Vidal Nuno’s Big Chance

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(Brian Blanco/Getty)

(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Through the first three weeks of the season, the starting rotation has been the clear strength of the Yankees’ roster. The lineup and bullpen have been solid overall too, don’t get me wrong, but the starting staff has really stood out to me. That rotation took a hit yesterday when it became all but official that Ivan Nova will have Tommy John surgery, ending his season. He was not particularly good before getting hurt but those are still some big shoes to fill. Nova has shown he can be excellent for weeks at a time.

The first opportunity to fill those shoes is going to Vidal Nuno, almost by default. The southpaw made a rainout/doubleheader necessitated spot start on Sunday and he lines up perfectly to fill Nova’s spot thanks to Monday’s off-day. Nuno pitched well on Sunday (five shutout innings against the Rays) and I’m sure the rotation outlook would look much different if he got bombed. It might be David Phelps or heck, even Al Aceves making the start if Sunday didn’t go well.

Nuno was part of the four-headed fifth starter competition in Spring Training but I felt he was the long shot. That he pitched so well in camp and was still the first one eliminated from the competition makes me think I wasn’t wrong. And yet, he somehow he is the first loser of that competition to land in the rotation during the regular season. Things just fell into place for him. Adam Warren has taken over as a key setup man and Phelps was needed in middle relief, leaving Nuno for the spot start. He took advantage on Sunday.

Joe Girardi didn’t mince words when announcing the 26-year-old Nuno would remain in the rotation — “He is our fifth starter now,” he said to reporters prior to last night’s game — and we all know Nova isn’t coming back anytime soon. That rotation spot is wide open and it’ll go to whoever performs the best. Nuno gets a head start on the in-house competition and that’s big. He has a chance to not give the other guys chances. If he pitches well, he’ll keep the job no questions asked. It’s the opportunity of a baseball lifetime.

Remember, Nuno is a former 48th round pick who was toiling away in an independent league before hooking on with New York a few years ago. He’s had to overcome some seriously long odds to get where he is — starting pitcher for the New York frickin’ Yankees! — and I doubt the magnitude of this opportunity is lost on him. Can his soft-ish tossing ways allow him to turn over a lineup multiple times every fifth day in the AL East? Maybe, maybe not. He’s going to get a chance to show everyone if it does despite looking like little more than the team’s eighth starter just three weeks ago.

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That win was much easier than the last one. The Yankees jumped out to early lead against the Red Sox on Tuesday night before piling on in the middle innings and walking away with a 9-3 win in the series opener.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Early Runs
This game started almost exactly like I hoped it would: with a Jacoby Ellsbury ground-rule triple. Well, kinda. He ripped a two-strike pitch from Jon Lester to dead center field that some idiot reached over the wall and tried the grab. The guy almost fell onto the field. He was reaching out pretty far. Anyway, the ball hit the guy’s hands and Ellsbury ran all the way around the bases, but the umpires sent him back to third on the interference. They could have sent him to second but determined he would have been at third on the play. Short of a leadoff homer, I’m not sure Ellsbury could have started his first game back at Fenway Park any better.

Derek Jeter and Carlos Beltran followed the triple with well-struck singles to plate two quick runs. (Jeter moved to second on a passed ball before scoring on Beltran’s single.) It was clear early on that Lester was not as sharp as he’s been the last few weeks, struggling to locate to the corners of the plate in particular. When he missed, he missed way off the plate. Nine pitches into the game, the Yankees had three hits and two runs. Boston was playing catch-up before the anthem ended.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Tanaka You Out
I thought this was Masahiro Tanaka‘s worst start so far, which tells you how good he’s been. He held the Red Sox to two run on seven hits in 7.1 innings of work — the two runs came on back-to-back homers and the first was a monster blast from David Ortiz over the bullpen in center-ish field. I remember seeing Alex Rodriguez hit a ball there once, but can’t remember any others — throwing 73 of his 105 pitches for strikes. Tanaka generated a season-low 12 swings and misses, which is still pretty good. Here is the PitchFX breakdown from Brooks Baseball. Remember, the data may change overnight.

Obviously he was effective, but I didn’t think Tanaka was as sharp in this game as he was in his last three. It seemed like his splitter was too far down for a lot of easy takes, and Brian McCann sure had to move his glove a lot. Lots of missed locations. It wasn’t a disaster outing but Tanaka wasn’t fully on either. It’s okay, it happens. That it happened and he still put together a pretty great start shows you just how special Tanaka is. Nothing seems to bother the guy — it was raining for most of the game — and he found a way to succeed even when he didn’t have it all working. It’s pretty clear Tanaka is the staff ace right now. What a stud.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

All With Two Outs
For a little while it looked like the Yankees would regret failing to score after having the bases loaded with one out in both the second and third innings. (Ellsbury and Beltran grounded into double plays.) They were nursing a 4-2 lead when Mark Teixeira (walk) and McCann (single) reached base to lead off the top of the fifth. Yangervis Solarte and Ichiro Suzuki followed with strikeouts, and it looked like another rally was about to die far too young.

Instead, the Yankees put on a situational hitting clinic. And they got lucky too — Brian Roberts laced a line drive off Mike Napoli’s glove to score a run and extend the inning. It should have been the third out. A big league first baseman’s gotta make that play. Ellsbury ended Lester’s night with an eight-pitch at-bat, lining a single to left-center to score two runs. Derek Jeter capped the rally off with a single back up the middle to score the fourth and final run of the inning. Both Roberts and Ellsbury reached base in two-strike counts and, as you can tell, all four runs scored with two outs. Two-out runs are backbreakers.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Beltran tacked on a garbage time solo homer in the eighth to give the Yankees their ninth run. The wrap-around 8-9-1-2-3 portion of the lineup went a combined 10-for-23 with two doubles, one triple, and one homer. All five guys had exactly two hits. McCann went 3-for-4 with a walk and three singles, and all three hits were to the opposite field. He even hit some foul balls the other way. What’s that about?

Solarte went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and is now in an 0-for-15 slump. Anecdotally, it seems like he’s seeing way more breaking balls than he did earlier in the season. Solarte did make two excellent barehand plays, one to get Jackie Bradley Jr. on a bunt and another to get Napoli on a slow tapper. Teixeira came off the bag to snap the throw and tag Bradley.

Dellin Betances was the only reliever used and he allowed his first run of the season. It was bound to happen at some point. Otherwise he retired five of seven batters faced, including two via strikeout. He now has 16 strikeouts in 9.2 innings this year. Is that good? That seems good.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights while some nerdier stats are at FanGraphs. ESPN has the up to the minute standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams on Wednesday night, when Michael Pineda is scheduled to start against John Lackey. The forecast isn’t looking so good right now, but that can change over the next 20 hours or so. Hopefully it does. Big Mike day is one of my favorite days of the week.

Categories : Game Stories
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Got some notes to pass along:

  • RHP Ty Hensley threw a bullpen session today, according to his Twitter feed. He missed all of last year after having surgery on both hips, and he’s been slowed by a hernia early this year. Not sure how long he’s been throwing off a mound.
  • RHP Shane Greene will make his first start of the season with Triple-A Scranton on Thursday. He’s been up and down a few times and hasn’t pitched much. Also, IF Zelous Wheeler (back) is close to returning. [Donnie Collins]
  • And finally, here is Keith Law’s write-up on last night’s Low-A Charleston game. It’s behind the Insider paywall, but here’s the short version: RHP Luis Severino and OF Aaron Judge were very impressive, SS Abi Avelino and 2B Gosuke Katoh not so much.

Triple-A Scranton (6-5 win over Buffalo, walk-off style)

  • LF Ramon Flores: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • 3B Scott Sizemore: 2-5, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • RF Zoilo Almonte: 1-5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K — walk-off double
  • CF Adonis Garcia: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — 15 hits in his last 41 at-bats (.366)
  • DH Ronnie Mustelier: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 K
  • C Francisco Arcia: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) — C Austin Romine was supposed to start but did not play according to Donnie Collins … he was not on the bench or lined up for the anthem either … not sure what’s up there, but he could be sick or something
  • RHP Brian Gordon: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 4/8 GB/FB — 59 of 94 pitches were strikes (63%)

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Categories : Down on the Farm
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This game is a Very Big Deal. Or at least that’s what we’ll hear all night (and all series, really) because it is Masahiro Tanaka‘s first career start in Fenway Park. Everything is bigger when it comes to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry and acting like mid-April games are more meaningful than they really are is part of it. It’s kind of annoying but whatever. Annoying if the Yankees lose, anyway.

David Robertson is back off the 15-day DL and he will be a huge boost to a bullpen that was started to get a little exposed late last week. Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren did fine jobs as the interim closer and setup man, respectively, but now they’ll be pitching one inning earlier. It’s not necessarily the ninth inning that improves with Robertson back, it’s the middle innings, the sixth and seventh. Re-adding an elite reliever the roster has a trickle-down effect. Here is the Red Sox lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. LF Alfonso Soriano
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Yangervis Solarte
  8. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  9. 2B Brian Roberts
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy and warm in Boston, plus it’s supposed to start raining later tonight and continue right through to tomorrow night. Doesn’t looking like it will be a problem for tonight’s game unless it goes to extra innings. Tomorrow is another matter, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET, and you can watch the game on My9 and MLB Network. Enjoy.

Rotation Update: As expected, Joe Girardi announced Vidal Nuno will get another start following Ivan Nova‘s elbow injury. He’s scheduled to start Saturday against the Angels.

Categories : Game Threads
Comments (676)
  • Surgery recommended for Ivan Nova following second opinion

    After being re-evaluated by team doctor Dr. Ahmad on Monday, surgery has been recommended for Ivan Nova’s partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, the Yankees announced. An MRI arthrogram confirmed the original diagnosis.

    Nova, 27, left Saturday’s start with a sore elbow and initial tests revealed the partial UCL tear. Rest and rehab never seems to work, and once the ligament starts tearing, Tommy John surgery becomes inevitable. Now that it has been officially recommended by the team doctor, it’s just a matter of setting a date and going under the knife. The procedure will sideline Nova for 12-18 months. Sucks.
    · (47) ·



For the second time in a little more than a week, the Yankees and Red Sox meet for what is sure to be a tense, time-consuming, over-hyped, and over-analyzed series. This time the scene shifts to Boston and Fenway Park. The Yankees won three of four from their rivals in the Bronx the weekend before last. This will be Jacoby Ellsbury‘s first trip back to Boston since signing with New York.

What Have They Done Lately?
Since these two teams last met, the Red Sox took two of three from the White Sox and split a four-game series with the Orioles. They are 9-11 with a -6 run differential overall, which currently has them in the AL East cellar. Little too early to start worrying about division standings, but that’s just me.

The BoSox were really struggling to score runs when they were in town a week and a half ago, but they scored six runs in each of their last two games and appear to be coming around offensively. They currently average 3.8 runs per game with a team 92 wRC+, both below-average marks. The Red Sox are currently without OF Shane Victorino (hamstring) and 3B Will Middlebrooks (calf), neither of whom is expected to return this series even though they are out on minor league rehab assignments.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

As usual, manager John Farrell’s lineup is anchored by 2B Dustin Pedroia (95 wRC+) and DH David Ortiz (100 wRC+), both of whom are off to slow starts compared to their usual levels of production. 1B Mike Napoli (140 wRC+) has been the team’s best hitter, and the recently called up Brock Holt (173 wRC+) has taken over at third base and the leadoff spot. SS Xander Bogaerts is having a strong rookie campaign (123 wRC+) as well.

Platoon OF Jonny Gomes (98 wRC+) is seeing more playing time than he should, mostly because OF Daniel Nava (38 wRC+) has been awful. OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (82 wRC+) is starting to take playing time away from OF Grady Sizemore (80 wRC+). The catching platoon of C A.J. Pierzynski (61 wRC+) and C David Ross (125 wRC+) has been okay overall. IF Jonathan Herrera (55 wRC+) and 1B/OF Mike Carp (89 wRC+) fill out the bench. Obligatory it is still early and those numbers came from small samples reminder.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Jon Lester (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Lester, 30, has been as good as ever in 2014, just as he’s getting ready to test the free agent waters this coming offseason. He has a 2.17 ERA (2.39 FIP) in four starts and 29 innings, pairing excellent strikeout (9.00 K/9 and 25.7 K%) and walk (1.24 BB/9 and 3.5 BB%) rates with a strong ground ball rate (46.1%). Lester has crushed left-handed batters (.237 wOBA) and been slightly less successful against righties (.280 wOBA). A low-90s fastball and upper-80s cutter set up his mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. Lester held the Yankees to two runs in 6 2/3 innings the weekend before last.

Rare photo of Lackey being uphappy about something. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Rare photo of John Lackey being uphappy about something. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP John Lackey (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
One reason the Red Sox won the World Series last year was Lackey going from injured and awful to a reliable workhorse starter. The 35-year-old has a 5.25 ERA (4.74 FIP) in 24 innings and four starts so far, though his strikeout (8.63 K/9 and 22.1 K%) and walk (2.63 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%) numbers remain very good. He is very air ball prone (38.0% grounders), however, and righties have just mashed him (.416 wOBA). Lefties aren’t doing so bad either (.331 wOBA). Lackey throws both a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s cutter, and his upper-70s curveball remains his go-to pitch. He doesn’t throw a changeup anymore. The Yankees roughed Lackey up for six runs in 5.2 innings in their last series.

Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Felix Doubront (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Doubront, 26, has a 5.48 ERA (4.30 FIP) in four starts and 21.1 innings this year, making him the clear weak link in Boston’s rotation. His strikeout rate (6.33 K/9 and 15.6 K%) has fallen quite a bit these last two years, but he still walks a bunch (3.80 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) and his ground ball rate (44.3%) has remained static. Lefties has crushed him so far this year (.438 wOBA), but that’s a sample size problem. Righties have gotten him for a .309 wOBA. Doubront’s big breaking mid-70s curveball is his money pitch, and he’ll also throw low-90s heaters, mid-80s cutters, and some low-80s changeups to righties. The Yankees scored three runs in 6.2 innings against the southpaw in their last series.

Tazawa and Uehara. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Tazawa and Uehara. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Bullpen Status
The Orioles did the Yankees a real favor yesterday. Baltimore knocked Clay Buchholz out of the game in the third inning, forcing Farrell to get 6.2 innings out of his bullpen. RHP Burke Badenhop (4.31 FIP) threw 3.2 innings and 40 pitches, so he’ll be out of commission tonight. LHP Craig Breslow (2.48 FIP) threw two innings and 23 pitches, and could be limited tonight if he’s even available. LHP Andrew Miller (2.39 FIP) has pitched each of the last two days. Their lefty relievers have been worked hard these last few days.

Closer RHP Koji Uehara (0.36 FIP) recently returned from a little shoulder issue. He’s set up by RHP Junichi Tazawa (1.19 FIP) and occasionally RHP Edward Mujica (2.37 FIP). LHP Chris Capuano (1.48 FIP) has graduated from strict long relief work to more of a medium-to-high-leverage guy. All of them except Uehara pitched Sunday night. The Yankees had yesterday off and are in good shape bullpen-wise, especially since David Robertson was activated off the 15-day DL this morning. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage details, then check out Over the Monster for the latest and greatest on the Red Sox.

Categories : Series Preview
Comments (111)
  • Yankees activate David Robertson off 15-day DL

    As expected, the Yankees have activated closer David Robertson off the 15-day DL, the team announced. He missed the minimum 15 days with a groin strain. Robertson threw in the bullpen last week and pitched in an Extended Spring Training game over the weekend. Bryan Mitchell was returned to Double-A Trenton yesterday to clear a roster spot.

    The Yankees also announced that lefty Cesar Cabral has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. He was designated for assignment the other day to make room on the roster for Matt Daley. Because he has been outrighted off the 40-man roster in the past, Cabral can elect free agency rather than report to Triple-A. I think he has three days to make that decision, but don’t hold me to that.
    · (31) ·

Nuno throws weird. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Nuno throws weird. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

There was no update on Ivan Nova yesterday after he had his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament re-evaluated in New York during the off-day. It’s tough not to assume the worst and it has nothing to do with the lack of an update. Partially torn UCLs almost always result in Tommy John surgery at some point, usually right away. Nova hasn’t been great this year but it is still a pretty big blow to the Yankees because he can pitch very well for extended periods of time. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts.

1. Back before Spring Training I said Nova needed to show the Yankees who he really is this season, meaning is he someone who can be a core piece going forward or just another back-end arm? He won’t get the opportunity to show the team anything now, and, given the timing of the injury, he only has one more full season of pitching (2016) left before qualifying for free agency. We still don’t know what Nova is now, after nearly three full years in the rotation, and chances are half the 2015 season and all of 2016 won’t provide much clarity. In addition to weakening the rotation this year, the injury won’t help the Yankees determine whether Nova is worth a decent financial commitment and a rotation spot long-term. This really throws a wrench into things.

2. With Vidal Nuno in the rotation (at least temporarily) and Bryan Mitchell being shipped back to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot for David Robertson, it sure seems like Preston Claiborne will be sticking around for a while. He really struggled down the stretch last year and was terrible in Spring Training, plus his outing on Sunday was pretty shaky despite two scoreless innings. Robertson’s return means Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren will move down a notch into eighth and seventh inning roles, respectively, and both Dellin Betances and David Phelps are more deserving of middle relief work than Claiborne right now. Claiborne feels like the default long reliever by default even though he can only go two (maaaybe three) innings at a time. It’s a weird bullpen situation and not really ideal. I’d prefer to see someone like Shane Greene or Al Aceves up as the true long man.

3. If the Yankees aren’t going to swap Claiborne out for a real long man, then a second left-hander might be better use of the roster spot. They have series coming up against the Red Sox, Mariners, and Rays, three teams loaded with lefty bats. Nova got hurt at a bad time — this is when it would have been really nice to have Nuno available as an extra southpaw in the bullpen. With Cesar Cabral gone, the only upper-level lefty reliever in the organization is Fred Lewis, and he hasn’t been all that good with Triple-A Scranton these first few weeks. He’d need a 40-man roster spot as well. So yeah, while it would be nice to have a second southpaw available these next two weeks or so, the Yankees won’t have one without making a series of roster moves.

4. That series against the Mariners starts one week from today and will be Robinson Cano‘s first time back in the Bronx since leaving as a free agent. I’m interested to see the fan reaction — I assume he’ll get booed, but I hope he gets cheered in at least his first at-bat because he was the team’s best player for four years and he helped them win a World Series. I also think it’s kinda silly to boo him for taking more money when the Yankees have been buying other teams’ best players for decades — but I’m more interested to see how the Yankees pitch to him and set up defensively. They should know Robbie better than anyone. They should know the best places to pitch him and where he tends to hit the ball when he puts it in play. Here is his spray chart:

Source: FanGraphs

Cano slashes line drives to all fields, but when he hits the ball on the ground, he tends to pull it to the right side of the infield. When he hits a fly ball, it usually to go the other way to left and left-center field  (right to Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury). We also know Robbie will bunt to the beat the shift (remember this?), so how do they defend him? I haven’t the slightest idea. I’m very interested to see how the Yankees go after him now that he’s wearing the wrong uniform.

5. So who hits a homer first, Ellsbury or Mark Teixeira? Teixeira seems like the easy call because of their reputations, but I’m not so sure. He is coming back from the wrist injury and has a ton of rust to shake off, plus I can’t ignore how David Ortiz and Jose Bautista saw their power numbers take a hit in the first few months following their tendon sheath injuries. Ellsbury is healthy and he’s swinging the bat very well so far, so there is nothing to overcome other than his own power-hitting limitations. He could golf one out tonight and I wouldn’t be surprised. But Teixeira? I’m not expecting much right away.

Categories : Musings
Comments (84)

RHP Bryan Mitchell was named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. Not a bad week for him. He struck out 12 in six innings on Monday, turned 23 on Saturday, got called up to the big leagues on Sunday, and was named Pitcher of the Week today. That one day in the show gave him a $41,000 raise for the year. Not bad. (h/t Andy in Sunny Daytona)

According to Josh Norris, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman said OF Slade Heathcott (knee) and 1B Greg Bird (back) are about two weeks from returning while RHP Danny Burawa (unknown) and LHP Nik Turley (arm) are still a ways off. No word on RHP Ty Hensley (hernia), RHP Jose Campos (taking it easy), and RHP Jose Ramirez (oblique).

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 loss to Lehigh Valley)

  • DH Corban Joseph, 3B Russ Canzler & CF Adonis Garcia: all 1-4 — CoJo drove in a run and struck out … Canzler struck out and committed a fielding error … Garcia scored a run
  • RF Ramon Flores, LF Zoilo Almonte & C Austin Romine: all 0-3, 1 BB — Zoilo stole a base … Flores and Romine both struck out once
  • 2B Jose Pirela: 1-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 SB — first two walks of the season
  • RHP Chris Leroux: 4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 48 of 70 pitches were strikes (69%)
  • LHP Fred Lewis: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 2 HB, 3/1 GB/FB – 28 of 43 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 14 of 20 pitches were strikes

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Categories : Down on the Farm
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  • It’s official: NYC Football Club will play home games in Yankee Stadium in 2015

    As expected, the New York City Football Club will play its home games in Yankee Stadium during the 2015 season, it was announced. The expansion Major League Soccer franchise was unable to build a stadium of their own, so they will play in the Bronx for the time being. The Yankees co-own the team along with Manchester City. Although only the 2015 season was announced, NYCFC is expected to spend three years total in Yankee Stadium while they secure a facility of their own. · (13) ·

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