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decidedly increased expectations since he last pitcherd
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CHICAGO - Jason Hammel never wanted to leave the Chicago Cubs, a team with decidedly increased expectations since he last pitcherd at Wrigley Field.Hammel and the Cubs finalized a $20 million, two-year contract Friday, a deal agreed to earlier in the week. The agreement includes a $12 million club option for 2017 with a $2 million buyout. If the option is exercised, the contract would be worth $30 million for three seasons.The 32-year-old right-hander was 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 17 starts for the Cubs before he was traded to Oakland on July 5 with pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Hammel went 2-6 with a 4.26 ERA for the Athletics.The phone call that happened when (president of baseball operations Theo Epstein) said that were moving you to Oakland was kind of bittersweet, Hammel said. I felt I had pitched my way to stay here and proved myself, and he acknowledged that. But it was something that just had to be done. I knew that this was a place for me and I wanted to come back, and I was going to get a real good opportunity (to return).The Cubs still are seeking their first championship since 1908. But they believe they are in position to make a jump in the NL Central after five straight losing seasons.Besides bringing back Hammel, they added three-time All-Star Jon Lester with a $155 million, six-year agreement likely to be completed next week. They also acquired two-time All-Star catcher Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks.All those moves came after the Cubs hired one of the games top managers, replacing Rick Renteria with former Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon. Hammel played for Maddon with the Rays and teamed with Lester in Oakland.The two pitchers talked about the Cubs, although Lester knew Chicagos front office well from their time together in Boston.I think the Theo-Jon bromance was gonna happen, anyways, Hammel said.With Lester and Hammel joining Jake Arrieta (10-5 with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts) and Kyle Hendricks (7-2, 2.46 ERA), the Cubs figure to have a strong rotation.Chicago also has a pair of All-Stars in shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Young sluggers Javier Baez and Jorge Soler arrived in the majors last season and another wave of prospects is in the pipeline, including third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell.You see a lot of things going on right now, Hammel said. Its not just shtick. Its not just flash. Theyre making a commitment to winning here. Joel Eriksson Ek Jersey . Dougie Hamilton and Jordan Caron scored in the first period after the Red Wings had miscues on the ice and Tuukka Rask finished with a 23-save shutout, giving Boston a 3-0 win over the Red Wings and a 2-1 series lead in their first-round series. Jonas Brodin Wild Jersey . The All Blacks played their best rugby of recent years when they beat South Africa 38-27 in Johannesburg two weeks ago, clinching the Rugby Championships in a match which has been hailed as one of the best ever played. http://www.authenticwildpro.com/Zach-par...ld-jersey/ . "Right now were kind of looking at him at the end of the rotation right now," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "Not indicative of how hes doing or how hes feeling. Its just, it seems like the spot we want him right now. Mikko Koivu Jersey . Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Wild team that has a nice mix of proven veterans along with young, inexpensive talent on the rise. When the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, making a big splash in the summer of 2012, it set the franchise on a path to being more competitive, but a big reason that they have been so competitive is the contributions of young players who still have more to give. Zach Parise Jersey . After just two league games in June, Toronto (6-4-1) will go on to play seven in July plus a friendly against Tottenham. Five of those contests are against Eastern Conference opposition, meaning valuable points in the playoff race are on the line.DENVER - The team that rolled into the Super Bowl on the strength of Peyton Mannings right arm last season doesnt look nearly as efficient through the air anymore.The Denver Broncos couldnt be happier with the way theyve morphed into a well-rounded team that can win in the wintry weather: with a dominant defence and a good ground game.I feel good about this team, Broncos coach John Fox said, adding hell feel even better after a weeks rest.The Broncos (12-4) secured the AFCs No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a 47-14 whooping of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in which Manning didnt throw a single touchdown pass.While Manning was held out of the end zone for the second time this month — after throwing a touchdown pass for 51 consecutive games — C.J. Anderson ran for three touchdowns, one of which was set up by Omar Boldens 76-yard kickoff return, Connor Barth kicked four field goals and cornerback Tony Carter capped a dominant day by the defence with a fumble return for a score.When you get all three phases of the game playing like we did today, we can be a dangerous team to stop, said Anderson, who has eight TD runs to Mannings five TD throws since Thanksgiving.Anderson gained 87 yards on just 13 carries for a 6.7-yard average and finished the season with 1,173 yards from scrimmage despite not winning the starting tailback job until midseason.C.J.s been great, Manning said. Hes been really solid and good in the passing game, good in the pass protection and made a lot of big runs. The lines done a good job of springing him. It was good to get Ronnie (Hillman) back today. Those two guys can be a pretty good little 1-2 punch.Hillman returned to the Broncos backfield for the first time since spraining his left foot Nov. 9 and added 56 yards on 15 rushes.Other takeaways from Denvers seventh straight win over the Raiders (3-13), who lost their 11th straight road game and missed the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season:WELCOME BREAK: The Broncos had their bye way back in September and sorely need the extra week. Not only did Manning acknowledge he was a little beat up physically, but safety David Bruton and left guard Orlando Franklin sustained concussions.Demaryius Thomas (hand) and Emmmanuel Sanders (back), who combined for 212 catches for 3,023 yards and 20 touchdowns, are ailing.dddddddddddd And the bye week will allow top tackler Brandon Marshall (foot) and Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward (neck) more time to get healthy.I feel like all the other players in the locker room, guys that have played 17 weeks of physical football, Manning said. I think this bye week is coming at a good time.SPECIAL TEAMS: The Broncos have found some spark in their return game after switching from Isaiah Burse to Wes Welker on punts and from Bubba Caldwell to Bolden on kickoffs.Welker had punt returns of 18 and 19 yards and Boldens 76-yard kickoff return set up a score Sunday.I enjoy getting the ball in my hands, said Welker, whose 49 catches for 464 yards and two TDs represented his worst statistical season since 2005 in Miami.SAFETY INJURED: Bruton was briefly hospitalized after being carted off the field following an illegal hit by Denico Autry while covering a punt return late in the game. The team said Bruton sustained a concussion but was cleared of any other injuries.As Bruton lay on the field receiving medical attention, his teammates and coach John Fox surrounded him. Before Bruton was carted off, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr patted him on the chest. Bruton waved to the crowd as he disappeared into the tunnel, drawing a large ovation.WELCOME BACK?: The Raiders may be in the market for a new coach and starting free safety. Or maybe not. Interim coach Tony Sparano is hoping to return in 2015, and one of his biggest supporters is 38-year-old Charles Woodson.I think the guys on this team, they actually believe in Coach Sparano, Woodson said. He did a good job with the guys on a week-to-week basis, trying to get us ready for games, having us prepared as a team. I think hes made a good case.Woodson thinks he made a good case to return for another season himself.Notes: Brock Osweiler threw the first TD pass of his three-year career, a 1-yarder to Virgil Green, a first for the fourth-year tight end. ... Thomas broke Rod Smiths franchise record with 1,619 yards receiving.___AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed.___AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL ' ' '
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