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Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

Right-hander Andre Rienzo makes his first start of the season for the White Sox tonight, and he’ll face a Tigers lineup with spot starters in the corners. J.D. Martinez stays in left, while Austin Jackson returns to the lineup in center, giving Rajai Davis the night off. On the opposite side, Don Kelly starts for Torii Hunter in right, batting second.

Interesting, too, that J.D. Martinez moves up to the fifth spot, not just because it puts Martinez and Martinez back to back in the batting order but because it’s a big RBI spot and Austin Jackson has been fairly productive in the spot. Andrew Romine makes his sixth consecutive start at shortstop, but that would be expected against the right-hander.

The White Sox, meanwhile, shuffle their lineup a bit for lefty Drew Smyly, moving Jordan Danks to the bottom of the order and inserting Paul Konerko at DH.

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Don Kelly, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Andrew Romine, SS

P: Drew Smyly

WHITE SOX

  1. Marcus Semien, 3B
  2. Leury Garcia, 2B
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B
  4. Dayan Viciedo, RF
  5. Paul Konerko, DH
  6. Alexei Ramirez, SS
  7. Alejandro De Aza, LF
  8. Tyler Flowers, C
  9. Jordan Danks, CF

P: Andre Rienzo

Game 17: Phil Coke and the incidental fastball

Phil Coke flubbed up the finish on an 0-2 pitch and turned what once had promise for a very good ninth inning into a disastrous one. He did not mess up the delivery when talking about it.

“It was supposed to be away from him and I didn’t get my fingers on top of the ball on the release,” Coke said of his 0-2 offering to Adam Dunn that became a two-run homer. “It started to get that movement that I wanted and then it came back to him at the last minute, just because I didn’t get on top of the ball. If I get on top of the ball, he either fouls it off or douses it into left. I don’t know. Who’s to say? It didn’t do what I’m supposed to do.

“It was like I threw an incidental two-seamer.”

Wait, that’s supposed to be an accidental two-seamer, right?

“No,” Coke answered, “it was an incident, because he hit that a long way. Somebody almost died. That was an incident in the OF seats. Seriously. I’m being totally honest, because he tattooed that ball. He really did. He’s probably been itching to do that to me for a long time. Hey, he finally got me. Pitch didn’t do what I wanted it to, and that’s on me. But he’s still a phenomenal hitter and he did exactly what he’s supposed to do.”

Coke, meanwhile, did not, which is amazing considering how close he came to a clean inning. It’s equally amazing that Coke managed to become a big topic on a night when Miguel Cabrera finally hit another home run and Alex Avila had three hits to build a blowout lead, except that in Tigertown, the next reason for panic/outrage is always around the corner.

Coke struck out switch-hitting Leury Garcia and left-handed hitting Jordan Danks, throwing virtually all fastballs to both. He had a 1-1 count on Marcus Semien, tried to mess up his timing with a changeup and paid for it with a double down the left-field line. Two fastballs later, Konerko sent a line drive into center to score the run and make it an 8-3 game.

Dunn was 2-for-6 off Coke entering the night, but both hits were singles. He fell into an 0-2 hole after taking a first-pitch fastball and watching a second-pitch slider hit the zone. With the count in his favor, Coke tried spotting a fastball off the plate to get him to chase. It broke back over the zone and soon left.

“He was trying to throw more of a slider/cutter thing,” manager Brad Ausmus said, “and it just backed up on him.”

The whole sequence happened so quickly that Ausmus didn’t have closer Joe Nathan ready to enter when it became a save situation. He began warming up Joba Chamberlain early in the inning because he had already warmed earlier. Ausmus went to Chamberlain after the home run while Nathan continued to warm, then seemingly had pitching coach Jeff Jones buying time with a mound visit after Chamberlain walked Dayan Viciedo on four pitches to bring Alexei Ramirez to the plate as the potential tying run.

“If I did it over, I’d probably have Joe get up, or tell Joe to be ready in case it became a save situation,” Ausmus said.

Coke’s situation, of course, is trickier. He had a game like this against the Orioles on opening weekend, gave up the game-winning hit at Dodger Stadium a few days later, and had been limited to sixth-inning duty and games in hand since then. This game seemed in hand for a while, long enough for Ausmus to plan on getting the lefty an inning.

The first two hits came from right-handed hitters, though Konerko was previously 0-for-3 with two walks against him. Dunn had some success in his history against Coke, but didn’t have a whole lot of great at-bats Tuesday in support of him.

There were no indications anything was on the verge of happening in the clubhouse after the game, and Coke’s mood was obviously loose. Most likely, he’ll get some more chances in lower pressure situations.

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

Detroit 001

Last night, the Tigers and White Sox played with a first-pitch temperature of 77 degrees, but the ball didn’t carry anywhere. It’s much cooler today, but as you might be able to see from the picture, the wind is going strong out to left, and it’s pretty consistent. That should play into the favor of a heavily right-handed hitting Tigers lineup to face White Sox lefty (and Xavier University product) Charlie Leesman, who gets the start in place of injured Chris Sale. The one left-handed hitter in the lineup is Alex Avila, who gets the start with Justin Verlander on the mound.

J.D. Martinez gets his first start in left field in place of Austin Jackson, who gets his first day off of the season after playing every inning of every game to date. Ausmus said it’s simply a day to rest.

“He’s played every game every day,” Ausmus said. “He’ll be back in there tomorrow.”

Rajai Davis shifts over to center.

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Torii Hunter, RF
  6. J.D. Martinez, LF
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Andrew Romine, SS

P: Justin Verlander

WHITE SOX (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Jordan Danks, CF
  2. Marcus Semien, 3B
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B
  4. Adam Dunn, DH (5-for-25, 3 HR, 2 walks, 11 K’s)
  5. Dayan Viciedo, RF (3-for-15, HR, 4 K’s)
  6. Alexei Ramirez, SS (14-for-58, double, HR, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  7. Alejandro De Aza, LF (4-for-21, 2 HR, walk, 8 K’s)
  8. Tyler Flowers, C (3-for-10, 2 HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  9. Leury Garcia, 2B

P: Charlie Leesman

Game 16: Alex Avila, still slogging

It probably wasn’t a good sign of Alex Avila’s season to date that making contact over four plate appearances was considered a good sign, the ground-rule double he crushed to right-center field notwithstanding.

It probably wasn’t a good sign, either, that he did it from the eighth spot in order, even if it was against a left-hander. At this point, balancing out the lineup has taken a back seat to the urgency of getting productive hitters up in RBI situations.

The fact remains, though, that the Tigers desperately need a productive Avila in the lineup to balance it out.

“We’ve got to get Alex going,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

They need to, in part because they don’t have many other left-handed hitters to put in the lineup on an everyday basis, and in part because they don’t have another catcher who can take on the responsibility that he does.

That still doesn’t make it any easier to watch 21 strikeouts over 43 plate appearances, the ratio Avila had going into Monday’s game against the White Sox. But it puts a little bit of context into why the Tigers keep playing him.

Ausmus came to his defense strongly on Monday.

“There’s no question that the game-calling is maybe the single most important thing in the game of baseball,” Ausmus said. “If sabermetricians could put a statistic on someone who was good at calling pitches, we’d see catchers going into arbitration and making millions on the way they called pitches. You just can’t put a number on it.

“I have a lot [of responsibility] to Alex. I know he does a good job calling pitches and managing the game. Since that is the most important part of baseball, that would certainly give him more leeway with that. Now there is always that line where the balance tips one way or the other, but right now, for me, his game-calling supersedes what he’s done with the bat.”

Avila is doing his part to try to keep that balance in his favor. He’s seeing the ball well, but not hitting it often enough when does.

“It’s a matter of making contact and having the ball get in the hole somewhere,” Avila said. “For the most part, I’ve been having good at-bats. I’ve had some bad at-bats as well. But for the most part, I’ve been having good at-bats, seeing the ball pretty decently. Sometimes, they’re not going to go as planned every single time.

“You can’t get down about it. You can’t feel sorry about it. You just have to keep playing.”

The numbers suggest he’s doing that. Despite the struggles, he has drawn six walks in 47 plate appearances. His batting average on balls put in play (BABIP) stood at .400. He’s swinging at less than 20 percent of pitches outside the strike zone for the first time in his career, according to Fangraphs.com. Yet he’s still not connecting with his swings at a good rate, and the contact rate down all around.

His contact rate was solid on Friday, but he hit his first two pitches right into the heart of the shift on the right side.

Monday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

Austin Romine gets his third consecutive start against a lefty. Alex Avila is in the lineup again as well, though he has hit John Danks fairly well in his career). The White Sox, meanwhile, have both Danks going today.

TIGERS (career numbers vs. Danks)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (4-for-12, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (12-for-31, 3 doubles, 4 HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (10-for-35, double, HR, 7 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (8-for-42, 3 HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (14-for-43, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF (14-for-37, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 4 walks, 6 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Avila, C (7-for-20, 2 doubles, walk, 4 K’s)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS

P: Anibal Sanchez

WHITE SOX (career numbers vs. Sanchez)

  1. Jordan Danks, CF (1-for-4, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
  2. Marcus Semien, 2B (1-for-5, 3 K’s)
  3. Conor Gillaspie, 3B (2-for-11, triple, walk, 2 K’s)
  4. Jose Abreu, 1B
  5. Adam Dunn, DH (7-for-30, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 14 K’s)
  6. Dayan Viciedo, RF (1-for-7, K)
  7. Alexei Ramirez, SS (2-for-12, double, walk, K)
  8. Alejandro De Aza, LF (4-for-8, 2 doubles, walk, 4 K’s)
  9. Adrian Nieto, C

P: John Danks

Tigers call up Martinez, DL Putkonen

The Tigers bench is back to full strength, now with a little bit more power on it. The team purchased the contract of outfielder/first baseman J.D. Martinez on Monday, two days after the former Astro hit four home runs in a doubleheader for Triple-A Toledo to get to 10 homers on the year.

Martinez takes the spot of right-handed reliever Luke Putkonen, placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Tigers transferred Andy Dirks from the 15-day to 60-day DL, a procedural move since Dirks isn’t expected back until June after undergoing back surgery in March.

Martinez got off to a scorching start with the Mud Hens after signing a minor-league deal late in Spring Training. The 26-year-old South Florida native spent parts of three seasons with the Houston Astros, batting .251 with 24 homers and 126 RBIs in 252 games, before the Astros released him March 22. The Tigers, who had trade interest in him last winter, had him in their minor-league camp two days later, hoping to add a power bat and insurance in the outfield.

To say they expected this kind of start might have been a little much. He’s 20-for-65 (.308) with half of his hits leaving the yard. He put up a three-homer game over seven innings for the Hens in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday at Columbus, then added another homer in his first at-bat of the nightcap.

On a team that has had Don Kelly as its primary pinch-hitter for the first three weeks of the season, the opportunity to add a power bat to the ranks won out. It’s a priority change that has become more important since Opening Day, when Tyler Collins won the last bench spot out of Spring Training as a left-handed hitting complement to left fielder Rajai Davis. Once Davis got off to a hot start, playing time for Collins dwindled until he was optioned to Toledo on Friday for relief help.

Ezequiel Carrera, who made a big impression on Tigers coaches in Spring Training and is batting .364 (24-for-66) at Toledo, was an equally strong candidate, but has just seven extra-base hits. Collins, who went 2-for-14 in his first-ever Major League stint, could have been recalled to take the place of a player on the DL, but the Tigers want him getting more regular playing time.

Putkonen has pitched just twice all season, most recently last Friday, when he gave up seven runs on five hits over two innings against the Angels. His move to the DL means Justin Miller, called up Friday as an extra reliever for depth, is staying put.

Pitch at knees sets up three-error play

santiagostrikezone

The strike-zone map above is from Hector Santiago’s outing Sunday against the Tigers, courtesy of brooksbaseball.net. And the green dot just inside the bottom of the box is the 3-2 pitch to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning as Ian Kinsler was taking off for second base. That’s how close it was.

“You know where the pitch is,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “You can’t wait for an umpire’s call. You have to get your throw off. The umpire called it low. Hank thought it was a good pitch and he’s going to follow through on his throw.”

Ian Kinsler was on the same page.

“I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a strike three or a ball four, so I had to go, and the catcher obviously came up and threw,” he said. “I had to continue to run just in case he called it a strike.”

The throws that came after that, of course — Hank Conger to second base, Mike Trout to the cutoff man, then Santiago to home plate — were not close.

Re-examining the Alex Gonzalez trade

The first thing that stood out the day the Tigers traded for Alex Gonzalez was the timing. The Tigers were on the road that day to face the Orioles in Sarasota, more than a 90-minute drive from Lakeland, but Lombardozzi had to report to the Tigers clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium for a meeting. Soon after, word leaked out from O’s camp that Gonzalez was a Tiger, and the perplexed reactions were on.

When Dave Dombrowski discussed the trade, he talked about taking a chance on a guy who had been a great shortstop in his day, and about the desire to get a proven veteran at the position. But he also named the people who put in evaluations on him, from first-base coach Omar Vizquel (who coached him in winter ball) to the Major League scouts who watched him in camp.

“Omar Vizquel was with him in the wintertime and he saw him play a lot, and he said he thought he definitely could play shortstop,” Dombrowski said. “And we also at the time, our scouts in Venezuela separately had recommended him at that time, said he was moving around very well.”

That’s the other thing that stood out about that day. It’s not unusual for Dombrowski to mention scouts later on, but this was right after the deal went down.

“We had two scouts this spring see him in Bruce Tanner and Jeff Wetherby,” Dombrowski continued. “They both think he can play shortstop, too. Now, when I say that, I’m not looking at a 150-game shortstop. He’s an older guy at this point. We do think he can be a key guy for us, yes.”

If Dombrowski was on a limb in making the move, he wasn’t going to be the only one on it.

“We thought we’d take a little chance on it,” Dombrowski said Sunday in announcing Gonzalez’s release. “We thought it was something worth taking the gamble. As we had a chance to watch him, had a chance to get a feel, we just didn’t see it getting better, so we thought, with the emphasis on defense for us at shortstop, we thought it was important to get someone who had a little bit more range.”

And that’s the thing about scouting: For all the work a talent evaluator does on a player, there’s still a risk involved. The same scouts who advised Dombrowski on Edgar Renteria in 2007 also advised him on Anibal Sanchez in 2012. Those who saw the potential in Doug Fister in 2011 also had to watch Jarrod Washburn two years earlier.

A huge reason why Dombrowski has succeeded on more trades than not over his years in Detroit is his scouting staff. He has built a group of veteran evaluators, but he also built a group that he trusts, that will give an honest opinion, and that isn’t afraid to stick a neck out. Shake up a scouting staff every time a deal goes wrong, and the relationship gets out of whack along the line.

Dombrowski got opinions that Gonzalez could still play short, but he still knew he was taking a risk, and he gave up a Major League player in Steve Lombardozzi to do it. He ended up with a shortstop who played in just nine games and didn’t make it to the end of April. Even Jacque Jones, a similar chance the Tigers took and quickly cut, made it into May, lasting five weeks before Detroit released him and called up a prospect named Matt Joyce.

In the end, the Gonzalez deal goes down as a miss, and a potentially significant one. I don’t think it makes the Doug Fister trade worse, because they were two deals made at two different times by a team that went from one situation (with a very good young shortstop) to a very different one (desperately seeking a shortstop). But I also don’t agree that the cost should be dismissed simply because Lombardozzi didn’t fit on the roster. He couldn’t fill the shortstop void that became huge in the middle of camp, but he was also a cost-controlled, switch-hitting, good-running utilityman at age 25 who has all his minor-league options left. If the Tigers are going to take a long-term view, players like Lombardozzi mean something, even if they don’t fit now. For a team that hasn’t shown any signs of giving up a first-round pick to sign Stephen Drew before June, giving up Lombardozzi is a cost as well. And keep in mind, this is a team that is again looking for a bat off the bench after sending Tyler Collins down. Yet this is still a front office that has many more hits on trades than misses.

How will this affect the Tigers going forward? If Detroit makes another deal for a shortstop, it’s hard to see it happening for another temporary option. Even though the additions individually cost less than signing Drew, at some point the price adds up. There have been no signs that anything has changed for the Tigers on Drew with the draft 6 1/2 weeks away. If the Tigers were to try to fill 6 1/2 weeks at short, it would most likely be with internal options. If they were to fill time until the July 31 trade deadline, it would most likely be internal.

“It’s a situation, too, where we’ve got two young shortstops who are actually playing very well in Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez and Triple-A and Double-A, respectively,” Dombrowski said this morning. “But [going with Andrew Romine and Danny Worth] gives them an opportunity to continue to play on day-in, day-out basis, which we think will benefit our organization in the long run.”

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Angels

Meanwhile, amidst the end of the Alex Gonzalez experiment, there’s a game to be played. Andrew Romine gets the start against lefty Hector Santiago. Miguel Cabrera gets a day at DH, with Victor Martinez starting at first base. The Angels, meanwhile, move Ian Stewart up to the cleanup spot and start Brennan Boesch in right field against his friend Rick Porcello.

TIGERS (career numbers off Hector Santiago)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-3, HR, K)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (2-for-6, double, 2 walks, K)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH (1-for-5, walk, K)
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B (2-for-8, double, walk, 2 K’s)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-7, 2 walks)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-15, HR, walk, 6 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Avila, C (0-for-6, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS

P: Rick Porcello

ANGELS (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. J.B. Shuck, LF (1-for-3, double)
  2. Mike Trout, CF (4-for-10, HR, walk, K)
  3. Albert Pujols, 1B (3-for-7, 2 doubles)
  4. Ian Stewart, 3B
  5. Howie Kendrick, 2B (5-for-22, 3 doubles, 8 K’s)
  6. David Freese, DH (1-for-3)
  7. Hank Conger, C (1-for-2)
  8. Brennan Boesch, RF
  9. Erick Aybar, SS (4-for-19, double, walk, 3 K’s)

P: Hector Santiago

Tigers release Alex Gonzalez, call up Danny Worth (updated)

Alex Gonzalez’s tenure as Tigers shortstop is over after three weeks. The Tigers released the 37-year-old on Sunday morning and purchased the contract of infielder Danny Worth from Triple-A Toledo.

For now, Worth will platoon at shortstop with switch-hitter Andrew Romine, who had been splitting time with Gonzalez. The Tigers continue to monitor prospects Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez, who are playing shortstop at Triple-A Toledo and Double-A Erie respectively, but wanted to give both of them more seasoning before considering them for a call-up.

Add in the looming free agency of Stephen Drew, who could sign without draft pick compensation following the First-Year Player Draft in June, and the Tigers could have a revolving door at shortstop going for the next several weeks as they continue to try to fill the void left by injured Jose Iglesias.

“Hopefully this combination will help us, and we can continue to analyze our situation,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We’ve got two young guys that we’re just not quite ready to bring up and ready to let them play, but they’re playing very, very well for us.”

The Tigers gave no signal of expecting long-term stability in announcing the move. What they knew, however, was that Gonzalez wasn’t the answer.

“We need to have a little more range defensively at shortstop. We just didn’t see it there and didn’t see it getting better,” Dombrowski said. “So we figured it was time to make the move.”

Detroit thought enough of Gonzalez that they traded a young utilityman Steve Lombardozzi to Baltimore to acquire him with a week to go in Spring Training. At the time, Dombrowski cited Tigers scouts Bruce Tanner and Jeff Wetherby, as well as first-base coach Omar Vizquel, among those who watched Gonzalez and believed he could play shortstop, though not necessarily every day.

From Opening Day on, however, Gonzalez’s time at short was marked by inconsistency. He made an error in the season opener on a ball to his left, yet made a ranging play up the middle to snare a ball and rob a single before delivering the game-winning RBI at the plate.

Gonzalez seemed much more comfortable making plays to his left, up the middle, than to his right. He made three errors in 31 chances over eight starts for a .903 fielding percentage.

Gonzalez had a negative-5 rating in Defensive Runs Saved, a statistic developed by Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions to put defensive performance into a tangible context. Just four years ago, his next-to-last season as an everyday shortstop, he had a plus-27 rating.

“We thought we’d take a little chance on it,” Dombrowski said of the trade. “We thought it was something worth taking the gamble. As we had a chance to watch him, had a chance to get a feel, we just didn’t see it getting better, so we thought, with the emphasis on defense for us at shortstop, we thought it was important to get someone who had a little bit more range.”

Gonzalez’s defensive concerns might have been tempered a bit had he continued to deliver clutch hits. However, he had just three singles in 26 at-bats after Opening Day.

“Gonzo worked hard. He’s had a tremendous career,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “In his prime, he was one of the better shortstops in the game of baseball, but time takes its toll on everyone. At this point, we decided to make a change and bring Danny Worth up.

“Certainly with age, you’re going to slow down a little bit. He was a tremendous, tremendous shortstop — I mean, he was one of the elite shortstops — in his prime. He hasn’t played much short in the last couple years, so we were hoping maybe that the spring had returned to his legs a little bit. But it just didn’t work.”

Thus, the Tigers turn back to Worth, who was in play for a timeshare at short before Detroit traded for Gonzalez. The 28-year-old has rotated around the infield at Triple-A Toledo, allowing Perez to take the bulk of the time at short, but his strong arm and reliable range are well known. He batted .308 (16-for-52) for the Mud Hens with five doubles and one RBI.

Ausmus indicated he won’t necessarily have a strict lefty-righty platoon between Worth, who bats right-handed, and the switch-hitting Romine, who started Sunday against Angels left-hander Hector Santiago.

“He can do a lot of things for us,” Dombrowski said of Worth. “We know him. He hits left-hand pitching well, with Romine over there playing well defensively, and he’s better vs. right-handed pitching. That gives us a nice combination. He runs decently, gives us a nice combination, and he’s a solid defensive player at shortstop, can play second or third, gives us some versatility value. So he’ll get some playing time here, see how he does.”

Even with the current mix, however, Dombrowski mentioned Perez and Suarez as future options. Perez, primarily a second baseman in his pro career, has played 15 games at shortstop in Toledo, where he’s batting .277 with four doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs. Suarez, a natural shortstop, entered Sunday batting .260 for Erie with five doubles, three homers and eight RBIs.

“If we were going to bring them up at this time, we figured that we would want them to come up and play most of the time,” Dombrowski said. “And right now, with Romine being a left-hand hitter, he’s going to play most of the time. So we think Danny, again, we think he’ll do a solid job for us. He’s been in the organization a long time. Give him the opportunity.”

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