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Evaluating Peyton Manning's first Broncos practice

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Evaluating Peyton Manning's first Broncos practice

From Comcast SportsNet
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- His passes were hitting receivers in stride and right between the numbers, not skipping off the ground or whizzing behind their heads like so many of Tim Tebow's. The Denver Broncos got their first real taste of Peyton Manning on Monday with a spirited, fast-paced workout, the four-time MVP's first full practice in more than 16 months. "It felt good to be out there. It's been a while for me," Manning said. "It's been about a year and a-half since I've been in uniform, been in an organized practice. So, it felt good to be out there. And it will be a good film to study." Monday also was the first chance for the media to get a look at the progress Manning has made since a series of neck operations sidelined him all of last season and led to his release from the Indianapolis Colts. And Manning looked great, showing zip and accuracy on his passes, comfort under center, complete command of his offense and no ill effects from the nerve injury that caused weakness in his throwing arm. "Man, it feels good to know he's going to be on my side because what I saw today, he's going to give us some good work," star cornerback Champ Bailey said. "And we might not see a quarterback like that all year." Manning became the most prized free agent in NFL history following his release from the Colts after 14 seasons. His signing in Denver led to Tebow's trade to the New York Jets, despite a thrilling run to the playoffs guided by the younger QB. The Broncos and a handful of other suitors watched Manning throw during his whirlwind free agency tour in March, but before Monday, reporters had to rely on his receivers for updates on his progress. Manning had refused to talk about it. "Well, you guys got to see him today," tight end Jacob Tamme said. And he looked like the Manning of old. His throws, most of which were intermediate, were strong and on target. His only deep pass was true, too, hitting Matthew Willis in stride before being broken up by cornerback Tracy Porter at the goal line. Watching his pinpoint passes zip around Dove Valley, one never would have guessed he'd been forced to take a sabbatical and go under the scalpel multiple times since his last game, a wild-card playoff loss to the Jets in January of 2011. "Oh, no. Absolutely not," Bailey said. "You know, it's not live, but from what I see right now, the guy hasn't missed a beat." Coach John Fox said Manning's "getting better every day." And so are the Broncos, on account of Manning's presence. "He definitely raises all boats, that's for sure, and that's not just with the young players, (but also) the veterans," Fox said. "We're excited where that is and what's he's done to raise those boats." Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas and the other young receivers have all been refining their route-running so as not to endure Manning's famous wrath. "Well, I think they're on their way," Bailey said. "Obviously, I want to help them as much as possible, try to sharpen their routes up and things like that, but one thing about them is they get open a little bit, they're open a lot to him. That's one thing that's a big difference this year." Manning wouldn't gauge the progress he's made in his two months in Denver, first during private workouts at local high schools and then at the team's training facility. "It's hard to say. I try to get better every day, you know, that's my goal and I really need to use this time," he said. "I do think there's a difference when you are on the field in helmets going up against a defense. Up until now, we hadn't been able to go against a defense. So, this will be great work for me going against Champ Bailey and Von Miller and Elvis (Dumervil) and (Tracy) Porter, Drayton Florence. "We've got three great cover corners to work against. So, until now we've been kind of throwing passes versus air, and you can work on your timing with receivers but it's a great test to go against these corners." Manning is clearly more concerned about ironing out the wrinkles in his new offense than what fans seem to be harping on: his health status. "I've always believed you develop your timing for your passing game in the offseason, I don't think you can just show up in September and expect to be on the same page," Manning said. "So, what a great opportunity for these receivers going against these corners. I mean, if you can't get better going against some of these top cover corners, then it's just not meant to be. So, it's a great challenge for everybody." Monday marked one signpost. Up ahead is putting on the shoulder pads, training camp, taking that first hit in the preseason. "There's no question it's a different mentality for me in these OTAs than it has been in other years because of all the changes," Manning said. "But I look forward to the challenge and I just can't tell you how important these OTAs are. I think they're important for everybody. But when you're a new player, on a new team, certainly coming off an injury, I think they certainly take added importance, and I thought today was an excellent start." Notes: Among the no-shows for the voluntary workout was DT Ty Warren, whom the Broncos are hoping takes a pay cut, and LB D.J. Williams, whose DUI case ended in a mistrial Monday.

White Sox intrasquad takeaways: Luis Robert keeps hitting baseballs hard

White Sox intrasquad takeaways: Luis Robert keeps hitting baseballs hard

The White Sox played the White Sox Thursday at Guaranteed Rate Field and the White Sox won 2-0.

Yes, the intrasquad portion of this wacky 2020 baseball season is upon us.

It would be foolish to put too much stock in one scrimmage, but considering the White Sox are just two weeks away from their first regular season game, these intrasquad games do hold some value, especially in determining the readiness of individual players who have been scattered all over the country for months trying to stay prepared for some sort of baseball season.

“Guys are getting their work done under tough circumstances,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said. “I think they are understanding that it’s a sprint. It’s a sprint to Opening Day, it’s a sprint to the season.”

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Making matters worse, manager Rick Renteria missed Thursday’s activities because he had to return to California for a family funeral. Renteria is not expected to be gone long, but he will have to clear MLB's COVID-19 protocol upon his return. With testing results taking a day or two to come back, Renteria could miss a few days.

In the meantime, McEwing led the team Thursday. I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but here are some notable events from the game:

- I don’t know the exact number of Luis Robert at-bats I’ve seen in person, but it’s probably only around 15 to 20. That’s an incredibly small sample size, but in each game I’ve seen him play – going back to spring training in 2018 -- Robert always hits the ball hard. Thursday was no different as he just missed a home run to right-center in the first inning and then hammered a ball off Steve Cishek in the third inning. That ball looked destined for left field, but third baseman Yermín Mercedes made a really nice snag to record the out.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Robert adapts to Major League pitching once the games start because he certainly looks good in camp. My personal expectations continue to be sky high.

- It’s no secret that Eloy Jiménez needs to improve as a left fielder, but he sure looked comfortable going back on a line drive hit by Luis Basabe Thursday. Off the bat, it looked like the ball would easily fly over Jiménez’s head, but he tracked it well and made the catch over his left shoulder.

“Outstanding play on a ball to his left, going left into the gap off the bat of Basabe,” McEwing said. “Hard hit ball.”

- Tim Anderson looked smooth fielding a ball up the middle, but McEwing’s comments about his defense were even more interesting. Anderson spent the hiatus doing exercises to open up his hips in an effort to be able to bend more.

“They did specific exercises to open up his hips to put his body in a better position,” McEwing said. “And you can see it going to his backhand, like today, going up the middle, he was low the whole time. And in. Being able to throw from different angles while carrying something on it with his legs still underneath him. He looks amazing.”

McEwing has worked closely with Anderson on his defense for years, and while Anderson won the American League batting title last season, they’d both like to see his defense take off in 2020.

“He’s grown into a man – not just on the field, but off the field,” McEwing said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him. It’s like, OK, you can leave the nest now. You’re on your own.”

- There wasn’t a whole lot of offense in Thursday’s scrimmage, but Edwin Encarnación finally delivered in the fourth inning with a solo home run to center field off of Aaron Bummer. Encarnación continues to be praised by coaches and teammates and figures to be a big piece of the puzzle during this 60-game sprint.

RELATED: Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

- One odd site to see Thursday? A Nick Madrigal strikeout. Granted, it was looking, and I believe balls/strikes were being called by the catcher. Madrigal only struck out 16 times in 532 plate appearances across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A last season.

- Drew Anderson, a non-roster invitee, pitched two perfect innings and was the one who punched out Madrigal to start the game. In fact, he struck out three of the six batters he faced, including James McCann and Andrew Vaughn. Anderson is a former 21st round draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies and only made nine major league appearances over the last three seasons before getting an opportunity with the White Sox.

Stay tuned, as the White Sox are also scheduled to play intrasquad games on Friday and Saturday. 

 

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Edwin Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

Edwin Encarnación thrills White Sox with homer celebration: 'Do the parrot!'

To be honest, it wasn't terribly surprising to see Edwin Encarnación blast a home run out to center field during Thursday's intrasquad game at Guaranteed Rate Field.

After all, that's the reason the 37-year-old slugger is here. He's smashed at least 30 homers in each of the last eight seasons, including two spent as a member of the division-rival Cleveland Indians. Rick Hahn inked Encarnación to provide some big-time pop to the middle of a White Sox lineup looking to swing its way out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode in 2020.

But for all the homers he's hit, Encarnación is still drumming up plenty of excitement every time he sends one out. Mostly because of the parrot.

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Encarnación's signature home run celebration involves miming that he has a parrot on his arm while he rounds the bases. It's hilarious and a great deal of baseball fun.

So when he teed off on an Aaron Bummer pitch Thursday, there's just one thing his teammates wanted to see. They started screaming at him from the dugout, "Parrot! Parrot! Do the parrot!"

He obliged, sticking that arm out as he rounded second base, even moving it up and down on the way to third, much to the delight of everyone in that third-base dugout. There wasn't a crowd in the stands, but the crowd in the dugout went wild.

"The parrot made an appearance on the South Side!" White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said joyously after the intrasquad showdown wrapped.

Coincidentally, Encarnación chatted with the media just one day earlier and was asked about the health of his imaginary feathered friend.

"I think the parrot is still alive, it's still on my elbow," he said through team interpreter Billy Russo. "Hopefully when the season starts, you're going to see it very often."

Well, the season hasn't even started yet, and we've already got a parrot sighting.

Bird or no bird, Encarnación's presence in the middle of the White Sox lineup is extremely important. While the roster around him and fellow veteran slugger Jose Abreu is full of youthful potential and thrilling promise, Encarnacion, one of a slew of veteran additions made by Hahn's front office during the winter, brings reliability to the proceedings. There are plenty of reasons to anticipate big things from Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and the rest of the team's young hitters. The White Sox know what they're getting from Encarnación.

After ranking 25th out of 30 teams in both home runs and slugging percentage last season, the White Sox needed some heft. In Encarnación, they've got it.

"It gives us depth. It lengthens an extremely good lineup. It was a good lineup before. It makes it extremely longer," McEwing said. "And the professionalism, Eddie, you can’t put a number on it. You can’t put a measure on it, what he means to this ballclub, not just in the clubhouse but on the field.

"When he steps in the box, it’s a presence, that model of consistency in what he has done throughout his career and what he’s capable of doing. It means so much to every individual in that locker room, and every time we step on the field, it’s a different presence."

RELATED: White Sox pitchers up for any role in short season: 'We want to win'

As for the pitcher who gave the home run up Thursday, don't fret about any damaging effects for Bummer. He's equally thrilled by what this lineup looks like with Encarnación in it.

"I'm just glad he's on our side now," he said of the former division rival. "I'm glad he's on our side, and I'm glad that he got one (off me) when it didn't count.

"It's just kind of fun to watch. ... You see the lineup we're putting out there. I walked in, it was Abreu, Encarnación, Eloy. It's not going to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has gotten a whole lot longer, and I'm glad that they're all on our side."

It's a stark contrast inside the stadium, the difference between the mostly silent moments without fans in the stands and the incredibly entertaining moments when the players start talking and you can hear everything they say. It seems the latter could make for some added fun for TV viewers when the regular-season games are broadcast.

Thursday, there was no missing those screams: "Do the parrot!"

It's a good bet we haven't seen the last of Encarnación's avian acquaintance this year.


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