The Toronto Blue Jays will be without prized recruit George Springer on Opening Day after he was added to the injured list with an oblique strain.

Springer – lured to Toronto on a six-year, $150million contract via free agency, the largest deal in franchise history – was in doubt for Thursday's season opener against the New York Yankees after straining his oblique muscle during Spring Training.

The youthful and exciting Blue Jays, who returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016, have exercised caution over their big-money addition as they prepare to face American League (AL) East rivals the Yankees in New York.

"I'm hoping for as soon as possible but we have to go day-to-day," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told reporters on Wednesday.

"Of course he's got to face pitchers, live BPs and stuff, so how he responds from there we'll know more [about a timeline].

"Hopefully, the first or second day when it's time to come back, he'll be ready."

Springer – World Series champion and MVP with the Houston Astros in 2017 – leads MLB with 136 home runs from the lead-off spot since 2015. The Blue Jays as a team have 129 homers from the lead-off spot over that time, per Stats Perform.

A two-time Silver Slugger, Springer has 39 lead-off home runs in his career – fourth most all-time behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

Springer has recorded seven career World Series home runs – most from the lead-off spot all-time – and he is 19-for-56 (.339) in the World Series in his career. No other current Blue Jays player has a World Series hit in their career.

The three-time All-Star's 174 home runs since debuting in MLB via Houston are third most by an Astro in a player's first seven career seasons, behind only Jeff Bagwell (187) and Lance Berkman (180).

Opening Day.

A term synonymous with baseball across the United States and the globe. For fans, it is nothing short of a national holiday.

The highly anticipated start to the season on April 1 is an occasion steeped in history, with tradition front and centre.

This year's Opening Day means more than most. It is the latest signal of American life and sport returning to normal amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic led to an enforced break and a reduced 60-game regular season schedule behind closed doors, with a limited number of fans allowed to attend the playoffs as the Los Angeles Dodgers went on to end their 32-year World Series drought.

But 2021 will see the return of the usual 162-game calendar and more importantly, spectators in the stands. All but one of the 30 teams will start at reduced capacity – the Texas Rangers hosting a full house for their home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

As America's pastime begins anew, we preview the upcoming season, in which the Dodgers look to defend their World Series crown, using Stats Perform data.
 

Kershaw gears up for a franchise-record start

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw – entering the final season of his three-year, $93million deal – will be on the mound when the Dodgers open their title defence against the Colorado Rockies.

It will be Kershaw's ninth Opening Day start – the most in franchise history – after injuries prevented him from beginning the 2019 and 2020 campaigns, the eight-time All-Star getting the nod ahead of Walker Buehler and high-profile recruit Trevor Bauer, the reigning National League (NL) Cy Young winner.

Future Hall of Famer Kershaw boasts a 5-1 record on Opening Day, with a 1.05 ERA (6/51.2), 59 strikeouts and eight walks. The 2014 NL MVP's only loss came in his previous start in 2018 as he allowed eight hits and one earned run, while tallying seven strikeouts in six innings against the San Francisco Giants.

Since 1913, when ERA became an official stat, Kershaw has managed the lowest Opening Day figure among pitchers with six starts – 1.05. The 32-year-old's ERA is ahead of Bob Feller (1.21), Jim Palmer (1.40), Hal Newhouser (1.41) and Walter Johnson (1.51).

As for the star-studded Dodgers, they are 74-62 (.544) all-time on Opening Day, winning nine of their 10 season openers since 2011, losing only in 2018.

Their 9-1 (.900) Opening Day record over this stretch is the best in the league, ahead of the Houston Astros (8-2), Baltimore Orioles (8-2), Seattle Mariners (7-3), Detroit Tigers (7-3) and New York Mets (7-3).
 

All eyes on Tatis and Padres

Fernando Tatis Jr. heads into the 2021 season fresh off signing his eye-popping 14-year, $340m contract with the San Diego Padres.

The Padres – winners of two NL pennants – are pinning their hopes on MLB's new poster boy delivering a first World Series to San Diego.

Tatis won a Silver Slugger award last year, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season.

The powerful 22-year-old is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis – the youngest Padres player to debut on Opening Day (20 years and 85 days) in 2019 – became the fastest player in franchise history (24 team games) to reach the double-digit home run mark in a season in 2020 after hitting his 10th and 11th homers in August.

In the postseason, Tatis homered twice against the St Louis Cardinals in October, becoming the youngest Padre to ever homer in a playoff game (21 years and 273 days) and the third-youngest player in MLB history to homer twice in a postseason match, behind Carlos Correa (21 and 20 days old) and Andruw Jones (19 years, 180 days old).

When it comes to on-base plus slugging, Tatis stacks up well. Since 1920, Tatis (150.8) is only behind Juan Soto (153.9 – 2018-20), Albert Pujols (159.3 – 2001), Jimmie Foxx (160.0 – 1925-29), Ted Williams (161.5 – 1939-40) and Trout (165.0 – 2011-13) for highest OPS-plus up until the age of 21.

Across his two Opening Day appearances, Tatis has three hits in seven at-bats and two runs while slugging at .571. The Padres will be hoping he can improve on that when they host face the Arizona Diamondbacks.

By comparison, Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper and New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton love Opening Day.

Harper – the 2015 NL MVP and six-time All-Star – has nine hits, five homers and six runs in eight appearances, while 2017 NL MVP Stanton has 13 hits, four homers, 10 runs and 12 RBIs through 10 games.

Blue Jays recruit George Springer, a World Series winner with the Astros, has also impressed on Opening Day following five hits, three homers and six RBIs in six games.
 

Can Abreu and Freeman go back-to-back?

Chicago White Sox star Jose Abreu was crowned the American League's best in 2020.

Becoming the 28th player to win both the MVP and Rookie of the Year in his career, Abreu beat Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians and Yankees star DJ LeMahieu.

Abreu – the fourth White Sox player to win the award – was second in MLB with 19 home runs and fourth in the AL with a .317 batting average.

Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves trumped Dodgers star Mookie Betts and Padres sensation Manny Machado to the NL honour.

Freeman's 1.102 OPS was the second highest in MLB, trailing only Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, while he led the majors with 51 runs scored and was second in the NL in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.462) and slugging percentage (.640).

Does it bode well for the pair in 2020?

In a season after winning the MVP award, a player averages 135.9 hits, 21.5 homers, 80.5 runs and 79.5 RBIs with a slugging percentage of .516.

There have been 13 players to win back-to-back MVPs; 11-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera (AL) was the last to do so in 2012 and 2013. The most recent player in the NL was Albert Pujols (2008-09).
 

The end of Cleveland as we know them

After 106 years, this will be the last season the franchise will be known as the Indians, following the example of the NFL's Washington Football Team, who dropped their Redskins nickname in 2020 amid a long-time controversy.

Since 1915, Cleveland have won two World Series – in 1920 and 1948 – with their current streak of 71 seasons without a World Series title the longest active run in the majors.

In 1954, Cleveland went 111-43 (.721) in the regular season, before being swept in the World Series by the Giants. It stands as the highest single-season win percentage in AL history, and the best by any MLB team in the past 100 years.

Cleveland have had a winning record in each of the past eight seasons (2013-20), making them one of four MLB teams with an active streak of eight-plus (also Yankees 28, Cardinals 13, Dodgers 10). It is tied for the second-longest streak of winning seasons in franchise history (10 straight 1947-56; eight in a row 1994-2001).

Three Cleveland players have won the AL MVP Award – George Burns (1926), Lou Boudreau (1948) and Al Rosen (1953) – while five have claimed the AL Cy Young Award: Gaylord Perry (1972), C.C. Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (2008), Corey Kluber (2014 and 2017) and Shane Bieber (2020).

Minnesota Twins bench coach Mike Bell, the brother of Cincinnati Reds manager David, has died following a short battle with cancer.

The Twins announced Bell's passing aged 46 in a statement on Friday.

Bell, who was appointed to Minnesota's coaching staff prior to the 2020 season, had missed spring training after being diagnosed with kidney cancer earlier this year.

"The Minnesota Twins are devastated by the loss of Mike Bell," a team statement read.

"In his short time with our club, Mike had an indelibly positive impact - not only on the quality of our team on the field, but most importantly upon everyone whom he met.

"Widely respected in our game, all who knew Mike, on and off the field, are better for the experience."

The Twins said "at the request of the Bell family" they would fulfil Friday's preseason game against the Atlanta Braves "in honour of Mike".

As well as being the brother of Reds manager David, Bell was the son of five-time All-Star Buddy and grandson of four-time All-Star Gus.

Bell had a short playing career in Cincinnati before a 13-year association with the Arizona Diamondbacks in a variety of roles.

Houston Astros star Carlos Correa said he is preparing to become a free agent as the two parties struggle to agree a new contract.

Correa reportedly turned down a lucrative six-year deal worth $120million to re-sign with the Astros earlier this month.

The 26-year-old shortstop – selected first overall in the 2012 MLB Draft – helped the Astros to World Series glory during his All-Star season in 2017.

Correa doubts he will reach an agreement with the Astros, telling reporters on Thursday: "I'm preparing like I'm going to be a free agent this year."

Earlier this year, Correa said he would become a free agent if he was not re-signed by Opening Day on April 1.

Asked if there was room to move on his deadline imposed ahead of the season opener against the Oakland Athletics, Correa replied: "Absolutely not.

"Once the season starts and I start playing, I'm playing my last season before I become a free agent.

"For me, it doesn't make any sense to be dealing while I'm trying to focus and trying to perform and trying to help my team win ballgames. So, yeah, absolutely not."

During the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Correa hit .264/.326/.383 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 58 games for the Astros.

In the postseason, Correa batted .362/.455/.766 with six homers and 17 RBIs as the Astros reached the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

"I understand it's a business and I know how it goes," Correa said. "There's never emotions involved. I've given five, six years of my career to this organisation -- Rookie of the Year, All-Star Games, World Series champions, multiple great playoff performances.

"And if they don't see me here long-term, then another team will. It's never hard feelings. It's a business and how it works."

Throughout his career, Correa has hit .276/.353/.480 with 107 home runs and 397 RBIs in Houston.

Correa – Rookie of the Year in 2015 – added: "When I share my feelings towards the city and towards the team, obviously, I love what we built here. I've been a part of it since I got drafted in 2012, when the team was losing 111 games.

"I kind of feel like I'm one of the leaders of the team and I love everything about this organisation, but at the same time, I know what I'm worth. I understand the business. I'm educated on this matter. I would love to stay, but it's gotta be the right deal."

San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. is listed as day to day heading into Opening Day after exiting Tuesday's Spring Training matchup with left shoulder discomfort.

Tatis – who signed a record-setting extension with the Padres last month – an eye-popping 14-year, $340million contract – left San Diego's 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the third inning after making a play at shortstop.

The Silver Slugger will be re-evaluated on Wednesday as the Padres prepare to open their 2021 MLB season against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 1.

"Talking to Fernando, he didn't think it was that bad," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said post-game.

"He's like: 'In season, I would probably go'. Obviously we're going to be precautious."

Tingler added: "We're going to be just day to day going forward with it.

"Hopefully he comes in tomorrow and it's feeling pretty good. We'll just have to wait and see."

Tatis won a Silver Slugger award last season, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

The powerful 22-year-old is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis packs a punch with the bat – he led the majors in average exit velocity (95.9 mph), hard hit percentage (62.2), and balls hit 95-plus MPH (102).

He also enjoyed a remarkable rise defensively following an erratic rookie season at shortstop.

Tatis went from minus-13 outs above average (OAA) to plus-seven – his plus-20 improvement the largest of any player across that period.

When it comes to on-base plus slugging, Tatis stacks up well. Since 1920, Tatis (150.8) is only behind Juan Soto (153.9 – 2018-20), Albert Pujols (159.3 – 2001), Jimmie Foxx (160.0 – 1925-29), Ted Williams (161.5 – 1939-40) and Mike Trout (165.0 – 2011-13) for highest OPS-plus up until the age of 21.

Using the same timeframe, but for wins above replacement (WAR) among shortstops, Tatis (5.6) ranks ninth. Alex Rodriguez is top (13.6 – 1994-97).

The Toronto Blue Jays' prized recruit George Springer is "extremely motivated" to be ready for Opening Day after being diagnosed with an oblique strain.

Toronto lured 2017 MLB World Series champion and MVP Springer to Canada on a six-year, $150million contract via free agency – the largest deal in franchise history.

But Springer's preparations for the April 1 MLB opener against American League (AL) East rivals the New York Yankees have been interrupted by a strained oblique muscle.

Former Houston Astros star Springer, though, is not expected to miss a lot of action for the entertaining Blue Jays.

"The MRI revealed an injury that he is able to play baseball with," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said on Tuesday.

"He is extremely motivated and driven to be ready for Opening Day."

Springer leads MLB with 136 home runs from the lead-off spot since 2015. The Blue Jays as a team have 129 homers from the lead-off spot over that time, per Stats Perform.

A two-time Silver Slugger, Springer has 39 lead-off home runs in his career – fourth most all-time behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

Springer has recorded seven career World Series home runs – most from the lead-off spot all-time – and he is 19-for-56 (.339) in the World Series in his career. No other current Blue Jays player has a World Series hit in their career.

The three-time All-Star's 174 home runs since debuting in MLB via Houston are third most by an Astro in a player's first seven career seasons, behind only Jeff Bagwell (187) and Lance Berkman (180).

Meanwhile, Atkins said reliever Kirby Yates is expected to have season-ending surgery on his right elbow.

An All-Star in 2019, Yates only joined the Blue Jays from the San Diego Padres this offseason.

 

 

 

Aaron Judge said he is "as fired up as ever" as the New York Yankees star sets his sights on winning the World Series.

The Yankees fell short of expectations during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season – New York beaten by the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series (ALDS), having finished seven games adrift in the AL East.

Not since 2009 have the Yankees won the World Series, but two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger Judge is continuing to set his sights on MLB glory.

"I'm as fired up as ever," Judge said on Monday. "Every year, I know I come in here and say that's our goal, to win a championship.

"But, for us, the first thing to do is we've got to win our division. That starts with Game 1. … We've got to knock off the Rays first.

"That's the team that won the division last year, got all the way to the World Series, beat us in the Division Series. That's our first goal."

The Yankees head into Opening Day against AL East rivals the Toronto Blue Jays on April 1 boasting a stellar bullpen.

Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was acquired to join ace Gerrit Cole and Aroldis Chapman in New York, while the Yankees re-signed batting star DJ LeMahieu on a six-year deal.

Three-time All-Star LeMahieu finished the season with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs, leading MLB with a batting average of .364.

LeMahieu was also first in the AL in on-base percentage (.421) and on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (1.011), while team-mate Luke Voit (22) tallied the most home runs in the league last season.

Judge added: "We're playing 162 games; it's not a sprint like it was last year. But every game still matters. We want to go out there and win our division and put ourselves a good position in the postseason.

"With this depth, with the pitching we have, with this line-up -- we can be in the right position to go out there and win a championship."

"I wouldn't say our road is any easier," Judge said. "We've still got to go through Houston; the Chicago White Sox have been doing something special the past couple of years with the people they've added.

"It's going to be tough either way, but I'm excited about it. I like our team going into it, and I like our chances."

Kansas City Royals star Salvador Perez has signed a record four-year contract extension, the MLB franchise announced.

Perez's new deal with the Royals is reportedly worth a franchise-record $82million, surpassing Alex Gordon's $72m contract in 2014.

The contract extension for the six-time All-Star catcher and World Series champion – one of the league's premier players in his position and a franchise favourite – will begin in the 2022 season.

It comes after Perez was named the American League (AL) Comeback Player of the Year in 2020, having missed the entire 2019 campaign due to Tommy John surgery.

Perez hit .333 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs over 37 games last season.

"I feel so happy and excited that I'm going to stay here for a long time, for four or five more years, and hopefully I can end my career here," said the 30-year-old, who has called Kansas City home since debuting for the Royals in 2011.

"I love the people here, I love the fans. I'm excited. I can't wait for the season to start and to see what happens."

Perez guided the Royals to their second World Series crown in 2015 and first in 30 years, winning the MVP as a result after Kansas City beat the New York Mets 4-1.

The Venezuelan hit .364 with two doubles and two RBIs in five games in the 2015 World Series.

Perez – a five-time Gold Glove Award winner and three-time Silver Slugger – has 138 career home runs as a catcher – third in the league among active players, only trailing Yadier Molina (158) and Matt Wieters (140).

He ranks seventh in Royals history in homers (152), ninth in extra-base hits (351), 10th in RBIs (535) and total bases (1,657) and tied for 10th in slugging percentage (.449).

"I don't ever want to retire from baseball," Perez said. "Never. I don't even think about that.

"I'm going to play, I told Dayton [Moore] the other day, until God comes down and tells me, 'Salvy, go home'. I love baseball. I believe in myself, and this isn't going to be the last one."

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will start for the MLB World Series champions on Opening Day.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced on Sunday that Kershaw will be on the mound when the team open their 2021 season against the Colorado Rockies on April 1.

It will be Kershaw's ninth Opening Day start – the most in franchise history – after a back injury prevented him from beginning the 2020 campaign.

Kershaw got the nod in a star-studded bullpen, including Walker Buehler and high-profile recruit Trevor Bauer, who is the reigning National League (NL) Cy Young winner.

"There's really no wrong decision," Roberts said. "I just feel that he's earned it, he's the right guy for the spot for 2021 -- for every reason I just think it makes the most sense."

The 32-year-old Kershaw – entering the final season of his three-year, $93million deal – helped guide the Dodgers to their first World Series triumph since 1988 last season.

During the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign, eight-time All-Star and 2014 NL MVP Kershaw had a 2.16 ERA with 62 strikeouts and eight home runs allowed.

In the playoffs, Kershaw's ERA was 2.93 with 37 strikeouts and four wins in five appearances.

The Dodgers will open their title defence away to the Rockies at Coors Field.

Kershaw is 11-5 with a 4.44 ERA when pitching at Coors Field, while the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner owns a 24-8 career record against the Rockies, including a 3.22 ERA.

All-Star outfielder and veteran Nick Markakis retired following 15 seasons in MLB.

Markakis – a free agent at the end of 2020 – made the announcement on Friday, prior to the start of the 2021 campaign, which gets underway on April 1.

The 37-year-old spent the past five seasons with the Braves, having started his career at the Baltimore Orioles in 2006.

Markakis made his sole All-Star appearance in 2018, while he won a Silver Slugger Award the same year, to go with three Gold Glove honours.

"I just think it's my time," Markakis, who featured in last season's National League Championship Series (NLCS) loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, told The Athletic. "My number one decision and my main focus on this is obviously my kids and my family.

"I've been fortunate enough to do this for a very long time and not many people get to do what I've gone through. I'm thankful for every second and every minute."

Markakis – who won three consecutive NL East titles in Atlanta – hit .288/.357/.423 with 1,119 runs, 514 doubles and 189 home runs in 2,154 MLB games from 2006 to 2020, while collecting 2,388 hits for the Orioles and Braves.

He appeared in 2,074 games in right field, eighth most in MLB history.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said: "It was just a great career. I felt honoured to be able to manage him for the last few years of his career.

"Coming in every day, you knew what you were going to get. He's a flatline pro. There weren't any highs and lows. It was business as usual every day. He was just a consummate pro with everything he did."

"Everybody who was ever around him in this clubhouse speaks so highly of him from a leadership standpoint, about what kind of team-mate he was," added Orioles skipper Brandon Hyde.

"He meant a lot to the people who are still here who were around the years he played here. He had a heck of a career."

Expectations are high in Chicago as the White Sox set their sights on the World Series.

Gone are the days of 100-loss seasons, with 2018's 62-100 record consigned to bitter memory. The White Sox are in contention mode after catapulting themselves into the mix last year, with a rebuild firmly in the rear-view mirror following a remarkable ascent during the 2020 coronavirus-shortened MLB season.

Led by American League (AL) MVP Jose Abreu, the White Sox returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

But it is win-now for the White Sox, who swapped manager Rick Renteria for Hall of Famer Tony La Russa in pursuit of a first World Series crown in 16 years.

Liam Hendriks is another new face in Chicago as the White Sox look to emerge from the shadows of city rivals the Cubs, who claimed the ultimate prize in 2016.

All eyes are on the White Sox in 2021 and while most projections tip La Russa's team to do well, All-Star closer Hendriks and his team-mates are focused on silencing the naysayers.

There will be a limited number of White Sox fans allowed to attend their home opener on April 8 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after the team visit the Los Angeles Angels on Opening Day (April 1).

"There's been some projections that said we will be pretty good this year, but there's been some that we've taken a little offensively," Hendriks told Stats Perform News. "We're focusing more on the bad ones.

"The mindset we gotta take is 'you guys don't think we're gonna get to 95, 100 or however many wins, we're gonna prove you wrong and watch us do what we need to do and we're gonna go out there and make sure we win this division'.

"The biggest thing is making sure we prove people wrong. It's time for the city of Chicago to get on the White Sox bandwagon, it's been on the Cubs one for too long now."

The White Sox snapped a 12-year postseason drought in 2020 – officially going from rebuilder to contender.

They were the first AL team to clinch a playoff spot, but only won three of their remaining 12 regular-season games as the White Sox took their foot off the pedal.

It proved detrimental as Hendriks and the Oakland Athletics eliminated the White Sox in the Wild Card Round.

Having contributed to the White Sox's demise, 2019 All-Star Hendriks now finds himself at Guaranteed Rate Field, where the experienced Australian signed a three-year, $54million contract via free agency – a record annual average salary for a relief pitcher at $18m.

"They did a really good job with their team last season," Hendriks said. "They had a bunch of good players and guys developing they were hoping for. Hopefully we can take it into this year.

"The big thing for me is keeping the foot on the gas for as long as we can. They self-admitted that once they clinched a playoff spot last year, they kind of got too relaxed, they thought they'd made it.

"All of sudden, they went 3-12 the last two weeks and they were looking at a wildcard spot instead of hosting a series. That's big difference."

Hendriks was named Reliever of the Year in the American League in 2020 after finishing with a 3-1 record, a 1.78 ERA, a 0.67 WHIP, 14 saves (second best in MLB), 37 strikeouts and three walks over 24 appearances and 25.3 innings.

His WHIFF percentage (swings and misses/pitches) was 180 last season – sixth best in MLB last season among pitchers who faced at least 50 batters. Compared to his new White Sox team-mates, Lucas Giolito (141) was the closest to that figure, well ahead of Codi Heuer (128), Lance Lynn (125) and Dallas Keuchel (81).

"The big thing I'm hoping to bring in is that intensity. It doesn't matter, you could clinch in July but that last month of the season is more absolutely more important than anything because that's when you get the momentum going into the playoffs and that's the one thing we have to focus on," said Hendriks, who spent four years with the Athletics before moving to Chicago at the end of 2020.

"The other thing, just dealing with some of the young guys in the bullpen. They had a good first taste of the big leagues last year but this is generally the year where guys have their biggest struggles – that sophomore slump.

"They think they have it all figured out but the league makes adjustments. Being able to deal with that and bounce ideas off the veteran guys out there is important. That's why bringing in guys like Lance Lynn, who's won a ring before, is a big deal."

Hendriks joins a bullpen that boasts World Series champions in Keuchel (also an AL Cy Young Award winner) and Lynn, as well 2019 All-Star Giolito.

"The biggest thing is I'm not trying to stand out at all in this bullpen," the 32-year-old continued. "We have too many guys who can do too many special things.

"This is the part where I can lean on what has happened to me in my career. Me and Evan Marshall in the team – we've both had our ups and downs and bounced around a bit, but we've come to a position where we're at now.

"We have some guys out there who are younger, in the middle and guys like me and Evan who are a little older with kind of life experiences.

"We're not trying to stand out. We're just trying to make sure we're flowing as a unit. If one of us has a tough day, the next guy in line picks us up. That's how it's gotta be. It's not one guy coming to save the rescue, it's an entire collection.

"We're gonna have seven or eight guys out there and at certain points of the year, we're gonna have to rely on all seven or eight to get it done and making sure we have confidence in everyone at all times."

Not since 2005, when sweeping the Houston Astros in the World Series, have the White Sox reigned supreme, but Hendriks added: "I think they have the right attitude [this year]. A lot of young guys. But this is a window that's not only open for just a year, but will be open for several years. I'm excited about being a part of that. They got a little taste of it last year.

"That's generally how it goes, you get your feet wet and the next year you're ready and know what to expect and embrace it. You don't let the moment get too big for you, you just take care of business. Hopefully we can make a bit of a run at it."

Hendriks is one of the MLB's superior closers, but it has not been an easy journey for the Perth native, rather a long and winding road taking him to the Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, back to the Blue Jays and then the Athletics in 2016.

It was not until landing in Oakland and some words of wisdom from a tarot card reader that Hendriks truly felt that he belonged in the big leagues.

Since taking over as the Athletics' closer on June 21 in 2019, Hendriks has recorded a 1.99 ERA over 68 innings pitched, with 39 saves, 14.7 strikeout rate and a 0.79 WHIP in 65 appearances, which all rank first in the league.

"A lot of the time, I felt like I was just there," Hendriks said. "I didn't feel like I had a place where to succeed. I put ceilings on myself. I'd cap myself in statistical categories or whether it be in the role I was at – I'm not that guy, I'll never be at that point. Just hoping to eke out here and there.

"Then I had a bit of a come to Jesus moment, where I used some different sources. My wife actually connected us with a tarot card reader – Ruby. She had no idea about baseball and she still has zero idea about baseball. But she was like, 'okay, why can't you do that?'. Then you get thinking, 'she's right, why can't I?'.  Why can't I break that record or get to his position that I thought was unattainable? You take those ceilings off and restrictions away, all of a sudden let the engine purr a little bit and look where we are.

"There was a lot of perseverance and persistence. The biggest thing for me is trying to prove people wrong. There's a lot of people out there that say I can't do it again, can't do it again, can't do it again. Now, it's going out to prove them wrong – 'you don't think I can do it again? Watch me, this is what I'm gonna do'."

Hendriks, who was close to re-joining AL rivals the Blue Jays continued: "It comes down to having a positive mindset. I had a chat with the pitchers recently. I consider myself some kind of a leader. I wanted to see where their minds are at.

"On the board, I wrote FIGJAM – f*** I'm good, just ask me. That positive mindset is one of the biggest things. If you throw a pitch with conviction, a pitch that you really want to throw, it's going to be better than a perfectly placed other pitch because you had that vibe, intensity and aggressiveness behind it.

"Convincing these guys, your pitches get people out. It's not like, okay he is usually getting a hit.

"The best hitter in the league is going to get a hit three out of 10 times, that means we win seven out of 10 times. That's the best hitter in the league. Don't ever doubt yourself against anybody.

"Pitchers are better than hitters and that's what we need to prove every time. Prove that you're better than the hitter in every single moment. That's one of the things I've taken into it. No matter what happens, you can't hit my fastball. I'm just going to keep throwing it until you get close to it, then all of a sudden, I'll pull the string and throw something else.

"It's a little cat and mouse game but you have to have the confidence behind it."

Hendriks is somewhat of a ninth-inning specialist, having recorded a 1.42 ERA (third), 0.68 WHIP (first) last season in 19 games. Over the course of his career, he has managed 95 games in the ninth inning – only tallying more in the seventh inning since entering MLB.

Since 2018, Hendriks tops the list for ERA (1.81) in the ninth inning among pitchers to have pitched 50 innings, while his WHIP figure (0.80) is only second to Josh Hader (0.77).

So, is there an advantage to having a traditional closer as opposed to a more analytic or committee approach?

"I think there is," Hendriks insisted. "I may be a bit biased because I want the ninth inning. Just purely based on the fact that you'll see guys and they will be really good in the highest leveraged situations throughout the game or anything and then they struggle in the ninth inning. It's a different mindset, different way of approaching the ball.

"In saying that, it gives some fluidly. All of a sudden, if you're up by three, you know you're getting the ninth. If you know you're getting the ninth, you prepare for that inning. If you're not sure when you're going to pitch between the sixth and the ninth, the preparation gets a little different.

"Some guys are good at it, some guys aren't. I think any time you give a guy a certain role, it's easier to adapt. If you get that consistent role, you know what you need to do to get ready."

Data and artificial intelligence continue to play a huge role in MLB, and Hendriks added: "I have two separate ways of looking at it. I love the analytical side off the field because I love to be able to be able to compare and look at something and be like, 'okay, what was I doing when I was good, what was I doing when I was bad? What is the difference and this is one area I need to focus on'. Whether it be, for me, release height, release extension point, the spin axis, the spin rate and all that fun stuff.

"And as soon as the game hits, I don't know a single thing. I want to be as stupid as I can on the mound because as soon as you start overthinking things, you just start thinking that, you'll come up with some negative ideas and it snowballs.

"For me, I love the analytical stuff off field and ways to get better, but on the field, I want to be as dumb as possible. I use a company and they print out these little maps. The maps are colour-coordinated – get in the blue, blue is good and red is bad. It's the easiest thing for me to remember.

"I pull up my piece of paper in the bullpen, be like okay, so and so are coming up – blue, blue, blue. I don't even look at the red. I just notice where the blue is. So it's okay, fast balls up this guy is good. Easy. then I don't have to worry about anything else.

"It's a lot easier to play the game when you're not having to worry about anything else and letting everything take over."

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he is feeling "great" and hopes to re-join the team over the weekend following surgery.

Boone had an operation to receive a pacemaker at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday.

The 47-year-old underwent open-heart surgery in 2009.

"I feel great. I can't believe how good I feel," Boone said on Friday.

"It makes me really glad that I got this done because, certainly in the last couple of months, I have not felt anywhere close to how I felt this morning. Really excited about it; excited to get back."

On a return, Boone added: "I can say a couple days in now, me and my new buddy are doing quite well."

"If not tomorrow [Saturday], I'm hoping for Sunday," he continued.

Boone has been Yankees manager since 2018, leading the storied franchise to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) in 2019, while they lost in the AL Division Series (ALDS) last year.

The former third baseman was an All-Star with the Yankees in 2003.

"Now that I've got [the pacemaker] it's made me realise that I wasn't feeling good, just energy level, just not myself. I felt like I had to reach for it every day in a way," Boone said.

"And yesterday [Thursday] and even more so today, I just feel kind of ready to go and ready to kind of tackle things. [My cardiologist] said, 'this will be a pretty straightforward simple procedure, nothing like you've been through in the past. And it'll work right away, you'll notice it.' And he was right. I feel great."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said: "I don't know the exact time of his procedure [Wednesday] afternoon, but in the 7:10pm range, I get a FaceTime. And it's Aaron Boone. I pick up and the energy, how good he looked, the personality was so vibrant. And I'm like, 'Wow.'

"For him to have to go under, have this procedure, and within an hour or so he's back up and running as if nothing really happened at all, it was incredible. I know he's chomping at the bit to get back into that dugout, back into the Yankee uniform. But the greatest thing is that he just feels amazing. The newer version of him, I'm happy for him and happy for his family and happy for us."

The star-studded Yankees will open their 2021 season against American League (AL) East rivals the Toronto Blue Jays on April 1.

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone has taken a medical leave of absence following surgery to receive a pacemaker, the MLB franchise announced.

Boone, who underwent open-heart surgery in 2009, is recovering at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Florida after Wednesday's operation.

The Yankees said the procedure was "expected", while general manager Brian Cashman added Boone could return to the team within two to three days.

"As many of you know, I underwent open-heart surgery in 2009, and I wanted everyone to understand where I'm at regarding the procedure that's taking place today," Boone said. "Over the last six-eight weeks I've had mild symptoms of light-headedness, low energy and shortness of breath.

"As a result, I underwent a series of tests and examinations in New York prior to the beginning of Spring Training, including multiple visits with a team of heart specialists. While the heart check-up came back normal, there were indications of a low heart rate which, after further consultations with doctors in Tampa, necessitates a pacemaker.

"My faith is strong, and my spirits are high. I'm in a great frame of mind because I know I'm in good hands with the doctors and medical staff here at St. Joseph's Hospital. They are confident that today's surgery will allow me to resume all of my usual professional and personal activities and afford me a positive long-term health prognosis without having to change anything about my way of life.

"I look forward to getting back to work in the next several days, but during my short-term absence, I have complete trust that our coaches, staff and players will continue their training and preparation at the same level as we've had and without any interruption.

"I also want to take this opportunity to remind all those dealing with heart issues to remain vigilant in your care and to reach out to your doctor should you have any symptoms of discomfort or trouble.

"Any issue involving the heart has the potential to be serious. Staying on top of your health is always the first and most important thing you can do for yourself and your family."

Boone has been Yankees manager since 2018, leading the storied franchise to the American League Championship Series (ALCS) in 2019, while they lost in the AL Division Series (ALDS) last year.

The 47-year-old was an All-Star with the Yankees in 2003.

"It's a necessary step,'' Cashman said of Boone's surgery. "It's something that's not avoidable and needs to be taken care of, but he has no fear and I know he's just in great hands and it's just a temporary timeout. He looks forward to getting back to doing what he does best and doing what he loves, which is baseball.'

"When you hear 'pacemaker,' it kind of sets off a lot of alarms of concern... No one's going to do more research than the person that's going to be going through this, and I felt so comforted by the way he communicated with me on it that he put me at ease."

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner added: "The thoughts of the entire organisation are with Aaron and his family as he undergoes this procedure and takes the time he needs to properly heal.

"Aaron leads our players, coaches and staff with a rare combination of work ethic, intelligence and a genuine concern for others. Our only priority at this time is Aaron's health and well-being, and we will support him in every way throughout his recovery."

Toronto Blue Jays recruit George Springer is excited about the team's young core, describing them as "beyond impressive" after making his Spring Training debut.

Springer, who joined the Blue Jays on a six-year, $150million contract via free agency – the largest deal in franchise history, debuted in Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.

A three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger, Springer managed his first Spring Training hit against the Phillies.

The arrival of MLB World Series champion Springer from the Houston Astros caused a splash, his wealth of postseason experience complimenting a young group of stars in Toronto – Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio.

In Toronto, Bichette is the first shortstop in MLB history to have a .300-plus batting average and a .500-plus slugging percentage in each of his first two seasons (minimum 125 plate appearances in both seasons), per Stats Perform.

Blue Jays team-mate Biggio became the first player in league history to have at least 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 100 walks through his first 159 career games (that is how many games he has played so far).

As for Guerrero, he is the only MLB player currently 21 or younger who has at least 100 career RBIs.

Based on age at the time of games, the Blue Jays had the most hits (234), runs (148), home runs (38), RBIs (137), XBH (93) and BB (103) in 2020.

"A lot of people will say that they're young, but I think they're advanced for their age," Springer said post-game.

"I was having a conversation and you just kind of realise the talent it takes to play at this level at age 21, 22.

"It's beyond impressive to be in the big leagues that young and to do the things all these guys can do."

Springer impressed on his Spring Training bow for the Blue Jays, who will open their 2021 MLB season against American League (AL) East rivals the New York Yankees on April 1.

Batting leadoff at TD Ballpark on Tuesday, 2017 World Series MVP Springer hit a single as a designated hitter.

"I generally just see the ball and hit the ball," Springer said. "As Spring Training goes along, you're not facing a new guy every inning, you're starting to face the same guy over and over again.

"Sequences are starting to change, the game plans are starting to change, so as the spring progresses, it becomes more of a season-like feel."

Springer leads MLB with 136 home runs from the lead-off spot since 2015. The Blue Jays as a team have 129 homers from the lead-off spot over that time, per Stats Perform.

He has 39 lead-off home runs in his career – fourth most all-time behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

Springer has recorded seven career World Series home runs – most from the lead-off spot all-time – and he is 19-for-56 (.339) in the World Series in his career. No other current Blue Jays player has a World Series hit in their career.

The 31-year-old's 174 home runs since debuting in MLB via Houston are third most by an Astro in a player's first seven career seasons, behind only Jeff Bagwell (187) and Lance Berkman (180).

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo added: "I like when he leads off like we did today. I like that. But we'll see."

San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. put on a show with a memorable grand slam in a Spring Training win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Tatis is fresh off signing a record-setting extension with the Padres last month – an eye-popping 14-year, $340million contract, which is the longest deal in MLB history and also the largest contract awarded to a player not yet eligible for arbitration.

MLB's new poster boy and the generational superstar teased what is to come in 2021 with a grand slam in the second inning of Tuesday's victory against the Diamondbacks.

Tatis sent the ball 441 feet to left field at Salt River Fields – a home run that went viral on social media.

"Hit it about as clean as you can hit a ball," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said of Tatis, who hit his first career grand slam against the Texas Rangers last season. "That was really, really good to see."

Tatis, who flipped his bat in celebration, also singled in the first inning and then stole second as Trent Grisham was allowed to sprint home.

"Had a couple good defensive plays, great at-bats, did something on the bases," Tingler said. "That's everything you want to see."

Tatis won a Silver Slugger award last season, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

The powerful 22-year-old is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis packs a punch with the bat – he led the majors in average exit velocity (95.9 mph), hard hit percentage (62.2), and balls hit 95-plus MPH (102).

He also enjoyed a remarkable rise defensively following an erratic rookie season at shortstop.

Tatis went from minus-13 outs above average (OAA) to plus-seven – his plus-20 improvement the largest of any player across that period.

When it comes to on-base plus slugging, Tatis stacks up well. Since 1920, Tatis (150.8) is only behind Juan Soto (153.9 – 2018-20), Albert Pujols (159.3 – 2001), Jimmie Foxx (160.0 – 1925-29), Ted Williams (161.5 – 1939-40) and Mike Trout (165.0 – 2011-13) for highest OPS-plus up until the age of 21.

Using the same timeframe, but for wins above replacement (WAR) among shortstops, Tatis (5.6) ranks ninth. Alex Rodriguez is top (13.6 – 1994-97).

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