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|NEW YORK — Greg Bird was rehabbing a right ankle injury for the first six meetings between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
He carried a .191 average and several frustrating at-bats into Friday’s series opener. Then he slugged two homers and possibly gave the Yankees something to think about with the first baseman’s playing time against left-handers Chris Sale and David Price and the final two games.
While Bird could get the game off Barkevious Mingo Color Rush Jersey , his New York temmates will get a crack at solving Sale on Saturday night in the second game of three-game series against Boston at Yankee Stadium.
Bird posted his second career multi-homer game and the Yankees opened the series by hitting four homers in an 8-1 rout on Friday. After homering twice, Bird is batting 204 (19-for-93) in 29 games since coming off the disabled list.
“Perhaps, I think about that a little bit,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It was really good to see Birdie impact the ball. I was happy for him and that’s something that can kind of jump-start him a little bit because what we believe he brings is that left-handed on-base, power guy in this ballpark.”
If Bird is in the lineup, he will be getting his first career at-bats against Sale. If Bird is not in the lineup, it could be Brandon Drury or Neil Walker at first base.
Regardless if Bird plays, the Yankees were glad to see him homer to left-center field and right-center field against Eduardo Rodriguez in the fifth and Justin Haley in the eighth.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Yankees right-fielder Aaron Judge said of Bird. “It takes a lot of time to kind of get in that groove.”
Sale is 7-4 with a 2.56 ERA this season but rolling of late.
He is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his last three starts and in the last four starts has totaled 43 strikeouts in 28 innings while allowing a paltry .155 average.
Sale last pitched Sunday when he allowed four hits and struck out 13 in a 5-0 win over the Seattle Mariners. Sale posted his second straight double-digit strikeout game, sixth this season and ended the outing by fanning Mike Zunino with a 100.5 mph fastball — the fastest pitch of his career.
This season as the Red Sox attempt to keep Sale fresh for the final months of the year, his velocity is steadily increasing. His average fastball was 92.5 in April, 95.6 in May and 97.0 this month.
“I think it’s just getting back into a little bit better rhythm,” Sale said of his increase in velocity. “I’ve been saying the same thing over the last three or four starts — it’s feeling good and getting into that tempo and getting back into a little bit better rhythm than I had been starting the year. I put a lot of work into it. I’m glad where we’re at.”
If Sale posts double-digit strikeouts Saturday D.J. Fluker Color Rush Jersey , it will mark the fourth time he has at least 10 strikeouts in three straight games.
“A lot of people get caught up on strikeouts,” Sale said. “They’re nice, but at the end of the day your job is to pitch as deep into that game as you can and keep as few runs off the board (as possible).”
Sale enters the game with 153 strikeouts, two ahead of Houston’s Gerrit Cole for the league lead. He also is hoping to see his teammates produce a better offensive showing after losing for the second time in eight games.
The left-hander faced the Yankees on April 10 in a 14-1 win at Fenway Park. He is 5-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 16 appearances (13 starts) against the Yankees.
While Mookie Betts was 2-for-4 and had his 25th multi-hit game, J.D. Martinez was 0-for-4 and is now hitless in his last nine at-bats.
New York will counter with Sonny Gray, who is 5-5 with a 4.93 ERA.
Gray is 2-1 with a 3.23 ERA in his last five starts since lasting 3 2/3 innings in an 11-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on May 26. His last outing was last Saturday in Tampa Bay when he allowed four runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings of a 4-0 loss.
Gray faced the Red Sox on April 12 in Boston when he allowed six runs and seven hits in a season-low three innings of a 6-3 loss. Since joining the Yankees, he is 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox. For his career, Gray is 1-5 with a 5.97 ERA in seven games against Boston.
Blake Bortles might not be the long-term answer in Jacksonville.
He is, however, the short-term starter.
The Jaguars signed Bortles to a three-year, $54 million deal Saturday that will keep him under contract through the 2020 season. The deal includes $26.5 million guaranteed.
”I definitely was looking forward to the opportunity of this happening, and knowing that it was done and now in the rear-view mirror, we can move on and get back to just worrying about football and not having to deal with money and contracts and all that stuff Dontae Johnson Color Rush Jersey ,” Bortles said during a conference call with reporters. ”Either way, however this went, I don’t think it would have had a ton of effect on how I feel. Thrilled to be able to stay here and playing Jacksonville and fired up to continue to work with the guys that are here.”
The team announced the move one day after handing out two-year extensions to top executive Tom Coughlin, coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell.
Re-signing the 25-year-old Bortles is an indication how the front office and coaching staff feel about their current roster: They want to keep as many pieces in place for another run at the Super Bowl.
The Jaguars (10-6) won the AFC South for the first time in team history and made the playoffs for the first time in a decade. They advanced to the AFC title game for the first time since 2000, losing to New England 24-20 after having a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Bortles showed signs of progress in his fourth year despite playing 19 games with a partially torn ligament in his right wrist that required surgery last month. He completed a career-high 60 percent of his passes for 3,687 yards, with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
”Blake’s growth and development last season was a key to the success we had as a team,” Coughlin said in a statement. ”Blake has proven, with toughness and dependability, that he can be the leader this team needs going forward. Along with this contract come high expectations that he will continue to improve and help our team accomplish its ultimate goal.”
He played in the first year of coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s system and with four rookies – including running back Leonard Fournette and left tackle Cam Robinson – on offense. He also lost top target Allen Robinson on the opening series of the season opener.
So the Jags believe Bortles’ best years are ahead. But they aren’t committed to him beyond the next few seasons.
Extending Bortles should give the team more cap space heading into free agency. The Jags entered the day with about $20 million to spend in 2018.
They freed up $3.6 million by cutting backup running back Chris Ivory on Friday and could gain $7 million more by parting ways with backup receiver Allen Hurns.
There had been plenty of speculation the Jaguars would turn to free agency or the draft to replace Bortles. The Jags sent a strong message by locking up Bortles weeks before free agency.
Still, Bortles has flaws to fix. He need to be more accurate, especially in tight spaces, and has to be better adept at getting the offense out of bad plays and into better ones.
Regardless Saquon Barkley Jersey Elite , he outperformed expectations when Marrone and Coughlin built the offense to pound the ball on the ground, take advantage of play-action passes and avoid shootouts with stout defense.
Bortles’ toughness was another reason he gained respect in the locker room and from the coaching staff. He hasn’t missed a snap because of injury and handled constant criticism – including almost weekly shots from fellow players – in stride.
”I have said it all along: I think Blake is one of the toughest people I have ever met, and I’m talking about his mental and physical toughness,” Marrone said. ”He never lets the outside noise get him away from where his focus is, which is always on being a great teammate and being a great leader for our organization.”
Even more important to the Jaguars, Bortles avoided game-changing mistakes. Entering the 2017 season, Bortles had as many victories (11) as interceptions returned for touchdowns. He turned the ball over a career-low 16 times last season after averaging 21 in each of his first three seasons.
”I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Blake mature and progress for the past four years, and the one thing that I admire the most about him is his attitude,” veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. ”He is an ultimate competitor and will do whatever he can to help the team win. That’s his only goal.”
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