It’s a case of very unusual timing, what with Chipper Jones currently leading the NL Final Vote, but the National League announced Tuesday that Jones would replace the injured Matt Kemp on the All-Star team.
The most recent reports had Chipper holding a slim lead in the Final Vote balloting over Cardinals third baseman David Freese, with Bryce Harper in third place.
Final Vote balloting ends Thursday afternoon, so it’s hard to see why the league didn’t just wait until then to announce Kemp’s replacement. If Freese goes on to win the balloting, it would give the NL team four third basemen, which hardly seems necessary. Now that Chipper is out of the mix, Harper figures to pick up more votes from the non-St. Louis contingent. Harper, of course, threw his support behind Chipper when the ballot was announced Sunday.
It will be Chipper’s eighth All-Star nod. The 1999 NL MVP and future Hall of Famer announced earlier this year that he’d retire at season’s end.
As for Kemp, he’s still expected to take part in Monday’s Home Run Derby, even though he’s on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Ryan Braun automatically replaces him in the starting lineup because of his placement in the player’s vote, but this still gives manager Tony La Russa a decision to make, as Braun was the obvious choice to start at DH if Kemp had been able to play. Now La Russa can take his pick. Carlos Gonzalez is one possibility. David Wright could be another, particularly if Freese wins the Final Vote and gives the team the extra third baseman.
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.
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.