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Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez charged with sexual assault; placed on administrative leave

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Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star closer Felipe Vázquez was arrested Tuesday on multiple felony charges, including statutory sexual assault, soliciting a child and pornography, and was placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball.

Vázquez was taken into custody by Pennsylvania State Police on one count of computer pornography/solicitation of a child and one count of providing obscene material to minors, both felonies, stemming from an investigation in Florida.

He was later charged in Westmoreland County, which is located east of Pittsburgh, with felony counts of statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of minors and a misdemeanor count of indecent assault of a person under 16 years old.

It was not immediately known if the charges in Pennsylvania were related to or independent of the Florida investigation. Vázquez's attorney, Michael Comber, did not immediately return a message seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Vázquez was arraigned via video from the Allegheny County jail, wearing a dark-colored sweatshirt and glasses, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He was denied bond, with the judge saying she believed Vázquez was a flight risk, the newspaper reported.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it began investigating the 28-year-old in August after learning of alleged sexual activity between Vázquez and a teenage girl living in Lee County, Florida. Vázquez, who lives in Saint Cloud, Florida, began contacting the victim when the girl was 13, authorities said.

The girl, now 15, allegedly received a text message from Vázquez in July in which he was performing a sex act. Vázquez also texted the girl to ask if she wanted to meet for a sexual encounter following the end of the baseball season, according to police.

According to the affidavit, while Vazquez's face is not visible in the images sent to the victim, authorities were able to identify him by matching tattoos in the picture against tattoos of Vazquez they discovered on the internet. The victim's mother discovered the communication in July and texted Vazquez to tell him the person he was communicating with was a minor, the affidavit said. Authorities matched the evidence to Vazquez's phone number.

Authorities arrested Vázquez after executing a search warrant Tuesday morning at his Pittsburgh apartment. Police said they seized electronic devices that will be used in the investigation. Vázquez is expected to be extradited to Florida.

A two-time All-Star pitcher from Venezuela, Vázquez is 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA and 28 saves for the Pirates this season. Pittsburgh is scheduled to play at home against Seattle on Tuesday night.

"We take this matter, and these charges in particular, extremely seriously," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement.

The MLB commissioner's office placed Vázquez on administrative leave as part of its policy regarding domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. The MLB Players Association declined to comment.

Administrative leave is not considered discipline. Vázquez goes on the restricted list and continues to receive his salary but is ineligible to play.

The arrest is the latest setback in a turbulent season for the Pirates, who are in last place in the NL Central.

Vázquez and reliever Kyle Crick were both suspended a game last week after getting into a physical altercation in San Francisco. Crick injured the index finger of his right (pitching) hand during the altercation and underwent season-ending surgery. Crick maintained Vázquez threw the first punch, with general manager Neal Huntington condemning both players for their actions.

Vazquez signed a four-year, $22-million contract with Pittsburgh before the 2018 season, with the team holding club options for 2022 and 2023.

"It's something that hits home," Pirates pitcher Chris Archer said. "I have a 14-year-old sister. In the U.S., you're innocent until proven guilty. Until due process is completely played out, we're hoping that this stuff's not true."

Earlier today, the Pirates removed banners showing Vazquez’s images from PNC Park, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Jason Mackey reported.

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