MLB Notes: Yordano Ventura’s toxicology report will not be released to public

MLB Notes: Yordano Ventura’s toxicology report will not be released to public

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The toxicology report on Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura won't be released to the public following his death last month in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic.

Tessie Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the Dominican attorney general's office, said the toxicology report is not a public document, The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/2ldVdLC ) reported Thursday. The findings only will be released to Ventura's family and attorneys.

Ventura was 25 on Jan. 22 when he died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Santo Domingo. The right-hander pitched his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

The toxicology results are an important piece in determining whether the Royals are obligated to pay the remainder of Ventura's contract, which is valued at $20.25 million. Royals officials initially said they were told toxicology results for Ventura would be completed in about three weeks. (see full story)

Giants: Hill signed to minor league deal
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Versatile infielder Aaron Hill has agreed to a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants and would get a $2 million, one-year deal if he is added to the 40-man roster.

Hill joins a growing list of veteran infielders in the mix to try to land a job out of spring training, along with Jimmy Rollins and Korean Jae-gyun Hwang. Eduardo Nunez is the projected starting third baseman with Conor Gillaspie expected to play as well.

The 34-year-old Hill, who has familiarity with the NL West from his years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, spent last season between Milwaukee and Boston. He batted .262 with 10 home runs, 14 doubles and 38 RBIs in 125 games. Hill spent the previous five seasons with the D-backs.

Orioles: Brach wins arbitration
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Brad Brach became the first player to beat the Baltimore Orioles in salary arbitration in 22 years, ending the team's nine-hearing winning streak.

Brach was awarded $3.05 million instead of the team's offer of $2,525,000 by arbitrators Edna Francis, Robert Herzog, Sylvia Skratek. The panel issued its decision, Friday, a day after hearing arguments.

A right-hander who turns 31 in April, Brach was 10-4 with a 2.05 ERA in a career-high 71 appearances last year and made $1.3 million. He struck out 92, also a career best, in 79 innings and had two saves.

Baltimore had not lost since its case against pitcher Ben McDonald in 1995. Orioles backup catcher Caleb Joseph lost his case this month and will get $700,000 rather this his $1 million request.

Players and teams have split 14 decisions. New York Yankees reliever Dellin Betances was the final case Friday, and the 15 hearings are the most since clubs won 10 of 16 decisions in 1994.

Yankees: First arbitration case in 10 years
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Dellin Betances and the New York Yankees have argued the year's final salary arbitration case, the first for the team in nearly a decade.

Eligible for arbitration for the first time, Betances asked for $5 million. The Yankees argued during Friday's hearing he should be paid $3 million.

A decision by arbitrators Steven Wolf, Dan Brent and Sylvia Skratek is expected Saturday. Players and teams have split 14 decisions this year, and the 15 hearings are the most since clubs won 10 of 16 decisions in 1994.

New York renewed Betances at the major league minimum $507,500 last year. A setup man for the first four months, he took over as closer after the trades of Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs and Andrew Miller to Cleveland.

A right-hander who turns 28 in March, Betances figures to be primarily a setup man again following Chapman's decision to return to the Yankees, who gave him an $86 million, five-year contract -- a record for a relief pitcher. Betances struck out 126, leading big league relievers for the third straight year, and went 3-6 with a 3.08 ERA and 12 saves in 17 chances.

Since defeating Mariano Rivera in 2000, the Yankees' only arbitration hearing was in 2008 when pitcher Chien-Ming Wang was awarded a raise from $489,500 to the team's $4 million offer instead of his $4.6 million request.

Rays: Tommy Hunter agrees to minor league contract
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Reliever Tommy Hunter has agreed to a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, who are giving the 30-year right-hander an opportunity to earn a job in a revamped bullpen.

The team said details of the contract had yet to be finalized. The 30-year-old, who pitched for four other teams during his nine-year major league career, reported to spring training Friday.

Hunter was 2-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 33 appearances for Cleveland and Baltimore last year. in 2016. He also has pitched for Texas and the Chicago Cubs.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said Hunter "brings a ton of energy to the clubhouse" and is a "power pitcher who's pitched a lot of big innings in the AL East."

"It's always nice to have that experience," Cash said, adding that Tampa Bay also pursued the right-hander last offseason.

"Veteran arm, versatile, a guy who has shown the ability to go more than an inning," Cash said. "We're thrilled. We really recruited him hard."

Nationals: Murphy talks about Tebow’s power
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- No less an authority on hitting than last season's runner-up for NL MVP thinks Tim Tebow has some ability with a bat -- he just needs more work.

Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy said Friday at spring training that he recently spent some time working on batting with Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback who now is pursuing a baseball career. Tebow is expected to be in minor league camp with the New York Mets next month.

Murphy said he and Tebow live about 15 houses apart in Jacksonville but had never met.

"He's quite an impressive person," Murphy said.

And as for his assessment of Tebow's skills with a bat in hand, based on their hitting session at a Jacksonville high school?

"I think that the power is real. What he needs is at-bats," Murphy said. "He needs 500, 600 plate appearances to try to make adjustments on the fly. It's always interesting to see what happens when -- he's done all this work, and he's improved greatly -- you go from someone trying to hit your barrel to someone trying to not hit your barrel. He just needs that experience to pull from, which only a full season can give you."

Murphy finished second in the NL with a .347 average and fourth with 104 RBIs in 2016 for the NL East champion Nationals.

He enjoys talking and thinking about hitting -- and working on it with players, including at a clinic he runs with his brother for high schoolers from Jacksonville.

The Mets signed Tebow to a minor league contract late last year.

An outfielder who didn't play the sport in college, he hit .194 in the Arizona Fall League, striking out 20 times in 70 plate appearances.

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

BOX SCORE

Before beginning a season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeouts Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year," (see story)

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five [reliable] guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”