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Nats’ Mike Rizzo not satisfied with Astros’ apology, says ‘they cheated’

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Count Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo among those not impressed or satisfied by the Houston Astros‘ attempts to apologize for — and put behind them — their sign-stealing scandal.

“They cheated. They were found guilty of it. And I haven’t heard it yet,” Rizzo said Friday after Washington’s second formal workout at the spring training complex the team shares with Houston.

“The thing that pains me the most is it puts a black cloud over the sport that I love. And that’s not right. The commissioner did an investigation and found that they cheated in 2017 and 2018. Somebody’s got to say the words over there: ‘cheated.’ And that’s important to me,” Rizzo said. “For the sport to move on, which is what I’m most concerned about, we have to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed on this investigation before we end it.”

Rizzo’s NL champ Nationals went into last year’s World Series prepared to deal with against-the-rules actions by the AL champ Astros before beating them in Game 7 for the title.

“I have no proof of what, if anything, they did in 2019,” Rizzo said. “We assumed they were, and we prepared diligently for it.”

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg said the Nationals used new catcher’s signals and changed them during games, so if Houston had been trying to steal signs in October, there wouldn’t be anything from his past outings that could be relied on.

“Regardless of if there was any funny business going on, we controlled what we could control, we were prepared for it, and we did what was necessary to go out there and make it as even a playing field as possible,” Strasburg said.

Rizzo and Strasburg said people from other teams reached out to the Nationals as soon as it was known their opponent in the Fall Classic would be the Astros.

“We got a lot of volunteer phone calls on how to beat them and how to play them,” Rizzo said.

Noted Strasburg: “The league is a lot smaller than you think.”

Last month, commissioner Rob Manfred punished Houston for using a video feed to view and decode opposing catchers’ signs during the 2017 — when the team won the championship — and 2018 seasons. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what pitch was coming, believing it would improve the chances of getting a hit.

Rizzo made a point of saying the Astros “cheated to win the World Series.”

Houston’s manager, AJ Hinch, and GM, Jeff Luhnow, were suspended by Manfred for a year and immediately fired by the club.

“I know for a fact that could not and would not happen with the Washington Nationals, because I would not allow it to happen with the Washington Nationals,” Rizzo said. “So we certainly take pride in that, the way we conduct our business and our process, and we try and do things the right way for the good of the game in its entirety.”

Told of the general nature of Rizzo’s comments Friday, Astros pitcher Brad Peacock said: “I don’t know how to answer that. All I know is we’re moving forward, looking forward to next year. And everybody spoke yesterday about it. And I agree with everything they said.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Yoenis Cespedes breaks silence, aims for Opening Day

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Yoenis Cespedes broke his silence with the media on Sunday, saying he didn’t want to talk about the past but he is hoping to be ready for Opening Day.

On Monday the New York Mets outfielder had told reporters he did not plan to talk to the media.

“Not today, not tomorrow, not at all this year,” he said, only to change his mind six days later, answering questions through an interpreter.

Asked by reporters if he planned to be ready for Opening Day, he said, “If I continue progressing the way that I am, yes.”

He has been working out with his Mets teammates since Monday.

While recovering from surgery on his heels last May, Cespedes fractured his right ankle in multiple places in an accident at his ranch just west of the Mets’ training complex. He and the Mets agreed in December to an amended contract that cut his base salary from $29.5 million to $6 million. He would raise his pay to $11 million if he has one active day on the major league roster and to $20 million if he has 650 plate appearances — a figure he has reached just once.

“I’m not going to speak about the past,” Cespedes told reporters. “I committed an error and I paid the price for it, but today I’ll be talking about the present and the future.”

He said the chance to raise his salary by staying on the field was important but he would have come into this season with the same motivation regardless of how his contract was structured.

“A big part of the motivation is the people who have been out there and have been saying that I can’t do it. So I am going out there to prove that I can,” he said.

The 34-year-old Cespedes won a Gold Glove in 2015 and a Silver Slugger the following year. He has played in only 119 games in the first three seasons of a $110 million, four-year contract, just 38 since the end of the 2017 season because of hamstring strains, a hip flexor, surgery on his heels and his broken ankle.

“I feel good. I am happy with the progress,” Cespedes told reporters. “Every day I am still working to get better and better. It’s not as fast as I want it to be, but as the season approaches I feel really good right now.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Fans heckling Astros spring opener get signs confiscated

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Fans hoping to heckle the sign-stealing Houston Astros at their spring opener were met with quite the coincidence.

They got their signs taken.

In the Astros’ first spring training game since their sign-stealing scandal rocked baseball, some fans brought signs jeering Houston, and ballpark personnel confiscated them before the Grapefruit League opener against the World Series champion Washington Nationals on Saturday night.

In a Series rematch, the Nats got hearty cheers, while everyone in an Astros jersey — including the mascot, Orbit — was booed. Houston did not use any players implicated in MLB’s probe.

Two men in Nationals gear sitting behind the Astros dugout briefly held up crudely drawn signs just before first pitch. One read: “You see my hate?” in large block letters. And another said: “Houston” with an asterisk below it, suggesting the Astros’ 2017 World Series title should be permanently blemished because of the cheating.

The men didn’t get to show off their signs for long. A woman who worked for the ballpark quickly approached to take the signs. The men didn’t argue with the woman, but they did look confused as she walked away with the signs folded in her arms.

The Astros and Nationals share a spring training complex. Houston was designated the home team Saturday.

Matthew Silliman, who held one of the signs, said he didn’t know they were forbidden. He drove to the game from Tampa Bay and said he has been waiting to let the Astros know what he thinks of them.

“I’m a big Nats fan and it’s wrong,” he said. “They’re cheaters.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred concluded last month the Astros violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs during their run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season. Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one season and then fired by the team, but players were not disciplined.

Fans booed loudly every time the public address announcer said “Astros,” and fans behind Houston’s dugout heckled Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. as they stood on the dugout steps before the game. A few fans banged on their metal seats, attempting to mimic the banging on a trash can the Astros used to relay stolen signs to hitters.

One fan in a Nationals jersey yelled: “Hey Altuve, are you scared to play tonight?” Others screamed “You suck!” and “Cheaters!”

About a half-dozen fans wore shirts that read “bang foul poles, not trash cans” in reference to Howie Kendrick‘s decisive home run for Washington in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.

First-year Houston manager Dusty Baker said he didn’t think the reception was “too bad” and said his team will have to get used to it.

“You’ll probably get the same reception most places you go, especially the first go-round,” he said. “So, you’ve just got to put your big-boy pants on and then just try to shut it out and just play baseball and realize this too shall pass.”

Washington ace Max Scherzer, who started Game 7 to help the Nationals to their first title, also started Saturday and pitched two scoreless innings. He was asked if he thought Saturday night’s game would be more dramatic considering what’s going on with the Astros.

“Maybe, I don’t know,” he said. “We won the World Series, so it wasn’t like I have a vendetta to hold. So, for me over here we’re just trying to move forward and get ready for our season.”

Scherzer was a bit disappointed that none of Houston’s starters played Saturday when he allowed one hit and struck out two.

“You want to face the best,” Scherzer said. “They’re a great lineup, but I get it, it’s early in the spring, you’re not going to see them.”

And while Silliman didn’t get to keep his signs, he said it wouldn’t stop him from heckling the Astros with his voice.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “They’re going to get it all.”

He didn’t have long. The game was delayed because of rain after two innings and canceled about 90 minutes later when rain continued.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Fans heckling Astros spring opener get signs stolen

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Fans hoping to heckle the sign-stealing Houston Astros at their spring opener were met with quite the coincidence.

They got their signs stolen.

In the Astros’ first spring training game since their sign-stealing scandal rocked baseball, some fans brought signs jeering Houston, and ballpark personnel confiscated them before the exhibition opener against the World Series champion Washington Nationals on Saturday night.

In a Series rematch, the Nats got hearty cheers, while everyone in an Astros jersey — including the mascot, Orbit — was booed. Houston did not use any players implicated in MLB’s probe.

Two men in Nationals gear sitting behind the Astros dugout briefly held up crudely drawn signs just before first pitch. One read: “You see my hate?” in large block letters. And another said: “Houston” with an asterisk below it, suggesting the Astros’ 2017 World Series title should be permanently blemished because of the cheating.

The men didn’t get to show off their signs for long. A woman who worked for the ballpark quickly approached to take the signs. They didn’t argue with the woman, but they did look confused as she walked away with them folded in her arms.

The Astros and Nationals share a spring training complex. Houston was designated the home team Saturday.

Matthew Silliman, who held one of the signs, said he didn’t know they were forbidden. He drove to the game from Tampa Bay and said he’s been waiting to let the Astros know what he thinks of them.

“I’m a big Nats fan and it’s wrong,” he said. “They’re cheaters.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred concluded last month the Astros violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs during their run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season. Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one season and then fired by the team, but players were not disciplined.

Fans booed loudly every time the public address announcer said “Astros,” and fans behind Houston’s dugout heckled Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. as they stood on the dugout steps before the game. A few fans banged on their metal seats, attempting to mimic the banging on a trash can the Astros used to relay stolen signs to hitters.

One fan in a Nationals jersey yelled: “Hey Altuve, are you scared to play tonight?” Others screamed “you suck!” and “cheaters!”

About a half-dozen fans wore shirts that read “bang foul poles, not trash cans” in reference to Howie Kendrick‘s decisive home run for Washington in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.

First-year Houston manager Dusty Baker said he didn’t think the reception was “too bad” and said his team will have to get used to it.

“You’ll probably get the same reception most places you go, especially the first go-round,” he said. “So, you’ve just got to put your big-boy pants on and then just try to shut it out and just play baseball and realize this too shall pass.”

Washington ace Max Scherzer, who started Game 7 to help the Nationals to their first title, also started Saturday and pitched two scoreless innings. He was asked if he thought Saturday night’s game would be more dramatic considering what’s going on with the Astros.

“Maybe, I don’t know,” he said. “We won the World Series, so it wasn’t like I have a vendetta to hold. So, for me over here we’re just trying to move forward and get ready for our season.”

Scherzer was a bit disappointed that none of Houston’s starters played Saturday when he allowed one hit and struck out two.

“You want to face the best,” Scherzer said. “They’re a great lineup but I get it, it’s early in the spring you’re not going to see them.”

And while Silliman didn’t get to keep his signs, he said it wouldn’t stop him from heckling the Astros with his voice.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “They’re going to get it all.”

He didn’t have long. The game was delayed because of rain after two innings and canceled about 90 minutes later when rain continued.



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