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-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast woes

Phillies (43-77) at Giants (50-74)
9:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped their sixth straight game Friday night and fell to 0-5 on their West Coast road trip. The last-place Giants raced out to a quick lead against Zach Eflin and beat the Phils handily, 10-2.

Jerad Eickhoff, who left with the Phillies leading Monday, looks to continue his recent success against Ty Blach and the Giants in a Saturday night affair.

Here are five things to know for the game.

1. Eickhoff quietly improving
You wouldn't know it just looking at his 4.33 ERA, but Eickhoff has put together a strong stretch in recent weeks.

In his last five starts, which dates back to July 23, he's thrown 28 2/3 innings with allowing just nine earned runs, good for a 2.83 ERA. In that span, he's notched three quality starts and has 25 strikeouts. While he's limited opponents to just one home run, he's still walked 12. He's lowered his ERA by half a run in this time.

You certainly have to factor in the level of competition. Beyond a struggling yet potent Milwaukee offense, he pitched against Atlanta twice, a weak Angels lineup (which does feature Mike Trout) and the lackluster Padres. The Giants aren't much better, so it's not hard to see him extending his recent success. 

Eickhoff's mini-roll has been easy to overlook with Aaron Nola's dominant summer and Eickhoff being a 27-year-old on a team looking toward even younger players. But you can't forget that he was their best starter last season and should be able to hit at least 150 innings, a year after throwing 197 1/3. 

He's no ace, but that's not what he's asked to be. He's an average to slightly above-average starter and there's plenty of value in that. And if you're comparing him to last season, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is actually better in 2017 than 2016, indicating he's been a little unlucky this year.

Eickhoff started against Blach in June and put together his worst start of the season, giving up 11 baserunners and five runs while recording just eight outs. He didn't give up any home runs, but he walked five batters and struck out just two. 

Denard Span went 3 for 3 vs. Eickhoff while Eduardo Nunez, who's since been traded, was 2 for 2 with a walk. Blach even walked twice in two plate appearances.

2. Back with Blach
While Eickhoff had his worst start of the year against Blach and the Giants, Blach had one of the best, if not the best, starts of his young career (the other option being eight innings of shutout ball vs. the Dodgers down the stretch last season). 

He threw a seven-hit shutout. He struck out four, walked none and needed 112 pitches to dispatch the Phillies in just five batters more than the minimum. He was the first of three pitchers (Carlos Martinez, Clayton Richard) to throw shutouts against the Phillies this season.

And the soft-tossing lefty started out the season in the bullpen. He made four appearances (two starts) down the stretch in 2016 and was filling a minor role in the Giants' bullpen this April. However, he was given a full-time spot in the rotation once Madison Bumgarner injured his shoulder, and he hasn't looked back.

He leads all rookies with 134 innings pitched. He's 14th out of 34 rookie starters in ERA (4.37) but he's fourth in wins above replacement (WAR), likely because of his durability and his innings total as much as his effectiveness.

Outside of his gem at Citizens Bank Park, he's been quite hittable on the road. Home is where he's been at his best with a 3.60 ERA compared to a 5.50 mark away from AT&T Park. That's because he doesn't strike many batters out, walks only a few, and really relies on his fielders. Therefore, he's a great beneficiary of playing at one of the most extreme pitcher's parks in baseball, where a fly-ball pitcher like Blach can truly excel. 

The 26-year-old southpaw works off a 90-mph fastball and 80-mph changeup, working in a 12-6 curve and occasional slider.

Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp each picked up two hits against Blach in June, while Maikel Franco had one as well (Howie Kendrick had the other two).

3. Don't go west, young men
When the Phillies have traveled to the opposite coast this season, their destiny has manifested itself in plenty of misfortune and poor play. 

After the 10-2 loss Friday night, they are now 4-16 west of Texas, suffering sweeps at the hands of the Dodgers, Angels and Padres. They also went 2-5 combined against the Rockies and Diamondbacks, salvaging a two-game sweep against the Mariners in their western escapades. 

A lot of it's easy to parse out: Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies are all playoff teams. Angels are currently tied for the second wild card in the American League. 

But the showing this week has been especially painful. The Phils took two of three from the Giants in June, one of their rare series wins, and the Padres are a team that isn't designed to compete in 2017. These aren't just the worst teams in the NL West, they're two of the worst in baseball and the Phillies are cementing themselves in the cellar of the National League with this poor trip out west.

In San Diego and San Francisco, they've been outscored, 33-14, by the teams that are 28th and 30th, respectively, in OPS. 

Luckily for the Phils, they've got no more West Coast trips left after this weekend and only 14 of their last 40 games are on the road. That's plenty of games at CBP, where they are a much more respectable 24-31 (compared to 19-46 on the road).

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Rhys Hoskins is just 2 for 12 with three walks against left-handed pitchers, but both hits are home runs. 

Giants: After going 2 for 4 Friday night with a double and home run, Hunter Pence has a six-game hitting streak going. He has six multi-hit games this month and is batting .351 in August.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have faced 19 teams this year and have a winning record against only one of them (Atlanta).

• Checking in with some recent former Phillies: Jeremy Hellickson allowed five home runs to the Angels on Friday night, including one to New Jersey's own Trout.

• Now with the Nationals, Kendrick has hit even better than he did with the Phillies. Going into Friday's action, he had a .353/.400/.667 batting line with four home runs.

• Pat Neshek has struck out seven batters in 6 1/3 innings, but he's allowed five runs (three earned). He's given up 10 hits, though he's yet to walk a batter.

• Lastly, Joaquin Benoit has had a rough go of it in Pittsburgh. He has an 11.81 ERA, giving up nine runs (seven earned) in just 5 1/3 innings. The 40-year-old reliever has as many hit-by-pitches as strikeouts with the Pirates.

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

Zach Eflin leaves with sore shoulder as Phillies' California woes continue

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The state of California has become the state of despair for the Phillies.

They fell to 0-11 in the state after a 10-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

The Phils suffered three-game sweeps against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the Angels in Anaheim and the Padres in San Diego. They have now lost the first two of a four-game series against the Giants in the northern part of the state.

Friday night's defeat was the Phillies' sixth straight, dropping them to a season-high 34 games under .500. They are 19-46 on the road and 6-22 against the National League West.

The loss was embarrassing because the Phils were held to one hit over seven scoreless innings by the pitcher with the highest ERA in the NL. Giants lefty Matt Moore entered with an ERA of 5.71. The Phils finished with just four hits, all singles.

The loss may also have been costly because starting pitcher Zach Eflin, one of the young pitchers the Phillies would like to build around, gave up seven hits and six runs and had to leave the game after five innings with discomfort in the back of his right shoulder. Earlier this season, Eflin, 23, missed time with an elbow strain.

Eflin said he'd felt soreness in the back of this shoulder before.

"This is a little different than I've had before," Eflin said. "It's just kind of a steady tightness. It's something I wasn't comfortable continuing with. I don't think it's anything serious. It's more of a precautionary thing."

The shoulder tightness didn't affect Eflin's velocity. He threw breaking balls early in the game and gave up three runs in the first inning. In the fourth inning, he used his four-seam fastball and hit 96 mph on the radar gun while getting three quick outs. Manager Pete Mackanin said he'd like to see more of that from Eflin. Of course, now it's safe to wonder when Eflin will pitch again. The Phils will surely be careful with him.

The Phillies are already making some adjustments to their starting rotation. Right-hander Ben Lively will be recalled from Triple A to take Odubel Herrera's spot on the roster. Herrera went on the disabled list with a sore left hamstring (see story). Lively will start against the Giants on Sunday while scheduled starter Mark Leiter Jr. goes to the bullpen.

The Phillies were never in Friday night's game. They got three of their four hits and both of their runs (on a bloop hit by Freddy Galvis) in the eighth inning and the Giants came back and scored four in the bottom of the inning.

Rookie catcher Jorge Alfaro had the Phillies' first two hits of the game, the only two that Moore gave up. Moore (4-12) earned his first win since June 20.

In a span of three days, the Phillies have been held to two runs over 16 1/3 innings by a pair of lefties with high ERAs. They were shut out by Clayton Richard in San Diego on Wednesday. He entered that game with a 5.14 ERA.

"It's frustrating when you look up at the numbers and you see that," Mackanin said. "You kind of hope we can get to the guy. But for whatever reason, the bats are just silent right now."

The Phillies' offense has been bad all season, but it has been especially bad lately. Over the last nine games, they have scored just 25 runs, an average of 2.8 per game. The Phils are 1-8 in those contests.