Daily Dose: All's Wells for Vernon Again?

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Vernon Wells went 3-for-4 with a homer on Opening Day and followed that up with two more homers Wednesday, showing some serious signs of life after a terrible 2009. Last year was either the worst or second-worst of Wells’ career, with the other forgettable campaign being 2007, and he bounced back from that to hit .300 with an .840 OPS in 2008. Too early to expect a similar story in 2010, but so far so good.
While the $107 million left on Wells’ contract looks slightly less horrific for the Blue Jays, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Billy Wagner looked excellent Wednesday nailing down his first Braves save, clocking in at 96-99 miles per hour with his fastball and breaking off several unhittable sliders to strike out the side. Wagner has come back amazingly well from Tommy John surgery given that he went under the knife at age 36. Since returning late last season he’s thrown 17.2 innings, racking up 31 strikeouts compared to just nine hits.
* Rich Harden’s lack of peak velocity during spring training carried over to his Rangers debut Wednesday, as he worked mostly in the high-80s and topped 91-92 miles per hour on just a couple pitches. Harden has always managed to remain dominant despite a never-ending string of injuries, but his velocity has crept downward for several years now and he was anything but overpowering against the Blue Jays.
* After a cortisone shot and having his surgically repaired knee drained, Lance Berkman said Wednesday that he’s hoping to come off the disabled list during the six-game road trip that begins Monday. Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz have batted fifth while replacing Berkman at first base, so the Astros desperately need him back in the lineup, but some of his comments suggest that the knee is still far from full strength.
* Kelly Johnson moved into the leadoff spot Wednesday with Conor Jackson getting the night off and responded by going 3-for-3 with two homers and a walk. With his value at an all-time low following a poor, injury wrecked season Johnson was one of my favorite sleeper targets in part because Arizona is a great place to hit and in part because he batted .282/.362/.451 in 297 games for the Braves in the previous two seasons.
* Milwaukee faced a right-handed pitcher for the second time Wednesday and for the second time Jim Edmonds started over Corey Hart in right field, going 2-for-4 with a double. Edmonds is 40 years old and sat out last season when the job market proved lacking, but looked good this spring and posted an .882 OPS against righties in 2008. He’s unlikely to hit for much of a batting average, but the power and patience remain.
AL Quick Hits: John Lackey tossed six shutout innings in his Red Sox debut Wednesday, but Curtis Granderson won it with an extra-inning homer off Jonathan Papelbon … Ian Kinsler (ankle) is hoping to join the Rangers during an 11-game road trip that begins Monday … Russell Branyan (back) is slated to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Max Scherzer and Luke Hochevar combined for 13.2 shutout innings Wednesday in a game that went into extra frames … Nolan Reimold got his first start Wednesday when Felix Pie was scratched from the lineup with a sore shoulder … Fausto Carmona handed out six walks Wednesday, but also held the White Sox to one hit in six innings … Hideki Matsui is scheduled to play the outfield Thursday for the first time since June of 2008 … Jim Thome got his first start Wednesday, but Ron Gardenhire oddly chose to bench Jason Kubel rather than Delmon Young versus a right-hander … Matt Joyce (elbow) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Jake Fox replaced Eric Chavez at designated hitter Wednesday against a left-hander.
NL Quick Hits: Edgar Renteria reached safely in all six plate appearances Wednesday, collecting five hits and a walk in a blowout win … Brad Lidge (elbow, knee) is slated to throw a bullpen session Thursday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return … Jose Reyes went 1-for-5 with a double in an extended spring training game Wednesday … Jason Giambi started Wednesday as part of the Rockies’ plan to give Todd Helton more rest … Brett Myers escaped with a no-decision Wednesday despite giving up a dozen hits in six innings … Jason Marquis lasted just four innings in his Nationals debut, coughing up six runs … Jeff Keppinger started at shortstop Wednesday after Tommy Manzella was plunked on the wrist … Joe Blanton (oblique) made 60 throws from 60 feet Wednesday, but isn’t close to rejoining the rotation yet … After batting .373 with 18 RBIs in 20 games this spring, Hunter Pence is 0-for-12 … With his path to Cincinnati blocked by Joey Votto, the Reds have moved prospect Yonder Alonso to left field.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.