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Houston Astros rookie Luis García will start Game 6 of ALCS against the Boston Red Sox

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The Houston Astros will start rookie Luis Garcia against the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday night, manager Dusty Baker announced on Thursday afternoon.

Garcia, 24, left Game 2 of the series on Saturday with right knee discomfort, one batter into the second inning, and has only pitched 3⅔ innings this postseason due to the injury and ineffectiveness. He’s given up 10 runs on seven hits and six walks.

“My knee is doing really good right now,” Garcia said. “I feel really good, like normal.”

Baker declared him ready after Garcia adjusted his delivery during bullpen work and is hopeful the righty can pitch the Astros into the World Series. They lead the ALCS 3-2.

“All I can do is go on his word, go on the trainer’s word, and go on Strommy’s [pitching coach Brent Strom] word,” Baker said. “They said that he didn’t feel anything … I just hope whatever adjustment that they made that he is not thinking through the act of pitching while he is making his adjustment.”

Garcia will be opposed by right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who was the losing pitcher in relief in Game 4.

The Astros fell behind 2-1 in the series after two big wins by the Red Sox. But they rode their powerful offense to consecutive victories in the past two games to take the series lead and move within a win of advancing to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.

The Astros won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal, before losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games in the 2019 World Series.

The Astros got eight terrific innings from Framber Valdez in a 9-1 win in Game 5. The performance gave Houston’s taxed bullpen a much-needed break after relievers pitched 29⅓ innings combined through the first four games.

Baker said Jake Odorizzi would be available for long relief Friday if needed. Odorizzi threw 82 pitches in four innings in Game 2 after taking over following the injury to García.

Baker also said rookie center fielder Jake Meyers, who hasn’t played this series after injuring his shoulder in the final game of the ALDS, probably wouldn’t return to the lineup in this series.

“He might pinch run, pinch hit if needed, where he may not have to go out and play the field unless it’s just an emergency or maybe even left field because it’s not a very far throw,” Baker said.

Fellow rookies Chas McCormick and rookie José Siri have filled in at center against the Red Sox.

Houston is without ace Lance McCullers Jr. for this series because of a flexor pronator muscle strain in his right arm. Baker said Thursday that McCullers still hasn’t resumed throwing, so it’s unclear if he would be available to return if the Astros were to advance.

If necessary, Game 7 would be Saturday night in Houston.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report

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Buster Olney’s Top 10s for 2022

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A lot of the credit for the Atlanta Braves’ postseason surge was rightly attributed to the midseason deals made by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, because without Eddie Rosario, Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson, Atlanta would not have hosted a championship parade.

But what may have been lost in that narrative was just how much organizational bedrock continued to develop underneath those additions. Austin Riley, just 24 years old, became one of the National League’s best players. Max Fried, who turns 28 next week, posted a 1.74 ERA in his last 14 regular-season starts. Ian Anderson, just 23, now has a full season of experience. The talented Kyle Wright, 26, may have reached a crossroads in his development during the postseason, with moments on which he can build confidence. Dansby Swanson had 62 extra-base hits last season and has developed into one of the sport’s most consistent defenders. Ozzie Albies is a multitalented star. And Ronald Acuña Jr. was the front-runner for NL MVP at the time he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

As the National League Championship Series began in October, the Braves were considered something of a long shot against the Los Angeles Dodgers — and similarly, they were betting underdogs against the Houston Astros in the World Series. So underestimate them now at your own peril.

The Braves’ ownership still needs to open its fattened coffers and pay Freddie Freeman. If that happens, Atlanta may actually have a better team in 2022 than that group honored in the championship parade, and have a legit shot at becoming the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to win back-to-back titles.

Early in 2022, with a lot of players unsigned and many more trades to come after the next labor agreement is forged, here are MLB’s top 10 teams:

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Sources — MLB makes first labor proposal since lockout, awaits union’s counter as threat of postponed spring training looms

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Major League Baseball on Thursday made its first labor proposal since locking out players Dec. 2, focusing on a narrow set of issues that did little to encourage players and heightened the likelihood of spring training being postponed, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.

During the sides’ first meeting that discussed core economic issues in 43 days, the league proposed changes to the arbitration system for players with two-plus years of service, tweaked its proposed draft lottery and offered the ability for teams to earn draft picks if top prospects find early success in the major leagues, according to sources.

MLB hoped the proposal would spur discussion with the union after the sides’ failed negotiations leading up to the lockout led to six weeks of inaction.

Topics not discussed Thursday that have been in the players’ suite of asks included changes to the competitive-balance tax and raising the minimum salary.

While the league indicated before the lockout that it was not open to considering free agency before six years or changes to the current revenue-sharing plan, the union could include both in a counterproposal.

The timing of the union’s rejoinder could be paramount to salvaging the mid-February reporting date for pitchers and catchers, though multiple sources fear that negotiations will pick up closer to the end of the month, when the threat of losing regular-season games becomes more realistic.

The disappointment from players in the league’s proposal Thursday wasn’t altogether unexpected. MLB offered a significant revamping of its system in paying players with between two and three years of major league service time, offering an increase in money going to those players through a formula that would determine their pay.

Currently, the salaries of two-plus players are bifurcated. The top 22% of players in the class who have the most service time are designated as “Super 2s” — and receive an extra year of arbitration eligibility, during which they are allowed to negotiate their salaries. The other 78%, regardless of performance, can be renewed by teams at just above the minimum salary. While MLB’s proposal would eliminate Super 2s in the future, sources said, players who currently have one day of service would be able to choose between the current system that includes Super 2s and the performance-based proposal.

MLB’s proposal, sources said, would eliminate Super 2s. Between that and the implementation of a formula — which MLB previously proposed for all arbitration-eligible players — the immediate reaction from players, sources said, was negative, with fears that implementing a scale for two-plus players would at some point open the door to the same in other arbitration-eligible players.

Currently, arbitration salaries are determined by a precedent-based system in which players compare their statistics to past players’ and negotiate their salaries. The league’s attempt Thursday to address service-time manipulation — a practice in which teams keep players in the minor leagues in attempts to gain an extra year before they reach free agency or keep them from reaching Super 2 status — came via rewarding teams that promote top prospects who find success, according to sources.

MLB proposed awarding a draft pick if a team places a Top 100 prospect on its opening day roster, then the player wins Rookie of the Year or finishes in the top 3 of MVP or Cy Young voting within his first three seasons, sources said. The offer included the possibility of a pick in an international draft, sources said, indicating that the league is continuing to push for a change in the signing of non-domestic amateurs. A team, sources said, could reap only one pick per player, meaning if he won Rookie of the Year and then MVP, the second award would not lead to a second pick.

Players’ skepticism toward the idea mirrored that of when the league proposed using the Wins Above Replacement system from FanGraphs to replace the arbitration system. While the idea of incentivizing teams to break camp with their best 26 players is a goal of players, doing so through the opinions of outsiders — in this case the baseball writers who have turned prospect lists into a successful industry — did not appeal to them, sources said.

The third leg of the league’s proposal included a tweak to its draft lottery, which it had previously proposed with three teams, to which the union countered asking for eight. MLB stuck with three teams but offered for a team to be ineligible for the lottery in three consecutive seasons, according to sources.

MLB also continued to push for a 14-team playoff, as opposed to the 12-team version the union proposed, and offered a universal designated hitter, sources said.

Previous discussions stalled without much movement toward a deal. The league had offered to eliminate direct draft-pick compensation — which penalizes teams that sign top free agents — while the union had accepted expanded playoffs.

MLB proposed to increase the Competitive Balance Threshold (CBT) from $210 million to $214 million but added penalties for teams that exceed it, while the union said it would allow teams to place advertising patches on uniforms.

A chasm remains with most of the core economic issues. The players had proposed reaching free agency and arbitration earlier, hiking the CBT threshold to $245 million and amending revenue sharing. Which of those, if any, are the union’s greatest priority could become clearer in its next offer.

And that may offer a greater sense of whether the game’s first work stoppage in more than a quarter century takes the early days of spring training as its only casualty or continues into the regular season.

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Atlantic League ends trials with 61-foot mounds, robo umps for balls and strikes

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NEW YORK — The Atlantic League is restoring its pitching mound to 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate and returning strike zone judgment to umpires after experimenting with moving the rubber back a foot and using an automatic ball-strike system.

The independent league announced the changes Thursday as part of its partnership with Major League Baseball. The sides have been paired since 2019, with the Atlantic League agreeing to test rules and equipment that might one day reach the majors.

The automated ball-strike system debuted in the Atlantic League for the second half of the 2019 season and has since been tested and tweaked in the affiliated low-Class A Southeast League. The so-called robo-umps might still one day make it to the majors, although a move to ABS there doesn’t seem imminent.

The 61-foot, 6-inch mound appears dead. Neither the data nor feedback from players or coaches in the Atlantic League last season suggest the extra foot had much effect.

The Atlantic League will continue to use larger, 17-inch bases; anti-shift rules; and a change to extra innings that puts runners at first and second to begin the first inning after regulation and then loads the bases for innings after that.

The league said in a statement Thursday that it will announce other rules experiments for 2022 later this spring.

“We are honored to pioneer the future of the game with Major League Baseball,” Atlantic League president Rick White said. “We’re proud that many tests today will find their way to the big leagues in the future. We will continue to closely corroborate on tests with MLB.”

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