Lilly's shoulder adds to Cubs' pitching needs

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Given all of the indications that the team had no plans to offer free agent Rich Harden arbitration this winter, the Cubs must have been feeling confident about their 2010 rotation. Big-money pitchers Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster were set to lead the way, with rookie surprise Randy Wells and summer acquisition Tom Gorzelanny likely to follow. Maybe the Cubs would take a chance on a rehabbing veteran, but they felt their rotation was set.
Alas, plans have already gone awry with the news Wednesday that Lilly underwent shoulder surgery and was questionable for the start of the season. No major damage was found, but pitchers don’t recover from shoulder scopes quickly. If the Cubs had him back at 100 percent by May 1, they’d undoubtedly be thrilled.
Of course, the Cubs should be able hold down the fort until then, perhaps with Sean Marshall. But it’s not like Lilly’s injury will be the only one they have to deal with. The typically durable Zambrano spent time on the DL this year, and Gorzelanny has dealt with his share of elbow issues. Wells was a revelation in 2009, but he didn’t show the kind of strikeout rate that suggests he’ll be anything more than a fourth or fifth starter going forward.
Fortunately, there will be plenty of guys worth taking chances on this winter. Rehabbing pitchers like Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer and Kelvim Escobar will be available at varying levels of cost. Injury-prone starters such as Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano and John Smoltz could at least bridge the gap until Lilly returns and contribute off an on throughout. There will also be arms with less upside, like Jose Contreras, Braden Looper (probably) and Jeff Weaver.
The Cubs could have chosen to get by without any of them and used the savings to aid the rest of the team. However, that wouldn’t necessarily have been the smart strategy even before the Lilly news. Marshall is important in the pen, and there’s no telling what Jeff Samardzija will provide. The Cubs needed more starting pitching depth either way.

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.