A's open season against King Felix, Mariners

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A's open season against King Felix, Mariners

(AP) -- The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics open the 2012 season in Japan in front of what is expected to be a lively and raucous crowd.The fans, however, might not have much offense to cheer about.The scheduled opening day starters for Wednesday morning at the Tokyo Dome - Seattle's Felix Hernandez and Oakland's Brandon McCarthy - both had overwhelming success in this series a year ago as the Mariners and Athletics possessed two of the league's worst offenses.Seattle enters this season after making few moves to improve an offense that was among the AL's worst since the implementation of the designated hitter. The Mariners, who finished 67-95, hit a franchise-worst .233, were shut out a team-record 16 times and finished with an MLB-low 556 runs."I feel this should be the year we really take a significant step forward offensively. I'll be very disappointed if we don't," manager Eric Wedge said. "I don't really worry about that, because I'm very confident we will do that. That's how confident I am in our young people."Wedge will be counting on Mike Carp and Dustin Ackley to carry over impressive rookie performances and Jesus Montero to contribute immediately.Montero, acquired from the New York Yankees in January for promising right-hander Michael Pineda, hit .328 with four homers and 12 RBIs with a .996 OPS in 18 games after being called up last season.The Mariners are also hoping Ichiro Suzuki can bounce back from a disappointing 2011 and make a smooth transition into the No. 3 spot in the lineup. The Japanese star is eager to open the season in his native country after hitting a career-low .272 last year and failing to reach 200 hits for the first time in his 11 MLB seasons."It's a new experience and it's definitely a different year," Suzuki said through an interpreter. "It's new for me. It's new for the team. This is something we'll have once in a lifetime. I look forward to that and hope to take advantage of it."While Seattle's offense was awful last season, Oakland's wasn't much better. The Athletics, who finished 74-88, hit .244 and finished with 645 runs, third-fewest in the AL.General manager Billy Beane appeared to add some punch to the lineup in the offseason, however, signing Manny Ramirez and outbidding a handful of other teams to sign Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a 36 million, four-year contract.Cespedes batted .458 with two homers and five RBIs in six games for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and hit .200 with a home run and two RBIs in eight spring training games. He is expected to start the opener in center field with Coco Crisp shifting to left."With Cespedes and Manny possibly being middle-of-the-lineup type of guys, that can extend our lineup," said Crisp, who hit .264 last season - tied with Cliff Pennington for the team lead among qualifying players. "That's just going to make our lineup better."Ramirez, however, must sit out the first 50 games for a second violation of baseball's drug policy.While Oakland has high expectations for Cespedes, it would be understandable if he gets off to a slow start against Hernandez, who is 3-0 in four opening day starts.The 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner wasn't as good in 2011, going 14-14 with a 3.47 ERA in 33 starts, but he was outstanding against Oakland. In four starts versus the A's, Hernandez went 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA, striking out 32 in 31 innings.The right-hander has made nine starts against the A's since his last loss - Sept. 19, 2008 - and is 11-2 with a 2.35 ERA in 17 games in the series since 2007. He yielded five hits and no walks in a complete-game 6-2 victory over Oakland in the 2011 season opener.The Mariners have won their last five openers, beating Oakland three times.McCarthy pitched almost as well as Hernandez in last season's series, but didn't enjoy the same good fortune.The right-hander recorded a 1.99 ERA and three complete games in four starts versus Seattle, but a lack of run support left him with a 1-3 record. Hernandez outdueled him in the Mariners' 1-0 win April 21.McCarthy, who is making his first opening day start, was 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts last season, his first with the A's.Following Thursday's conclusion of this two-game series in Japan, both teams have a week off before resuming the season April 6 in Oakland.

Royals ace Yordano Ventura dies in car crash at 25 years old

Royals ace Yordano Ventura dies in car crash at 25 years old

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, whose electric arm and confident demeanor helped lead his long-suffering team to the 2015 World Series title, died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic early Sunday. He was 25.

With the fitting nickname of "Ace," Ventura burst onto the baseball scene with a 100 mph fastball and an explosive attitude to match. He was a fierce competitor always willing to challenge hitters inside, then deal with the ramifications when they decided to charge the mound.

Not surprisingly, he quickly became a fan favorite as Kansas City embraced baseball once again.

"Our prayers right now are with Yordano's family as we mourn this young man's passing," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. "He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano."

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.

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.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Andy Marte and Yordano Ventura," players union executive Tony Clark said. "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."

Ventura is the second young pitching star to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was among three men killed in a boating accident in late September, when the 24-year-old pitcher's boat crashed into a jetty off Miami Beach in the early morning hours.

Ventura went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the long-downtrodden Royals reach the World Series for the first time since 1985. He proceeded to dominate San Francisco in both of his starts, though the Royals would ultimately lose in seven games.

In an eerie coincidence, Ventura paid tribute to his friend and countryman, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, with a handwritten message on his cap during Game 6. Taveras also was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, and his funeral occurred just hours before Ventura stepped on the mound.

The following year, now firmly entrenched in the rotation, Ventura helped lead Kansas City back to the World Series, pitching well in two starts against Toronto in the AL championship Series. The Royals went on to beat the New York Mets in five games to win their second championship.

Not surprisingly, the Royals moved quickly to sign their burgeoning young ace to a five-year contract through the 2019 season that included two more options that could have kept him in Kansas City.

He 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 represented a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when Ventura 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 in his rapid rise. He made his big league 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 first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League — rare heights the organization had not experienced in decades.

Hosmer took to Twitter upon hearing the news of Ventura's death, saying: "I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say. I love you ACE."

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."

Reports: Ex-A's catcher Suzuki agrees to deal with NL East team

Reports: Ex-A's catcher Suzuki agrees to deal with NL East team

Kurt Suzuki is headed back to the National League.

After three seasons in the American League with the Twins, the former A's backstop has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Braves.

News of the agreement was first reported by SB Nation.

Suzuki will reportedly make $1.5 million, according to Fox Sports. He has a chance to make an addition $2.5 million in incentives.

The 33-year-old Suzuki was drafted by the A's in the second round of 2004 MLB Draft. He made his debut with Oakland in 2007 and was the starting catcher until a 2012 trade to Washington. A year later, the Nationals traded Suzuki back to the A's for the final five weeks of the season.

Prior to the 2014 season, Suzuki signed with Twins. In three seasons with Minnesota, Suzuki hit .263/.316/.364 with 75 doubles, 16 home runs and 160 RBI.

Suzuki will likely serve as a back-up to catcher Tyler Flowers.