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Astros’ Cole gets ‘good news’ on hamstring tests

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CHICAGO — It seems that any alarm bells ringing after Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole was a last-minute scratch from Game 2 of a doubleheader on Tuesday in Chicago can be silenced — that is, if encouraging tests results after an examination of his hamstring prove to be accurate.

“We got some good news back today that it’s not super serious,” Cole said. “So we’ll just take it day-by-day right now and kind of see how it responds to some treatment and some rest. Then get back out there as soon as we can.”

Cole, the American League leader in strikeouts, noticed the discomfort while warming up before his scheduled start in the visiting bullpen at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“Finishing my delivery on the first handful of pitches during the first bullpen yesterday, just had some discomfort kind of getting to the ball,” Cole said. “I just wasn’t 100 percent ready to go at that point. I wasn’t just able to ramp it up. I warmed up well on flat ground. It was just kind of bizarre. It just kept grabbing.”

Cole, 28, has been one of the AL’s top hurlers the past couple of seasons, his first with Houston. This season, he is 14-5 with a 2.87 ERA and a league-leading 226 strikeouts. With Houston in a busy part of its schedule and trying to work around Monday’s rainout in Chicago, Cole’s injury was ill-timed.

“It’s frustrating to be in a stretch when we don’t have any off days,” Cole said. “It’s frustrating to be in the back end of a doubleheader. The bullpen’s had to pick us up. I don’t know. If you could pick the least ideal time for that to happen, this would probably be it.”

Before the game, Astros manager A.J. Hinch declined to name a starting pitcher for Houston’s contest on Saturday in Oakland but said Cole would not pitch that day. Still, Cole will accompany the team to the Bay Area, and he said it is possible that he could start near the end of the four-game series.

“I don’t think it’s been ruled out, but I really haven’t had that conversation yet with the manager,” Cole said. “Kind of informed him of what the doctors have told us — that the severity is not bad. We’ll just kind of take it one day at a time.”

All in all, the mild nature of Cole’s injury appears to be good news for one of baseball’s hottest teams and prime World Series threats. Cole said his doctors wouldn’t go so far as to call the injury a strain. All signs point toward a brief absence.

“When I spoke to the doctor, he didn’t use that word,” Cole said. “He was just encouraged by what he saw. The recovery, barring any setbacks, along with the way I’m feeling, should be pretty quick.”

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Athletics’ Mike Fiers doesn’t want protection, ‘can defend myself’

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Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers on Wednesday said, “I can defend myself” and that he doesn’t need extra security from Major League Baseball during the 2020 season.

“I don’t know how they would,” Fiers told The Athletic on Wednesday. “I’m not asking for extra security. I’m here to play baseball and I can defend myself, if anything. We do have National League games and I’m going to have to get into the box [to hit] just like everybody else.

“It’s part of the game. If they decide to throw at me, then they throw at me. There’s nothing much you can do about it.”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday promised to “take every possible step” to protect Fiers, who revealed to The Athletic in November that the Houston Astros were stealing signs.

“I want to be really clear about this: Mike, who I do not know at all, did the industry a service,” Manfred said Tuesday. “I do believe that we will be a better institution when we emerge at the end of this episode, and without a Mike Fiers, we probably would have had a very difficult time cleaning this up. It would have taken longer. … I have a real problem with anyone that suggests Mike did anything other than the right thing.”

In its investigation, MLB found that the 2017 Astros used a live feed from a center-field camera to decipher the opposing catchers’ signs in real time and deployed a system that involved banging on a trash can to alert their hitters of upcoming pitches.

“I’ve dealt with a lot in my life,” Fiers told The Athletic on Wednesday. “I’ve dealt with people hating me before. I’ve dealt with a lot of life problems. It is what it is. And if someone’s going to retaliate then by hitting me with a pitch, it’s not a big deal.”

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Aledmys Diaz, Jesus Aguilar, Brian Goodwin win salary arbitration cases

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PHOENIX — Houston infielder Aledmys Diaz, Miami first baseman Jesus Aguilar and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Brian Goodwin all won their salary arbitration cases Wednesday, cutting the teams’ advantage to 6-4 in decisions this year with three cases remaining.

Diaz was awarded $2.6 million by arbitrators Mark Burstein, Stephen Raymond and Gary Kendellen rather than the $2 million offered by the Astros, which matched Diaz’s salary last year.

Aguilar was given a raise from $637,500 to $2,575,000 instead of the Marlins’ figure of $2,325,000 in a decision by Jeanne Charles, Steven Wolf and Edna Francis.

Goodwin received a raise from $585,500 to $2.2 million rather than the team’s $1.85 million offer. That case was decided by Dan Brent, Melinda Gordon and Elizabeth Neumeier.

Acquired by Houston from Toronto in November 2018, Diaz hit .271 for the AL champions with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 247 plate appearances over 69 games. He was 0-for-9 with a walk in the postseason.

Goodwin hit .262 last year and set career bests with 17 homers and 47 RBIs in 458 plate appearances for the Angels, who claimed him off waivers from Kansas City last year.

Aguilar hit .236 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs in 131 games last season for Milwaukee and Tampa Bay, which acquired him on July 31 for pitcher Jake Faria. He was claimed off waivers on Dec. 2.

Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez had been the only player to win a decision previously this year.

Teams beat Boston pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, Minnesota pitcher Jose Berrios, Milwaukee closer Josh Hader, Atlanta reliever Shane Greene and Colorado catcher Tony Wolters.

A decision is pending for Arizona pitcher Archie Bradley, whose case was argued Tuesday.

Two players remain scheduled for hearings this week: Philadelphia catcher J.T. Realmuto and reliever Hector Neris.

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Nationals’ Carter Kieboom using years of tips to guide chase for third-base job

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — If, as he hopes, and the Washington Nationals hope, Carter Kieboom earns a job this spring as the reigning World Series champions’ starting third baseman, he will do so with the help of years’ worth of ideas typed into the Notes app on his cellphone.

Ever since Kieboom was in high school in Marietta, Georgia — not all that long ago, given that he is 22 — the 2016 first-round draft pick has kept a list of tips and observations he figures will make him a better ballplayer.

“There’s no one right way to do things, which is what makes this game so special. For me, especially at a young age, we’re given so much information, and I’m constantly trying to improve my game,” said Kieboom, who split fielding reps at third with versatile veteran Asdrubal Cabrera on Wednesday.

“It’s too much just to keep in your head,” Kieboom added. “You’ve got to put it down and read it as you go along and fall back on it.”

His development should be one of the most intriguing storylines for Washington over the next five weeks. The Nationals need a new third baseman, because Anthony Rendon signed a $245 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels following a third-place finish in National League MVP voting.

“I’m not going to come in here and be Anthony Rendon. That’s not who I am as a player. He is in a class of his own. That guy is one of the best — if not the best — in baseball,” Kieboom said. “That’s not my job to try to live up to what he’s done. My job is to go play my game.”

To develop that game, Kieboom picked up the habit of writing everything down and studying it every so often.

He got it from one of his older brothers, Spencer, who used to be a catcher in the Nationals organization and stored things he wanted to remember about pitchers he worked with.

“If you look at my thoughts from three or four years ago, they’re a little more basic. And if you look at my thoughts from the last year or so, they get a little more in-depth and more advanced. It’s pretty cool to see the change,” the younger Kieboom said. “Some of it, maybe you keep in the back of your mind and maybe use a couple of years down the road, whether it’s about fielding or hitting. Maybe it applies to you — or maybe you figure out how to apply it.”

It might come from watching video of today’s elite third basemen, such as Rendon, Colorado‘s Nolan Arenado or Oakland‘s Matt Chapman, or someone he grew up seeing with the Braves, Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. Or from showing up to camp a week ahead of time and spending early mornings on a field practicing footwork with shortstop Trea Turner and coaches Tim Bogar and Chip Hale.

Bogar, who works with Washington’s infielders in addition to being the new bench coach, said a lot of what Kieboom needs to get used to are the angles and timing that vary from short to third.

“The more he does it, and the more he sees it,” Bogar said, “the better he’s going to be.”

Said Turner: “He’s been trying to learn as much as he can.”

Learn how to play third after coming up as a shortstop. Learn to adjust to big league pitching. Learn the ways of day-to-day life in the majors.

And learn, most of all, from his struggles during an 11-game, 39-at-bat stint with the Nationals in April and May 2019, when he filled in at shortstop for an injured Turner. The numbers were stark: five hits (including two homers), 16 strikeouts, four errors.

“Had a little bit of success, but I failed a lot. To fail in an environment like that, it’s different. … If I had two errors in a game in the minor leagues, I don’t have to deal with any media after,” said Kieboom, who hit .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs at Triple-A Fresno last year. “It’s just a matter of how you handle things. I don’t like to fail, but I never felt uncomfortable by any means up there.”

General manager Mike Rizzo blamed himself for that too-soon trip to the majors.

“It’s a lot to take on for any player, but especially a young player,” Rizzo said. “Last year was a failure — and we’re not afraid to call that very short stint a ‘failure’ for him — but we’re not concerned about that at all. We see skills and tools and baseball IQ and acumen. Last year was on me for bringing him to the big leagues before he was ready. … We also knew he had the makeup and character that if he did go up and fail, he’s not going to regress when he comes back up for good.”

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