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Matz wins rotation battle by default as Blue Jays split doubleheader – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – A couple years ago around this time, someone asked Charlie Montoyo who the Blue Jays’ upcoming starting pitchers were and his response revealed a lot about the state of starting pitching in the organization at that time.

“We honestly don’t know,” he said back in September of 2019. “An opener and a guy.”

Going into Tuesday’s double-header against the Angels, the Blue Jays actually had more viable big-league starters than rotation spots – a welcome and unusual set of circumstances that added a layer of intrigue to the day. With Steven Matz and Ross Stripling both slated to make final bids to remain in the rotation, a competition of sorts was set to play out at Angel Stadium.

By the end of the night, however, the decision had been made for the Blue Jays, proving once again that any apparent pitching surplus tends to resolve itself more quickly than teams would like.

Matz struggled at times in the opener, allowing four runs on six hits over 4.2 innings in a 6-3 loss, but Stripling left the second game after just two innings and 28 pitches due to an oblique strain. While the Blue Jays still managed to split the double-header with a 4-0 win thanks to some strong relief work, the loss of Stripling hurts considering how well he’s pitched over his last dozen starts.

And though the Blue Jays will continue gathering information on Stripling with further tests scheduled this week, his injury makes the immediate decision for them. It’ll now be Matz who continues starting along with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jose Berrios, Robbie Ray and Alek Manoah.

“I don’t want to speculate,” Montoyo said when asked about a timeline for Stripling, “but he’s not going to make his next start, that’s for sure.”

Offensively, it was a quiet day for the Blue Jays, though Marcus Semien continued his productive season with a three-hit game including two doubles in the opener. Teoscar Hernandez contributed two hits and an RBI in each game while Lourdes Gurriel Jr. delivered a well-timed two-run single late in the night-cap.

But the Blue Jays were able to split this double-header thanks to their pitching, rather than their bats. Once Stripling left the game, the relievers in the Blue Jays’ bullpen realized the remaining five innings would be up to them.

“Here we go, strap it on boys,” reliever Adam Cimber recalled saying. “Everybody’s all hands on deck.”

In the end, Cimber and fellow mid-season trade acquisition Trevor Richards each stepped up to pitch two scoreless innings before Jordan Romano recorded the final three outs despite loading the bases. This time, the bullpen picked up a rotation that’s been consistent of late.

“Our starters have been great,” Cimber said afterwards. “We’re anxious to get in there whenever we can and it’s been a fun ride.”

“Our relievers did an outstanding job,” Montoyo added.

Injuries aside, Matz may still have been the leader to remain in the rotation over Stripling with two days off approaching next week and no need for a sixth starter. Before the double-header, Montoyo said Stripling’s familiarity with relief pitching would factor into the club’s thinking.

“It’s going to be a tough decision which means both are pitching good, which is great,” Montoyo said. “But we’ll see. The one thing about Ross is he’s done it before and he’s comfortable there, so that could help in the move, but we’ll see.”

In theory, entering games with runners on base or warming up in short order would likely be more familiar to Stripling, who has 88 career appearances compared to Matz’s five. But with the oblique issue now impacting Stripling, the Blue Jays’ bullpen won’t get that anticipated support either.

For the short-term, it’s another challenge for Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker. With lots of ground to make up in the standings, the 61-51 Blue Jays don’t have much breathing room at this point in the season, so losing a capable arm like Stripling for any duration of time would be a challenge.

Yet it’s also worth reflecting back a couple of years to 2019, when the Blue Jays used Wilmer Font, Derek Law, Daniel Hudson, David Phelps, Neil Ramirez, Ryan Tepera and Buddy Boshers as openers because they lacked big-league quality starting pitchers.

By comparison, the competition playing out now is far preferable – and a reflection of how far the Blue Jays have come in a short period of time.

“It’s huge,” Montoyo said. “We have a chance to win every day. The one thing about an opener is really that means your starter’s not great. He’s good enough, but … you know what I’m saying. You have to make an adjustment. It’s a smart thing that baseball did, but if you have five or six starters you don’t need an opener and that’s what we’ve got going right now.”

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Canada continues to show growth after overcoming adversity against Czechia – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — Teams always say the same thing: At a short tournament, you’re just trying to improve with each game. Well, Canada didn’t just get better in their third contest of the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship, they got downright spectacular.

Kent Johnson authored the signature moment of the event, Mason McTavish is officially on record watch and Jack Thompson quietly collected three assists as Canada overcame its first deficit of the world juniors to defeat Czechia 5-1 on Saturday night at Rogers Place.

Johnson, the lanky Columbus Blue Jackets prospect and former Michigan Wolverine, accomplished a lot with his lacrosse-style goal that has become entrenched in hockey vernacular as ‘The Michigan.’ With one quick stuff of the puck under the bar, Johnson paid homage to his old college, injected real life into a WJC tournament can use every bit of juice it can get and may have also put a dollar or two in his head coach’s pocket.

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“I won the coaches’ poll on who was going to be the first player to do it between him and [McTavish],” Canadian bench boss Dave Cameron said.

Of course, all those things are secondary to the fact that, with precisely 60 seconds to go in the opening frame, Johnson’s outrageous tally provided Canada with a 2-1 lead after it had fallen behind 1-0 by giving up a shorthanded marker to Martin Rysavy just 46 seconds into a five-minute power play. The squad seemed rattled after the shorty, failing to muster much with the man advantage after Jaroslav Chmelar had received the boot for his blindside hit on fellow New York Rangers prospect Brennan Othmann.

And while Canada did manage the get on even terms when McTavish tipped home his first of two goals, Czech goalie Tomas Suchanek was standing on his head and starting to give the sense this could be one of those nights for a Canadian squad that was robbed on a handful of five-star chances.

“Unbelievable,” Othmann said Suchanek’s play early on. “I looked over at [McTavish] and I was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got a game.’

In fact, moments before Johnson’s goal, Suchanek denied him on a one-timer with a positively silly glove save. After the ensuing face-off, though, the puck found its way behind the net, where Johnson swooped in, scooped it up and flung it into the net, sending what was visibly the largest crowd of the tournament into a frenzy.

“It happened pretty quick,” Johnson said. “I think I got a loose puck behind the net and there was no D-man on the right post, so I just went for it.”

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The goal-scorer’s reaction was just as animated as that of his teammates and the fans, not just because he’d scored the type of goal he told Othmann in training camp he wanted to try if the opportunity ever came, but because he finally punched through after being denied by Suchanek and going without a goal in Canada’s first two games.

“I would have been pretty pumped for a goal off my skate, too,” Johnson joked.

The night really marked a leap for Johnson’s entire line, which features him on the left side, Tyson Foerster in the middle and Logan Stankoven on the right flank. The only goal from any of those guys previously came from Stankoven in the form of a power-play marker in Thursday’s 11-1 win over Slovakia. While Canada’s had more than enough offence to get by, there was no doubt this second unit had to find another gear and it did just that — Johnson set up Foerster for a beautiful one-timer to close out the scoring — against the best team Canada has seen so far.

“That was a really good step for us,” Johnson said. “We were all over the puck tonight.”

If the second line’s positive results were a welcomed change, it was the same ol’ same ol’ for McTavish on the top line with Othmann and Connor Bedard. While nothing could top Johnson’s eye-popping goal, McTavish made it 4-1 halfway through the game when he took a feed that was deftly feathered by Bedard and broke in alone on Suchanek.

The Canadian captain opened up the goalie’s wickets and slid the puck into the back of the net for his sixth tally in three contests. It’s very possible McTavish still has four games to go in Edmonton, meaning the all-time Canadian record of 10 goals — both John Anderson and Dale McCourt had that many at the 1977 event — is well within reach.

As pretty as McTavish’s second goal was, his first one was a greasy re-direction on a point shot created by Thompson. The defenceman, who is among the nine new faces on this team that were not part of the original Christmastime squad, did a great job of walking the blueline and getting the puck through a maze of bodies toward the net, where McTavish could deflect it home for the type of tally you often need to get things going against a hot tender. That play combined with his other pair of helpers and some key shot blocks underscored why Cameron has been so impressed with Thompson so far.

“He’s just a steady guy,” the coach said. “He made a big play on the [first] goal to get the puck through to the net.”

Maybe Canada was always going to find a way to win this contest. After all, the club did end up with 57 shots on goal. Still, even going through that little bit of adversity — falling behind early, having to really work for it to beat a goalie — can help a team grow and make some progress toward that oft-cited goal of growing an inch with every day.

“Obviously when you have a five-minute power play and you go down 1-0 and don’t end up scoring, it can take the life out of you,” Bedard said. “But I thought we responded really well and it was cool to see our bounce-back.”

The Canadians were also clearly happy to see the impact their play had on a crowd that was much livelier than anything they’d experienced at this somewhat subdued summer event so far. The third period even brought about a few attempts at the wave, a sure sign the excitement is ramping up a bit as Canada will play its final preliminary-round game against Finland on Monday with top spot in the group almost certainly to be on the line.

“That’s real nice,” Cameron said of the support. “It’s quite a commitment for these guys to come in the summer, it’s real good hockey, it’s best-on-best, a lot of guys on all the teams are going to play in the National Hockey League, so it’s an easy decision to come to the games in my opinion.”

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Canada’s Auger-Aliassime falls to Ruud in National Bank Open quarterfinals – Sportsnet.ca

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Felix Auger-Aliassime stood at the back of the IGA Stadium hardcourt with one hand on his hip and a look of astonishment on his face.

Casper Ruud managed to get his racket on an overhead smash late in Friday’s quarterfinal at the National Bank Open, the return floating over Auger-Aliassime’s head and inside the baseline. 

Auger-Aliassime scrambled back but his shot found the net. Nothing was working for him on this day — not even the tennis equivalent of a slam dunk — in a 6-1, 6-2 rout that lasted just 74 minutes.

“(My) first two matches were good, some positive things,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I never thought it would be ending like this today.”

The sixth-seeded Auger-Aliassime entered play without dropping a set this week but he came out flat on an overcast afternoon. Ruud, the No. 4 seed from Norway, wrapped up the first set in a brisk 36 minutes and took the partisan crowd out of the match.

Auger-Aliassime, from Montreal, made 21 unforced errors to just eight for Ruud, who advanced to his third Masters 1000 semifinal of the season.

“It was a perfect day for me at the office,” Ruud said.

Auger-Aliassime was the last Canadian remaining in the draw. Ruud who will next play No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-1 winner over Nick Kyrgios.

Auger-Aliassime was hoping to become the first Canadian to reach the semifinals at this ATP Tour event since Denis Shapovalov in 2017. The last Canadian to win this tournament was Robert Bedard in 1958.

“It’s super disappointing to lose any tournament like this and especially here,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Unseeded players were scheduled to play in the evening quarterfinals. American T

In a match between two unseeded players, Britain’s Daniel Evans defeated American Tommy Paul 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 to advance.

Evans will next play Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, who defeated British qualifier Jack Draper 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the last of Friday’s quarterfinal matches.

Auger-Aliassime couldn’t get on track despite regular urging from the near-capacity crowd. He was shanking more shots than usual and his mistakes came at critical times. 

With a powerful forehand and effective two-handed backhand, Ruud was clinical in his attack and relentless with pressure. Auger-Aliassime was forced to his heels and had to settle for a defensive style.

The Canadian gave up two quick breaks in the second set before finally holding serve to get to 1-4. 

“To right away lose my service game, then another one … from three-love, it really felt like the worst possible outcome today,” Auger-Aliassime said. “At that point it gets really tough. 

“I tried my best, but he was also getting more and more comfortable and confident, so then things get much more difficult.”

Earlier in the day, Hurkacz took advantage of two double-faults by Kyrgios early in the third set for the first service break of their match. He rolled from there to end the Australian’s nine-match winning streak.

“Nick is a super opponent, he can make every single shot,” Hurkacz said. “He doesn’t really have that many weaknesses, if any. I was just trying to serve (well) and stay aggressive.”

There was no wasted energy from Kyrgios, who played like he had a cab waiting outside the venue. 

He’d usually bounce the ball just once and go right into his service motion. The pace of play agreed with Hurkacz, a six-foot-five right-hander who matched the Australian’s power game.

Both players had break opportunities but tiebreakers were needed to settle the first two sets. 

Kyrgios, who dispatched defending champ and world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in the second round, slowed in the third set and his serve lost some of its zip. 

“I’m not a machine, I’m a human,” Kyrgios said. “My knees were sore, my back was sore, my abdominal (area) was sore. I was trying to stay moving, but I just stiffened up.”

Kyrgios entered play with wins in 15 of his last 16 matches, with the only defeat coming to Novak Djokovic in last month’s Wimbledon final. 

The semifinals are set for Saturday and the final of the US$6.57-million tournament goes Sunday. The winner will earn just over $915,000.

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Three Stars from Day 4 of WJC: Lysell, Sweden dominate all-European action – Sportsnet.ca

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Sweden made its presence felt in an all-European matchday at the 2022 World Juniors.

The Junior Crowns established their dominance in Group B with a convincing 6-0 win over Austria. They will fight for a first-place finish in the group stage with the United States on Sunday.

Without two of their best young forwards, Red Wings eighth overall pick in 2022 Marco Kasper and Canadiens second-rounder Vinzenz Rohrer, Austria struggled against the Swedes. The good news for the Austrians is that there is no relegation in this rescheduled version of the World Junior Championship. 

Slovakia salvaged their disappointing run in Edmonton by clinching their spot in the quarterfinal round.

The Slovaks — without the top two picks in the 2022 Draft in Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec — fell 5-4 against their Czech rivals then 11-1 against Canada earlier in the tournament. In their third game on Friday, Slovakia were held up by Latvia but finally took a 3-2 win in a shootout.

The loss means that Latvia will finish in the depths of the tournament. The Latvians can find solace in the fact that the country stood up to Slovakia and at least snagged away one point from their European counterparts.

Here is a look at the top performances from Day 4 of the World Juniors:

3rd star: Isak Rosen, Sweden

Sweden had yet to score on the power play at Rogers Place yet but Rosen rose to the occasion with one goal and one assist.

After a first period where the Swedes had 21 shots but only one goal, Rosen added a second goal to his tournament tally and broke their power play drought.

The Austrians forgot about the winger near the right faceoff circle. Fabian Lysell located Rosen with a cross-ice pass of his own and the young winger bagged in the one-timer on one knee.  

Rosen later told Swedish media that this was an important goal for his country after they spent the pre-tournament and the first game of the WJC without scoring on the power play.

The Buffalo Sabres prospect is known for his strong shot but he also has quite the passing ability. Rosen used his physicality to impose himself and get Sweden another goal. 

The 19-year-old dispossessed Austria’s Tim Geifes along the boards and then found his captain Emil Andrae with a swift cross-ice pass to notch his country’s fourth goal of the game.

Rosen will cross the pond to North America for the first time for the upcoming season. The wingers will play for the Rochester Americans of the AHL and be yet another addition to the young Sabres pipeline. 

Honourable mention: Slovakia’s Adam Sykora blew away the few fans in attendance with a flash of brilliance to get his country levelled 1-1 in the first period. He skated his way past a defenceman then made a give-and-go play with Jakub Demek to fool Lativian goalie Bruno Bruveris. 

Slovakia will try to channel the relief from their shootout win against the high-flying Finns on Sunday. On their end, the Latvians will hope to hold another close game on Sunday against Czechia.

2nd star: Emil Andrae, Sweden

A defenceman with two goals in a single game is always worth mentioning. Emil Andrae returned to the ice after a season-ending injury with HV71 and helped his team find another gear in the second period.

The 54th overall pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2021 was touted as a blueliner that can play on both sides of the puck and proved it against Austria.

Sweden’s captain scored twice in the span of 1:05 to keep the Austrians at bay and secure the victory.

The five-foot-nine defenceman took advantage of Rosen’s forced turnover to score his first goal. Andrae found himself in a perfect position to utilize his heavy wrister on the power play.

Andrae added his second goal from the point with another wrist shot directed in traffic to get Sweden up by four goals. The captain chipped in a late secondary assist in the third period to finish the game with three points and a plus-2 differential.

1st star: Fabian Lysell, Sweden

On an all-European afternoon, Fabian Lysell made his experience of North American ice felt. The winger made sure to remind hockey fans that the Boston Bruins drafted him in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft.

Lysell finished the game with one goal and one assist. He joins his teammates Rosen and Andrea as Sweden’s leading scorers with three points each.

The winger may have missed a penalty shot but he bounced back admirably with a goal a few seconds later.

From a very tight angle, Lysell found the tiniest bit of space above Austrian netminder Sebastian Wraneschitz’s shoulder to score Sweden’s fifth of the game.

The winger showed that his game isn’t too far away from the NHL and that he doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty. The Swede, who is used to North American ice playing for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, crashed Wraneschitz’s net early on in the game in an attempt to kickstart Sweden’s domination.

Lysell and his country-mates will need to keep the pace up as Sweden looks to take on the Americans on Sunday and the surprising Germans on Monday.

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