ATLANTA — The Los Angeles Dodgers will start right-handed reliever Corey Knebel and seemingly stage a bullpen game in the opener of their National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night, a direct reflection of what it took to defeat the San Francisco Giants in the prior round.
The decision would presumably push Max Scherzer back to start Sunday’s Game 2, giving him an extra day after he pitched the final inning of the NL Division Series on Thursday. In that scenario, Walker Buehler would pitch Game 3 from L.A. on Tuesday, giving Buehler six days’ rest following his short-rest start in NLDS Game 4.
Knebel has opened five times this season, including the deciding game of the NLDS on Thursday. Knebel took the first inning from Oracle Park in San Francisco, then was followed by another reliever, Brusdar Graterol, before starting pitcher Julio Urias contributed four innings. In this scenario, Tony Gonsolin will likely handle the bulk innings so that the Dodgers’ best relievers aren’t too tired for Sunday’s Game 2.
A former All-Star closer during his time with the Milwaukee Brewers, Knebel had never started a game in the majors until this season. He has allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings as an opener this season, including the playoffs.
Urias now lines up for Game 4 and the Dodgers would need another bullpen game in Game 5, with Scherzer and Buehler able to go again in Games 6 and 7, respectively.
The Braves and Dodgers both set their rosters for the NLCS on Saturday morning, with neither announcement containing many surprises.
For Dodgers, All-Star first baseman Max Muncy was left off the roster, as expected. Muncy is nursing an elbow injury suffered during the Dodgers’ final game of the regular season.
Also expected was the Braves’ decision to leave slugger Jorge Soler off their NLCS roster. Soler was removed from the roster during Atlanta’s NLDS win over Milwaukee after testing positive for COVID. If Soler clears health and safety protocols, he can still return during the NLCS, at which time he would replace outfielder Cristian Pache, who took Soler’s place on Atlanta’s NLDS roster.
Veteran lefty David Price, who did not pitch during the Giants series, and outfielder Billy McKinney were dropped from the group who comprised the Dodgers’ NLDS roster. In their place are righty Evan Phillips and lefty Justin Bruihl.
L.A. will carry 13 pitchers and 13 position players against the Braves.
The Braves will carry 12 pitchers and 14 position players against the Dodgers.
–ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez contributed to this report.
MLB Players Association to make counteroffer to league in Monday meeting
The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to make an in-person labor proposal to the league on Monday, sources told ESPN, countering MLB’s offer last week that did little to loosen the gridlock that has gripped the sport after the league locked out the players Dec. 2.
Should the players’ offer do little to advance the negotiations that thus far haven’t yielded any substantive progress, the scheduled start to spring training in mid-February will grow that much unlikelier. And the longer discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement last, the more they jeopardize Opening Day on March 31.
The gap between the players and league remains significant, with the union seeking major financial gains in a number of areas and owners trying to hold firm with what they currently pay in salaries. Other issues players have said remain a priority include anti-tanking measures and fixing service-time manipulation.
Any concessions players make in their offer could provide a roadmap to the negotiations. Before implementing the lockout, the league asked the union to drop three areas of discussion: earlier free agency for players, salary arbitration after two years instead of three and changes to the revenue-sharing plan. The union did not agree to the condition when presented with it Dec. 1, and the league left the bargaining table, locking out the players hours later.
Forty-three days later, the league returned to the union with an offer that included paying players with two to three years of service based on a formula, slight modifications to the draft lottery it previously had proposed and a mechanism that would reward teams with draft picks when top prospects who started on opening day rosters win awards.
The proposal did little to entice players, who after losing financial ground during the previous labor agreement want to make gains this time around.
News of the MLBPA’s expected counterproposal was first reported by The Associated Press
Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball
NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.
MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.
The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.
There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.
The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.
“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.
MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.
Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.
“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.
The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.
Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.
The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.
Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.
Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.
St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.
“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”
Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.
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