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Luis Enrique has backed Alvaro Morata to win over Spain’s fans who have whistled him, favourably comparing the forward’s goalscoring record to players like Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Romelu Lukaku.

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A section of the crowd at Seville’s La Cartuja stadium whistled Morata after he missed a chance during Spain’s 0-0 draw with Sweden on Monday in their Euro 2020 opener, while some fans sang “Morata, how bad you are” during a pre-tournament friendly with Portugal.

Luis Enrique has confirmed that the Juventus forward will start for Spain against Poland on Saturday, saying the team will be “Morata and ten more.”

“Coaches have access to a lot of information that fans and journalists don’t have,” he said in a news conference on Friday. “They don’t see the training sessions. I say ‘Morata and ten more’ as a stimulus to give him more confidence, but not just because he’s missed a chance… He does a lot of things well. It isn’t about gifting him anything.”

The coach went on to praise Morata’s scoring record for Spain since making his debut in 2014.

“After 41 appearances only one player in Spain’s history has scored more goals than him, and that’s David Villa,” Luis Enrique said. “Legendary players like Raul and [Fernando] Torres had fewer goals than him in their first 40 games… If we look at active players for international teams, only one player has more goals after 40 caps and that’s Harry Kane.

“The rest, top players like [Kylian] Mbappe, [Timo] Werner, [Antoine] Griezmann, [Karim] Benzema, [Robert] Lewandowski, [Romelu] Lukaku, [Gareth] Bale, all had fewer goals in their first 40 caps.”

Morata — who Juventus confirmed this week will return to play for them next season on loan from Atletico Madrid, after scoring 11 goals in Serie A last campaign — said he’d been “calm” this week.

“I’ve been working since the under-17s to be here, to play at the Euros,” he said. “You can’t please everybody. When you get criticism for your work, you have to accept it and respect it… I’m looking forward to the match tomorrow, not just for me but for the team, I believe we can do something great.”

The 28-year-old denied that his first-half miss against Sweden had been playing on his mind, but admitted he had struggled to sleep afterwards.

“They’re moments that happen so fast that it doesn’t give you time to think,” he said. “I don’t consider it a bad miss, the goalkeeper is fast and I had to try to place my shot towards the post. It’s part of the job.”

He added: “When you draw a game you deserve to win, it’s normal that it’s hard to sleep afterwards, with the adrenaline. I talk to [the team psychologist] a lot, about everything.

“He’s available to me just like all the players. I’ve had a lot of messages that I appreciate from people, but I’m fine. I’ve had a long career. People’s opinions don’t change my life or make me sad.”

Morata also called for a normalisation of discussion of mental health issues in football. He previously spoke about coming close to suffering depression during his first season at Chelsea and began to see a psychologist to help him cope with the day-to-day pressure ever since.

“I think it’s important, not just in football but in any job people might have,” he said. “It’s true that a lot of mental health issues, anxiety, depression, aren’t considered with the seriousness they should be. Sometimes someone with anxiety or depression is told to ‘cheer up’… I’d urge people to talk to specialists. It’s a problem.”

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Strider begins recovery, says Braves can win WS

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Strider begins recovery, says Braves can win WS

ATLANTA — Atlanta Braves ace Spencer Strider began to feel discomfort in his right elbow in spring training but didn’t realize the severity of the injury until learning he needed season-ending surgery.

Strider said he had a bone fragment develop following Tommy John surgery in 2019 that caused the ulnar collateral ligament to become unstable. Strider also said he did not have a tear that required a second Tommy John surgery and he instead had an internal brace procedure, perhaps giving him a better opportunity to recover for the start of the 2025 season.

Strider finally complained about the issue after pitching four innings in Atlanta’s 6-5 win over Arizona on April 5.

“You’re not going to feel good when you’re playing baseball every day,” Strider said Friday while standing in front of his locker in his first news conference since the surgery. “So I’m not searching for that. You know, like I said, I’m going to pitch through anything if I feel like I can help the team and I felt like I couldn’t do that anymore, so I thought it’s time to say something.”

An MRI the next day revealed damage to his UCL. Texas Rangers physician Dr. Keith Meister performed the procedure on April 13.

“They’re theorizing that I tore some connective tissue … and that’s what destabilized the ligament,” Strider said. “And maybe I blew through the last of that on that game and things deteriorated pretty quickly throughout the outing.”

Strider was Atlanta’s No. 1 starting pitcher after going 20-5 with 281 strikeouts in last year, when he led the major leagues in wins and strikeouts.

With his right arm immobilized in a sling, Strider said he will look for ways to support his teammates.

“These guys don’t don’t need me to to win a World Series,” he said. “So you know they’re going to pursue that journey. I’ll be here here to cheer them on.”

Replacing Strider will be a challenge.

Right-hander Allan Winans allowed seven runs — six earned — over five innings in a 16-15 loss to the New York Mets on April 11 and was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett after the game.

Right-hander Darius Vines had more success, allowing one run and four hits with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings of a 6-1 win at Houston on Monday. Vines is scheduled to make his second start of the season on Sunday night against Texas.

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D-backs’ Nelson, hit by comebacker, lands on IL

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D-backs' Nelson, hit by comebacker, lands on IL

The Arizona Diamondbacks placed right-hander Ryne Nelson on the 15-day injured list Friday because of an elbow contusion suffered the previous night.

Nelson was hit on the right arm by a line drive off the bat of the San Francisco GiantsMike Yastrzemski during the second inning of his start Thursday night.

The team recalled outfielder Pavin Smith from Triple-A Reno in the corresponding roster move.

Smith, a first-round pick (seventh overall) of the Diamondbacks in 2017, hit .188 (36-for-191) in 69 games with Arizona last season, dropping his average to .240 in his four big-league seasons. He has 28 home runs and 116 RBIs in 391 games.

The Diamondbacks also designated infielder Jace Peterson for assignment. Peterson had only one hit in 22 at-bats for Arizona this season and hit .183 (17-for-93) through 41 games with the Diamondbacks in 2023.

Information from Field Level Media was used in this report.

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Struggling Hendricks to start, but Cubs worried

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Struggling Hendricks to start, but Cubs worried

CHICAGO — Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks will make his scheduled start against the Miami Marlins on Sunday, but the team is concerned about the veteran’s start to the season.

Hendricks, 34, is 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA over four outings that includes a league-high seven home runs allowed.

“It’s not one or two starts,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Friday morning. “It’s been four, so I think there is a level of concern, but I would also say, given his track record and given the fact that he’s gotten through some struggles in the past, this isn’t the first time he’s struggled. No one pitches in the big leagues and doesn’t have those struggles at some point.”

Hendricks has always been a slow starter, but this April has been particularly bad. Opposing batters are hitting .514 off his sinker, and his four-seam fastball hasn’t been much better. His changeup has also been problematic, although it was better last time out against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Time isn’t on Hendricks’ side as the Cubs have a group of young pitchers pushing for more time on the mound.

“Kyle’s performance needs to improve,” manager Craig Counsell stated simply. “We’re clear on that, and I think Kyle agrees on that.”

The Cubs won’t put on a timetable on needing to see improvement — Counsell said every situation is different — but with the return of Jameson Taillon from injury and Justin Steele not far off, the team is hoping for improvement soon.

“The velocity is the same, if not a tick up from last year,” Hoyer said. “His location and execution have been poor. He’s paid for it, facing good lineups.”

Hendricks will get a softer landing against the Marlins on Sunday as they enter the weekend ranked 29th in OPS. That should be an easier task than the four previous opponents he faced: the Rangers, Dodgers, Padres and Diamondbacks. In between, he missed the light-hitting Rockies (in Chicago) and Mariners.

“It’s been about elite, elite level of command and execution and sequencing,” Hoyer said. “We haven’t had that. Without those things, he’s not going to get results.”

Some in Hendricks’ orbit want him to throw his curveball more — he has nearly abandoned it over the past two seasons — while others just believe it’s the execution of his bread-and-butter pitches that needs to be better. Hendricks is the longest-tenured Cubs player and has survived in the majors on his sinker and changeup.

“There’s a level of concern,” Hoyer reiterated. “But I’m confident he’ll figure it out.”

With Taillon’s first start of the season Friday and a doubleheader Saturday, the Cubs are hopeful for a longer stint out of Hendricks come Sunday. He has made it through five innings only once this season while the team has amassed the second-fewest innings from its starting staff overall.

“The nature of the weekend is we need innings from everybody, with what’s going on,” Counsell said.

The return of Taillon means Ben Brown will go back to the bullpen after a successful couple of starts, but depending on how Hendricks performs in the near future, Brown’s role could change again.

Hendricks, a onetime World Series hero, is under pressure to perform in potentially his final year with the Cubs. He will be a free agent after the season.

“So much of what he does is based on execution and feel, and maybe it takes a little bit longer,” Hoyer said. “His place in Cubs history is secure. I don’t think anything is going to change that.”

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