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Baseball notebook: Baseball at Fort Bragg a big hit for MLB, military

U.S. Army Sgt. Alex Burnett of the 82nd Airborne Division, throws a baseball ball to Atlanta assistant bullpen coach Alan Butts prior to the Braves’ game against the Miami Marlins in Fort Bragg, N.C., on Sunday. (Gerry Broome / Associated Press)
From wire reports

There was a sense of wonderment from every perspective Sunday when Major League Baseball staged the first regular-season professional game on an active military base.

The unlikely convergence of efforts that brought the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves together on this field that rose from a ramshackle abandoned golf course in less than four months crystalized when the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade flew four giant military helicopters out of the clouds and over Fort Bragg Field as the national anthem was winding to conclusion.

The players, accustomed to being the featured attraction, were as awe-struck as anyone as they took the field against a backdrop of emblems of the various units of the 54,000 troops stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, lining the outfield fence.

“Both teams are experiencing the same thing. We’re like a kid again,” Marlins closer A.J. Ramos said.

“You always did this in the front yard, on Fourth of July when the fireworks were going off. You were always practicing hitting a home run when the fireworks are going off. But we’re actually doing it here as professionals. It feels like we’re out in the backyard playing, and it’s a good feeling.”

That they were doing it in a game that counted in front of a national television audience created an energy that enlivened players and spectators alike.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Lance Ludwig, 21, a Coral Springs, Fla., native who serves in field artillery and described his job as “we shoot rockets.”

Ludwig, attending the game with his wife, said, “Not a lot of service members get to come out and see this. This is the first time this has ever been done and there’s only 12,500 seats, so it’s a real blessing to be here.”

Tickets were distributed to all of the units stationed here in proportion to their size. They ended up going predominantly to Braves fans.

Ludwig had help in representing Marlins interests from Miami native Randolph Delapena who wore a cap from their 1997 World Series championship and vowed to “make enough noise for the Marlins.”

Randolph, a command sergeant major, said when he heard about the game, “I was enthralled. I just got home two days ago from Germany from a training event. To make it back home to get to the game is pretty awesome.”

Players from the teams had an opportunity to participate in various activities during the day, including a visit to a parachute packing facility. Some got a primer in special ops training while others met with patients and doctors at the Womack Army Medical Center and dined at a mess hall.

“I saw the gun ranges were really cool, how far they have to hit the target,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “They have one of them where the target pops up and you’ve got to find it in a certain time and hit it. If you don’t pass – hit something like 32 out of 40 – you’ve got to go back down to different training. So that’s pretty cool.”

Kind of the military’s version of getting sent down to the minors.

But the players had a clear appreciation for the distinction between what they do and the work of those who serve here.

“They’re telling us how thankful they are that we’re here,” Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich said. “We’re thankful that they allowed us to be here. It’s the other way around. We appreciate everything they do for us to allow us to play baseball. To do this in honor of them is going to be special for everybody.”

LTG. Stephen Townsend, the base commander, pointed to the cooperative effort that made the unique game possible between the military, MLB, the players association and the community of nearby Fayetteville.

“I think what I want the soldiers and family members to take away is the respect, admiration and love of baseball and America on Independence Day for those who actually provide the independence,” Townsend said. “I want everyone to take away, I think, this team effort. This is a little example of what makes America special.”

MLB and the players’ association spent $5 million to build the ballpark, which took a major excavation to create a major league-caliber field out of an overgrown, unused area.

U.S. Army Special Ops Staff Sgt. Dillon Heyliger, who spent time in Iraq, marveled at the transformation as he surveyed the field a few hours before the game. He passes the site every day going to and from his duties and witnessed the field take shape from a wasteland.

“When they were digging it out they found hives of honey bees. They had to relocate them,” Heyliger said. “It was totally untouched and unused for a long time. People would just jog and walk through this area, and I guess it was the spot to dig up and build this.”

Marlins second baseman Derek Dietrich said the qualify of the infield measured up with any park in the majors.

Fort Bragg Field has the look of a spring training park, but the Jumbotron in left field was impressive. The Braves organist provided the soundtrack with Turner Field melodies.

For one night this Field of Dreams in the nation’s military heartland felt big-league all the way.

“I think it’s a great thing we’re doing, and I think we’ll probably see more of it,” Dietrich said.

With majors’ worst ERA, Reds dismiss pitching coach

The Reds dismissed pitching coach Mark Riggins, hoping to shake up a staff with the worst ERA in the majors.

Riggins was in his first season after spending the previous four years as the organization’s minor league pitching coordinator.

But with a 5.51 ERA and a 30-53 record entering Monday’s game against the major league-leading Chicago Cubs, the Reds decided to make changes. Assistant pitching coach and bullpen coach Mack Jenkins replaces Riggins. Triple-A Louisville pitching coach Ted Power will assume Jenkins’ role.

President of baseball operations Walt Jocketty said he hopes Riggins will remain with the organization in some capacity. He credited Riggins for helping develop young pitchers in the minors but pointed to a lack of improvement at the major league level.

“We brought some guys up here probably before they were ready because we just didn’t have a veteran,” Jocketty said. “We tried to acquire a veteran or two to stabilize the staff but weren’t successful. Part of the blame rests with us, the front office. We haven’t been able to find the right pieces.”

After dropping 98 games last season, the Reds are threatening the franchise record of 101 losses in 1982. They traded two key starters in former 20-game winner Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake last July. They then dealt closer Aroldis Chapman and All-Star Home Run Derby champion Todd Frazier during the offseason.

The rotation has been hit with injuries this season, and Homer Bailey is recovering from Tommy John surgery last year.

“It feels like no rock has been unturned to help these guys turn it around,” manager Bryan Price said. “But at some point in time, the players have to perform. We’ve been talking since spring training about seizing the opportunity and we need more guys to run with the opportunity. We have some really good arms, but we can’t continue to watch these kind of performances.”

Reds agree to minor league deal with Cuban shortstop

The Reds have agreed to a minor league contract with Cuban free agent shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez.

He will start playing in the Dominican Summer League.

The 22-year-old Rodriguez is the third free agent from Cuba to sign with the Reds since 2010, joining former closer Aroldis Chapman and pitcher Raisel Iglesias.

Rodriguez was the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year and won the equivalent of a gold glove in Cuba’s Serie Nacional. He batted .265 with 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts in 84 games for La Isla De La Juventud.

“Our whole group that scouted Aroldis and Raisel also saw Alfredo,” senior director of amateur scouting Chris Buckley said.

“We all think he’s an everyday shortstop with a chance to play plus defense. He’s a very smooth defensive infielder, a good line-drive bat and a plus runner. We were impressed with his all-around defensive actions. It’s very hard to find an everyday shortstop who we liked everything about.”

Yankees move struggling starter Nathan Eovaldi to bullpen

Yankees pitcher Nathan Eovaldi is working out of the bullpen – for now.

With Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller unavailable , Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Eovaldi will be New York’s “seventh- and eighth-inning guy today.” Fresh off his first major league win, rookie Chad Green will start Friday night at Cleveland.

Betances and Miller had pitched on three of the previous four days, and Eovaldi dropped his fourth consecutive start when he lasted just 4 1/3 innings in Friday’s 7-6 loss to the Padres.

“I think it was somewhat logical with our needs right now,” Girardi said. “He’ll get straightened out, that I’m not worried about. Nathan’s got good stuff and I think he can really help us if we needed today.”

New York got Eovaldi in a December 2014 trade with Miami, and the hard-throwing right-hander went 14-3 with a 4.20 ERA in his first season with the Yankees. But this year has been a roller coaster.

He went 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA during a seven-start stretch running from the end of April through May. But he hasn’t won since that surge, going 0-4 with a 9.20 ERA in his last six outings.

Speaking before he was told he will not be starting Friday, Eovaldi said he would be disappointed if he had to work as a reliever long term.

“Yeah, I started as a starter and I want to finish as a starter,” he said. “I see myself as a starter, so I’m not seeing it as that right now. I’m just here to help the team and we’re short on guys and I’m ready.”

Girardi also said he envisions Eovaldi as a starter and said he has no plans to go with six starters after the All-Star break, raising questions about what New York might do with its rotation.

Green struck out eight while pitching six innings of one-run ball in Sunday’s 6-3 win at San Diego. Luis Severino also is pushing for a return after he was demoted to the minors on May 30, going 4-0 with a 3.16 ERA in his first six starts with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre.

Green “threw really well yesterday and Nathan has struggled for this month,” Girardi said. “We’re trying to get him straightened out.”

A day after he homered twice to get to 401 for his career, Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira got the day off to protect his right knee from the short turnaround between games. The switch-hitting first baseman came off the disabled list on June 25 after being sidelined with torn cartilage in his right knee.

Nationals closer Papelbon returns from disabled list

The Nationals reinstated right-hander Jonathan Papelbon and optioned outfielder Michael A. Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse.

The Washington closer returns after missing 19 games with a right rib muscle strain. Before his return, Papelbon appeared in three rehab games with Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg.

Papelbon, 35, is 1-2 with a 3.28 ERA and 16 saves in 25 appearances. He’s 10th on the all-time saves list with 365.

Taylor, 25, was hitting .225 (43 for 191) in 60 games this season, with six home runs, 12 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. In 138 games with Washington in 2015, Taylor hit .229 with 14 homers, 63 RBIs, 49 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases.

Twins’ Trevor Plouffe on disabled list with broken rib

The Twins have placed third baseman Trevor Plouffe on the disabled list due to a broken left rib that will likely keep him out at least a month.

Plouffe was hit by a pitch Wednesday at Chicago and played the next two games, even going 3 for 4 with a home run Friday against Texas. The pain flared up over the weekend, though, and he was scratched from the lineup Sunday.

First baseman Kennys Vargas was recalled from Triple-A Rochester to fill in.

“Another tough blow for Trevor,” manager Paul Molitor said. “He’s had a frustrating year in terms of getting hurt, getting healthy, getting hurt.”

Plouffe had a DL stint earlier this season for a strained muscle on his right side. He missed two games last week because of a strained right groin muscle.

“Just kind of battling throughout the year, playing at 65 to 70 percent, just trying to get through it,” Plouffe said. “And I would love to continue to do that, man, but this is a little bit too much.”

Plouffe was told he’ll probably need four weeks before he can swing again.

“I feel like I could probably beat that,” Plouffe said. “I typically come back quicker than they predict, so we’ll see.”

At least the rest of his body ought to be able to fully heal while he’s resting the rib.

“Got to find a silver lining, man,” he said.

The silver lining for the Twins is making it easy for Molitor to put Miguel Sano at third base every day, rather than move him to designated hitter when Plouffe was in the field. Vargas, who hit .235 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs in 82 games for the Red Wings, will see some action at DH in the meantime.

The Twins kept the arbitration-eligible Plouffe for $7.25 million, after he batted .244 with 22 home runs, 35 doubles and a career-high 86 RBIs last season. That prompted them to play Sano out of position in right field, an experiment that recently ended when he returned from the DL.

Given their majors-worst 27-54 record at the 81-game midpoint of the schedule, the Twins are certain to try to trade some of their veterans this month before the non-waiver deadline. The injury to Plouffe has reduced his value, though.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with that now,” Plouffe said. “I guess I never knew.”

Indians cut Chamberlain, Gorzelanny in bullpen shuffle

The Indians have designated veteran reliever Joba Chamberlain for assignment.

The team made several moves to help its overworked bullpen. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny also was designated for assignment, while right-hander Mike Clevinger and lefty T.J. House were recalled from Triple-A Columbus.

Cleveland is coming off a series in Toronto that included a 19-inning game Friday. The Indians went to their bullpen early on Sunday when starter Corey Kluber lasted only 3 1/3 innings in a 17-1 loss.

The 30-year-old Chamberlain was signed in the offseason and had no record with a 2.25 ERA in 20 appearances. The right-hander was selected in the first round of the 2006 draft by the New York Yankees, and also has pitched for Detroit and Kansas City.

Gorzelanny allowed seven runs in one-third of an inning Sunday.

Clevinger is 0-1 with an 8.79 ERA in three starts for the Indians. He has gone 8-0 with a 2.70 ERA at Columbus.