Pratt's Instant Replay: A's drop Game 1 in Detroit

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Pratt's Instant Replay: A's drop Game 1 in Detroit

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DETROIT -- The Oakland Athletics knew they had a tough task at hand while facing reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award-winner Justin Verlander. He didn't disappoint. He struck out 11 A's batters, and allowed just three hits while hand delivering the Detroit Tigers a 3-1 victory in Game One of the American League Division Series.Arguably more impressive however was the performance of A's reliever Pat Neshek, who retired two batters just two days after his newborn son passed away.Starting Pitching ReportJarrod Parker looked poised out of the gate. He kept his pitch count low and worked his way out of a tough first inning situation. Austin Jackson hit a leadoff double that was bobbled by Cespedes in the outfield. With the infield drawn in to protect against the bunt, Berry ended up hitting a ball to third that Donaldson made a diving attempt on but couldn't come up with the ball. As the crown chanted M-V-P, Miguel Cabrera stepped to the plate with runners on the corners. Parker got him to ground into a double play which pushed across a run but minimized the damage.Parker only threw seven pitches in the second inning, making short work of the Tigers. In the third inning he ran into a some trouble again. The Tigers ended up scoring a run after Omar Infante hit a one-out double and Parker misplayed a slow rolling ground ball hit toward first base. He chased down the ball and scooped it up but it fell out of his glove as he reached first.Parker's only other mistake was a solo home run he allowed to Alex Avila in the fifth inning. The rookie battled through a tough Tigers lineup, and still turned in a quality start. He ended the night with six and one-third innings pitched, allowing seven hits, one walk, and struck out five. All things considered he pitched pretty well. He was just out-dueled by Verlander.Bullpen ReportThe A's were wearing black patches on the right sleeve of their jerseys with the initials "GJN," in memory of Gherig John Neshek, who passed away unexpectedly just 23 hours after he was born on Wednesday. Playing with a heavy heart, Neshek entered the game in the seventh inning in relief of Parker. He got Omar Infante to ground into a force out and then struck out Jackson to end the inning. Neshek must have been pitching on raw emotion.After he finished the inning he touched the patch on his right sleeve with his glove and looked to the sky. He exhaled deeply as he jogged off the mound, a touching moment on the field.At the PlateThe A's started the American League Division Series in style. Coco Crisp connected on a 2-1 pitch for a leadoff home run. Crisp's shot was the second in Major League history to lead off a postseason series. Former A's outfielder Jonny Damon did it while playing for the Yankees in the 2007 ALDS at Cleveland. Crisp joins Bert Campaneris (1973), Rickey Henderson (1989), and Ray Durham (2002) as the only A's to hit a leadoff homer in a playoff game.The A's employed a strategy to work up Verlander's pitch count and it worked. In his previous start against Oakland he tossed 122 pitches over six innings. Oakland got him to throw 26 pitches in the first and got him up to 61 pitches through three, and 105 through six. Problem is, Verlander hit 101 on the radar gun in the sixth inning as he struck out the side. He hit 99 MPH on his 105th pitch, a called third strike on Josh Donaldson to end the inning.
The A's hitters seemed to be upset about home plate umpire Jim Reynolds' strike zone. He called several strikes that were outside of the strike zone on both the game telecast and MLB PITCHfx. Verlander struck out a string of five A's hitters in a row at one point.
Verlander exited the game after the seventh inning. It was a difficult day for A's hitters. Josh Donaldson just missed hitting a home run to the deepest part of the park in the second inning. In any other ballpark he would have gone yard, but in Detroit center field is 402 feet deep. After Verlander left the game, Brandon Moss just missed hitting a game-tying homer on a deep fly ball to right field that Andy Dirks caught with his back up against the wall.In the FieldReddick made a slick diving catch toward the foul line. As the ball was hit someone in the press box muttered "double" and then Reddick leaped head first and caught it. After he landed he laid propped up on his side and held the his glove up for the umpire to see. He looked like he was striking a pose.AttendanceThe Tigers announced a sell-out crowd of 43,323. They were all waving their white rally towels.Up NextRookie pitcher Tommy Milone takes the mound against Doug Fister in Game Two of the ALDS. Milone will be making his postseason debut. He is one of 12 rookies on the A's playoff roster. Milone and Parker finished the season tied with 13 wins, and a share of an Oakland rookie record. Milone is 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA in two starts against the Tigers.Fister is a Merced native. He said on Friday that he is a Giants fan, but did admit to going to several A's games with his father and friends. The right-handed pitcher is 5-4 with a 2.45 ERA in his career against the A's.

A's position outlook: Will three catchers make Opening Day roster?

A's position outlook: Will three catchers make Opening Day roster?

The A’s have options at the catcher position, and with those options come decisions to make.

Figure that manager Bob Melvin and the rest of Oakland’s front office will use the length of spring training to evaluate their catching corps, and the decisions that eventually come down will impact the rest of the roster.

Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley could form a natural left-right platoon, as they did to begin last season. But Phegley is coming off right knee surgery that ended his 2016 season in July and proved more problematic than anticipated as he recovered. His status can’t be adequately judged until camp begins and he’s behind the plate testing his mobility.

Adding intrigue to the catching puzzle was last season’s emergence of Bruce Maxwell, who hit .283 after making his major league debut in July and shows defensive upside.

Might the A’s keep three catchers to begin the season? Melvin acknowledged that possibility when asked about it during the winter meetings. Vogt has played first base and the outfield in the past, so he provides a little flexibility. But keeping him, Phegley and Maxwell would short the A’s roster elsewhere.

There are decisions to make, but a full Cactus League exhibition season should influence how things shake out at catcher.

STARRING CAST: Maxwell’s emergence, and the fact he hits left-handed, made the 32-year-old Vogt a potential trade piece this winter. But the veteran is still an Athletic and has been an All-Star in back-to-back seasons, though his 2016 stats didn’t jump off the page. He hit .251 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI, delivering a much better first half than second half offensively. But Vogt’s biggest value comes with his clubhouse leadership and ability to connect with his pitchers. He’s the unofficial team spokesman, always willing to stand in front of the cameras after a tough loss. His steadying presence is even more important on a team that annually undergoes such heavy roster turnover.

CAMP COMPETITION: Phegley, 28, missed time in May with a strained right knee, then underwent surgery in July to remove a cyst from the knee. That seemed a rather minor procedure, but Phegley was hospitalized in August after developing a case of synovitis, or inflammation in the knee joints. A’s general manager David Forst said recently that Phegley’s offseason rehab has gone well, but Phegley will remain a question mark until he shows he’s full strength throughout camp.

Maxwell, 26, hadn’t played above Double-A before last season. But he impressed at Triple-A Nashville both with his bat and overall defensive skills. After a slow start in the majors, Maxwell hit .367 over his final 20 games. He began showing flashes of the potential the A’s saw when they made him a second-round pick in 2012 out of tiny Birmingham Southern College.

“Bruce is a guy that maybe in the season you didn't expect to see (before) September, and he’s a guy that came in and made an impact defensively and offensively,” Melvin said during the winter meetings. “It's exciting to have a young catcher like that, especially that hits from the left side of the plate to give Stephen some days off. Stephen is a versatile guy where you can DH him some too, maybe even play him at first base on a day that Yonder (Alonso) gets a day off.”

Could the A’s simply go with Vogt and Maxwell at catcher, though both hit left-handed? Again, Phegley’s health could factor prominently.

PAY ATTENTION TO: A catcher the A’s drafted in the third round last summer, Sean Murphy. He’s a non-roster invitee to big league camp. Murphy, who attended Wright State, is said to be a gifted catcher defensively, with mlb.com’s Jim Callis saying last June that Murphy had the strongest arm of any catcher in the 2016 draft.

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."