Sports Panda! Sandoval helps Braves sweep doubleheader against Nats
Pablo Sandoval makes Braves' opening day roster
ATLANTA — Kung Fu Panda has made the opening day roster for the Atlanta Braves. The team made a flurry of moves Saturday to complete its 26-man roster, which included selecting the contract of nonroster infielder Pablo Sandoval. The 34-year-old Sandoval is a two-time All-Star and 2012 World Series MVP looking to revive his career in a bench role with the Braves. The portly switch-hitter earned his spot with a strong spring, hitting .429 with four RBIs in 35 at-bats. The Braves, who open the season Thursday at Philadelphia, also selected the contracts of two other nonroster players: infielder Ehire Adrianza and reliever Nate Jones.
WASHINGTON — Yes, Pablo Sandoval is 34 and in his 14th year in the majors, a two-time All-Star and a World Series MVP. He still needed to prove himself in spring training to earn a roster spot with the Atlanta Braves and a $1 million, one-year deal.
He's sure paying dividends quickly.
The guy affectionately known as Kung Fu Panda hit his second pinch-hit homer in a week Wednesday, driving a two-run shot to the deepest part of the ballpark off a Washington reliever who took over after Stephen Strasburg's six scoreless innings and lifting the Braves to a 2-0 victory over the Nationals for a doubleheader sweep.
2021 MLB expert predictions, award picks: Can Dodgers win another World Series?
How will things go in 2021? USA TODAY Sports' MLB team gives its predictions for the new season.But things won't come easy for the Dodgers. Just two hours down I-5, the San Diego Padres may be baseball's second-best team and primed to challenge their rivals for years to come. Elsewhere in the National League, the Atlanta Braves had the Dodgers on the ropes in a seven-game LCS and their stacked lineup will be out for revenge.
“I don’t want to lie,” said Sandoval, who hit three homers in one game for the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 Fall Classic. “It’s one of those moments when you get goose bumps.”
Atlanta entered the day 0-4 but got headed in the right direction during the opener, when Ronald Acuña Jr. led the way with a double and a pair of singles to help the Braves win 7-6.
Sandoval signed a minor league contract in January with the Braves, then earned a job, which sure looks like a wise choice by the club.
“No situation’s going to be too big,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Not only in that role, but in the clubhouse, too. This guy is awesome to have on your team.”
Sandoval came off the bench to homer on opening day, then did the same Wednesday. He turned on a 96 mph fastball from Tanner Rainey (0-1) with a 3-2 count, sending it more than 400 feet following Dansby Swanson's two-out single in the seventh and final inning.
Betts hits 2 HRs in final spring training game of the year
Mookie Betts put an exclamation point on the exhibition season. In the final spring training game of the year, Betts hit two home runs Tuesday night and the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Los Angeles Angels 6-4. The star outfielder had only one RBI this spring before connecting for his first two homers. He led off the bottom the first inning at Dodger Stadium with a drive beyond the leap of Angels centre fielder Mike Trout, then connected again the fourth. It's all part of Betts' plan going into the season opener Thursday at Colorado. “Being there every night, being present every night, being able to affect the game in someway every night,” he said.
“I missed my spot,” Rainey said, “and he didn’t miss his swing.”
The righty hadn't faced hitters since the exhibition finale in Florida nine days earlier. A coronavirus outbreak that hit the Nationals kept them from working out or playing for nearly a full week.
Luke Jackson (1-0) earned the win in Game 2 by pitching around a pair of walks in the sixth.
Sean Newcomb got three strikeouts for the save.
“That’s closer stuff, right there,” Snitker said.
Strasburg hadn't pitched in a regular-season game since being shut down last August and having carpal tunnel surgery on his right wrist.
Reaching 95 mph with his fastball, Strasburg struck out eight and walked two while exceeding his total inning output for 2020, which was just five.
The 2019 World Series MVP made only two appearances last year. The 32-year-old right-hander’s preparation this spring was slowed by a left calf issue, but he showed zero signs of being anything but at his best Wednesday, retiring his last 10 batters.
WASHINGTON — Atlanta pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval drove a two-run homer to the deepest part of the ballpark off a Washington reliever who took over after Stephen Strasburg’s six scoreless innings Wednesday, lifting the Braves to a 2-0 victory over the Nationals and a doubleheader sweep. Sandoval drove a 96 mph fastball from Tanner Rainey (0-1) more than 400 feet following Dansby Swanson’s two-out single in the seventh and final inning. LukeSandoval drove a 96 mph fastball from Tanner Rainey (0-1) more than 400 feet following Dansby Swanson’s two-out single in the seventh and final inning.
Video: Yankees beat Blue Jays to even up series (cbc.ca)
“That was awesome to see,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Man, he looked great.”
The only hit Strasburg allowed was a single to the game’s second batter, Ozzie Albies. The only real trouble came in the third, when Strasburg walked Acuña and Albies, bringing Freddie Freeman to the plate. But Strasburg retired the reigning NL MVP on a fly to centre.
“My execution was not very good most of spring training," Strasburg said. “I thought my execution was a lot better today and it’s a step in the right direction.”
Strasburg, who doubled in his first at-bat, was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth after 85 pitches.
Huascar Ynoa went five scoreless innings for Atlanta, allowing two hits.
In Game 1, the Braves put up five runs in the second inning off Erick Fedde (0-1), then held on with a save by Will Smith a day after he gave up a walk-off hit to Juan Soto.
Smith, Atlanta’s fifth pitcher, didn't have an easy time of things, though.
Trying to protect a 7-5 lead Wednesday, the first batter he faced was Soto. This time, Soto walked, and Starlin Castro drove him in with a double. Then, with two men on, Smith got Andrew Stevenson to ground into a double play.
Gregorius powers Phillies to narrow win over Braves
ATLANTA — Didi Gregorius hit a three-run homer in Philadelphia's four-run fourth inning and had the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the ninth to help the Phillies snap the Atlanta Braves’ four-game winning streak with a 7-6 victory Sunday night. Alec Bohm doubled off Braves closer Will Smith to begin the ninth, advanced to third on a bunt and scored to make it 7-6 on Gregorius’ fly to shallow left. Marcell Ozuna’s throw bounced twice before Bohm was initially called safe — even though it appeared he didn’t get his foot on the plate against catcher Travis d’Arnaud’s tag attempt.
“This was kind of an agonizing week,” Snitker said after Atlanta avoided what would have been its first 0-5 start since 2016. “A good day to end the road trip.”
Strasburg said he managed to get in a throwing session with a bullpen catcher while the Nationals were idle by crawling through some bushes and hopping a fence to get into a Little League field in Virginia.
“I didn’t want to do that again,” he said.
Even though 4,927 spectators were present — unlike last season, when all fans were banned —- there still was fake crowd noise piped in, offering an odd, and annoying, hum of a soundtrack.
Braves: RHP Mike Soroka, sidelined since August after tearing his Achilles tendon, will be shut down for two weeks because of inflammation in his right shoulder. He threw an inning during a simulated game Tuesday and does not have any structural damage, Snitker said. ... Game 1 pitcher Max Fried was hit by a batted ball but neither he nor Snitker sounded too worried about the lefty's leg. “Nothing too serious," the pitcher said.
Nationals: Missing nine players because of their COVID-19 outbreak — four who tested positive, five who were quarantined because of potential exposure. Those under quarantine possibly could rejoin the club on its upcoming six-game trip, Martinez said.
Braves: Home opener is Friday against the Phillies, with Charlie Morton starting for Atlanta against Zack Wheeler.
Nationals: Planned to fly to California on Wednesday night; they open a three-game set at the Dodgers on Friday. “It’s been a long week,” Martinez said. "It’s been a long week for all of us.”
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press
MLB predictions 2021: SN projects division winners, playoff picture, World Series matchup .
Here's how SN's baseball experts think the 2021 MLB season will play out.It's Opening Day, which means we're in for roughly six months of prognostication about who's going to win what, who's going to surprise and who's going to disappoint. Of course, nobody really knows anything because predicting baseball is mostly a fool's errand. But it's always fun, because we all get to look back in October and see just how wrong we were.