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How Kirby Yates fits into Toronto Blue Jays' bullpen picture – TSN

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TORONTO — For the first time in six years, the Toronto Blue Jays will head into spring training without a set-in-stone closer.

Back in 2015, it was a 20-year-old Roberto Osuna emerging out of the low minors to claim the role, before he was rightly jettisoned the heck out of Toronto in July of 2018 in exchange for Ken Giles, who held the role to start each of that last two seasons.

This spring, with Giles out for the year and still sitting on the free-agent market, there’s going to be a lot of talk surrounding the ninth-inning role and a lot of eyes watching for a potential bounceback for Kirby Yates and a potential full-season breakout for Jordan Romano.

As of today, it’s Yates, Romano and Rafael Dolis as the clear high-leverage choices for manager Charlie Montoyo, with the front office also on the hunt for another arm to add to that mix, potentially left-hander Brad Hand.

If this were 10 years ago, Yates would have already been named the closer.

But bullpens don’t work the same way anymore and the Jays are one of the teams interested in — but not married to — keeping their roles fluid, a la the creative Tampa Bay Rays.

That doesn’t mean one pitcher won’t end up with the majority of the saves, it just means matchups, rest and a host of other factors will dictate the usage on most nights.

It’s the way things should be done, too.

The ninth inning isn’t always the turning point and doesn’t always have the most important outs, but relievers are also historically creatures of habit and some prefer set roles and knowing exactly how they’re going to be used.

Even though a wonky right elbow and subsequent surgery to remove bone chips in August resulted in a lost season for the soon-to-be 34-year-old Yates, his 2019 season was the reason he was such a coveted reclamation project on the free-agent market.

It only took a $5.5 million base salary to land him, but he could earn up to $4.5 million in additional incentives.

If he looks anything like two years ago when he closed out 41 games for the San Diego Padres with a dominant splitter leading to a 1.19 ERA across 60 appearances, he’ll be worth every penny and will likely end up with the majority of the saves.

“I think I need to first prove I’m healthy, and then I need to prove I’m still myself and capable of doing it,” Yates said. “I think if I can go out there and do those two things, I think I have a good opportunity of being able to get that ninth inning. But it is what it is. I’ll take any role I can get, as long as I can go out there and pitch and do my job and help us win. If I’m pitching in the eighth inning and there’s somebody better for the ninth inning, that’s totally fine. If I’m locked in and doing my stuff, that means the guy that’s getting that ball in the ninth inning is going to be pretty good and that’s all you want in the ninth inning.”

It’s impossible to know if Yates can get back to that level until he’s on a mound facing hitters in camp, but the fact he never relied on huge velocity is encouraging if he can simply find the feel for his splitter again.

Calling it one of the best pitches in baseball when it’s working is not a stretch.

The problem with relievers is they come and go and you just never really know.

Yates went from being claimed off waivers twice in seven months in 2016/17 to being the best closer in baseball two years later.

“I think it was about halfway through 2017,” Yates said of when he found the feel for the splitter, a pitch that was still fairly new at the time. “I had thrown it enough in a big-league game and faced enough good big-league hitters to where I felt every time I threw a good one, it worked. It was just about being able to throw those good ones more consistently. The more I threw it, the better it got.”

Health and finding that pitch again are the two obvious keys for Yates in 2021.

A season like 2019 would have him primed to re-enter the free-agent market next winter as one of the top options.

“I think when I’m healthy I can go out there and attack hitters and kind of dictate at-bats,” Yates said. “I think that’s one of those things that I’ve gotten pretty good at the last few years. I think I’m getting smarter as a pitcher as I get older and needing that opportunity to apply that on an every night basis is very important to me and especially being able to re-establish myself and prove myself.

“I’ll find out everything once I get to spring training and face hitters and I get to really judge where I’m at. As far as right now, I feel really good.”

For Montoyo, the perfect bullpen scenario likely involves some combination of Dolis and Yates residing in the eighth and ninth innings, with Romano being used as the fire extinguisher — the arm called upon to put out hot-spots in key situations — if he looks anything like he did before last year’s freak finger injury.

But it’s worth repeating: You really just never know with relievers from year to year.

Like Dolis’ emergence last year on an under-the-radar free-agent deal, Tyler Chatwood, who signed a one-year contract for $3 million this week, could also play a role if he takes to the shift to the bullpen after being a starter for the majority of his career.

Then there’s lefty Ryan Borucki and potentially Julian Merryweather, who looks like a future closer type if the Jays can’t successfully turn him into a starter.

Add in another free-agent arm like Hand, Jake McGee or Trevor Rosenthal and it’s suddenly a formidable group of high-leverage options on paper.

In the end, performance usually sorts out the pecking order.

“It’s just about communication and understanding what your job is that night,” Yates said about today’s role-less bullpen usage. “Whether it’s going to be the seventh, eighth or ninth, I think I’ve done it all where I know how to prepare for it.

“The more guys you can rely on, the better because that takes the load off everybody else and it kind of makes it easier for everybody to settle down into roles and kind of understand what situation they’re going to pitch in. I think when you can do that, it’s easier for guys to prepare and kind of understand what their role is and how to go out there and get their job done.”

As for what led Yates to pick the Blue Jays over a number of other suitors, it was the young core and the front office’s pitch.

A few hours later after Yates agreed to terms, they made the big splash late Tuesday night. 

“When you sign a guy like George Springer, it’s like, boom, OK perfect, this is awesome,” Yates smiled. “It’s just exciting to be a part of that, a team that’s trying to push really hard to go to the next level.”​

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Oilers’ depth to be tested again with McDavid, Draisaitl reunited – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — As the Ottawa Senators arrive in Northern Alberta in hopes of solving an opponent who is 4-0 against them this season, a special surprise awaits the North’s last place team: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the same line.

Welcome to Edmonton!

Since moving on to separate lines last season, reuniting the Oilers’ two superstars has been a tactical last resort for Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. Like on Saturday, when his team needed a spark against Calgary he re-jigged his lines mid-game, and McDavid and/or Draisaitl were in on all three goals in a 3-2 Oilers win over Calgary.

So he’ll stick with that unit tonight — with Kailer Yamamoto on the right wing — while building a second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between Tyler Ennis and Jesse Puljujarvi. It’s a relatively new look that will test Edmonton’s support scoring.

“It puts pressure on that depth to contribute. We haven’t tried it to this point,” Tippett said. “We know that Connor and Leon are going to drive some offence, but to be a good team we have to have that throughout our lineup. Not just chipping in, but we need consistency.”

On one hand, with last change against an Ottawa team with a young defence corps — and likely giving rookie Joey Daccord only his second NHL start in goal — putting No. 97 and 29 together might give you all the offence you need from one line. As a backup, it’s fair to expect the Oilers’ other three lines to win their matchups against an Ottawa team that has given up the most goals per game (3.89) in the NHL this season.

“It’s fun to watch for us (players) too, watching them out there together. They elevate each other,” said Ennis of the Oilers’ two top players. “For us, it’s important that we contribute. We’re going to have to — they can’t play the whole game. Our depth becomes even more important.”

Here’s a look at the lineups tonight, after an optional morning skate for the Oilers and nothing for Ottawa, which won 4-3 in a shootout in Calgary Sunday night.

Oilers Lines

Dominik Kahun is out of this lineup, Mikko Koskinen gets the start, and after a decent outing against Calgary, Tippett is going back to a D-pairing of Ethen Bear and Caleb Jones. He’s trying to help them both find their games — neither player has been as good this season as they were last.

“If they can get their game together it just makes us a lot better back there,” Tippett said.

Forwards

Draisaitl, McDavid, Yamamoto

Ennis, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi

Shore, Khaira, Turris

Neal, Haas, Chiasson

Defence

Nurse, Barrie

Russell, Larsson

Jones, Bear

Goaltender

Koskinen

As for the Sens, they’re looking for a way to beat an Oilers team that defeated them four times in a 10-day span from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9. After two more decisive wins in Edmonton (8-5, 4-2), the teams played two competitive games in Ottawa, where the Oilers prevailed 3-1 and 3-2.

Matt Murray played Sunday in Calgary, so we expect Daccord to go tonight. It is believed that Christian Wolanin could be in for Erik Brannstrom on defence.

Forwards

Tkachuk, Tierney, C. Brown

Paul, White, Dadonov

Stützle, Norris, Batherson

Dzingel, Anisimov, Watson

Defence

Chabot, Zaitsev

Reilly, Zub

Wolanin, Gudbranson

Goaltender

Daccord

Centre of Attention

With Nugent-Hopkins moving back to centre, one of the issues Edmonton could have on its second lines is faceoffs. This season, the trio of Nugent-Hopkins (37.5%), Ennis (75% on just four draws) and Puljujarvi (0-for-2 all season) has had little success or experience in the circle.

Nugent-Hopkins has evolved into a nice second-line centre or left-winger, but his career 44.3% faceoff percentage has been an issue through 10 NHL seasons. He’s taking the line swap in stride, a chilled veteran who can play wherever the coach asks him to.

“I don’t think we’ve thought about it as much as you (media) guys,” he said after the fourth question on the new lines. “Nobody is going to be gripping their sticks too tight, or thinking ‘We have to score now because (McDavid and Draisaitl) are playing together.’

“We want to have secondary scoring, no matter who’s playing with who. The good teams in the league, they get scoring from every line.”

Tippett built the unit with the right components to provide some offence, he figures.

While Nugent-Hopkins and Ennis are both adept at making “good plays in tight places,” Tippett said, “Puljujarvi is probably our best forward at creating loose pucks and getting to the front of the net. (He is) a big guy whose work ethic has been very good for us.

“When you put a line together you’re looking for some chemistry, some symmetry between the three. On paper it looks like it should be effective, but you’ve got to get in games to see where it goes.”

The game begins a run of 12 contests in 21 days for Edmonton. Put another way, that’s three straight four-game weeks.

Buckle up.

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NBA All-Star Takeways: Curry, Lillard cook competition with long threes – Sportsnet.ca

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The 2021 NBA All-Star game has come to a close and despite playing in the midst of a global pandemic, the event went ahead mostly without complication.

Cramming the usual weekend’s worth of events into one Sunday extravaganza made for a longer day than usual, but it was still as entertaining as a generally uncompetitive basketball game with the world’s best players is going to get.

Given the fact this was an All-Star Game played while COVID-19 is still very much a large part of all of our lives, here’s a look at 19 things that we felt were pretty cool from the NBA’s truncated all-star celebration.

No Embiid and Simmons

As mentioned off the top, the All-Star Game went by mostly without complication, meaning that there was still some complication.

Case in point, just hours before the festivities were set to begin on Sunday it was revealed that Philadelphia 76ers all-stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons weren’t going to be able to participate anymore because contact tracing revealed they had been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 — reportedly their barber.

So, with there being so little time the NBA did the responsible thing and held the two out of the game. A grim reminder before the all-star festivities started that this was still an event that, perhaps, shouldn’t even have played in the first place.

Zion makes some history

There was some good to come about the two Sixers stars missing the event, however.

New Orleans Pelicans super sophomore Zion Williamson got to start in his first-ever All-Star Game, taking Embiid’s place, becoming the fourth-youngest player to do so behind such names as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Magic Johnson. Not bad company.

Williamson finished in the game with 10 points and threw down a few nice slams in the game, but will likely be remembered for his unfortunate blown dunk attempts.

What was James Harden wearing?

Seriously, what is this? An indoor raincoat?

Covington’s all-star moment

A big part of the all-star proceedings was the celebration of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which is why Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington’s inclusion in the all-star events was so cool.

Covington is a proud alumnus of HBCU Tennessee State University and got to show some of his Tiger pride, representing his alma mater in the Skills Challenge.

He was eliminated in the first round, but that’s unimportant compared to the great surprise he gave to two current Tennessee State students before the event started.

Why can’t guards win the Skills Challenge anymore?

Indiana Pacers all-star Domantas Sabonis won the Skills Challenge, beating out fellow big man Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic.

With his victory, Sabonis became the fifth forward to win this particular event in six years. The last guard to win it was Spencer Dinwiddie in 2018.

Sure, bigs are more skilled than ever before, but surely a competition about dribbling fast, passing and shooting should favour the guards, no?

Mike Conley is an NBA All-Star… and a damn good shooter, too

Though it came after unfortunate circumstances forced Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker to miss the All-Star Game with a knee injury, Mike Conley — his injury replacement — was finally named to the team in his 14th NBA season.

Conley was quiet in the game proper, but that doesn’t matter because his impact was felt beforehand in the three-point contest.

Brought in as Booker’s replacement in that event too, Conley more than held his own as he pushed eventual winner Steph Curry in both rounds.

Chef Curry cooked the competition in the three-point contest

Stephen Curry is an inhuman shooter.

It’s a privilege to watch him do what he does.

Needed more Common

The HBCU marching bands in the player introductions were cool, but the meme-worthy intros from Common from a year ago were missed, particularly because he was still part of the presentation anyway.

The anthems were both fantastic

Shoutouts to Mississauga, Ont.’s Alessia Cara and the incomparable Gladys Knight for two tremendous renditions of O Canada and the Star-Spangled Banner.

Chef Curry cooked in the actual game itself

Curry had his fingerprints all over the game as he finished with 28 points, going 8-for-16 from deep, including a couple of truly outrageous triples that helped set the tone of the game for Team LeBron in the first quarter.

Schoolyard tip-off

Moments like seeing Conley and Chris Paul tip-off the second quarter is what makes All-Star Games great.

More Curry? More Curry!

In case you hadn’t noticed, there was a bit of a trend with this year’s game and Curry being involved in a lot of the game’s best moments like this ridiculous shot he hit in the second quarter.

Bet you forgot these guys could dunk, huh?

A reminder for you that all NBA players are freakishly athletic compared to any other normal human being: Seeing Curry and Paul get up for alley-oops.

Steph vs. Dame, Part 1

The two best long-range shooters in NBA history on the same team deciding to go shot for shot at the end of the first half was truly a sight to behold.

Cassius Stanley was robbed!

Halftime of the All-Star Game saw a shorter dunk contest with Indiana Pacers G-Leaguer Cassius Stanley, New York Knicks rookie Obi Toppin and Portland Trail Blazers youngster Anfernee Simons making up the three-man field.

The dunk contest was actually pretty good as all these guys have serious bounce, but Stanley was robbed blind with his opening dunk only getting a 44 as it was probably the best dunk of the night.

In the end, though, Simons won thanks to his consistency and his gravity-defying bounce that notably saw him nearly kiss the rim on his final attempt, in addition to paying homage to the great Tracy McGrady.

And just one last note on the dunk contest, this dunk from Toppin — doing a windmill over his teammate Julius Randle and his dad — was cool as hell!

Giannis takes over in the third quarter

Because of Curry’s fireworks in the first half the outrageous performance from his Team LeBron teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo sort of went under the radar.

Antetokounmpo finished the first half with 24 points on perfect 9-for-9 shooting, firmly putting himself in the MVP discussion.

Then the third quarter hit and he won the award for himself right then and there as he went 5-for-5 from the field for 11 more points, including this insane heat-check three.

Antetokounmpo finished a perfect 16-for-16 in the game for 35 points and was able to easily add an All-Star Game MVP trophy to the two league MVP awards that he has in his trophy case.

Steph vs. Dame, Part 2

Unlike last year’s Elam Ending in the fourth, the lead Team LeBron built was simply too much, leaving a lot of wiggle room for those guys to try to close it out.

Case in point with Team LeBron just three points away from hitting the target score of 170, Curry tried to end it from half court, but missed, setting the stage for some patented Damian Lillard Dame Time.

Team LeBron completely dominant

Though there were some bright spots to be seen from Team Durant, Sunday’s game was all about Team LeBron, who won every single quarter and ended up raising $750,000 for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund from their play on the court in the game, alone.

As Antetokounmpo said before the game, “It’s over guys. Me, LeBron, Luka, Jokic and Steph? Man, that’s a good starting five.”

LeBron is a really good all-star GM

LeBron James has had the honour of being a captain every year since the All-Star Game went to a captain pick-em format and he’s made the most of it.

Team LeBron is now 4-0 in All-Star Games.

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Monday Finish: Bryson DeChambeau wins with two legends on his mind – pgatour.com

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The crowd loved it as Bryson DeChambeau ascended to pole position in the FedExCup with his eighth PGA TOUR victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.

DeChambeau’s soaring drives at the sixth hole maxed out at 377 yards Sunday and brought howls of delight as he turned the par 5 into a par 4 at most. And after he’d made a testy five-footer to secure a final-round 71, edging Lee Westwood (73) by one, he flexed and screamed.

Not lost amid all the fireworks, though, was that DeChambeau also won in large part due to his work on the greens, namely by making his two longest putts of the week. First came his birdie from just over 37 feet at the fourth hole, which seemed tame by comparison to the nearly 50-foot bomb he would make to save par at the 11th hole. He joins just four other players to make multiple putts from over 35 feet in the final round en route to victory in the ShotLink era:

• Vijay Singh (three such putts), 2008 Dell Technologies Championship
• Ben Crane (two), 2010 Farmers Insurance Open
• Tiger Woods (two), 2008 Farmers Insurance Open
• Craig Stadler (two), 2003 B.C. Open

After his U.S. Open victory last fall, DeChambeau – the first American winner at Bay Hill since Matt Every in 2015 – becomes the first multiple winner of the 2020-21 TOUR season.

Here are five other stories you may have missed:

1. DeChambeau remembers those who paved the way.

The champion had some legends in his corner on Sunday.

For one, he always has revered the tournament’s namesake, who was kind enough to extend an invitation to DeChambeau to compete at Bay Hill when DeChambeau was still an amateur. As the 2015 U.S. Amateur champion (Palmer was a U.S. Amateur champion 61 years earlier), DeChambeau played the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for 27th, his week highlighted by a closing 66. For a young kid dreaming of one day playing the TOUR, it was a significant week.

If the first player who comes to mind at Bay Hill is Palmer, then the second would be Tiger Woods, an eight-time winner there. Sunday before his round, DeChambeau received a text from Woods, who was injured in a single-car accident in Los Angeles on Feb. 23. 

“Well, it was obviously personal, I would say, for the most part, but pretty much to sum it up … he texted me this morning out of the blue and I wasn’t expecting anything,” DeChambeau said. “When I got that text, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing that he is thinking of me when he’s in his tough times that he’s going through right now.’ So I just texted him. I said, ‘Keep moving forward, keep going forward. You’re going to get through it. You’re the hardest working person I’ve ever met and you’ll persevere through this pretty much.’

“One of the things that we talked about was, it’s not about how many times you get kicked to the curb or knocked down. It’s about how many times you can get back up and keep moving forward. And I think this (champion’s) red cardigan is not only for Mr. Palmer, but I would say it’s a little bit for Tiger as well, knowing what place he’s in right now.”

Read more about Dechambeau’s meaningful victory here.

2. Westwood hangs tough.

Although he didn’t win, ultimately collecting his seventh runner-up finish on TOUR, Lee Westwood made hard-working pars on 17 and 18 to at least make DeChambeau earn it. That included Westwood’s gritty 4 from a divot in the middle of the fairway at the last.

The only hiccup: His failure to birdie the short, par-5 16th hole after splitting the fairway.

“Yeah, I mean I’m not short myself,” Westwood said. “I think I hit it about 350 yards down 16. I only went in with wedge into that par-5.” Yet with DeChambeau up against the lip of a fairway bunker, Westwood missed the green and couldn’t get up and down, walking off with a par.

Still, the veteran from England wasn’t hanging his head at the end of a very, very hard day.  

“You can’t want for more than that,” he said. “I thought we had a really good battle, we were never, it was never really more than one in it all day and there were tough conditions out there and it wasn’t going to be a day where – I don’t think anybody was going to shoot 68 or 67.

“It was a day for playing sensible and hanging on and grinding out the pars.”

3. Spieth pleased with T4 finish.

Although he didn’t make anything on the greens Sunday, Jordan Spieth (75, T4, five back) had a great first start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It started with a tour of Palmer’s office and ended with his third top-five finish in his last four starts. This one, Spieth said, was his best effort yet in his comeback (T3/AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am; T4/Waste Management Phoenix Open).

“I thought I played better today than I did any of those Sundays,” said Spieth, whose streak of 389 holes without a double bogey or worse marks his longest on TOUR. “At the beginning of the day if you told me I was going to be even through 10 and be in – hit driver in the middle of the fairway on 11 and on 12 – I would have thought I was going to win the golf tournament.”

Spieth has climbed from 92nd to 52nd in the world this year, and his finish at Bay Hill pushed him up to 43rd (from 59th) in the FedExCup standings. The 2015 FedExCup champion continues to inch ever closer to the form that saw him reach No. 1 in the world.  

“Again, I put the ball exactly where I wanted to on just about every single shot and putt,” he said, “and it came out to 75 somehow. But that’s not going to happen every time; if I do, if I play the way I did today. It’s going to be really good going forward.”

Learn more about Spieth’s memorable first trip to Bay Hill here.

4. McIlroy buoyed by fans’ return.

Rory McIlroy, who will be defending his 2019 title at THE PLAYERS Championship this week, went into the final round just four back but struggled with a 4-over 76 (T10). Although he was one of many who struggled, he had trouble accepting the lackluster final result.

“I don’t know,” McIlroy said. “I need something, I need a spark, I need something, and I just don’t seem to have it. Some days it’s good, some days it’s not.”

One thing he did feel optimistic about: The return of on-site fans.

“I’ve missed this a lot,” he said. “Even though it’s only, whatever, 25 percent capacity this week, it feels so much more than that and it’s great to play in front of that. I’m looking forward to doing it again next week. I think that it is, I think we’re all sort of now seeing a light at the end of the tunnel where things can at least get back to some sort of normality pretty soon.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year,” he continued. “It’s going to be surreal looking back in 20 years’ time and sort of seeing what we lived through.”

5. Corey Conners’ wild finish.

The good news for Canada’s Corey Conners was that he eagled the par-5 16th hole to get within one of the lead. The bad news is he bogeyed 17 and 18 to shoot 74 and finish 8 under, three back.

Still, the solo third was his best result of the season.

“Yeah, it was a challenge,” Conners said of a day in which the field averaged 75.486. “Definitely a battle out there. I made some nice saves at the start of the round, just didn’t get the putts to fall today, the greens were rolling really fast, ball seemed to never stop.

“So it was very challenging,” Conners continued. “Gave myself a shot, made a really great eagle on 16 that felt pretty good, and bogeyed the last two holes, wasn’t great. But really challenging golf holes. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.” (There were no bogey-free rounds.)

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