Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

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Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could begin working a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.

It was a chance tryout with the Kansas City Royals that changed the trajectory of his life.

Yordano wowed scouts with an electrifying fastball, the best they had seen in years, and a confident demeanor that bordered on brash and arrogant. And both of those traits served him well as he rocketed to the major leagues, helped the Royals win a long-awaited World Series championship in 2015, and became one of the most popular players in a city that embraced baseball one again.

Ventura, whose nickname "Ace" fit so perfectly, died Sunday in a car crash on a stretch of highway near the town of San Adrian in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25.

"Our team and our organization is hurting deeply," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's certainly something that puts everything into strong perspective, and challenges us all to never grow tired or weary or cease to do what is right, and loving others. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.

"We loved Yordano," Moore said. "We loved his heart, we loved who he was as a teammate, a friend. He was somebody that challenged us all and made us better and I'm going to miss him."

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a stretch of highway 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, the nation's capital. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.

He's the second young star pitcher to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was 24 when he was killed along with two other men in a boating accident near Miami Beach in late September.

Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.

"I was traveling to the airport this morning and I got a phone call wanting to know if I'd heard about Yordano, and I thought they meant Marte," Moore said. "My first thought was, `Were they together?'

"Then shortly afterwards, I got a call from Major League Baseball confirming this tragedy."

The Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic-related death rate in the world -- officials there believe alcohol, speed and a blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame. Oscar Taveras, Jose Oliva, Rufino Linares and Jose Uribe are among players who have died in crashes in the country.

It wasn't known whether Ventura had been drinking or speeding at the time of his accident.

Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, a fellow Dominican whom Ventura called his hero, posted pictures of Ventura and Marte on Twitter and said, "Guys, the only way we can pay tribute to you, is by reflecting on the adjustments we all have to make in this game called life."

Moore speaks frequently with Latin American players about dangers of returning home, including driving on the perilous roads.

"I'm more intentional about it to the point where it probably goes in one ear and out the other," Moore said, "but we're constantly discussing these things."

The Royals lowered flags at Kauffman Stadium to half-staff Sunday, and displayed Ventura's photograph on the large, crown-shaped scoreboard in centerfield of the empty ballpark. Fans were leaving flowers, hats and other mementos within hours of learning of his death.

Royals teammates learned the news in a text chain and took to Twitter to share their sorrow.

"I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: "I love you Ace. I don't know what to say other than I'm going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE."

Ventura will be buried Tuesday in the Dominican Republic. Moore, manager Ned Yost and other members of the Royals are planning to attend.

Before his start in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, Ventura paid tribute to Taveras, his close friend and countryman who had been killed days earlier in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura wrote "RIP O.T (hash)18" on his hat and also wrote messages on his glove, cleats and the mound before shutting out San Francisco for seven innings in a win.

"If he was still here, I would for sure be talking to him, and Oscar would be very happy for me," Ventura said afterward. "Oscar was a very humble guy and very likable, and I'm going to miss him a lot."

Ventura signed a $23 million, five-year deal with the Royals shortly before he started on opening day in 2015. He then helped them bounce back from their loss to the Giants in Game 7 by returning to the World Series and beating the New York Mets in five games for their first crown since 1985.

The right-hander went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA last season, and his fiery demeanor was never more evident than when he hit Orioles star Manny Machado with a fastball to trigger a brawl. Ventura was suspended nine games for the pitch, though it was cut to eight on appeal.

In a surreal coincidence, the 33-year-old Marte played his final game in the big leagues for Arizona on Aug. 6, 2014. Ventura started that game for Kansas City.

"Today is a very sad day for our entire game and particularly for the many loyal fans in the Dominican Republic, the home of both Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Said players' union head Tony Clark: "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."

Moore said he spoke to Miami general manager Mike Hill early Sunday, in part because Moore admired the grace and heart in which the Marlins organization dealt with Fernandez's death.

It wasn't certain whether Fernandez was driving the boat when it crashed on Sept. 25. He had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.147, above Florida's legal limit of 0.08, according to autopsy reports released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office.

"That was one of the first things that came to mind when I began to figure out how we were going to process this," Moore said. "Mike was able to provide some insight. Just give me some comfort, really."

Ventura wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura was a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when he heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy located on his picturesque island home.

Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.

But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential to his rapid rise. He made his debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.

He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as Hosmer and Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League.

He was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the Royals reach the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades. Then he helped to lead them back to the Fall Classic in 2015, this time completing the job on a crisp night in New York.

"He always had a zest for life, an innocence about the game, a freshness, a fearlessness," Moore said, his voice cracking. "He was a very compassionate human being, loved to compete, no doubt challenged us, but that made us better. Nobody could ever doubt how much he cared about his teammates, how much he cared about the fans, and how much he loved to compete and to pitch."

Phillies trim roster, send Tyler Goeddel, Jake Thompson to minors

Phillies trim roster, send Tyler Goeddel, Jake Thompson to minors

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- With a week to go before they leave Florida, the Phillies made several roster moves on Friday morning.

Outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who spent all of last season in the majors, was optioned to the minor leagues.

Pitcher Jake Thompson, who made 10 starts in the majors for the Phillies last season, was also optioned to the minors. He is expected to open the season in the starting rotation at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Goeddel, 24, joined the Phillies organization in December 2015 after being selected in the Rule 5 draft. He had originally been a first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.

Players selected in the Rule 5 draft must spend an entire season in the majors or be exposed to waivers and offered back to their original club. The Phillies kept Goeddel all of last season, fully securing his rights, but he received only 213 at-bats and hit just .192 with four homers and 16 RBIs.

The news on Goeddel was not completely surprising. The wintertime additions of outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders had made Goeddel a long shot to make the team.

"I knew going into camp I was going to have to earn my spot," he said. "There's a lot of guys in here that have been playing well. Whatever happened happened."

Goeddel needs to recoup some at-bats in the minor leagues. The question is: where? The Phillies have three top outfield prospects -- Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens -- who will require regular playing time at Triple A. It's possible that Goeddel could open the season at Double A.

Team officials discussed that possibility with him.

"They want me to get more at-bats," Goeddel said. "That's the main thing. Only getting 200 in your age-23 season is not enough.

"They said there's a chance I'm at Reading. I'm not too happy about that but you can't control it. That's where their most openings are and most consistent playing time.

"I want to play every day. It was tough last year playing sparingly. Getting at-bats is going to be great. Obviously, I wish it was up here. But at the end of the day, you can't control it."

Goeddel is still on the 40-man roster and as long as he stays on it can come back to the majors quite easily if a need arises.

"They said that," Goeddel said. "Last year (pitcher Alec) Asher started at Double A and was called up. They said that in there. They just want me to get at-bats. That was their main thing."

Thompson could be one of the first to return to the majors if a need arises in the starting rotation.

The 23-year-old right-hander was one of five prospects that the Phillies acquired from Texas for Cole Hamels in July 2015. He went 11-5 with a 2.50 ERA in 21 starts at Triple A last season and 3-6 with a 5.70 ERA with the big club.

The Phils also reassigned pitcher Dalier Hinojosa, catcher Logan Moore and infielder Hector Gomez to minor-league camp.

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola has not had a great spring.

But in the big picture, well, maybe he has.

Nola was one of the Phillies' biggest and most important question marks coming into camp. He had missed the final two months of the 2016 season because of an elbow injury. All he needed to do this spring to be in the starting rotation was show that he was healthy.

He's done that.

He pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins and threw 82 pitches in his fifth start of the spring on Thursday. He gave up six hits, including a two-run homer, walked one and struck out six.

He's up to 17 2/3 innings for the spring -- without an elbow issue.

"I'm over that," Nola said after the game. "My elbow feels really good. I haven't had any pain or problems with it. I don't even think about it throwing or in games.

"Everything has been very positive. My body is healthy."

Nola, who lines up to fill the fifth spot in the Phillies' rotation, hasn't had good results this spring. He has given up 19 hits and 13 earned runs. But, again, the Phillies were only looking for good health.

"He's been working on his changeup," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Today, he threw more changeups than I've ever seen him throw. The changeup he threw for the home run, he admitted, 'I would never throw that pitch in a game.' But he's working on it, trying to get it going for him, and I think it's going to be a good pitch for him. 

"He really pitched better than the result he got. He had a lot of work with his changeup, which is important. He was as sharp as we've seen him."

Coming into camp, Mackanin was concerned about Nola's health.

"I'm less concerned right now," the manager said. "It's always going to be in the back of my mind. But it's good to see 92, 93, 94 (mph) coming out of his hand, which is important. Once he regains that command, and he showed real good command of his fastball down in the zone today, he's going to be back to where he was -- with even maybe a little more velocity. We'll see. But the changeup is going to help him. I'm very encouraged."

The game
The Phillies lost, 4-2, to the Twins.

The Phils had 10 hits, two by Odubel Herrera, who homered.

Andrew Knapp, pushing to make the club, started behind the plate and had a double.

The Phillies were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

The Phils' bullpen -- Sean Burnett, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris -- accounted for 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball.

Up next
The Phils play the Yankees in Tampa on Friday. Jeremy Hellickson will start against CC Sabathia.