Jurickson Profar

Indians, Rangers survive: wild card standings stay unchanged

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After the Rays made a sweep in Yankee Stadium look as easy as can be, the Indians and Rangers injected some drama into the AL wild card race before eking out one-run victories.

The Indians seemed to have things well in hand against the Twins after scoring three runs in fourth and taking a 6-1 lead into the ninth. That’s when struggling closer Chris Perez intervened. Perez, fresh off his vote of confidence from Terry Francona, gave up four runs while getting two outs in the ninth before being replaced. A Josmil Pinto two-run homer was the final blow. That brought in Joe Smith, who allowed a single and a walk before striking out Oswaldo Arcia for his third save.

Perez has now given up six runs and three homers in two appearances and 10 runs in 9 1/3 innings for the month of September. It’s hard to imagine that Francona will give him any additional save chances this weekend, which will force him to rely even more on Smith and Cody Allen.

The Rangers were never so in control as the Indians. They scored three runs in the bottom of the first against the Angels, but fell behind 4-3 in the top of the second. Matt Garza was able to rebound from there, and the game was tied 5-5 entering the bottom of the ninth, when Jurickson Profar, taking his first at-bat of the night, hit a walkoff homer off Michael Kohn.

To his credit, Ron Washington actually used Joe Nathan in a tie game in this one after keeping him in reserve in a tie game in Kansas City last weekend. Nathan got the win for his scoreless top of the ninth. Garza allowed 11 hits in all while working 5 1/3 innings, but just one of the four runs he allowed was earned. Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre all committed errors in the three-run second inning.

The current wild card standings:

Rays: 90-69 (3 at Blue Jays)
Indians: 89-70 (3 at Twins)
Rangers: 88-71 (3 vs. Angels)

The Rays beat the Yankees 4-0 on Thursday and outscored the Bombers 17-3 in their three-game sweep. They’ll start Jeremy Hellickson against R.A. Dickey as they look to maintain their lead Friday. Considering that the Blue Jays had Munenori Kawasaki DHing, Ryan Langerhans playing first base and Moises Sierra batting cleanup in Thursday’s loss to the Orioles, they don’t seem poised to present that much of a challenge.

The Indians will throw Corey Kluber against Pedro Hernandez in Minnesota. Hernandez has a 6.05 ERA, and has given the Twins one quality start (against Houston) in 12 tries this year. The Rangers will pitch Alexi Ogando against 17-game winner C.J. Wilson. Working in the Rangers’ favor: Wilson is just 1-2 with a 7.92 ERA in seven starts against his old team since signing with the Angels prior to last season.

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.