Saturday, April 2, 2016

Ultimate MLB News April 3, 2016

Volquez ready to be heart of Royals' staff

All spring long, the decision about the Opening Day starter for the Royals appeared to be between Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura.
Ventura started Opening Day in 2015. Volquez emerged as Kansas City's true ace in 2015, starting Games 1 and 5 of the World Series.
Royals manager Ned Yost waited until last weekend to announce his starter, but he had been leaning toward Volquez all along.
"He's been the heart of our staff," Yost said. "He's a guy who has deserved it."
Volquez joined Kansas City last season on a two-year deal and emerged as the ace with a 13-9 record and a 3.55 ERA. He surpassed the magical 200-inning mark, then threw 28 2/3 more innings in the playoffs and helped the Royals win their first World Series championship in 30 years.
"It was pretty special," Volquez said. "But it was a special group of guys. We all pulled for each other."
Volquez had maintained all offseason that he'd rather not pitch the opener, preferring, he said, to sit back and enjoy the ceremonies surrounding Opening Night against the Mets at 7:37 p.m. CT.
But when Yost informed Volquez that he'd be starting the opener, he was gracious.
"It's an honor," Volquez said. "It's an honor for any pitcher to be named the starter for that."
As it turns out, Volquez will be part of history -- the first time two starting pitchers from the final game of a World Series will face off in the following season's opener.
"Pretty crazy, huh?" Volquez said, laughing. "But it should be a great game."
There might even be a little added drama: A story emerged earlier this week that the Royals allegedly were planning some sort of retribution for the Game 3 incident in which Mets starterNoah Syndergaard unleashed a fastball near leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar's head on the game's first pitch.
Kansas City's players laughed at the notion they are planning any retaliation. Volquez mostly was unaware of the incident: At the time, he was back home in the Dominican Republic, where he had attended his father's funeral.
"I don't know much about it," Volquez said. "I wasn't even there. I think [Mike Moustakas] told me about it when I got back."
Volquez said he certainly isn't planning any retribution.
"I'm too old for that," he said, laughing. "Too early in the season to get in trouble."

Harvey pumped for first opener assignment

For all Matt Harvey has already accomplished in his still-young career -- an All-Star selection, two World Series starts, a 2.53 ERA and on and on and on -- there is plenty he has yet to achieve. So much of what Harvey still has to offer the Mets comes in the form of potential. Imagine that: he can still get better.
It's a quest that begins Sunday at 8:37 p.m. ET for Harvey at Kauffman Stadium, against the same Royals team that knocked him out of World Series Game 5 last November. Now more than two full years removed from Tommy John surgery, still with something to prove, Harvey will continue the process of defining himself as one of baseball's best starting pitchers.
"Going from missing a whole year to kind of having to re-establish myself and get back to where I needed to be, and now having the honor of leading us off, I couldn't be more proud and happy of the hard work," Harvey said last month. "This organization's given me that opportunity. It could have gone to anybody, and I'm definitely grateful for the opportunity."
Harvey declined to speak this week about his Opening Night assignment, and he has not granted an interview since New York's tabloid newspapers joked about his recent medical scare -- he remains on medication after passing a blood clot from his bladder early last week -- on their back pages. But the team's sense of confidence in Harvey is nonetheless evident.
"I thought he was the guy that should take the baseball," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I know he's excited about it."
There is a perception within the scouting community that Harvey's return from Tommy John last summer -- a 13-8 record and 2.71 ERA -- was merely some fraction of what he might accomplish with more time between him and surgery. Not always sharp this spring, Harvey still showed flashes of his old self. So with his health scare in the past, the Mets expect Harvey to thrive in Kansas City and beyond.
"There are guys that rise to the occasion," Collins said. "There are guys that when they're put in a tough spot, they pick up their game. And he's one of those kinds of guys."

Elite Archer aiming to be even better

Chris Archer's ascent toward excellence continues at 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday with his Opening Day start against the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.
The Rays ace is trending up, and he won't settle for anything but being the best -- a status he can achieve on any given night.
Take what he did last season on Aug. 20 against the Astros, a night that saw the right-hander play the role of No. 1 to near perfection, crossing off all the items on a staff ace's wish list in the Rays' 1-0 road win.
Archer pitched a complete-game shutout, earning his team a split against a tough opponent. Not only did he save the bullpen, but he also rebounded from a tough outing. Archer's line read like a pitcher's dream: No runs on one hit with a walk and 11 strikeouts. All on just 98 pitches.
"Those types of [performances] are motivation," Archer said. "They keep me hungry because it shows me my true potential. So, I'm striving for that outcome for 34 starts, 35, 36, however many including the playoffs. It motivates me. It makes me work harder to get that sensation every time I'm on the mound."
Archer moved into an elite classification in 2015, even if his win-loss record (12-13) did not reflect that.
The 27-year-old became the seventh pitcher in team history to reach 200 innings, the blue-collar goal that says so much about a starter. He became the first Rays pitcher to do so since 2012, when David Price and James Shields both exceeded the mark. In addition, Archer became the fourth Rays pitcher to record a 200-inning, 200-strikeout season, joining Price, Shields and Scott Kazmir.
Take away four games -- all anomalies -- from Archer's 2015 season, and his numbers would have been even more Cy Young Award-worthy. In those four starts, he surrendered 30 runs in 18 1/3 innings. Clean those off the slate and Archer's ERA would have dropped from 3.23 to 2.14.
So it appears that Archer simply needs to do a better job of limiting the damage at times. While pitching coach Jim Hickey agreed with that assessment, he noted that Archer has already done a nice job of doing just that.
"[Minimizing the damage] was his Achilles' heel big time before last season," Hickey said. "Even the season before that I can remember a number of occasions where things snowballed, especially with two outs. And he was unable to put the brakes on it, and he did a great job of that overall.
"He made 33 starts and four times things got out of hand on him. Not always through his own fault, either. But, can he do a better job? Absolutely, but you're talking about if he does clean that up and is able to limit that damage or those big innings, you're talking about a guy who is in the top five, in the conversation, in all of Major League Baseball I think."
Archer said that he wants to be better "in those situations" going forward.
"Not perfect, but better," Archer said. "And that's where my progress is going to be."

Stroman excited to soak in first Opening Day

It will be a day of firsts when Marcus Stroman takes the mound Sunday afternoon against the Rays. This will not only be the first Opening Day start of his career, but it's also the first time he has been on the Blue Jays' roster to start a season.
Stroman has parts of the last two Major League seasons under his belt, but he has never experienced a Major League Opening Day. Two years ago, the product of Duke University was started the season with Triple-A Buffalo, and last year, he was away from the action after a severe knee injury cost him most of the season.
Every pitcher dreams about getting the ball on Opening Day, and Stroman is no different. He has been thinking about this moment for years, and he can't wait to get started against Tampa Bay and his close friend, Chris Archer.
"I'm excited. I haven't experienced my first Opening Day, so I'm excited for all of the hoopla and everything that comes along with it," said Stroman, who is 15-6 with a 3.31 ERA in 157 2/3 career big league innings. "I'm just looking to soak every single minute of this Opening Day in."
Emotions run high on Opening Day, and nerves often become a factor. But having experienced a deep run into last year's postseason, Stroman has a "been there, done that" feel.
Stroman made three starts in October, including a must-win Game 5 against the Rangers in the ALDS. The pressure doesn't get any greater than those moments, and it's an experience Stroman can use when he steps onto the field against the Rays.
"I would expect it to be similar to that of the playoffs, and I love that," said Stroman, who went 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in his three postseason outings. "The louder it is, I feel like the more fun it is, the more excited I can get.
"I feel like I've done a great job of controlling my emotions, channeling them the right way, so I love it. I'm hoping there's a ton of Blue Jays fans down here, I'm hoping the place is rocking, loud, and I'm just looking to soak it in and enjoy it all."
Opening Day would be special enough on its own, but there's a little bit of added significance because Archer will be pitching for Tampa Bay. The two exchanged text messages earlier this spring that included some friendly trash talk when each pitcher was named Opening Day starter.
"He's a great individual. He's one of the best dudes that I've met, ever, in baseball," Stroman said. "Mentally, he's one of the stronger individuals, and we vibe with each other very well. All of that aside, when you step between those lines it's different. It's to go out there, do everything you can to your team in a position to win. But when we're off the field, we're great friends."

Set for 5th OD start, Waino in rare company

Out of that same PNC Park bullpen door he jogged through last September to make an improbable return in relief, Adam Wainwright will emerge again on Sunday. This time, he'll be walking, longtime batterymate Yadier Molina alongside him, ready not to complete a comeback but to mark the start of a new chapter.
The Opening Day start -- at 12:05 p.m. CT vs. the Pirates -- will be the fifth of Wainwright's career, an assignment fitting for an ace and anchor of the organization. There was no easier decision for manager Mike Matheny to make this spring than choosing who would lead his club into the season.
"It is a tremendous honor," Wainwright said. "I think any time your manager looks you in the eyes and says, 'You're going to start us off because we want to build this thing around some of the things you do,' that helps. That's a confidence booster, and that's something that you never forget. You never forget starting one Opening Day game, but when you get multiple Opening Day starts, you realize how special it is."
Wainwright's count puts him in rare company, with only one pitcher in franchise history having made more. That was Bob Gibson, now a Hall of Famer, who made 10 Opening Day starts for the Cardinals, including nine straight from 1967-75. Dizzy Dean and Chris Carpenter also made five.
"He deserves that, he really does," manager Mike Matheny said of Wainwright throwing the team's first pitch for a fourth straight season. "That's his spot."
This start, though, wasn't a given just 11 months ago, when Wainwright received word that his Achilles injury would require a nine-to-12 month recovery. He blew that away, returning, instead, five months after hobbling off the field at Miller Park.
Though Wainwright did not have the crispest of springs, he typically finds another gear when the lights turn on. In his last two Opening Day starts, the right-hander has thrown a combined 13 scoreless innings, striking out 15 and scattering eight hits. He is 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his previous four openers.
"My arm feels great, and that, I think, is the most important thing going forward and into the season," Wainwright said after a rain-shortened 3 2/3-inning start on Tuesday. "There are a couple of very minor things that make a big deal of difference that I'm going to do between now and the next start."
But for Wainwright, it's not just about returning as rotation ace on Sunday. He wants to assert himself as still among the best pitchers in the game. A four-time top-three finisher in the NL Cy Young Award vote and four-time 19-game winner, Wainwright seeks more.
His manager won't be among those betting against him.
"I think he could do whatever he wants," Matheny said. "I heard he wants to manage a Chick-fil-A. And I think he'd be good at that."

Pirates want to set tone for season vs. Cards

So here we are again. And it's like we never left.
On Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET/12:05 CT, Francisco Liriano will throw the first pitch of the 2016 season to Matt Carpenter. Shortly thereafter, Andrew McCutchen will dig into the right-handed batter's box at PNC Park to face Adam Wainwright.
If you squint in your mind's eye, you can see the night of Oct. 9, 2013. The same basic cast of characters was at Busch Stadium for the deciding Game 5 of the National League Division Series, although it was rookie Gerrit Cole getting that start for the Pirates. The Cardinals did exactly what they had to do -- never letting McCutchen, who would win the NL MVP Award a month later, come to bat in a spot where he could beat them.
Not only did Wainwright prevail in Game 5, but the Cards have gone 21-17 against the Bucs in the past two seasons. By the slimmest of margins, they've held their ground atop the NL Central, keeping the invaders at the castle gates.
Pittsburgh won 98 games last season, matching the storied franchise's most victories since 1909, but St. Louis won 100. The Pirates have been baseball's second-winningest team over the past three seasons, and in some ways also its most frustrated.
The Giants' Madison Bumgarner and the Cubs' Jake Arrieta beat Pittsburgh in the past two NL Wild Card Games, following Wainwright's lead in Game 5.
One thing the Bucs haven't lost is their will to win a World Series.
"Every year, we're a little more hungry," reliever Tony Watson said. "Ninety-eight wins is nothing to hang our heads about, but we definitely want to win a division, raise a World Series flag in Pittsburgh."
The Cardinals, of course, are the one team that has won more games than the Pirates the past three seasons (287 wins for St. Louis, 280 for Pittsburgh). But no longer are the Redbirds assured of a spot atop the division, as the Cubs, who finished third in the NL Central with 97 wins last season, are favored in the division on the strength of their young core and offseason additions Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist.
Heyward and Lackey were with the Cards last season, of course. St. Louis also opens this season minus shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who had surgery on his left thumb in Spring Training, and starter Lance Lynn, who will miss the season after having Tommy John surgery. But manager Mike Matheny points to Wainwright's return to good health and the signing of free-agent starter Mike Leake.
Despite Wainwright rupturing an Achilles tendon in his fourth start, the Cardinals won behind their pitching last season. St. Louis' staff put up a 2.94 ERA, the lowest in the Majors since the 1988 Mets came in at 2.91.
"I'm very excited about our staff,'' Matheny said. "Leake's a great addition, trying to get somebody to come in and fill up some of that workload that Lance had. Lackey had a great year for us, no question. But we're talking about getting our ace back. That's a pretty good trade. Then try to build on what Carlos [Martinez] and Michael [Wacha] are able to do. That's the making of a good staff, and Jaime [Garcia] is always a wild card.''
With no major additions to the lineup, the Cards need young outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to become keys as they hit behind Carpenter, who is baseball's most dangerous leadoff man. The Bucs look pretty much like they have the past three seasons, with Starling Marte hitting behind McCutchen, but this will be their first game without Pittsburgh native Neil Walker on the roster since May 2010.
Some things do change, like the Cubs entering the picture as a threat to both St. Louis and Pittsburgh. But the competition starts with the familiar tug of war between the Cardinals and Pirates. Let the battle begin.
Cardinals' projected Opening Day lineup
Matt Carpenter, 3B
Stephen Piscotty, RF
Matt Holliday, 1B
Randal Grichuk, CF
Yadier Molina, C
Jedd Gyorko, SS
Tommy Pham, LF
Kolten Wong, 2B
Adam Wainwright, RHP
Pirates' projected Opening Day lineup
John Jaso, 1B
Andrew McCutchen, CF
David Freese, 3B
Starling Marte, LF
Francisco Cervelli, C
Gregory Polanco, RF
Josh Harrison, 2B
Jordy Mercer, SS
Francisco Liriano, LHP