Panda attacks conditioning program like a jelly donut

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pablo-sandoval-091111-915pm.jpgGood news for San Francisco fans: “Operation Panda” is underway, and if things continue at this pace, the Giants are going to be the biggest winners in the end.

Joan Ryan of the MLB.com blog Inside the Giants Clubhouse reports that budding star Pablo Sandoval has already dropped 10 pounds as he attacks his offseason conditioning program like a jelly donut, even though the season is still nearly five months away.

Head trainer Dave Groeschner said of the one-man camp: “We’ve never had a player do anything like this – ever.”

“There are no guys who show up in November to get ready for the season,” Groeschner says. “But this is something Pablo wanted to do. He knows how important it is for him and for the team that he has the endurance to play every game. And what he’s doing is not easy. It’s an entire life-style change.”

For the first time in his life, Sandoval is lifting weights. He’s eating vegetables. He is meeting every Wednesday while he’s in Scottsdale with a nutrition professor from Arizona State University, who is teaching him about healthy food choices and portion control. He and his brother, who Sandoval brought with him for motivation and support, are eating catered meals – delivered to the Giants complex every morning in a cooler — of low-cal entrees like broiled chicken or salmon, and lots of salads, veggies and fruits.

First of all, I love the term “portion control.” Don’t eat three chickens, Pablo, when one will fill you up just fine.

Secondly, the sloppy, overweight version of Sandoval is already a freak of nature, putting up a .333/.381/.543 line in his first full season while smashing 25 home runs and driving in 90 runs. All of this despite a portly physique (listed at 5-11, 245) and a Guerrero-esque penchant for swinging at anything within reach.

But now the Panda is getting serious. He’s replacing cheeseburgers with carrots, fat with muscle. Be afraid NL West. Be very afraid.

Follow me on Twitter at @bharks. For more baseball news, go to NBCSports.com.

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.