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: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

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Best of MLB: Cardinals erupt for 9 runs during 8th inning of comeback

CHICAGO -- Paul DeJong hit a tiebreaking two-run double in St. Louis' nine-run eighth inning, and the Cardinals cooled off the Chicago Cubs with an 11-4 victory on Friday.

Chicago carried a 3-2 lead into the eighth, looking for its seventh consecutive win. But St. Louis sent 14 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning of the season, taking advantage of a combined six walks by three relievers while improving to 4-4 since the All-Star break.

Carl Edwards Jr. (3-2) was pulled after the first three batters reached. Hector Rondon then walked Jedd Gyorko, tying it at 3, and DeJong followed with a drive into the ivy in right-center for a ground-rule double. The Cardinals were off and running from there.

Matt Bowman (2-3) got the final out of the seventh for the win.

The Cubs played without third baseman Kris Bryant, who sprained his left little finger on a headfirst slide on Wednesday. X-rays were negative, but Bryant is experiencing soreness and there is some concern about gripping a bat (see full recap).

Andrus' hustle gives Rangers win in 10th inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Elvis Andrus homered early, and then snapped a 10th-inning tie with a two-out infield single that gave the struggling Texas Rangers a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

Andrus, who homered in the first inning, hit a sharp grounder off Brad Boxberger (2-1) that forced Evan Longoria to make a diving stop. Pinch runner Delino Shields scored when the third baseman to was unable to complete the throw to first base.

Alex Claudio (2-0) pitched two innings in relief of Yu Darvish to get the win. The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Steven Souza Jr. in the 10th, but avoided further damage by getting Adeiny Hechavarria to bunt into a double play and Mallex Smith to fly out.

Texas ended a five-game losing streak.

Rays starter Alex Cobb took a three-hitter and a 3-1 lead into the ninth, but couldn't finish off the Rangers, who erased their deficit with Joey Gallo's double and Shin-Soo Choo's 14th homer within a three-pitch span (see full recap).

Encarnacion powers Indians past former team
CLEVELAND -- Edwin Encarnacion homered and drove in four runs against his former team, and the Cleveland Indians broke open a close game with an eight-run seventh inning to rout the Toronto Blue Jays 13-3 on Friday night.

Encarnacion, who played the last six seasons with Toronto before signing a three-year, $60 million contract with Cleveland in January, hit a leadoff home run in the second, broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a two-run double and added an RBI single in the seventh.

Encarnacion was 3 for 4 with a walk and nearly added to his total later in the seventh, but center fielder Kevin Pillar tracked down his fly ball on the warning track with two runners on.

Abraham Almonte hit a three-run homer and rookie Bradley Zimmer added a two-run single in the seventh as the Indians won for just the second time in eight games (see full recap).

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

With evolving changeup and 4-pitch mix, Aaron Nola raising his own ceiling

BOX SCORE

Once upon a time, Cole Hamels was a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and changeup. The changeup was so good so consistently that it didn't matter that Hamels' curveball command was often shaky. Two very good pitches were enough.

It wasn't until Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay arrived that Hamels began incorporating a fourth pitch, the cutter, and along the way, his curveball command improved substantially. Suddenly, a two-pitch lefty had a legitimate four-pitch mix and it took him to another level.

Watching Aaron Nola dominate the Brewers in Friday night's 6-1 Phillies win (see Instant Replay), Hamels' evolution came to mind. Nola allowed one run and struck out nine over seven innings, at one point whiffing eight of nine Brewers. And he did with a four-pitch mix that included 31 sinkers, 27 fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs.

It's no longer sinker-curveball only with Nola. He's now giving his opponents more to worry about in the form of additional velocity on the fastball and a changeup that is becoming a money pitch.

"Nola was outstanding. He's been working on that changeup all year and it's really one of his better pitches right now," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

With a four-seam fastball that has been maxing out at 95 mph lately, a curveball that buckles hitters from both sides of the plate, a sinker with wicked two-seam movement and a changeup that he's beginning to feel comfortable throwing to righties and lefties alike, Nola may be making his jump to the next level before our very eyes.

"No question about it," Mackanin said. "That changeup, he threw a ton of them tonight to righties and lefties. I talked to him when we took him out of the game and he was real excited about throwing the changeup not just to lefties but to right-handers as well. If he can do that with the rest of the arsenal that he has, I expect a real good performance from him every time out."

The win made Nola 7-6 with a 3.38 ERA, which essentially means he's given up three runs every eight innings. Any team will take that from a starting pitcher. 

Over his last six starts, Nola has been lights-out — 1.70 ERA, .190 opponents' batting average, 50 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. Perhaps most impressively, he's held his opponents to a .118 batting average with runners in scoring position, second in the National League over that span to only Clayton Kershaw.

"My changeup ... I'm feeling consistent with it right now," Nola said. "It's evolved. I really didn't have much of a feel for my changeup [when I first came up]. It's a thing I worked on in spring training a lot this year, threw it in counts when I usually wouldn't. That's what spring training is for and I think it helped."

The changeup is a feel pitch and its success is usually dictated by the pitcher's arm angle and speed. If he throws it the same way he throws a fastball, that's where the deception of the slower speed comes into play. Nola has worked hard on those aspects of the pitch and it's clearly paying off.

Nola induced 15 swinging strikes on the night, six of them on changeups and five on curveballs. His strikeout numbers stand out because he was not billed as this kind of pitcher when he was drafted or was coming up through the Phillies' system. In the minor leagues, Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings. In the majors, he's struck out 277 in 275 innings (9.1 per nine).

"I'm real happy about the way he's come along, especially after the elbow issues," Mackanin said. "He has increased velocity. His pitches are crisper. He's better now than before. It's really a nice jump for him to make."

Indeed it is. Perhaps Nola's ceiling is higher than No. 2 starter.