What we're watching: Sanchez versus Vander Meer

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– Jason Schmidt will make his first major league start since June 16,
2007 tonight against the Reds. Shoulder woes have made him a complete
bust since Dodgers GM Ned Colletti handed him $47 million for three
years in Dec. 2006. It’s unlikely that the 36-year-old will start
earning that money now — he had a 5.82 ERA in his last three rehab
starts for Triple-A Albuquerque — but the Dodgers can afford to give
him a couple of starts and see what happens. Making Schmidt’s
assignment more difficult tonight is that the Reds will have their
second-best hitter in the lineup, as Micah Owings pitches for the first
time in 11 days.

– Longtime Braves teammates John Smoltz and Kevin Millwood will face
off in Texas as the Red Sox and Rangers begin a three-game series.
Smoltz is coming off his first win for Boston after striking out seven
Royals on July 11. He’s 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA. Millwood has faltered
lately, going 0-2 with an 8.83 ERA in three starts this month. That’s
taken his season ERA from 2.80 to 3.46. The Rangers are hoping to get
Nelson Cruz back in the lineup after he missed Sunday’s game with a
small fracture in his right ring finger.

– Eight years after the Indians made him a supplemental first-round
pick, J.D. Martin will make his major league debut starting for the
Nationals against the Mets. Martin opened his career with a bang,
posting a 1.38 ERA and a 72/11 K/BB ratio in 46 innings in Rookie ball.
However, elbow problems began to strike in 2003, eventually resulting
in Tommy John surgery, and it didn’t look like he’d ever reach the
majors. His best stuff is long gone now, but the Nationals thought his
8-3 record and 2.66 ERA in Triple-A made him worth a look.

Game of the Night

San Francisco vs. Atlanta – With plenty of time to have thought about
it, Jonathan Sanchez will finally get to follow up his no-hitter
tonight against the Braves. It’s been 10 days since his 11-strikeout
gem against the Padres, and he’s pitched a total of 12 innings in four
weeks. For the year, he’s 0-7 with a 6.62 ERA in road outings. Atlanta
will start Tommy Hanson, who still hasn’t taken a loss as a major
leaguer. He wasn’t sharp 11 days ago against the Rockies, but he’s 4-0
with a 2.85 ERA since being debuting in early June.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.