Cooper dismissal is oddly-timed, overdue

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Why Sept. 21? Cecil Cooper is no worse of a manager now than he was on June 21 or last Oct. 21. It’s hard to imagine that he was any less popular with the players, given that, according to pretty much every report out of Houston, he lost the team months ago.
Still, the Astros made the curious decision Monday to fire Cooper and replace him with third-base coach Dave Clark on an interim basis. The team enters the final two weeks of the season having dropped seven straight games to fall to 70-79 for the season. If the Astros like Clark as a possible manager of the future, why throw him into such a messy situation now? Roy Oswalt has already been shut down due to back problems, the lineup has big holes at three positions and neither Lance Berkman nor Carlos Lee is close to firing on all cylinders. The record will likely just keep getting worse.
Clark, who, like Cooper, is African American, was in his first year on the coaching staff after three years managing the team’s Double-A affiliate and one managing the Triple-A Round Rock club. It’s been known for months that he’d be the choice to take over when Cooper was fired, assuming that it happened during the season. It’s quite likely that he’ll be stripped of the interim tag and handed the job in 2010. So why risk the blemish on his record before he even really gets started?
Cooper, though, did need to go. He still had the acceptable 171-170 record during his time with the team, but it was a tenure filled with baffling decisions. His players seemed to have little respect for him. According to a Houston Chronicle report from May, they had taken to calling him “Hugo Chavez.”
Given that Cooper was presented with teams riddled with holes and overinflated expectations these last two years, he doesn’t deserve a whole lot of blame for the Astros’ place in the standings. However, nothing is more damning to his cause than the issue that his players simply didn’t believe in him. It’s hard to imagine him landing another major league managerial position.

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.