Monday, April 4, 2016

Ultimate MLB Show For April 4, 2016


Royals extend reign with opener win vs. Mets

Edinson Volquez gave up two hits over six shutout innings and the reigning World Series champion Royals held off the Mets, 4-3, on Sunday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Kauffman Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
It was the first time in history two World Series teams faced off in the following season's opener. And it was a rematch of the Game 5 matchup between Volquez and Mets right-hander Matt Harvey, who lasted 5 2/3 innings and gave up eight hits and four runs (three earned).
"It was great to set the tone for the season," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "And it's pretty cool to be part of history, too."
The Royals scratched out a 4-0 lead before the Mets rallied with three runs off relieverJoakim Soria in the eighth, two on a bases-loaded flare to left from Lucas Duda. But with the tying run on second, right-hander Luke Hochevar struck out Asdrubal Cabrera for the third out.
Closer Wade Davis then closed out the Mets in the ninth.
"They have terrific arms coming out of there," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "That's what makes them so good. They have an excellent bullpen. We knew that going in. They got a terrific start from Volquez today. You don't want to go down three or four runs in the seventh, eighth or ninth against those guys."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Dee-fense! The Royals, as always, flashed more terrific defense as they opened the season. Third baseman Mike Moustakas saved a run in the second when, with runners at the corners and two outs, he fielded a deep grounder at third by Travis d'Arnaud and fired a strike to first, just beating d'Arnaud. Likewise, Hosmer, at first base, may have saved a run with a diving stop on a grounder by Duda with runners on first and second and two out. And catcher Salvador Perez threw out Michael Conforto on a steal attempt from his knees.
"That's pretty much what we do," Volquez said. "The guys played great behind me."
Two hands, Yo: One of the game's most damaging plays for the Mets occurred in the bottom of the first inning, when Moustakas hit a routine liner directly at Yoenis Cespedes, who was starting in left field to accommodate Juan Lagares. After playing all but six of his 67 defensive innings this spring in center, Cespedes attempted to make a one-handed catch, but watched the ball bounce off his glove to the turf. Moustakas later came around to score on Hosmer's RBI single.
That's what speed do: The Royals manufactured a couple of runs with their legs, which is nothing new. In the fourth, Lorenzo Cain bolted from first to third on a grounder to right by Hosmer. Hosmer then scored on a sacrifice fly by Kendrys Morales. In the sixth, after Cain walked, Hosmer pushed a bunt toward third and beat the throw with a headfirst slide. Two batters later, Alex Gordon dropped an RBI single to center and the Royals led 3-0.
"That was just a heads-up play by Hoz," manager Ned Yost said. "He saw the infield shifted to the right side and he put down a good bunt. Wright made a great play to make it close at first."
Mets claw back: Momentum shifted violently in the top of the eighth, when Duda drove home the Mets' first two runs with a single, and Neil Walker's RBI fielder's choice brought them within one of the lead. An inning later, the Mets put the tying run on third base with one out against Davis, but Wright and Cespedes struck out in succession to end the game.
"You obviously want to get the run in," Wright said. "You want to elevate something to try to get it to the outfield to score the run. The last thing you want to do is … game over, but he made some good pitches. He's one of the best in the game."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Finishing 2-for-2 with two walks, Conforto became the first Met to reach base four times on Opening Day since Xavier Nady in 2006, and the youngest to do so in franchise history.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
After a down year defensively in 2015, Lagares nearly nabbed his first outfield assist of the season as Omar Infante attempted to dash first-to-third on Alcides Escobar's single in the fifth. When third-base umpire Carlos Torres called Infante safe, Wright jumped off the bag in apparent disagreement. A one-minute, 47-second replay review determined the ruling would stand, though Infante did not come around to score.
WHAT'S NEXT
Mets: On Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. ET, Noah Syndergaard will face the Royals for the first time since knocking Escobar to the dirt with a 98 mph fastball to open World Series Game 3. Syndergaard has said he does not expect retaliation for his purpose pitch, which angered Royals hitters at the time.
Royals: Right-hander Chris Young will start Tuesday in place of Ian Kennedy, who is recovering from a tight hamstring, in a 3:15 p.m. CT start that can be seen on MLB.TV. The Royals will issue the World Series championship rings in a pregame ceremony.

Mets fall short in World Series rematch

Edinson Volquez gave up two hits over six shutout innings and the reigning World Series champion Royals held off the Mets, 4-3, on Sunday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Kauffman Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
It was the first time in history two World Series teams faced off in the following season's opener. And it was a rematch of the Game 5 matchup between Volquez and Mets right-hander Matt Harvey, who lasted 5 2/3 innings and gave up eight hits and four runs (three earned).
"It was great to set the tone for the season," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "And it's pretty cool to be part of history, too."
The Royals scratched out a 4-0 lead before the Mets rallied with three runs off relieverJoakim Soria in the eighth, two on a bases-loaded flare to left from Lucas Duda. But with the tying run on second, right-hander Luke Hochevar struck out Asdrubal Cabrera for the third out.
Closer Wade Davis then closed out the Mets in the ninth.
"They have terrific arms coming out of there," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "That's what makes them so good. They have an excellent bullpen. We knew that going in. They got a terrific start from Volquez today. You don't want to go down three or four runs in the seventh, eighth or ninth against those guys."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Dee-fense! The Royals, as always, flashed more terrific defense as they opened the season. Third baseman Mike Moustakas saved a run in the second when, with runners at the corners and two outs, he fielded a deep grounder at third by Travis d'Arnaud and fired a strike to first, just beating d'Arnaud. Likewise, Hosmer, at first base, may have saved a run with a diving stop on a grounder by Duda with runners on first and second and two out. And catcher Salvador Perez threw out Michael Conforto on a steal attempt from his knees.
"That's pretty much what we do," Volquez said. "The guys played great behind me."
Two hands, Yo: One of the game's most damaging plays for the Mets occurred in the bottom of the first inning, when Moustakas hit a routine liner directly at Yoenis Cespedes, who was starting in left field to accommodate Juan Lagares. After playing all but six of his 67 defensive innings this spring in center, Cespedes attempted to make a one-handed catch, but watched the ball bounce off his glove to the turf. Moustakas later came around to score on Hosmer's RBI single.
That's what speed do: The Royals manufactured a couple of runs with their legs, which is nothing new. In the fourth, Lorenzo Cain bolted from first to third on a grounder to right by Hosmer. Hosmer then scored on a sacrifice fly by Kendrys Morales. In the sixth, after Cain walked, Hosmer pushed a bunt toward third and beat the throw with a headfirst slide. Two batters later, Alex Gordon dropped an RBI single to center and the Royals led 3-0.
"That was just a heads-up play by Hoz," manager Ned Yost said. "He saw the infield shifted to the right side and he put down a good bunt. Wright made a great play to make it close at first."
Mets claw back: Momentum shifted violently in the top of the eighth, when Duda drove home the Mets' first two runs with a single, and Neil Walker's RBI fielder's choice brought them within one of the lead. An inning later, the Mets put the tying run on third base with one out against Davis, but Wright and Cespedes struck out in succession to end the game.
"You obviously want to get the run in," Wright said. "You want to elevate something to try to get it to the outfield to score the run. The last thing you want to do is … game over, but he made some good pitches. He's one of the best in the game."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Finishing 2-for-2 with two walks, Conforto became the first Met to reach base four times on Opening Day since Xavier Nady in 2006, and the youngest to do so in franchise history.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
After a down year defensively in 2015, Lagares nearly nabbed his first outfield assist of the season as Omar Infante attempted to dash first-to-third on Alcides Escobar's single in the fifth. When third-base umpire Carlos Torres called Infante safe, Wright jumped off the bag in apparent disagreement. A one-minute, 47-second replay review determined the ruling would stand, though Infante did not come around to score.
WHAT'S NEXT
Mets: On Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. ET, Noah Syndergaard will face the Royals for the first time since knocking Escobar to the dirt with a 98 mph fastball to open World Series Game 3. Syndergaard has said he does not expect retaliation for his purpose pitch, which angered Royals hitters at the time.
Royals: Right-hander Chris Young will start Tuesday in place of Ian Kennedy, who is recovering from a tight hamstring, in a 3:15 p.m. CT start that can be seen on MLB.TV. The Royals will issue the World Series championship rings in a pregame ceremony.

Spontaneous Gray to make Opening Day start

Rare is the day that Sonny Gray is off his game, and even when he is, he's usually still on.
That's because Oakland's ace has a knack for making up pitches, the unique ability to make a baseball do whatever he so pleases, and whenever.
Gray, readying for his third consecutive Opening Night start for the A's, this one a 7:05 p.m. PT matchup Monday against the White Sox in the confines of the Coliseum, is special in this way, as his two catchers can attest.
"He knows his plan, he executes it perfectly, perhaps better than anyone, but he also knows how to make adjustments," Josh Phegley said. "He can manipulate the ball to give his pitches different looks, so he's not always throwing the same fastball every time, and I think that's what makes him tough. He can do anything with any pitch, and it's pretty impressive to watch."
"He'll throw a pitch, and I'll hear the batter ask, 'What was that?'" Stephen Vogt said. "Sometimes I don't even know."
Vogt was behind the plate last May when Gray fanned nine batters in six innings. Seemingly nothing about this is particularly remarkable in the context of the 26-year-old Gray's career, except when considering the fact that two of the strikeouts were achieved with a cutter.
Gray doesn't throw a cutter.
"His curveball and slider weren't working," Vogt recalled, "so he said to me, 'Hey, I'm going to throw a cutter.' I'm like, 'Sonny, you've never thrown a cutter before.'
"And this is in the middle of a game, and he told me, 'I'll just throw one in warmups and see how it goes.'
"Of course it was a pretty good cutter."
After Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz singled off Gray to open the bottom half of the sixth inning, the right-hander pulled out his newest toy, void of a warning label, and sent it past a frozen Kyle Seager for a third strike call. Logan Morrison could only stare at it, too, for another looking strikeout.
Cruz never budged. Gray struck out the side.
"Looking, on back-to-back backdoor cutters?" Vogt said, still in disbelief nearly a year later. "C'mon. That's a pitch that takes pitchers years to learn and to control, and Sonny, in a big situation, punched out two very good left-handed hitters looking with it.
"They both turned around and said, 'When did he start throwing that?' I said, 'Right now, this inning.' They just shook their heads and walked away."
These days, Gray keeps it in his back pocket just in case -- "It's always there if he needs it," Vogt says -- but gets by just fine with his typical repertoire. His 2.73 ERA was third best in the American League last year, helping him to a third-place finish in AL Cy Young voting, and the general consensus is he's only going to get better.
"He's truly incredible," Vogt said. "His competitiveness on the mound, his demeanor, his tenacity, just to sit back and watch the way he makes the ball move, it's really something else. It's a challenge to catch him, it's a challenge for everyone to hit him. You never know what you're going to see."
"Every time he's on the mound he gives us a solid start," Phegley said. "He's the rock of this staff, and he shows that every time. Guys just admire what he does on the mound and kind of rally around that. He brings the whole staff with him, and I think that makes everyone else better and everyone gets more intense, and I think that's what we need."

Sale pumped for first Opening Day road call

Chris Sale spoke this Spring Training of a desire to pitch in meaningful postseason games.
Those October trips to the mound will have to wait for now. But on Monday night at 9:05 CT in Oakland, the White Sox ace gets to pitch in what he believes as the closest he's ever been to a playoff atmosphere with a third career Opening Day start.
This is Sale's first Opening Day road start.
"Just the energy, it's the first day," said Sale on why he enjoys the season-opening atmosphere. "It's like the first day of school.
"Everybody loves the first day of school, and everybody loves the first day of most things. It's exciting. The fans are really into it. Us as players, we really enjoy it. It's a great day as a whole."
Sale started Game 1 at home in 2013 and '14, throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Royals in '13 and following up that effort by allowing three runs in 7 1/3 innings against the Twins in '14. That 2-0 Opening Day mark held steady in '15, as he missed Spring Training and the season's outset due to a right foot injury.
Having their leader from the beginning boosts a White Sox team with serious sights on the American League Central title. Having a pitcher of Sale's ilk boosts the entire rotation.
"It's huge," said White Sox catcher Alex Avila, who caught Justin VerlanderMax Scherzerand David Price in Detroit. "I know there's a lot of teams that try to build around a rotation without that kind of No. 1 guy. But you need that type of guy.
"When you have a guy like him, there's a feeling when everybody goes out there that you have a really good chance to win that game. No matter how the team has been playing recently, when he's out there, you've got a shot. Usually, he's facing the other team's No. 1 as well, so you like those matchups as a team."
There was a Sale/Clayton Kershaw Cactus League matchup on March 19 during which players who weren't in the game still stayed around Camelback Ranch to watch. It's a similar high-end pitchers' battle in Oakland on Monday, with Sonny Gray getting the call for the A's.
"We've got a chance at a two-hour game," White Sox starter John Danks said. "That's no disrespect to anyone trying to hit. Those guys are really good. Opening Day gets marquee matchups across the board, but it won't be any better than that one."
"It certainly will be a pleasure to watch Chris make another Opening Day start," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "It's good to feel you're going to enter the season with the group you want and not the group you're necessarily forced into taking with you due to injury."

Richards out to prove 2014 was no fluke

It was Garrett Richards' sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma and he was pretty much over this whole baseball thing. His job as closer had been taken away, leaving Richards in collegiate-pitcher purgatory. He made one spot start, intermittently pitched out of the bullpen and was basically cast aside that spring. He was going to quit baseball. He was going to go to culinary school.
"I was done, bro," Richards said. "I'm going to sit out here and invest all this time and effort and just get forgotten about? It just didn't seem worth it to me."
Richards recalled that moment Tuesday, the day Angels manager Mike Scioscia announced him as his Opening Day starter, thus cementing a long-held belief that Richards has established himself as the ace of his pitching staff.
He broke out in 2014, recovered admirably in 2015, and now, at 27 years old and a full season removed from major knee surgery, Richards is a no-hitter in waiting and a potential Cy Young winner.
"I've gone through a lot of things," said Richards, who will oppose Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, at Angel Stadium on Monday at 7:05 p.m. PT. "It's been a long road."
Asked to describe himself in college, Richards smiled and said, "Grip it and rip it, man."
Richards left the University of Oklahoma with a 6.23 ERA, but was still the 42nd player drafted in 2009. His stuff was that good. He possessed a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, but he posted a 6.30 ERA as a closing freshman, a 6.97 ERA as a little-used sophomore and a 6.00 ERA as a starting pitcher in his junior season.
His leg kick corkscrewed his entire body, a la Tim Lincecum. His delivery swayed him toward the third-base side, and his pitch selection determined his arm slot.
He had little sense for what he was doing.
"I had a fastball and I had a slider that I threw as fast as I could," Richards said. "That was it. Finesse wasn't there, feel wasn't there. I literally was just trying to throw the ball over the white thing."
Richards' ascension is yet another example of why you never give up on raw stuff. It's why scouts are so wowed by radar-gun readings, why general managers put such a premium on strikeout rate and why the game has become so obsessed with velocity.
Former Oklahoma pitching coach Mike Bell, now with Florida State University, recalls "the endless possibilities" Richards possessed because of his ability to throw hard and spin well.
"He'd show you flashes throughout games or intrasquads, but you never saw the complete package," Bell said. "You saw glimpses of it, and you got excited about it."
Richards' collegiate career ended with a taste of what could be, with nine innings of two-run ball and 10 strikeouts to send his Sooners to the championship game of the Norman Regional. Former Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, who loved to gamble on high-ceiling prospects, was in the stands that day and saw enough to make Richards the fourth player he would select in an epic haul nine days later -- after Randal GrichukMike Trout and Tyler Skaggs.
Richards skyrocketed through the Angels' system, pitching in the Major Leagues before the end of his second full season, but it was mostly a product of natural talent.
"His physical ability said he was ready to pitch in the big leagues," recalled Erik Bennett, pitching coach at Triple-A Salt Lake. "But the repeatability, and the execution of the pitches, still needed some work."
Bennett finally got an up-close look at Richards in 2012. He continued the work of former organizational pitching coaches Zeke Zimmerman (rookie-level Orem) and Brandon Emanuel (Class A Advanced Inland Empire), trying diligently to get Richards' delivery in a direct line toward home plate.
He had Richards throw from behind the mound -- "up the slope," as they call it -- which would cause him to tip over if his landing leg fell too far toward the third-base side. Meanwhile, Richards began to imagine himself pitching in a narrow hallway with only four inches to each side of his shoulder.
It gave him more momentum toward home plate, improved his location and helped him identify the right arm slot.
In 2013, Richards made his first Opening Day roster and entrenched himself in the starting rotation down the stretch, replacing a struggling Joe Blanton and posting a 3.98 ERA over the final two months.
When he arrived in 2014, he seemed different.
"Just the way he presented himself around camp, on the mound, it was noticeably different," Bennett said. "It was like he got to the point where he believed that he could pitch in the big leagues. He was calmer, wasn't overthrowing as much; he was staying in his mechanics."
Richards quickly established himself as one of the game's most devastating starting pitchers in that 2014 season, posting a 2.61 ERA and allowing only a .261 slugging percentage, until he tore his left patellar tendon on Aug. 20. He spent an entire offseason rehabbing, then stayed healthy and pitched well in 2015, with 15 wins and a 3.65 ERA in 207 1/3 innings.
Now, with an entire offseason of building strength and a fully healed left leg, more is expected.
"This is going to be a big, big year for him," said former Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, now with the D-backs. "He's going to show everybody that 2014 wasn't a fluke."
Richards threw the hardest fastball among qualified starting pitchers last year, at 95.7 mph, and produced the game's highest spin rate with his curveball, per Statcast™. His slider has generated an opposing OPS of .538 throughout his career, 178 points below the Major League average. This spring, Richards talked about reintroducing his two-seam fastballand beamed about the development of his changeup.
When Butcher saw Richards face D-backs Minor Leaguers on March 13, he saw someone who had finally regained trust in the stability of his landing leg and wasn't trying to compensate by pitching across his body.
"I'm like, 'He's ready to go,'" Butcher said. "There's no fear, there's no hesitation."
Richards always had good stuff, but only recently learned how to use it. His biggest improvement, Trout believes, came "mentally." He learned to slow down his delivery, began to trust his stuff, stopped overthrowing and started to grasp his ideal arm slot.
"He's got a feel for where his hand needs to be, the extension," Bennett said. "He can feel that now. He can actually talk to you about his delivery."
This could be the year he finally puts it together.
"The sky's the limit for Garrett," Butcher said. "Garrett can be whatever he wants to be in this game. He has undeniable stuff."

Arrieta carries great expectations into Opening Day

The 2015 season was remarkable for Jake Arrieta. He set a career high with 22 wins, threw his first no-hitter, and posted a 1.77 ERA, lowest for a Cubs qualifying starting pitcher in 96 years. The season ended with champagne as he was crowned the National League Cy Young Award winner.
Arrieta became the fifth pitcher in Major League history to have at least 22 wins with no more than six losses and an ERA under 2.00 since ERA became an official stat, joining Sandy Koufax, Denny McLain, Ron Guidry and Dwight Gooden. Arrieta's 0.41 ERA over 12 starts from Aug. 4 to the end of the season was the lowest by any pitcher from Aug. 1 to the end of the regular season since ERA became an official stat.
So what does Arrieta do for an encore?
"It was a record in all of baseball ever, so to say I'm going to have those numbers again is probably not realistic, but they're going to be good, I know that," Arrieta said of picking up from his stunning second half.
The right-hander will get the regular-season started Monday night when the Cubs open against the Angels at 8:05 p.m. CT., the first time in franchise history they will begin against an American League team. The Cubs are hoping to close the season with a win over an AL team as well.
This will be Arrieta's second Opening Day start -- he also did so for the Orioles on April 6, 2012.
But after throwing a career-high 229 innings, the Cubs were careful this spring to ease Arrieta, 30, back into work mode. A hint of a blister on his right thumb forced him out of one spring start, although it wasn't a big deal. The problem was more the Super Glue that Arrieta applied than the blister itself.
Arrieta showed that the blister was a non-issue on Tuesday when he threw 102 pitches against the Athletics in his final Cactus League game.
Can Arrieta win 20-plus and post a sub 2.00 ERA again?
"It's something that's hard to repeat," catcher Miguel Montero said. "That could be the best year of his career. Even if he comes up and wins 18 games and has an ERA of 2.20 or 2.30 or 2.50, that's a really good year, that's Cy Young numbers right there, and people may be a little disappointed because of that? I don't think you can be disappointed in that."
A fitness freak who is devoted to his workout routine and kale-blended smoothies, Arrieta reported to camp in better shape this year than last. If anyone has the potential to repeat such a fine season, it could be him. The Cubs have never had back-to-back Cy Young Award winners.
"He's got the potential to do it, but that being said, I don't want to put more pressure on him than what he already has," Montero said. "I know he probably thinks he has to do the same, and he doesn't need to do the same."
Arrieta does have at least one surprise up his sleeve this year: He wants to break out an eephus pitch.
Arrieta has tried to downplay the Opening Day assignment.
"It means something special to everybody, not only myself, but my team behind me," he said. "Everybody's been waiting for this moment. It's finally here. To be the guy on the mound for the first one is something special. After that game is over, there's 161 games on the schedule to fight through as a team."