and Joe Kelly, who has recovered from a brutal start to the 2019 season, came to the forefront of Jansen’s mind last week.

“They went through the same thing that I went through,” Jansen said, “and look at them.”

So, too, did Clayton Kershaw, who has found a way to remain a legitimate Cy Young contender despite pitching with a fastball that he often struggles to dial up to 90 mph.

“It’s a game of adjustments,” Jansen said, “and I can still be so damn good if I make the adjustments. I just gotta be a little more smart.”

Jansen resides at the heart of the Dodgers’ chances of capturing their first World Series title since 1988. In retrospect, the 2017 World Series, when he failed to close out two games, might have marked the beginning of a subtle decline. In a macro sense, Jansen has not been the same since, though a hamstring injury late last spring and an irregular heartbeat late last summer have certainly contributed. Jansen was adamant in saying that his inner belief has not wavered. He vowed to remain upbeat, but also to learn from past failures.

“I trust all my pitches — use them,” Jansen said. “The game will tell you when you have to change — be aware of it.”

Roberts believed Jansen’s cutters were well executed Wednesday — even the one that resulted in a tied game — but also said he “went to the well too many times,” noting that Jansen should have incorporated sliders into the Tellez at-bat. Asked the following day if he believes Jansen can be dominant again if he sequences adequately, Roberts answered sternly.

“I have no doubt,” he said. “I have no doubt in my mind.”

Two days later, Roberts experienced temporary validation. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out in the ninth on three well-placed grounders, but Jansen recorded back-to-back strikeouts of Mike Tauchman and Gary Sanchez to preserve a 2-1 lead and capture his 27th save. Jansen threw 11 cutters in the inning, but also seven fastballs and three sliders. Roberts said “the sequencing was better.”

Max Muncy, standing almost directly behind Jansen while shifted up the middle as the second baseman, saw Jansen reach the mid-90s with his cutter on the final two pitches and found them to be “really, really sharp.”

“If we can find a way to get that going,” Muncy said, “we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

Jansen is quick to acknowledge the advancements of his sport and why relying on only one pitch is becoming imprudent. He welcomed the recent boos from the home crowd, but he vowed to change the narrative.

“Give me the tough love,” he said. “I’ll make sure you love me again.”

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