Nature

START: Balkovec; Scherzer, Freeman, beginnings of Correa

A glimpse of what’s happening around baseball today:

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ALL NEW BALL GAME

Rachel Balkovec is set to become the first woman to lead a minor league affiliate of a major league team when her Class A Tampa Tarpons in the New York Yankees organization take on the Lakeland Flying Tigers in Florida State. League.

“I thought about it a lot,” Balkovec, 34, said last week. “I’m just trying, with as many distractions as there will be, to lock in what we’re trying to do on the pitch and what we need to prepare for, and that’s it.”

Balkovec broke through several barriers on his way to the post. She was the first woman to be a full-time minor league strength and conditioning coach and then the first to be a full-time minor league hitting coach with the Yankees.

The Yankees announced her hire as minor league manager in January.

Balkovec, a former softball catcher in Creighton and New Mexico, got her first professional baseball job with the St. Louis Cardinals as a minor league strength and conditioning coach in 2012.

THE MAXIMUM POWERFUL

Max Scherzer makes his debut for the New York Mets in Game 2 of the season in Washington, the team he helped win a World Series title in 2019.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner developed a problem with his right hamstring at the end of spring training, but declared himself ‘ready to go’ after doing some very good fieldwork Thursday at Nationals Park .

“I knew it was a hiccup. I knew it wasn’t a major injury. I’ve had it a few times and I had an idea what it was,” Scherzer said, speaking in the visiting team’s clubhouse at a stadium he called home for 6½ seasons.

When asked what he expects for his return to the Nation’s Capital mound, he replied, “It’s just going to be a crazy, wild atmosphere.”

“You get used to playing for another team. You go out there and just compete and have fun. Lots of good memories here. There will always be good memories here,” Scherzer said. “But nothing lasts eternally.”

Washington traded Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July and he went 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings. He became a free agent in the fall and signed a three-year, $130 million contract with the Mets.

NEW RESEARCH

Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Kris Bryant are a few other stars set to debut for their new teams.

Freeman is playing his first game for the Dodgers in Colorado against the Rockies, who signed Bryant to a $182 million contract this offseason. Freeman, the 2020 NL MVP, signed a $162 million contract with Los Angeles after leading the Atlanta Braves to a World Series championship last season.

After a downpour on Thursday, Correa makes his Minnesota debut in a showdown with new Mariners left-hander Robbie Ray, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. Both players switched teams through free agency, with Correa leaving Houston and Ray leaving Toronto.

Story gets his first taste of baseball’s biggest rivalry as his Boston Red Sox take on the Yankees in New York, another opener pushed back from Thursday due to bad weather.

GOING DEEP

New Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson’s first accomplishment in Denver will be a receiver.

Wilson will throw the first pitch when the Rockies host the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the season. Wilson was once an infielder taken by Colorado in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.

After batting .229 in two minor league seasons, Wilson made a baseball late and chose the gridiron option.

The Broncos acquired Wilson in a deal with Seattle last month. He helped the Seahawks beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Super Bowl 48.

“I’m glad the Broncos got him,” said Kyle Freeland, starting on the Rockies’ opening day. “A proven veteran quarterback.”

Freeland won’t offer any first-pitch advice to Wilson.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Freeland said. “I’m sure he’ll pull a strike.”

IT HURTS

There were 127 players on Major League Baseball’s injured list on Opening Day after shortened spring training, an increase of six since the start of last season.

Cincinnati led the major leagues with eight players on the IL, and the Chicago Cubs and White Sox had seven each.

Last year, San Diego started with 13 but cut the total to six at the start of this year.

There were two additional players on COVID-19 IL, both at Colorado: pitchers Lucas Gilbreath and Robert Stephenson.

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