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Short-handed Cincinnati Reds head into opener missing key players, including SP Sonny Gray

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Spring training took its toll on the Cincinnati Reds, and some key players who suffered injuries won’t be back in time for Thursday’s opener.

Outfielder Shogo Akiyama (hamstring), and pitchers Sonny Gray (back) and Michael Lorenzen (shoulder strain) will miss the opener but aren’t expected to be sidelined too long after that.

The good news is first baseman Joey Votto, who missed 13 days of spring training with COVID-19, has eased his way back, hit the ball well and looked solid in the field during the final spring training games. He appears to be in position to start on opening day for the 13th consecutive season, but that decision has yet to be made.

Outfielder Nick Senzel also is expected to be on manager David Bell’s lineup card Thursday after dealing with a groin strain this spring. Tejay Antone, who was a candidate for Cincinnati’s starting rotation, was hampered by minor groin and hip issues. He didn’t get enough innings to earn a starting role but is expected to be fine for bullpen work.

The Reds open the season Thursday afternoon, with right-hander Luis Castillo on the mound against St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty.

When Votto got healthy again and returned from isolation on March 20, he saw the Reds infield had gotten a shuffle. Slugging third baseman Eugenio Suarez was moved to shortstop in the middle of spring camp, a situation that will stick for now.

“It is looking like he’s going to end up being the everyday shortstop,” Reds general manager Nick Krall said.

Mike Moustakas then made the shift from second base to third base, where he has played for most of his 11-year major league career. Thanks to a productive spring, Jonathan India will be the likely starter at second base. If that happens, he’ll be the first Reds rookie to start at second since Pete Rose in 1963.

With Gray sidelined — and NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer gone via free agency — the rest of the Cincinnati starting rotation has to be ironed out but is likely to include Tyler Mahle, Wade Miley, Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon.

New faces in the Reds bullpen include left-hander Cionel Perez, acquired in a trade with Houston, and right-hander Cam Bedrosian, a veteran who came to camp on a minor league deal. Both earned spots on the roster with good springs.

Lucas Sims, Amir Garrett and Sean Doolittle will make up the committee of closers.

The Reds must find a way to boost last season’s .212 team batting average, the worst in the major leagues. Krall has specific ideas about where he expects to see strides in the first month or two of the season.

“One, we want to have some of the injuries starting to die down, where we can get some of these guys back after the first few weeks,” he said. “Two, it’s guys from last year who will revert back to (the numbers on) their baseball cards, and three, it’s the young guys who make the team taking a step forward.”

Because of continuing COVID-19 restrictions in Ohio, the Reds will open with a capacity crowd of around 12,000 at Great American Ball Park _ the first game at the stadium with fans in more than 18 months.

Kyle Farmer, who auditioned at shortstop but made the roster again because of his versatility, said he’s eager to play in front of people again in Cincinnati, where opening day has always been a holiday.

“I remember driving to the field (in 2019) and seeing like all the streets just packed,” he said. “I’ve never seen that before for baseball, and it was pretty awesome. I’m excited to see them come back again. I know they’re excited. I know people need something to watch, people need something to look forward to, and this is something people will be able to look forward to.”

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Houston Astros bolster pen, deal for Miami Marlins closer Yimi Garcia

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The Houston Astros continued to fortify their bullpen before the trade deadline, acquiring right-hander Yimi Garcia from the Miami Marlins on Wednesday for two players.

In exchange for Garcia, the Astros sent outfielder Bryan De La Cruz and right-hander Austin Pruitt to the Marlins.

It’s the second straight day the AL West-leading Astros have swung a trade to add bullpen help. On Tuesday, Houston acquired Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero from the Mariners.

Garcia, 30, has 15 saves for the Marlins this season and is 3-7 with a 3.47 ERA. He has struck out 35 and walked just five batters in 36⅓ innings pitched. He has a 3.41 ERA over seven major league seasons.

De La Cruz, 24, is hitting .324 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs for Triple-A Sugar Land this season.

Pruitt, 31, is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in two major league appearances for the Astros this season.

This is the second trade made Wednesday by the last-place Marlins, who earlier dealt center fielder Starling Marte to the Oakland Athletics.

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Javier Baez of Chicago Cubs fined for taunting, avoids suspension

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CHICAGO — Cubs shortstop Javier Baez was fined an undisclosed amount but avoided suspension Wednesday for his actions in the team’s walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.

Baez, 28, singled off of Reds reliever Amir Garrett with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, bringing home Patrick Wisdom with the winning run. As soon as he made contact on the pitch, he began yelling at Garrett and continued to taunt him on his way to first base.

Cameras showed Baez mouthing the words “one pitch” to Garrett several times.

Baez and Garrett have a history of bad blood, with Garrett getting suspended for five games earlier this season for beating his chest and yelling in the direction of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo after striking him out. Baez jumped out of the dugout to defend Rizzo, leading to the benches clearing.

It was Garrett who received the brunt of the punishment for the incident.

The two players also argued with each other during a game in 2018.

Cubs manager David Ross was concerned that Baez would get suspended for his actions on Monday, especially as MLB discourages taunting.

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Texas Rangers sign No. 2 overall pick Jack Leiter with $7.9M bonus

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Second overall pick Jack Leiter signed Wednesday with the Texas Rangers, getting a $7,922,000 signing bonus that is the largest for a drafted pitcher in 10 years.

The deal for the right-hander out of Vanderbilt, and the son of former big league lefty Al Leiter, was for just above the recommended $7,789,900 slot for the second player taken in baseball’s amateur draft on July 11.

That was the largest signing bonus for a pitcher since Gerrit Cole got $8 million after the Pittsburgh Pirates took him first overall in 2011. That was the last draft before Major League Baseball guidelines for signing bonuses of drafted players went into effect.

“Even before the selection was made, (the Rangers) made it clear to me and my family that this was kind of what they wanted to happen. And through the whole process, it just felt like I was the right fit for them. And it kind of felt the other way around, it felt like they were the right fit for me,” Leiter said. “It was kind of just a perfect match.”

The 21-year-old Leiter, who will return to Vanderbilt to continue his education this fall while preparing there for his professional debut in the Rangers organization next year, was 11-4 with a 2.13 ERA while throwing 110 innings over 18 starts this season for the College World Series runner-up Commodores.

Rangers general manager Chris Young, the former big league pitcher who was a two-sport athlete at Princeton, said the team would devise a program with Vanderbilt trainers and staff for Leiter’s baseball work.

“We’ll work together to coordinate every aspect of it, with the idea being that in 2022 we’re ready to go,” Young said.

Young said it didn’t make sense for Leiter to pitch this summer or fall in the Rangers organization because of the workload he had during his college season.

Leiter’s 179 strikeouts tied teammate Kumar Rocker for the NCAA Division I lead, and he averaged 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings. Rocker was drafted 10th overall by the New York Mets.

Leiter struck out eight in six innings as the winning pitcher for Vandy in the opener of the best-of-three CWS finals last month before Mississippi State won the next two games for the title. He threw a no-hitter March 20 against South Carolina, part of a stretch of 20 consecutive hitless innings over three starts.

Leiter pitched only one full season as Vanderbilt, where he was a freshman in 2020 when the season was canceled in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his return to the Nashville campus, he will be able to take advantage of a setup that includes a locker room for former Commodores who play professionally.

“Honestly, I don’t know what they’re going to do because it’s filling up in there,” Leiter said. “I am excited for that. I’ll be around other guys who’ve done it a lot longer than me. Big leaguers, guys like David Price, Sonny Gray, Mike Minor, they’re always going back there. And it makes it really special.”

Along with his father, Al, who was a two-time All-Star during a 19-season career with four teams that ended in 2005, the younger Leiter had an uncle and cousin — Mark Leiter and Mark Leiter Jr. — who played in the big leagues.

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