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After injuries strike Blue Jays camp, new set of questions emerges –



TORONTO – One day after a series of injuries created some unwelcome questions for the Toronto Blue Jays, a different kind of challenge awaited team decision makers.

At this point, there’s little to be done about Kirby Yates, who will likely miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery. But injuries to George Springer (oblique strain) and Robbie Ray (bruised elbow) must be managed carefully in the eight days remaining before the season opener and there appears to be genuine interest in pursuing outside help, too.

On the field, the Blue Jays beat the Yankees 5-0 in a game started by Trent Thornton Wednesday. But behind the scenes, bigger questions loom for the team that spent more on free agents than any of its rivals over the winter. To answer them, coaches and club executives will spend the next week gathering information on various fronts.

Once the Blue Jays have answers to the questions below, their path forward will become much clearer.

Will Springer be ready for the opener?

First up for Springer: a few days of rest. Best-case scenario, that helps and he’s ready to go for opening day.

If not, though, the Blue Jays have a couple of options. One: roster Springer but ease him into action with a start at DH and an early day off. Or two: place him on the injured list.

It’s far from ideal, and certainly not what anyone envisioned when Springer landed the largest contract in franchise history, but that six-year, $150-million deal makes the 31-year-old a core player for this franchise. Pushing him to his physical limits in March of the first year of the deal isn’t exactly ideal, either.

If the Blue Jays were to open the season with Springer on the IL, he’d be able to come back after just six games. Teams can backdate 10-day IL stints to March 29 and the Blue Jays have an early-season off day, so Springer could be eligible as soon as the third series of the season if needed.

In that scenario, they’d have a more-than-capable starting outfield of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez and might carry an additional outfielder like Jonathan Davis for depth. Alternatively, Breyvic Valera or Josh Palacios could get looks for that outfield role, but it all comes down to how Springer progresses.

Will Ray be ready for the first week?

If Ray progresses as expected, he’ll be part of the Blue Jays’ season-opening rotation. If not, manager Charlie Montoyo could ask Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch or Thornton to make a start, but of course that has a chance to impact the team’s big-league bullpen and minor-league depth.

Asked Wednesday whether he’d rather pitch out of the MLB bullpen or stretch out for a potential starting role without the benefit of a big-league roster spot, Thornton was clear.

“I want to pitch in the big-leagues,” he said. “Without a doubt. No hesitation. Whatever the team needs, I just want to help the team win. Obviously, I’d love to be a starter, but I just want to pitch in the big leagues. It finally feels so good to get back out on the mound and compete, feel that adrenaline. So yeah, it’s pretty easy to answer.”

As the Blue Jays build their pitching staff, they’ll need capable big-league arms to help them through an early season stretch of 16 consecutive games. That likely means a nine-man bullpen at times. But some of those pitchers will have to be stretched out to ensure a layer of starting depth exists behind the big-league rotation.

What’s out there in trades?

Even before the injuries to Yates, Nate Pearson and Thomas Hatch, the Blue Jays’ pitching staff could have benefitted from addition depth. Now, that need is more pronounced and the Blue Jays will explore ways of raising the floor and ceiling of their pitching staff, according to GM Ross Atkins.

“(We) need to factor this in and consider if we need to be more aggressive as it relates to acquisitions before the trade deadline,” Atkins said Tuesday. “We’ve been working on that. We’ll revisit that in a more assertive way.”

Many veteran pitchers have contract outs this time of year, and out-of-options players can be available in trades. Regardless of where it comes from, there’s certainly a need for reinforcements.

In the meantime, there’s opportunity for the likes of Anthony Castro, who pitched another scoreless inning Wednesday while improving his Grapefruit League strikeout to walk ratio to 13:1.

“He’s in the conversation,” Montoyo said. “He’s been outstanding.”

How do the Blue Jays manage their 40-man roster?

Lost in the injury news is the question of which catchers are on the Blue Jays roster. If Alejandro Kirk’s strong spring performance has earned him a spot on the team, that means exposing Reese McGuire to waivers. There’s some risk in that, but depending on the answers to the questions above, the Blue Jays may actually need to open multiple 40-man spots.

Here’s how it breaks down. At present, their 40-man is full, but they’ll free up one spot easily when they transfer Yates to the 60-day IL. Yet all of Joe Panik, Francisco Liriano, Tim Mayza and A.J. Cole would require roster spots if added, meaning countermoves would be needed.

Simply put, the more non-roster players the Blue Jays want to carry, the more room they have to make elsewhere.

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Blue Jays optimistic Jose Berrios won’t miss next start after abdominal scare –



Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Jose Berrios is doing much better after leaving Tuesday’s game with an abdominal injury, manager Charlie Montoyo said Wednesday.

After the Blue Jays’ 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the team reported that Berrios left the game due to abdominal tightness on his left side and received post-game treatment.

Berrios threw seven innings of one run ball Tuesday, striking out six and allowing only four hits.

“He’s doing fine,” Montoyo said. “He’s doing a lot better than we thought, which is great news. Actually, you might get to see him playing catch in a little bit to see how he’s doing. He did all the tests. Everything looks good.”

The right-handed pitcher who the Blue Jays acquired at the trade deadline is 11-8 on the season, with a 3.43 ERA in 173.1 innings pitched.

The Blue Jays wrap up their series with the Rays on Wednesday at 3:07 p.m. ET/ 12:07 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN Now.

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France to open Billie Jean King Cup defence against Canada



Reigning champions France will kick off this year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Prague against Canada on Nov. 1, with the final scheduled for Nov. 6, the International Tennis Federation said on Wednesday.

Formerly called the Fed Cup, the women’s team competition featuring 12 nations was originally scheduled to be held in Budapest in April last year before being postponed twice due to the pandemic.

France triumphed in the 2019 edition when a team featuring Kristina Mladenovic, Caroline Garcia and Pauline Parmentier defeated Australia.

This year, Belgium, the 2001 winners, will face 2017 runners-up Belarus on the opening day, while eleven-times winners Czech Republic will play on Nov. 1 and Nov. 4.

The competing nations will each play two group-stage ties to determine the winners of the four three-team groups, who will then progress to the semi-finals. Each tie will consist of two singles matches and a doubles match.

Germany, Spain, Slovakia, Australia, the U.S., Russia and Switzerland will be the other nations competing.


(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)

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Gymnasts Biles, Maroney demand justice in botched FBI sex abuse probe



WASHINGTON (Reuters) –Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney on Wednesday told U.S. lawmakers she feels betrayed by FBI agents, after they failed to investigate former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, despite her telling them he had sexually abused her.

FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate panel that the actions of the agents who botched the investigation are inexcusable, and he announced that one of the agents “no longer works for the bureau in any capacity.”

“I’m deeply and profoundly sorry,” Wray said.

Maroney is one of four athletes, along with Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols, who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it probes the FBI’s mishandling of the investigation.

Maroney recalled how in 2015 she spent three hours on the phone telling the FBI the details of her story that her own mother had not even heard, including accounts of sexual abuse she endured during the Olympic games in London by Nassar, whom she described as “more of a pedophile” than he was a doctor.

It was not until July of this year, however, that she said the Justice Department inspector general revealed in a scathing report  what the FBI actually did with the information she provided: Failing to document it for a year and a half, and misrepresenting what she told them about her experiences.

“Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney said, with anger in her voice.

Wednesday’s hearing comes after the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz in July issued a scathing report which blasted the FBI for botching its investigation in a series of errors that allowed the abuse to continue for months.

Several of the gymnasts said they were furious that the FBI failed to immediately interview them about the abuse after they had reported it. Once the FBI finally did contact them, they said the agents tried to downplay the severity of the abuse.

“I remember sitting with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn’t that bad,” Raisman said.

“It’s taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter.”

Horowitz also appeared on Wednesday along with Wray.

Horowitz said that the now-fired agent who falsified Maroney’s statement “could have actually jeopardized the criminal investigation by providing false information that could have bolstered Nassar’s defense.”

The FBI declined to name the fired agent, but Senator Richard Blumenthal identified him as Michael Langeman.

Langeman served as a supervisory special agent in Indianapolis, where he led a task force that investigated child sexual exploitation, according to an interview he gave to a local podcast in 2018.

Reuters could not immediately reach Langeman for comment.

The FBI’s investigation into Nassar started in July 2015, after USA Gymnastics President and CEO Stephen Penny reported the allegations to the FBI’s Indianapolis field office.

That office, then led by Special Agent in Charge W. Jay Abbott, did not formally open an investigation. The FBI only interviewed one witness months later, in September 2015, and failed to formally document that interview in an official report known as a “302” until February 2017 – well after the FBI had arrested Nassar on charges of possessing sexually explicit images of children in December 2016.

When the interview was finally documented in 2017 by an unnamed supervisory special agent, the report was filled with “materially false information and omitted material information,” Horowitz’s report determined.

Abbott, who retired from the FBI in 2018, also violated the FBI’s conflict of interest policy by discussing a possible job with the U.S. Olympic Committee while he was involved with the Nassar investigation.

As the FBI delayed its probe, Nassar went on to abuse more victims. At one point in Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal asked all four athletes whether they knew of victims who were abused after the July 2015 disclosure to the FBI.

“Yes,” all four of them said.

Neither Abbott nor the other unnamed supervisory special agent who botched the Nassar probe were prosecuted for their actions.

Wray said the case was presented twice for possible prosecution and declined, but he deferred to federal prosecutors to explain their reasoning.

“We have been failed and we deserve answers,” Biles said on Wednesday.

Raisman, meanwhile, expressed frustrations that more has not been done to investigate USA Gymnastics or the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee for covering up Nassar’s abuse for years.

“Why did none of these organizations warn anyone? USAG and USOPC have a long history of enabling abuse by turning a blind eye. Both organizations knew of Nassar’s abuse, long before it became public,” she said.

In a statement, the USOPC said it remains “completely dedicated to the safety and well-being” of its athletes, and it has implemented reforms after hiring a law firm to conduct an independent investigation.

USA Gymnastics did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Nassar has been found guilty in three separate cases, with one of the prison sentences running up to 175 years. Prosecutors have estimated he sexually assaulted hundreds of women and girls.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)

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