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Jonny Venters, after three Tommy John surgeries, returns to pitch for Rays

Jonny Venters has made a successful return to the majors after enduring three Tommy John surgeries and a six-year absence.

Pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays in his first big league appearance since the 2012 NL wild-card game, Venters entered in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night. He retired Chris Davis on a grounder, the only batter he faced.

Dickerson rounded third base, rolled his helmet toward the plate and was mobbed by teammates, with Adam Frazier dumping a jug of Gatorade over him. Nearly two minutes later, the home-run call was upheld, and the Pirates exchanged more hugs. It was just the second home run of the season for Dickerson, who was obtained from Tampa Bay during spring training.

“These guys in the clubhouse have been great,” Dickerson said. “I feel really comfortable here. The guys have treated me wonderfully and we get along really good together.”

Felipe Vazquez (1-0) escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the ninth created by two singles and a walk. Third baseman Colin Moran fielded a hot shot from James McCann and threw home for a force out, Victor Martinez popped out and Jose Iglesias hit a ground ball that was snagged on a diving play by shortshop Sean Rodriguez, who tossed it to second to end the inning.

“I thought our defense showed up extremely well today,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Rangers placed Beltre on the 10-day disabled list Wednesday with a strained left hamstring. Beltre got hurt in the eighth inning of a 3-2 home loss to Oakland on Tuesday night when he pulled up limping on his way to first base and then gingerly walked off the field after his 3,075th career hit.

Fister had been on the DL since April 10 because of a right hip strain.

The entire Rangers starting infield has changed from the lineup that took the field for the season opener less than a month ago.

Wade, a three-time NBA champion, had no interest in addressing his future after the Heat were eliminated in Game 5 of their first-round series against the Sixers.

“I love Philly, but ain’t gonna be no breaking news here in Philly,” Wade said lightheartedly. “I’m sorry. I appreciate [the concern], but let me worry about that later.”

Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union, addressed the topic in a tweet after Miami’s loss.sl_cardinals_006

Avila leads Diamondbacks in 8-4 win over Phillies

Alex Avila broke out of his slump in a big way.

Avila homered among his three hits and drove in two runs, Robbie Ray struck out 11 while pitching into the fifth inning and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-4 on Tuesday night.

Avila started his big night by leading off the third with a towering homer to deep right-center off Vince Velasquez (1-3) that caromed off the base of the second deck. Avila began the at-bat in a 4-for-35 slump with 18 strikeouts.

“He’s the guy you saw today,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “Nothing fazes him. There’s an ease to his game. In his mind, he feels like he’s going to hit.”

Dyson followed with a long drive to right to put Arizona ahead 2-0. He was batting .160 before going deep for the first time this season.

The Phillies went ahead in the bottom of the inning. After Aaron Altherr’s one-out, bases-loaded double to right scored two to tie the score, Maikel Franco’s sacrifice fly to left gave Philadelphia a 3-2 lead.

The advantage was short-lived though as David Peralta hit a two-run double down the right-field line in the fifth after Velasquez loaded the bases with no outs by sandwiching a pair of walks around a single by Avila.

Arizona then went ahead 5-3 in the sixth on Avila’s one-out RBI single to right.

“TD Garden is going to be great. As a basketball player or fan, one of the places you want to enjoy and be, it’s TD Garden for a Game 7,” said Horford, whose first postseason trip, with the Atlanta Hawks, ended with a Game 7 loss to Boston’s most recent Big Three during the team’s 2008 title run.

Added Horford: “I’ve been on both sides. It’s tough about [Thursday’s loss], but I’m definitely looking forward to Saturday.”

Celtics players lamented their offensive inconsistency during Thursday’s 97-86 loss at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks turned bad Boston offense into easy transition baskets while building a double-digit first-half lead, then fended of some second-half surges.

Now the Celtics need a win Saturday to extend their season.

“The result is our guys get to experience a Game 7, which, again, we didn’t want,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Game 7 in TD Garden is what you play for. It should be what you’re excited most about. What you worked for all summer, what you worked for all year. It’s a blast.”

The Bucks expect a frenzied atmosphere in Boston.jets_050

Penguins erase 2-goal deficit, beat Capitals 3-2 in Game 1

After the Capitals scored early, the Penguins scored often to stun their rivals with yet another comeback.

Patric Hornqvist, Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel scored in a 4:49 span to help Pittsburgh erase a two-goal deficit in the third period and the Penguins beat Washington 3-2 on Thursday night in Game 1 of the second-round series.

“I thought he was locked in all night long,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He made some big saves for us, especially when they were pressing down the stretch there. … When you get those types of saves, it’s easy to play with some confidence in front of him.”

Murray couldn’t predict a furious comeback, but he wasn’t shocked, either. Not after Pittsburgh has won nine consecutive playoff series dating to 2016, including two against these Capitals.

They provided background about the case, shared information about the parties involved and familiarized the 12-member jury — whose understanding of the NCAA and college football was treated as minimal or nonexistent — with the background needed to understand what will be presented.

In 2010, the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued a report that concluded that McNair “knew or should have known” that former Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush was engaged in violations with a would-be agent while playing for USC and McNair “provided false and misleading information to the enforcement staff.” As a result, it issued McNair a one-year show-cause penalty and one-year recruiting ban that McNair’s lead attorney, Bruce Broillet, said effectively ended his career as a high-level coach.

Broillet called the NCAA’s process “a botched investigation that produced a recklessly constructed record upon which a committee of the NCAA, having been inappropriately influenced in violation of its own rules, rendered a report published everywhere that defamed and misrepresented the facts based on that recklessly constructed record.”

Much of what was presented has been reported at length over the past several years, but what had been less clear before Monday is what McNair has done to pursue employment in coaching in the years since.jets_102

Down at half, Lowry’s 24, bench help Raps top Wiz 102-92

For a team that had been 0-23 when trailing at halftime in road playoff games, the Toronto Raptors sure went about ending that drought and advancing in the playoffs in an usual way: The second unit, led by Fred VanVleet, created the comeback.

Using a tremendous effort at both ends of the court from reserves, and 24 points from Kyle Lowry, the Raptors came back to beat the Washington Wizards 102-92 in Game 6 on Friday night and end their Eastern Conference first-round series.

“On the road, in a hostile environment, I just wanted to be another support guy out there, that can ease the starters a bit,” VanVleet said. “You know, me running the team and playing defense and stuff, I can do those things in my sleep.”

It allowed DeRozan to play only 33 1/2 minutes total, and Lowry 31 1/2, compared with more than 40 each for Washington’s All-Star guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal, who looked tired by the end.

Indiana has double-teamed James on only 16 plays in the first five games, according to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, which is less than 4 percent of the 449 plays in which he has been involved on offense. The Pacers brought only one double-team in Game 5 and it was in the first quarter.

McMillan clearly doesn’t favor using an extra defender to force the ball out of James’ hands because it leaves others open. When the double has happened, though, James and the Cavs have struggled, mostly because the Cleveland roster has been in a collective slump throughout the series, shooting just 38 percent overall and 32 percent from 3-point range.

The sample sizes are limited, but over the past four games the Cavs are 1-of-10 shooting with a turnover in the possessions when James has seen a double-team. The data at least makes a strategy adjustment worth considering.

“They’ve changed their lineup and put 3-point shooters around him,” McMillan said. “Basically what they’re saying is if you help, we’re going to shoot the 3-ball. Which is what they want to do anyway. If you don’t help, he’s going to drive the ball to the basket.”jets_138

Jon Gruden: Raiders need Amari Cooper to be the player he was his first two years

Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper topped 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. But in his third season last year, Cooper slipped to 680 yards. New Raiders coach Jon Gruden noticed.

“It’s like this, this is the first time I’ve been traded,” Quinn told reporters on Wednesday, via Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. “You commit yourself to someone and you have your family turn their back on you.”

Quinn added that he was shocked by the news of the deal, even though he seems to welcome the move to Miami.

Per Salguero, Quinn called the move “a breath of fresh air,” adding that he was “suffocating” with the Rams.

“I’m not a West Coast guy, put it that way,” Quinn said.

Maccagnan selected Bryce Petty in the fourth round of that year’s draft and took Christian Hackenberg in the second round the next year. Petty has made seven unremarkable starts over the last two years and Hackenberg hasn’t played a single snap, which leaves the Jets still in search of a quarterback and leaves Maccagnan unfazed about the prospect of picking one again.

“I’m very confident from that standpoint,” Maccagnan said at last week’s league meetings, via NJ.com. “That doesn’t faze me. It’s the college draft. Guys you’ll hit on. Guys that don’t pan out, that’s part of the process. But we feel pretty good about this year’s group and where we’re situated.”

Maccagnan added that one has to “look at where the picks were made” when considering Petty and Hackenberg’s failure to pan out. Those represent smaller misses than taking a quarterback at the top of a draft while also illustrating how much is riding on this year’s pick for both the Jets and Maccagnan since another miss could leave the next swing to someone else.bills_067

Does Cooks deal slam door on Beckham trade?

Unless the Rams are hoping for the offensive equivalent of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, the trade for receiver Brandin Cooks likely means that they won’t be trading for Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The question now becomes whether anyone else will.

Reports and speculation have surfaced that other teams could be or should be interested. The 49ers and Chargers make plenty of sense; the other L.A. team has even more incentive now to bridge the sizzle gap between franchise competing for the same hearts, minds, and wallet in the nation’s No. 2 market.

Hey, look, late-season player development that isn’t resting your best players with fake injuries, benching them in crunch time, and playing young guys grotesquely out of position!

Smith has recorded 14 post touches this season, and half of them have come over the past 10 days, per Second Spectrum. This is absolutely worth trying. Smith is 6-3, physical, explosive, and a little nasty. The point guard post-up is an underrated weapon. Post-ups are best used now to draw help and unlock kickout passes. It makes sense to try them with your best passers.

And now the Patriots, who have added the 23rd overall pick to go with the 31st pick and two second-rounders, can try to make a move up the board to get one of the best quarterbacks in the incoming class.

It’s no secret that the Patriots are once again looking for a potential successor to Tom Brady, given the trade that sent Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers in exchanges for a second-rounder. And if coach Bill Belichick is truly considering a trade that would send tight end Rob Gronkowski to a new team (a proposition that becomes less plausible with receiver Brandin Cooks gone), Gronk could yield another high pick to be added to the pile — or he could be the player who, coupled with the two first-round picks, gets the deal done.

However it plays out, Belichick may have one or more tricks up his cut-off sleeves. Watching it play out over the next three weeks will be one of the most compelling aspects of the offseason.bills_055

Giants pleased with ‘show of commitment’ from Odell Beckham

Odell Beckham Jr. says he is planning to show up to the start of the Giants’ voluntary offseason program on Monday, and the team reportedly views that as a positive sign going forward.

According to SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano, the Giants and their new coaching staff and front office view Beckham’s decision to join his teammates as “important.”

Bird was in such a good mood Sunday that he told a funny story about his only surgery prior to the shoulder procedure in’16.

“My wisdom teeth,” he said. “In high school. Three in one day. Losing your wisdom teeth is great. You eat popsicles and mashed potatoes…. That day or the day after, I got up to go to the bathroom and walked past the mirror and I kind of glanced and was like,’Wait a second.’ I looked back and I had brown mashed potatoes on my chin and my throat.”

Bird laughed again, then illustrated more confidence that better days are ahead.

“The more I’m out, the more I feel comfortable with where I’m at and what I can do to be plain and simple,” he said. “It’s weird. That’s how I feel about it.”

The Giants drafted Apple with the 10th overall pick in 2016 for a reason. He has not lived up to his draft status in two seasons, but the new staff seems to believe they can get the most out of him.

“He’s a big guy; he can run; he’ll tackle and that’s the thing it takes to be a good corner, if you can get close in coverage,” assistant defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “Everybody, every day, the one thing you can always control is your technique. We’ll work that daily. Tackling, you’ll work that. But he has God-given ability that most people don’t have. He’s 6-1, runs a 4.4, and he’ll hit you. So, that’s something good to work with.”

The Giants are leaving all the things that happened in the past in the past, with Apple getting a chance to move forward.

Trubisky’s development through his second NFL season will be key for Chicago, especially now that the QB is equipped with improved surrounding talent and an offensive-minded head coach. The fact that the Bears expect Trubisky to become the franchise passer they’ve so desperately needed is why they’re here, because Daniel, who has worked with Matt Nagy in the past, is on the roster only to help the starter develop in the offense.bills_043

The shining sun was a big tease on a cold 41-degree Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Message Bird has for doubters that he’ll get healthy and become star

They were up five runs in the first inning and blew the game, as the Baltimore Orioles rallied to win 8-7 in 12 innings and take three of four in the series.

Trust me on this: The league watches these sort of trends closely.

Maybe Davis is telling the truth. Maybe it was all an accident. Maybe it isn’t his fault. Maybe the NFL was wrong, or the supplement manufacturer added something. Maybe the players who spoke with B/R are wrong. Maybe whatever.

But it’s hard to give a player the benefit of the doubt in this ongoing PED war when we’ve heard these types of excuses so many times before.

The North team sacked Manziel with 58 seconds remaining in the game to force a turnover on downs, which allowed the North to run out the rest of the clock and seal the victory.

The South team got the ball back with two minutes left and needed to go 80 yards for the go-ahead score. Manziel kept the drive alive with an 11-yard scramble on 4th-and-10.

The South offense stalled after that first down, though, and the North defense suffocated Manziel on a designed run on fourth down to end the South’s comeback attempt.

Manziel finished 8-of-16 for 79 yards and one touchdown through the air. His lone touchdown pass came on the first play of the second quarter. He rolled to his right and found former Baylor wide receiver Antwan Goodley in the back of the end zone:

Former Virginia Tech quarterback Jerod Evans delivered what proved to be the decisive score of the game when he connected with former North Carolina tight end Jack Tabb on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter.bills_007

Jordan Matthews’ Patriots Contract Is Big-Time Bargain For New England

Jordan Matthews’ forgettable one-year stint in Buffalo allowed the New England Patriots to sign the wide receiver to a seriously team-friendly deal.

Matthews’ contract with the Patriots is a one-year, $1 million pact that includes just $170,000 in guaranteed money, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB. Matthews can earn an additional $700,000 in unspecified incentives.

The power play always drives a lot of the Penguins’ success, so there’s bonus points available in the form of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Hornqvist. Interestingly, Justin Schultz has been leading the Penguins’ defensemen in power-play ice time for a couple of weeks now, despite Kris Letang being healthy. Whether that continues into the playoffs is unclear, but it muddies the potential of Letang and makes Schultz a potential sleeper.

Matt Murray heads into his first postseason as the unquestioned starter, but it hasn’t been a pretty entry. In eight starts since February, Murray has allowed three or more goals seven times. Still, when you play behind the Pittsburgh offense, you can allow three or four goals and still win. That said, this is just his third NHL season, and he already owns a 22-9 record in the playoffs with a 1.95 goals-against average (second-best to Chris Osgood for the past 10 years among goalies with at least 30 playoff games).

Gurley was fired up about the rumored and at-this-point hypothetical possibility of the Rams trading for the Giants star, though he made it clear he thought he and coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff could make it work within the framework of an already good offense.

“Oh yeah, that’s my guy,” Gurley said of Beckham, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. “There’s always enough snaps. There’s always enough snaps.

“If we had him, man, it would be awesome. I’d be happy, Goff will be happy, coach McVay will be happy, [owner Stan] Kroenke, the whole team would be.”

Gurley was less forthcoming with confirmation that he had talked to Beckham about the possibility. There was a report that Beckham had told a couple of Rams players he was hoping to go there, but Gurley wasn’t going to admit to being one of them.

“Hmm, I don’t want to say all that,” Gurley said. “That’s my boy.”rams_062

I haven’t talked to him in the last 24 hours.

I talked to Phil who talked to him last night. He seems to be doing OK. I think he’s just sitting there anxiously waiting on some good answers.

“We’ll see,” Shurmur told reporters during the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando last month. “We’re having those discussions. We’re in discussions with teams [about practices], but you can suggest to the league a team you want to play against and then the league eventually will just tell you who you’re playing.”

Shurmur and the Giants likely will work towards organization joint practices this summer, but announce them as well as the opponents at a later date. Previously, Shurmur took part in joint practices with the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens when he was the offensive coordinator on Chip Kelly’s staff with the Eagles from 2013-2015.

The preseason is a prime opportunity for coaches to see bottom of the roster players in action to help determine who makes the team and who gets cut. Rarely a harbinger of how the regular season will play out, the Giants finished the 2017 exhibition slate with a 2-2 record.

The NFL is expected to release the 2018 regular season schedule later this month.

Even if Johnson returns to dominant 2016 form, that’s a fantastical forecast considering the dubious state of the offensive line and receiving corps.

The past two years’ worth of Vikings tape, however, bolster Johnson’s claim about Bradford’s potential in Arizona.

The scarlet letter attached to Bradford this offseason is similar to the one Carson Palmer sported when the Cardinals stole the former Raiders quarterback for the bargain price of a sixth-round draft pick in 2013: Can his body withstand the weekly poundings long enough to showcase his special arm talent?

Within two years of his arrival in the desert, Palmer was being hailed as a ” godsend ,” leaving a trail of skeptics in his wake.

That’s not to suggest Bradford is bound to follow in Palmer’s footsteps as an MVP runner-up in Arizona, but Johnson’s inferences are far from unfounded.rams_007