Yu Darvish

Yu Darvish not quite perfect, but plenty close enough

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It looked like destiny was on his side when Yu Darvish made such quick work of Jason Castro and Carlos Corporan to start the ninth inning Tuesday against Astros. Seconds later, destiny rolled right between his legs into center field.

In the end, the pitch count may have gotten to Darvish. Not that he seemed stressed at all, but everyone else was, since he wasn’t slated to throw more than 90-100 pitches tonight after taking it relatively easy in spring training. Having skipped the WBC, his high pitch total in March was 73. The two-out single Marwin Gonzalez hit off him in the bottom of the ninth tonight came on his 111th and final pitch. The Rangers removed him immediately, and Michael Kirkman went on to finish off the 7-0 victory.

Knowing that the Rangers wanted a quick inning — actually, they really didn’t want to send him back out for the ninth at all — Darvish attacked the plate and got two quick groundouts. Gonzalez, too, swung at the first pitch, knocking it right back through the box past Darvish and shortstop Elvis Andrus.

Whille Darvish didn’t get his perfect game, it was a marvelous effort. He fanned 14 of the first 23 hitters he faced, before he seemed to stop going for the K. Prior to Gonzalez’s single, Chris Carter’s drive to the wall in the fifth was the only occasion on which the Astros came close to a hit .

If anything takes away from the outing, it’s that it did come against the American League’s worst offense. The Astros are going to be prone to games like this. Jose Altuve is the only high-average hitter in the entire lineup, and one imagines other pitchers will pull off impressive feats against the team this year, whether it’s a no-hitter or an 18-strikeout game.

Darvish, though, would have done much the same against any lineup tonight. Maybe not a no-hitter, but eight scoreless innings anyway. Darvish’s command can waver, but his varied arsenal and moving fastball make him about as tough to hit as any AL starter. If, with a year in the majors under his belt, he’s completed the adjustment to pitching every five or six days, as opposed to once a week in Japan, he’s a threat for AL Cy Young honors. He already finds himself with a nice head start.

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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.