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Astros’ response to cheating scandal all the buzz among victimized foes, including affected Cubs

Former A’s catcher Josh Phegley wants “more accountability” from players, and former Dodgers reliever Brandon Morrow said Astros owner Jim Crane “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Catcher Josh Phegley during bullpen work the first week of spring training for the Cubs.
John Antonoff photo

MESA, Ariz. — Reliever Brandon Morrow doesn’t see the point in getting mad. Catcher Josh Phegley isn’t quite as generous.

And left-hander Jon Lester has been around long enough to know ‘‘baseball has a funny way of taking care of things itself.’’

The one consensus among Cubs players who were potentially affected by the Astros’ cheating the last three seasons is that Astros owner Jim Crane is clueless if he actually believes, as he said during a news conference Thursday, that ‘‘it didn’t impact the game.’’ He later walked it back a half-step when challenged by saying, ‘‘It’s hard to determine if it impacted the game.’’

‘‘He just doesn’t know what he’s talking about then,’’ said Morrow, who pitched in all seven games of the 2017 World Series for the Dodgers against the Astros. ‘‘He hasn’t played baseball enough to know, I guess.’’

‘‘Unbelievable,’’ said Phegley, who was an Astros division rival with the Athletics the last five seasons.

The Astros’ electronic-cheating scandal that cost general manager Jeff Luhnow and managers of three teams their jobs in the last month generated another round of outrage this week as their players, ownership and new management faced the media with the opening of spring training.

The ‘‘apologies’’ and collective messaging by the Astros on Thursday didn’t do anything to lower the heat or suggest that the story will go away anytime soon.

‘‘Someone has got to say the word over there: ‘cheated,’ ’’ Chicago-born Nationals president and GM Mike Rizzo, whose team beat the Astros in the World Series in October, told reporters Friday. ‘‘That’s important to me. Because we keep skirting around the word. And they cheated. They were found guilty of it, and I haven’t heard it yet [from the Astros].’’

Journeyman pitcher Mike Bolsinger has sued the Astros, who shelled him in a start for the Blue Jays in August 2017. After that, he was sent to the minors and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since.

‘‘We suspected that something was going on,’’ said Phegley, whose Athletics went 22-35 against the Astros from 2017 through 2019 and finished second in the American League West to them the last two seasons. ‘‘It put an immense amount of pressure on us to get our signs right.

‘‘But until the investigation came out, we just thought they were working really, really hard to find signs somewhere [by traditional, non-electronic means]. We went through a ton of precautions as far as protecting our signs and changing our signs. It was mentally exhausting.

‘‘So then to hear that they were going beyond the means of just gamesmanship to steal signs, it’s frustrating to hear. I know a lot of people are angry.’’

By the time the Nationals faced the Astros, the word was out. They used an elaborate system for protecting their signs, including wristbands for players, such as the ones quarterbacks use in football.

Morrow said the Astros already had the reputation.

‘‘We prepared like they were a team that was good at stealing signs, but more conventionally,’’ said Morrow, who had one rough outing in seven during the World Series but doesn’t think the Astros would have been able to decipher his changed signs quickly enough in that four-batter sequence to make a difference in his case.

‘‘But you definitely can see how it’d affect Clayton Kershaw, who started that game, got a four-run lead and lost it. Then Kenta Maeda’s in there for a couple of innings and lost a three-run lead. Those were guys in there for a few sequences where they could have used their technology to find out their signs and then start relaying them.’’

Cubs teammate Yu Darvish, who was rocked in two starts for the Dodgers in the 2017 Series, tweeted after Major League Baseball penalized the Astros that he would like to be part of any championship parade the Dodgers might plan.

He said at the Cubs Convention that he wants to know if it was the cheating that caused the Astros to tee off on him, as opposed to the theory he heard immediately afterward that he was tipping pitches.

And since MLB’s investigation and penalties over the 2017 cheating, allegations of Astros players wearing buzzers as a means to relay signs have been made. The Astros have denied the use of buzzers.

‘‘I just want to hear more accountability from the players,’’ Phegley said. ‘‘They apologized, but I feel like only when they had to. . . . Those guys need to be held more accountable.’’

Morrow was more generous, suggesting he tries to see it from ‘‘all sides’’ and even wonders whether some younger players might have been peer-pressured into the cheating by influential veteran Carlos Beltran or bench coach Alex Cora.

So does he feel he was cheated out of the ring he came so close to winning in 2017?

‘‘I don’t get mad about what could have been,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not like anything’s going to change.

‘‘Although if you started that series over, at that point in time, I’d take it.’’