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Stripling’s versatility, resourcefulness on display as Blue Jays trounce Royals

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KANSAS CITY — Ross Stripling’s resourcefulness is his gift.

Need him to take a few turns in your rotation? Done and done, with an unlucky 4.29 ERA and more representative 2.95 FIP over five starts in late April and early May.

Need him to mop-up eight outs in relief? He did that twice in mid-May — down three against the Seattle Mariners and up eight against the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Need him to rescue your closer from a two-out, bases-loaded, bottom-of-the-ninth jam with a one-run lead? It took Stripling just three pitches to earn that out against the Los Angeles Angels a week-and-a-half ago.

But it’s also his curse. As Hyun Jin Ryu has bounced between active duty and the injured list while trying to pitch through forearm and elbow discomfort this season, Stripling has bounced between Toronto’s rotation and the bullpen right along with him despite producing better results and, meritocratically, being more deserving of a rotation role. That’s because Ryu, like many pitchers, would struggle oscillating between roles like that. But to Stripling, perhaps MLB’s best sixth starter, it’s just another day in a swingman’s career.

Another day like Monday in Kansas City, where Stripling was making his first start in a month, having overhauled his between-outings routine for the thousandth time, only to have it further disrupted by a “rain delay” — the Royals pre-emptively covered their infield in anticipation of a storm that never arrived — that pushed the start of the game back a couple hours. By the time he finally took the mound, it was nearly 9:30pm CT.

Stripling’s response to having any semblance of pre-start normalcy deep-sixed was to retire the first three hitters he faced on five pitches. And the next three on 15, eight of them in a battle with Salvador Perez that ended with Stripling getting the four-time silver slugger to swing through a change-of-speed slider on the plate he wasn’t expecting.

And then, in the third inning, it finally started raining. For real this time. Fans streamed for the concourses. Stripling kicked mud off his cleats behind the mound between batters. Michael A. Taylor reached on a perfectly placed groundball that found a hole in Toronto’s shift. But, as he does, Striping navigated around it, keeping the speedy Taylor close at first while getting two quick outs to wrap a 10-pitch inning. And he cruised through the fourth on only 14.

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Sunday, Kevin Gausman was pulled in the fourth inning at 87 pitches. A day later, Stripling was starting his fifth at 44. And he finished it after three more efficient outs having thrown 56. Entering the night, the Blue Jays would’ve been delighted to get 12 outs from their not-stretched-out swingman. Stripling went and gave them 15, averaging 3.73 pitches per out.

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And the Blue Jays won, 8-0. Offence came by way of big swings from Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Santiago Espinal, who all went deep. The Blue Jays probably still win this game even if Stripling merely pitched to sixth-starter expectations. But he blew those out of the water, allowing that Taylor single and nothing more over his five frames.

And he did it in typical fashion. Tunnelling, changing eye levels, speeding bats up, slowing them down. Mixing and matching, working all over the zone, moving off barrels. Sequencing creatively as he used all five of his pitches to both sides of the platoon and generated at least one out with each of them.

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Stripling’s kitchen-sink approach makes him an uncomfortable plate appearance even for the game’s most prepared hitters. So far this season, he’s thrown his four-seamer only 35 per cent of the time, usage that sticks out as light even in 2022 when pitchers league-wide are throwing fastballs at a record-low 55 per cent rate.

He’ll vary his looks with sliders to right-handed hitters, changeups to lefties, and curveballs to both. Plus, a new 90-m.p.h. sinker he designed over the off-season and began throwing in games this spring. Oh, and we lied — he’s throwing his changeup more often to right-handers this season, too. He’s actually throwing it much more often in general, using it as his go-to secondary offering, if he even has such a thing.

Just not on the first pitch of a plate appearance to right-handers. Those guys have a nearly even chance of seeing a four-seamer, slider, or curveball. Similar story when Stripling gets to two strikes, only it’s an even mix of four-seamers, sliders, and changeups. Left-handers definitely have to think about the changeup when Stripling’s ahead. But that hasn’t stopped him from throwing it more than half the time in 1-1 and 2-2 counts. Or from using his four-seamer more than a quarter of the time in two-strike counts. And most of the time in 3-2 counts. He’s liable to flip up a slider in those spots, too. Or the new sinker as a surprise pitch.

See, it’s a lot. Unpredictability is the key. Constantly varying sequencing and patterns to stay a step ahead of hitters who have more data and video at their disposal than ever before. You’ve got to do that stuff when your heater sits 92. And you’ve got to locate. Stripling throws each of his curveball, sinker, four-seamer, and slider in the zone more than half the time — in that order. If you’re an opponent preparing a scouting report against Stripling, it’s tough to know where to begin.

“His ability to command the baseball, show hitters different looks, and even just put stuff on paper for other teams to think about, is really important,” says Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann. “Hitters have to be aware of all of his pitches. Because he can throw all of them where he wants to. Hitters can’t really sit on anything. They can’t eliminate pitches from his repertoire.”

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The only pitch Stripling’s not throwing consistently for strikes is his changeup — but why would he? He’s earned a 34-per-cent whiff rate with it this season, and 14 per cent when he throws it outside the zone. That’s the 13th best out-of-zone whiff rate among the 188 MLB pitchers to throw at least 50 changeups this year. And when hitters do put it in play, it’s typically for an out, as they’re batting .182 with a .295 slugging percentage against the pitch.

That increased changeup usage is a particularly interesting development for Stripling, who’s always thrown it plenty, but never this much. In the past, Stripling’s typically tried to tunnel curveballs off of fastballs, which makes sense as the spin on the two pitches mirrors one another. But this season he’s primarily using his changeup off his heater, keeping the curveball in his back pocket for when he needs it as a strike-earning weapon, like when he’s trying to get back into a count or surprise a hitter first-pitch. His changeup usage has increased to 25.5 per cent entering Monday, the highest rate of his career.

“It was pretty effective last year, too. He just trusts it and he locates it well. He’s not scared to throw it to any hitter in any count,” Buschmann says. “And there’s some deception there between how he throws his heater and how he throws his changeup. There’s good speed change, he sells it well, and he locates it really well. It looks like another heater but then it isn’t. So, for both lefties and righties, it just gives him that weapon arm-side.”

As he continues seeking ways to expand the offerings he can throw in different spots — to deepen the kitchen sink — Stripling’s been purposefully working on using his changeup more often to right-handers. The process began last season and Stripling felt like he unlocked something during an early-August start against Cleveland, when he struck out six over a half-dozen scoreless innings, using his changeup nearly a quarter of the time.

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The pitch doesn’t move an exceptional amount when compared to other big-league changeups, but it doesn’t have to. It just has to move differently than his other pitches, particularly his slider, which cuts away from right-handed hitters. So, from the catcher’s perspective, you’ve now got a four-seamer that stays up, a curveball that breaks down, a changeup fading left, a slider shooting right, and a just-because sinker that goes a little down and a little left.

They’re all different speeds, which complicates timing; they’re thrown to different quadrants of the zone, which complicates vision; they’re all used in different counts, which complicates prediction. That’s how Stripling gets away with his less-than-premium stuff and the inevitable mistakes he’ll make with it. He can miss his location, he can leave one over the plate like that slider to Perez, and still have a decent chance of avoiding a barrel because hitters have so many different things to consider.

“When you’re as smart as he is,” Buschmann says, “having a bunch of weapons and understanding how to attack hitters with them in different ways is a pretty valuable thing.”

There’s always room in the game for craft and resourcefulness. And there’s always room on big-league rosters for guys who can oscillate between starting and relief with ease. Who can take five turns in the rotation, throw bulk outings from the bullpen, parachute in for an emergency save with zero margin for error, and then return to the rotation again.

That’s Stripling’s gift. And for all the times that flexibility has led to him giving up a rotation spot to a less versatile pitcher with poorer results, it can be his curse. But as long as he’s willing to continue adapting, finding new ways to get hitters out, and buying in to his unique role as wholeheartedly as he has, Stripling ought to be doing this for a very long time. And not a lot of guys can say they did that.

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Three Stars from Day 3 of WJC: Canada’s McTavish joins elite company – Sportsnet.ca

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Canada and the U.S. dominated in their second game of the tournament while Czechia and Finland went toe-to-toe and needed a shootout to determine a winner on Day 3 of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

The Canadian team rebounded from a sluggish performance with an 11-1 win over Slovakia, a game in which captain Mason McTavish added his name to the country’s record books.

Against Switzerland, the United States took their game to another gear that their opponent could not match as they cruised to a 7-1 victory to improve to 2-0 at the tournament.

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Finland dropped a crucial point as they had to overcome a 2-0 deficit but were able to pick up the shootout win over their rival Czechia.

Here is a look at the top performances from Day 3 of the world juniors.

3rd Star: Luke Hughes, USA

Coming from a great hockey family, Luke Hughes is making most of his opportunity as one of the top defencemen for the U.S. 

The younger brother of Quinn and Jack displayed his mobility and vision against Switzerland with a three-point effort. He now has five points in his first two games of the tournament — more than either of his brothers ever achieved at this event in fewer games.

Hughes leads all defenceman in scoring so far in the tournament and is tied for fourth overall.

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The 18-year-old played 21:18 against the Swiss to lead the U.S. in ice time playing on the top pairing with Brock Faber. His play from this point will be a crucial part of his team’s success given the creativity he displayed, especially on Matt Coronato’s goal in the second period.

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He made another top-notch set up on Thomas Bordeleau’s power-play goal in the third period as he delayed enough to get the defenders to pull towards his side of the ice.

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2nd Star: Carter Mazur, USA

Coming into the tournament, Carter Mazur is looking to build off an impressive season at the University of Denver. 

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While he was in a scoring slump in his first NCAA season, the Detroit Red Wings prospect made a call to his NHL team’s assistant director of player development, Daniel Cleary. After that, he would go on to finish with 14 goals and 38 points in 41 games.

Those tips have now turned Mazur into a scoring machine as he accounted for two of the team’s seven goals and was also named the player of the game as the top line of Mazur, Landon Slaggert, and Thomas Bordeleau had an impressive performance against Switzerland

After a scoreless first period, Mazur wasn’t going to make any mistake on a point-blank chance in front of the net with Mackie Samoskevich making a great pass from behind the net.

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With the Americans looking to add to their lead, Mazur was once again the beneficiary of a great pass from Slaggert as he made no mistake from the front of the net.

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He added another assist on Slaggert’s goal later in the period for his third point of the game. Through his first two games at the world juniors, Mazur has four points and is tied for sixth in scoring.

1st Star: Mason McTavish, Canada

On a night where Canada dominated from start to finish, Mason McTavish joined some elite company with a night he’ll certainly remember for a long time.

The 19-year-old joined Mario Lemieux, Simon Gagné, Brayden Schenn, Taylor Raddysh, Maxime Comtois and teammate Connor Bedard as the only players to score four goals in a single world junior game for Canada. The tournament record for goals in a single game is held by Sweden’s Ola Rosander who had six back in 1987.

With his performance against Slovakia in a dominant win for Canada, McTavish now sits atop the scoring lead with eight points in two games after registering six points in this game.

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McTavish scored his first goal of the game on a breakaway — with Canada already leading 5-0 midway through the second — making no mistake to beat Tomas Bolo, who came into the game after starter Simon Latkoczy was pulled going into the second period.

His second goal came off a great play by Joshua Roy who flipped the puck in the air to Brennan Othmann who then set up McTavish as he finished with a backhander to put Canada up 7-1. McTavish would complete the second-period hat trick, a day after Alexander Blank did the same for Germany, after a selfless pass from Roy on a 2-on-0 break.

Canada would capitalize on a turnover on McTavish’s fourth goal as Othmann set him up alone in front of the net and he made no mistake.

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There was some doubt about whether McTavish would suit up for Canada after playing a fair amount of hockey last season. Making his NHL debut with the Anaheim Ducks, the third overall pick from the 2021 NHL Draft played in a total of 72 games between the NHL, AHL, OHL, Memorial Cup and the Olympics.

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Instead, McTavish decided to join the team in Edmonton and take on the role as captain where he has excelled centring Canada’s top line with Bedard and and a rotation of Roy and Othmann.

Canada will now look forward to a matchup against Czechia with a chance to improve to 3-0.

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Field of Dreams Game 2022: A celebration of baseball memories in an Iowa cornfield

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The Field of Dreams is an opportunity for fans and players alike to reflect on the people and places that taught them to love baseball, Jake Mintz writes.



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Ravens extend NFL record for consecutive postseason wins following Thursday’s victory over the Titans

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USA Today

The No. 21 is now synonymous with the longest winning streaks in NFL regular and preseason history. the 2003-04 Patriots won 21 consecutive games, an NFL record. On Thursday night, the Ravens won their 21st consecutive preseason game after securing a 23-10 decision against the Tennessee Titans

Baltimore has not lost a preseason game since 2016. Joe Flacco was their starting quarterback when the streak began, while Steve Smith Jr., who this past year was eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time, was heading into his final NFL season. Baltimore’s roster also included Terrell Suggs, who was entering his second-to-last season with the franchise. 

Along with not losing preseason games, another constant in Baltimore over the past six years has been kicker Justin Tucker, who is entering his 11th season with the Ravens. Tucker’s field goals of 47, 25 and 47 yards on Thursday night helped Baltimore pull out the win after falling behind midway through the second quarter. 

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The Ravens won Thursday’s game by winning the turnover margin while holding the Titans to 1 of 3 red zone efficiency. One of those turnovers was scooped up by Kyle Hamilton, the Ravens’ first-round pick in this past year’s draft. 

Baltimore won despite the efforts of Malik Willis, the Titans’ rookie quarterback who overcame a slow start to score his first NFL touchdown, a 7-yard run early in the second quarter. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Ravens received a strong night from Tyler Huntley, who completed all but two of his 18 pass attempts that included his game-winning touchdown pass to Shemar Bridges



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