Lester closes in on Opening Day start

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Lester closes in on Opening Day start

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In his second Grapefruit League outing on Friday going four scoreless innings, giving up four hits, with no walks and five strikeouts against the Twins Friday afternoon Jon Lester polished his credentials as the Red Sox Opening Day pitcher.

Although manager Terry Francona has not named his starter for the April 1 opener in Texas, it is a foregone conclusion by scheduling, if not results that Lester will get that start.

Itd be nice, Lester said of getting the ball on Opening Day. But its not something Im worried about right now. We still got a long way to go and some innings to go. And when that day comes, if Tito gives me the ball, itd be a big honor. But if he doesnt, its no big deal.

I just pitch when they tell me to pitch and if it lines up with that day, then so be it. Obviously, Id be very honored to take the ball that day. But, if Im not, weve got four other guys in that clubhouse that I have no problem with taking the ball. So its not something Ive even counted into or figured out. A lot of things can happen from now until then and well worry about it when that day gets here.

Lester missed his last start Sunday in Port St. Lucie -- because of the flu, throwing a three-inning simulated game Monday.

I dont feel like I was behind, he said. That simulated game helped me. I think being able to do that and still get something out of it is important, and was able to do that on Monday. I think thats the biggest key is not taking those simulated games lightly, and still trying to treat it like a game and get that soreness the next day that you would if you were in a game. I feel like Im on track and everythings going in the right direction.

In his two Grapefruit League starts, he has pitched a combined six scoreless innings, giving up five hits and one walks, with five strikeouts.

Against the Twins, he struck out Justin Morneau, on a curveball to end the first inning, and Jim Thome to open the second. He gave up consecutive singles to the next two batters, Danny Valencia and Jason Kubel, before getting Steve Holm to ground into a double play.

He retired the side in order in the third. But in the fourth, he allowed the first two batters to reach Delmon Young on a single to right field, and Morneau on Carl Crawfords first error of the spring. But Lester got Thome to ground into a double play before striking out Valencia, looking, to end his outing.

Said one scout in attendance: "He looked sharp and precise with his command of all his pitches. He threw some very good late-breaking cutters and changed speeds well with his curveball. He threw all his pitches for strikes and with confidence. It was a quality outing, kept hitters off balance."

I felt good, Lester said. I got in a little bit of a rhythm early. The main thing is everything went smoothly and everything feels good, healthy, and move on to the next one.

Lester threw 57 pitches, 41 for strikes.

Lester was real good, said bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who was managing the split-squad team. Talking about pitch efficiency, his count per inning was good. I think he ended the night with 57 pitches over four innigns, threw his breaking ball pretty well for strikes. I know he had a high percentage of strikes with that. Thats a solid outing. He missed his last start with a little bug. If he can come out and pitch like that, thats a good sign.

Possibly the sign of an Opening Day starter.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Former major leaguer Andy Marte, a one-time top prospect in the Red Sox organization, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. He was 33.

Marte was killed the same day that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Ventura was 25. Coincidentally, Ventura was the Royals starting pitcher in Marte's final major league game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014.

Marte, drafted by the Braves in 2000, was ranked the No. 9 prospect in baseball in 2005 when the third baseman was traded to the Red Sox as part of the deal that sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to Atlanta and Marte became the top-ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization.  

Marte was traded by the Red Sox to the Indians in 2006 in the deal that sent Coco Crisp to Boston and spent five seasons with Cleveland. His best season was 2009 (.232, six home runs, 25 RBI in 47 games). After a six-game stint with Arizona in 2014, he played in South Korea the past two years.  

Metropolitan traffic authorities in the Dominican told the Associated Press that Marte died when a car he was driving his a house along the highway between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.
 

Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car crash in in the Dominican Republic on Sunday morning, according to multiple reports. Ventura was 25 years old.

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo told the Associated Press that Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Santo Domingo. He says it's not clear if Ventura was driving.

Ventura was killed the same day former major leaguer Andy Marte died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Coincidentally, Ventura was the starting pitcher in Marte's final MLB game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014. 

Ventura was 13-8 with a 4.08 ERA for the Royals' 2015 World Series champions and 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA in 32 starts in 2016. The right-hander made his major league debut in 2013 and in 2014 went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA for Kansas City's A.L. pennant winners. 

Ironically, Ventura paid tribute to his good friend and fellow Dominican, Oscar Tavares, who was also killed in a car crash in the D.R. in October 2014, by wearing Tavares' initials and R.I.P. on his cap before Ventura's start in Game 6 of the World Series in 2014. 

Ventura is the second current major league player to die in the past five months. Former Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident in Miami on Sept. 25.