Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

#ParklandStrong: MLB dons caps for school

When big leaguers took the field on Friday afternoon for the first Spring Training games of 2018, they did so with a special tweak to their uniforms: Every team sported the hats of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in honor of the 17 people who lost their lives in a shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Stanton relishes excitement of Yanks debut

Slugger: '[People] can't wait to see what we can do'
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- Even though the details of Giancarlo Stanton's first stroll to home plate in pinstripes aren't likely to be referenced in any future history texts, the image seemed to drip with importance as the slugger dug into the right-handed batter's box on Friday afternoon.

There are moments where Stanton can't completely process that he is here, on this team, so surely the rest of baseball should appreciate the visual evidence. Playing four innings in New York's 3-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers, Stanton worked an eight-pitch walk before grounding into a double play.

View Full Game Coverage

TAMPA, Fla. -- Even though the details of Giancarlo Stanton's first stroll to home plate in pinstripes aren't likely to be referenced in any future history texts, the image seemed to drip with importance as the slugger dug into the right-handed batter's box on Friday afternoon.

There are moments where Stanton can't completely process that he is here, on this team, so surely the rest of baseball should appreciate the visual evidence. Playing four innings in New York's 3-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Tigers, Stanton worked an eight-pitch walk before grounding into a double play.

View Full Game Coverage

• Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

"It was fun, a lot of fun," said Stanton, who batted second and played right field. "I was just trying to get my timing out there. It was good. It was a good day."

Video: DET@NYY: Stanton walks in Yanks Spring Training debut

Stanton said that he felt no significant nerves, but he acknowledged that there has been "a cool anticipation of something new and exciting." He was later asked how the Yankees' opener measured against what he experienced in past seasons with the Marlins.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"How'd it compare? This is better," Stanton said. "Just more exciting, I'd say. More excitement. More can't wait, happy for spring -- it's a spring game, but [people] can't wait to see what we can do. That's what would be the difference."

After watching from the third-base dugout, Tigers star Miguel Cabrera said that he expects Stanton to be an instant success in New York.

"I think he's going to have a great year," Cabrera said. "Like I say to every hitter going from the National League to the American League, you're going to hit more here than the National League, because this league is about more hitting. We have good pitchers, great pitchers in the American League, but you're going to face a ninth hitter.

"The National League, you face the pitcher. It's a big difference. Here, everybody can hit, so I think with that team they have and the stadium they play in, the division they play in -- I think he's going to be able to hit more home runs. I think he's going to hit more for average, too."

The afternoon also marked Aaron Boone's debut, with the rookie skipper carrying a lineup card out for the first time as a manager at any level. Boone was cheered in pregame introductions, but not as loudly as Stanton, who has taken on a Hollywood aura in a camp where each batting practice session is chronicled by a phalanx of media outlets.

Video: DET@NYY: Boone talks about managing first spring game

"I think that goes with the pinstripes on; it adds a little bit to that," Boone said. "I think the excitement of this day and seeing a guy like Giancarlo out there, it seemed like a lot of people -- maybe even moreso than usual -- were really looking forward to this day."

Tweet from @Yankees: .@Giancarlo818 rockin' the pinstripes like WOAH. pic.twitter.com/bLCuCX2SHt

Tigers left-hander Ryan Carpenter worked carefully to Stanton in the first inning, missing with two fastballs away before the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner fouled a pitch back. Carpenter dropped a slow curve for a called strike, then missed up and in with a heater to work the count full.

Stanton fouled the next two pitches back before taking ball four outside, passing the baton to Greg Bird, who batted third in Friday's lineup.

"I've got the best view in the house besides the catcher. I'm excited to learn from him," Bird said of Stanton. "I feel like even in BP and in practice, people are watching. They're not just at the park having a good time. They're watching. There was definitely a buzz, I think."

Facing Johnny Barbato in the third inning, Stanton chopped a grounder up the middle that second baseman Alexi Amarista converted into a 4-4-3 double play. Stanton shrugged, anticipating that the next five-plus weeks will provide plenty of time to iron out the kinks.

"Being completely ready, feeling how I would when I'm grooving in a season, it's a little bit of everything -- timing, sight," Stanton said. "I think the thing that takes longest is the mental aspect of the pitches. The sequencing, how they're going to pitch with runners on, without. … It's good. Reminds me how hard it is."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Kemp goes deep in first game back with LA

MLB.com @kengurnick

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Matt Kemp made a triumphant return in Dodger blue on Friday, going 2-for-2 with a three-run home run in the Dodgers' Cactus League opener -- a 13-5 victory over the White Sox.

Kemp, batting fifth, led off the second inning with a single off Dylan Covey. In the bottom of the third, Kemp lined the homer off Tyler Danish to left field. Kemp also cleanly gloved the only fly ball hit his way in left.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Matt Kemp made a triumphant return in Dodger blue on Friday, going 2-for-2 with a three-run home run in the Dodgers' Cactus League opener -- a 13-5 victory over the White Sox.

Kemp, batting fifth, led off the second inning with a single off Dylan Covey. In the bottom of the third, Kemp lined the homer off Tyler Danish to left field. Kemp also cleanly gloved the only fly ball hit his way in left.

Dodgers Spring Training info

Kemp, re-acquired in a salary swap with Atlanta that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson to the Braves, appears to be the leading candidate in a dogfight for the Dodgers' starting left-field job. The other contenders are Enrique Hernandez -- who also homered on Friday -- Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson and Alex Verdugo.

Video: CWS@LAD: Hernandez launches solo home run to left

Kemp was dealt to San Diego three years ago after playing his first nine big league seasons with the Dodgers.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Kemp

Cora 'not concerned' as Sox mull J.D. physical

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Perhaps it's only fitting that the signing that took the entire offseason and into the early portion of Spring Training to happen would have a little bit more of a delay before it becomes official.

Slugger J.D. Martinez is still expected to walk through the entrance to the Red Sox's clubhouse and put on his new uniform with the familiar No. 28 on the back in the very near future, but there was no grand entrance on Friday.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Perhaps it's only fitting that the signing that took the entire offseason and into the early portion of Spring Training to happen would have a little bit more of a delay before it becomes official.

Slugger J.D. Martinez is still expected to walk through the entrance to the Red Sox's clubhouse and put on his new uniform with the familiar No. 28 on the back in the very near future, but there was no grand entrance on Friday.

There are procedural issues related to the physical that are still being worked through, prolonging the formal announcement of a five-year, $110 million contract that includes opt-outs after the second and third seasons. The terms of the deal were agreed to on Monday.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

Friday marked the third straight day the Red Sox hoped to have a news conference, but it now appears Saturday is the earliest that one will take place.

Physicals can take varying lengths of time depending on the player, and certainly, the amount of the contract.

Martinez had a right elbow injury in 2016 and a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his right foot last year. The Red Sox could be having specialists scanning images to make sure there's minimal risk of those injuries recurring.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Another thing complicating matters is that most of the team's medical staff is in Boston.

Martinez, who lives in Miami, arrived in Fort Myers early Wednesday morning for his physical. His agent, Scott Boras, was also in town, as he typically likes to attend press conferences for his premium clients.

By Friday afternoon, nobody seemed to know if Martinez was still in town or if he had returned to his home in Miami.

"I have no idea," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who gave up his No. 28 earlier this week to free it up for Martinez.

Cora and the Red Sox went ahead with their regular business, beating the Twins, 4-3, in the Grapefruit League opener for both teams.

Video: Outlook: Martinez's power makes him dangerous slugger

Has it been hard for the new manager to spend the last few days waiting on his highly-anticipated new addition?

"We're still working and getting ready," said Cora. "That's what we can do."

Is Cora concerned about the delay in the Martinez signing becoming official?

"I'm not concerned," Cora said. "The thing I can do is do my thing. My job here is to show up every day and get 'em ready."

The Red Sox have a double locker in the clubhouse that appears to be set aside for Martinez. It is between the stalls used by two other veterans -- Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez.

As of Friday, Martinez didn't have a nameplate. But there were three boxes on a shelf inside the locker.

Everyone around the Red Sox will feel better once there is a right-handed hitter in the fold to unpack those boxes.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, J.D. Martinez

First Spring Training HR: New Blue Jay Grandy

MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson was in the leadoff spot for Toronto's first game of the spring on Friday, a 2-1 win, but -- despite his first-inning homer off the Phillies' Nick Pivetta -- it doesn't sound like he's a realistic candidate to hit there during the regular season.

Granderson went deep on the third pitch of the game by lifting a solo shot over the right-field wall. It was an impressive debut, and he does have 864 career starts in the No. 1 spot, but it sounds like Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has another candidate in mind to bat first.

View Full Game Coverage

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson was in the leadoff spot for Toronto's first game of the spring on Friday, a 2-1 win, but -- despite his first-inning homer off the Phillies' Nick Pivetta -- it doesn't sound like he's a realistic candidate to hit there during the regular season.

Granderson went deep on the third pitch of the game by lifting a solo shot over the right-field wall. It was an impressive debut, and he does have 864 career starts in the No. 1 spot, but it sounds like Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has another candidate in mind to bat first.

View Full Game Coverage

Gibbons had a simple explanation for Granderson's spot in the order for the Grapefruit League opener: He wanted his starting left fielder to be guaranteed a couple of at-bats, which Granderson accomplished by also hitting into a double play in the second inning.

Video: PHI@TOR: Granderson discusses joining his new team

"The thinking was, he might get those two at-bats a little bit quicker, and he has done it before," said Gibbons, who was then asked about potential leadoff candidates. "[Devon] Travis would be a good one. Other than that, I couldn't tell you. We'll see."

The vast majority of Granderson's work out of the leadoff spot came earlier in his career, but the veteran slugger did start 34 games out of the top spot with the Mets in 2017. The 36-year-old Granderson posted a .323 on-base percentage in 147 games last season.

Travis is the clear favorite to bat leadoff in front of Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak. The fourth-year infielder had a .291 on-base percentage in 50 games following a slow start in April, and he has a .331 OBP in 213 career games. Travis is still working his way back from last year's knee surgery, but he is expected to make his spring debut on Sunday.

As for that first-inning home run, Gibbons joked that maybe Granderson's performance might raise expectations a little too high.

"I'm sure he won some fans over in his first at-bat," Gibbons said. "He's probably already a legend in Canada ... if he keeps doing it."

Video: Granderson on Marjory Stoneman Douglas memorial caps

Paying their respects
The Blue Jays honored the victims of the recent tragedy in southern Florida by wearing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hats for Friday's game against the Phillies. Stoneman Douglas was the location of last week's school shooting that resulted in 17 deaths.

Granderson grew up in Chicago, but every spring for the past 14 years, he has called Florida home. Through stints with the Tigers, Yankees, Mets and now Blue Jays, Granderson knows the area well, and like many others around Major League Baseball, felt personally impacted by the tragic events.

"It's crazy something that like happened and that it's something we have to keep talking about," Granderson said. "So many people get their lives taken from them at such a young age. Who knows what the potential could have been for them? But hopefully this will help continue to shine a light on the incidents that are going on. Hopefully continue to get people to keep coming together and hopefully find ways to prevent this moving forward."

Video: Baseball pays tribute to Stoneman Douglas victims

Ready for takeoff
The Orioles were the only team in Major League Baseball that stole fewer bases than the Blue Jays last season. Toronto finished the year with a paltry 53 stolen bases on the year, and while that's not expected to change a whole lot this year, there is at least one addition who might look to shake things up on the basepaths.

Right fielder Randal Grichuk is coming off a season in which he stole just six bases, but the 26-year-old has above-average speed and should have a little bit more freedom to roam in Toronto. Grichuk and Kevin Pillar are likely the only regulars with a shot at reaching double digits in steals. Granderson has swiped just 10 over the past two years combined.

"I like to think that I'm somewhat fast, and hopefully that plays a big part in my game," said Grichuk, who walked and singled during Friday's spring debut.

Up next: Right-hander Danny Barnes will take the mound when the Blue Jays travel to Lakeland, Fla., for a road game against the Tigers on Saturday afternoon. Barnes is not getting stretched out as a starter, but instead will pitch one inning before handing things off to his fellow relievers. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET, live on Gameday Audio.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays

Rizzo moved by response to high school tragedy

Donning Stoneman Douglas cap, first baseman notes youth effort
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was wearing his high school baseball cap again on Friday, but it wasn't for the reasons he would like.

All Major League Baseball teams were wearing Marjory Stoneman Douglas caps on Friday to honor the victims killed at the Parkland, Fla., high school on Feb. 14. Rizzo, who is not scheduled to play in the Cubs' Spring Training opener against the Brewers, was wearing it for the workout on Friday. The Cubs will wear the caps again on Saturday for the home opener against the Rangers, and Rizzo will be in the lineup then.

View Full Game Coverage

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was wearing his high school baseball cap again on Friday, but it wasn't for the reasons he would like.

All Major League Baseball teams were wearing Marjory Stoneman Douglas caps on Friday to honor the victims killed at the Parkland, Fla., high school on Feb. 14. Rizzo, who is not scheduled to play in the Cubs' Spring Training opener against the Brewers, was wearing it for the workout on Friday. The Cubs will wear the caps again on Saturday for the home opener against the Rangers, and Rizzo will be in the lineup then.

View Full Game Coverage

Was there much of a difference between his high school cap then and now?

"Ours were fitted," Rizzo said. "It's the same logo. Not much has really changed there over the years."

Tweet from @ARizzo44: #MSDStrong pic.twitter.com/1tcv6UzK0D

A lot changed on Feb. 14 when a gunman shot and killed 17 people at the high school. Rizzo went back to be with family and friends, and he spoke at a prayer vigil the day after the shooting.

Rizzo was impressed by the efforts by Stoneman Douglas students who have met with lawmakers this week.

"It's our future, it's our youth," Rizzo said. "It's what our country will run on in years to come. It's people who have a voice, and they're using it -- whether it's fighting for this or that. When a lot of people come together, it's amazing the power they have."

Video: Baseball pays tribute to Stoneman Douglas victims

He's been approached by people who have shown their support.

"This is a big-time subject," Rizzo said. "Everyone has come out of the woodwork to show their love and support for the community I live in, the school, the kids. It's been really nice to see people come out and approach me and go out of their way. It's much appreciated."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon addressed the caps prior to Friday's game.

"It's unfortunate that we're wearing them, but we're showing our support," Maddon said. "We're not just wearing them, we're on board. None of us ever want to see anything like that happen again. We have to do everything possible to prevent that from happening again. I love the activism by the kids [in Parkland]."

Video: Maddon talks MLB efforts to honor Parkland victims

Maddon knows Rizzo may be asked about the topic often this spring.

"Of course, it's going to be difficult," Maddon said. "The crazy, wonderful thing about our game is once you're here, for whatever reason, you're able to stay here. There might be a lull in the action, somebody might remind him, but regardless of your questions before and after, he'll get this respite during the game.

"We could not be more proud of the way he's handled himself," Maddon said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo

Tatis Jr. -- youngest player in camp -- goes deep

Top prospect is youngest player in any big league camp
MLB.com @AJCassavell

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Fernando Tatis Jr. is the youngest player in any big league camp this spring. But he's already proving he belongs.

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the game's No. 8 overall prospect, Tatis mashed an opposite-field home run in his second at-bat of Spring Training. He fell behind in the count against Mariners right-hander Shawn Armstrong, before swatting a 1-2 fastball over the Padres' bullpen in right field.

View Full Game Coverage

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Fernando Tatis Jr. is the youngest player in any big league camp this spring. But he's already proving he belongs.

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the game's No. 8 overall prospect, Tatis mashed an opposite-field home run in his second at-bat of Spring Training. He fell behind in the count against Mariners right-hander Shawn Armstrong, before swatting a 1-2 fastball over the Padres' bullpen in right field.

View Full Game Coverage

Tatis, who turned 19 in January, set a franchise record with 21 homers for Class A Fort Wayne. He finished the year at Double-A San Antonio, and while he's destined to start the 2018 campaign in the Minors, it's possible he could earn a late-season callup.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Padres Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

Many in the Padres' organization view Tatis as their shortstop of the future. He's drawn early comparisons to Manny Machado, and it shows in his body type. San Diego acquired Tatis from the White Sox in a June 2016 trade for James Shields.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Fernando Tatis Jr.

Ozuna ends Cards debut on run-scoring note

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

JUPITER, Fla. -- Even though Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told him his day was through, Marcell Ozuna pleaded. You only get to make your team debut once, even if it is just Grapefruit League play. And Ozuna's first day in red and white -- against his old club -- hadn't satisfied the slugger after two-at bats.

"He wanted that at-bat," Matheny said. "I was shutting him down after two."

JUPITER, Fla. -- Even though Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told him his day was through, Marcell Ozuna pleaded. You only get to make your team debut once, even if it is just Grapefruit League play. And Ozuna's first day in red and white -- against his old club -- hadn't satisfied the slugger after two-at bats.

"He wanted that at-bat," Matheny said. "I was shutting him down after two."

In the grand scope of the season, the Cardinals hope what happened next is relegated to a footnote. They hope the moments they remember Ozuna for will be grander. But driving in a run on Day 1 isn't a bad start.

After a groundout and a strikeout, Ozuna notched an RBI in his final plate appearance, lofting the first pitch into left for a sacrifice fly. It extended the Cardinals' lead to 3-0 in a Spring Training opener they'd lose, 6-4, to the Marlins on Friday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

What's more, it gave Ozuna a positive on which to end his first day. And it gave the Cardinals a glimpse into the type of run producer they hope he'll continue to be.

"I'm glad he [spoke up]," Matheny said. "It was a great at-bat."

One of Matheny's main focuses early on this spring has been ensuring Ozuna's transition -- from the clubhouse on the north side of the spring complex to the clubhouse on its south -- goes as smoothly as possible. He plans to ease Ozuna into Grapefruit League action, perhaps with an eye toward how heavily he could lean on him come summer.

Ozuna will not travel to Port St. Lucie for Saturday's game (12:10 p.m. CT, MLB.TV) against the Mets (few veterans will), and he won't start in left until sometime next week. That he served as the Cardinals' designated hitter on Friday was intentional, part of Matheny's slow-at-first approach. Ozuna played, but he did not take the field. Soon he will, and every day.

Video: Mike Matheny discusses his new sluggers' RBI

By then, Ozuna could be the Cardinals' most important player, an impact bat from the right side the franchise hasn't seen in years. There were few flaws in his 2017 All-Star season, when he hit .312/.376/.548, clocked 37 home runs and won a Gold Glove Award. His arm in left field can change games. His bat often does. And where it once had a habit of cooling down as summer stretched, Ozuna's swing kept sizzling last year through September.

The Cardinals hope Friday was just the start, and just a small part of what's to come.

"He was excited. He was playing against his former team. There were people down there yelling for him," Matheny said. "That made him want to get back in there. But he also wanted to make an impact for his team."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

St. Louis Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna

Venters hoping to make historic comeback

Former Braves All-Star trying to become first pitcher to come back from 3 Tommy John surgeries
MLB.com @castrovince

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- They pulled out the jersey recently. Its resplendent red lettering and 2011 All-Star insignia are reminders of a day when the left sleeve was wrapped around an arm that was one of the most dominant relief weapons in the big leagues.

Little Wyatt Venters put the jersey on and flashed a proud smile as it hung ludicrously loose from his 6-year-old body. And that, his father will tell you, is the kind of moment that testifies to what this keep-driving-until-the-wheels-fall-off journey through four elbow surgeries, including three Tommy Johns, is all about.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- They pulled out the jersey recently. Its resplendent red lettering and 2011 All-Star insignia are reminders of a day when the left sleeve was wrapped around an arm that was one of the most dominant relief weapons in the big leagues.

Little Wyatt Venters put the jersey on and flashed a proud smile as it hung ludicrously loose from his 6-year-old body. And that, his father will tell you, is the kind of moment that testifies to what this keep-driving-until-the-wheels-fall-off journey through four elbow surgeries, including three Tommy Johns, is all about.

As we sit here, on a hot Florida morning with the sky so blue and all that epic Spring Training optimism in the air, it has been 1,963 days since Jonny Venters last pitched in the big leagues. His most recent appearance came in the 2012 National League Wild Card Game, which doubled as Chipper Jones' final game. And Jones is now headed into the Hall of Fame this summer.

Rays' Spring Training information

That's how long it's been.

But here we sit outside the Tampa Bay Rays' clubhouse, and here's Venters, in big league gear, in a big league camp, and he's telling you that his elbow doesn't hurt. And it's enough to make you believe, because there is no easier player to root for in the game right now, especially when you think about what Venters' return would mean for Wyatt and for his little brother Walker.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"One was little and I think one was in my wife's stomach the last time I pitched in the big leagues," Venters says with a smile. "They're 6 and 4 [years old] now. They both play baseball and are starting to understand it and what I do. One of the coolest things would be to see my boys when I'm in a big league stadium atmosphere. That would be pretty special."

There was a time when what Venters did on the mound was special. He was unhittable in the eighth, the left-handed complement to Craig Kimbrel.

Now, though, the soon-to-be 33-year-old has a chance to be a different sort of special. It's unprecedented for a three-time Tommy John recipient to make it back to the big leagues, as Venters is trying to do. But Venters is also a veteran of a fourth procedure -- a sort-of "half-Tommy John" -- that itself is also extremely unusual. And that procedure might be the one that keeps his long-burning dream of getting back to the bigs alive.

"It's been a long road," his wife, Viviana, says. "It almost doesn't seem real."

Video: 2011 ASG: Venters gets first two outs of the seventh

From anonymous to unhittable
Venters' unusual medical history begins the way, unfortunately, so many pitchers' medical histories do -- with a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

For Venters, it happened in Class A with the Braves, in late 2005. At that point, Venters was 20 years old -- just your ordinary, obscure 30th-round Draft pick out of high school (Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Fla.) trying to pitch his way onto the radar. Tommy John surgery was an upsetting proposition but not a daunting one. Hundreds of pitchers have it, and hundreds return to a level at or nearing their norm. It was a bump in the road, not a dead end.

"It was tough, just the time of being that young and being away from the game for a year," Venters says now. "But physically, it was easier, because I was younger."

Venters came back in 2007 and eventually converted full time to reliever as he worked his way up Atlanta's Minor League system. And from the time he was summoned to the big leagues on April 17, 2010, he was a force of nature. Or rather, a freak of nature, because you just don't see many left-handers throwing 96-mph sinkers and pairing them with baffling breaking balls.

Video: ATL@LAD: Venters strikes out the side in the eighth

During the next two seasons, Venters compiled a 1.89 ERA. He struck out 27 percent of the batters he faced. Those who managed to get ahold of Venters' sinker put it on the ground 78 percent of the time. Those who had the audacity to swing at his slider swung right through it 33 percent of the time.

Want a testimonial to Venters' talent? Here's a pretty good one.

"I hated facing Venters," Giancarlo Stanton says. "He was nasty."

This is a good time to remind you that Stanton, who went 1-for-7 with three punchouts in his career off Venters, is right-handed.

So Venters was matchup hell for everybody, and his star aligned perfectly with that of righty Kimbrel, who came of age as the Braves' closer not long after his May 2010 callup, and fellow lefty Eric O'Flaherty, an Atlanta waiver claim gone right. The trio became so inextricably linked in the minds of fans (and opponents) that they came to be known as "O'Ventbrel" -- a nickname that wasn't exactly overflowing with originality but was appropriately as truncated as the innings in which they pitched.

"I say it all the time, when people refer back to that stretch of a couple years in Atlanta," Kimbrel says, "it made my job easier having those two guys in front of me, because those two guys were so nasty and so efficient. If we got to the seventh with a one-, two-, three-run lead, it was going to stay there until the ninth."

Video: Venters, Kimbrel on impressive run from 2010-2012

For Venters, the apex of the ascension was that 2011 NL All-Star nod, which came via the vote of his peers. It was a high compliment and quite an accomplishment for a non-closer, and it was deceptively easy to assume that, for Venters, it was only the beginning.

That is, until the soreness set in.

Out of the limelight, under the knife
Across the 2010 and '11 seasons and postseasons, Venters' 176 1/3 innings pitched were second among relievers only to Tyler Clippard (179 1/3). And for a time in his rookie year, he had the bad habit of throwing 50 pitches in his warmups, until teammate Billy Wagner talked him out of that.

In other words, Venters liked to throw. You combine all that usage with a ligament six years past its installment date, and what happened in 2012 seems obvious, in retrospect. The throbbing in Venters' left elbow would hound him after outings and didn't go away after a disabled-list stint. His numbers suffered, and he figured the feeling in his ailing arm was one he'd just have to get used to. It wasn't until the following spring of '13, when Venters took the mound in a Grapefruit League game in Lakeland, Fla., and felt a similar sensation to the one that had first put him on the shelf back in '05, that he knew what had happened.

That was Tommy John No. 2.

"I think because my first one was successful, when I had my second, I didn't worry about it not working," Venters says. "That probably worked against me. Because once I started throwing after the second one, I probably threw too much, too hard, just because that's kind of what I did the first time, and it had worked. But I was older, and it was the second surgery and I probably just didn't go at it like I should have.

"That second one was a struggle the whole time."

Video: ATL@HOU: Venters fans three in scoreless eighth

Venters missed all of 2013 and began '14 on the 60-day DL. It took him until August of that year -- 15 months, post-operation -- to proceed to so much as a live batting practice session. And just seven pitches into that session, the all-too-familiar feeling returned.

Accompanied by Viviana, Venters visited Dr. James Andrews. After reading the MRI, the doctor spent some time alone in a hallway, trying to find the right words to relay that Venters would need yet another surgery. When he did deliver the news, Viviana, who had wanted to stay strong for her husband, couldn't help but break down in tears.

"I probably should have just stayed home," she says now. "That one was pretty hard."

That was Tommy John No. 3.

How many pitchers have made it back to the big leagues after their third Tommy John? Technically, none. Though Jose Rijo and Jason Isringhausen are often cited to have had at least three Tommy Johns apiece, Jon Roegele's oft-cited Tommy John database does not recognize either pitcher as a three-time recipient of the surgery, because, for each guy, at least one of the surgeries addressed a flexor tendon tear, not a UCL tear.

Practicing at Daddy's work today!

A post shared by Viviana Venters (@vivianamventers) on

Venters has the dismal distinction of being the only guy on the list thrice. When he went under the knife that third time, he promised himself it would be the last, whether it worked or not.

It did not.

The half-Tommy John
The Braves released Venters at the end of 2014, but the Rays, knowing good left-handed relief is hard to find, signed him to a two-year deal that would give him the time he needed the recover. The goal was to have Venters back in the big leagues by the end of '16, and, for one fleeting moment in the summer of '16, it appeared possible. On June 4 of that year, Venters finally took the mound in a professional setting -- a Class A game in the Florida State League pitting the Charlotte Stone Crabs against the Tampa Tarpons. He worked a scoreless inning and got the fastball up to 94 mph.

It was a long, long way from 2012 and a long, long way from the big leagues. But it was progress.

"I was nervous. I was excited," Venters says. "It ended quick, though."

Video: NYY@ATL: Venters strikes out two in scoreless ninth

Venters was just five appearances into his rehab stint when he blew out the elbow yet again.

Surely, this had to be the final setback.

"I thought I was pretty much done," Venters says.

Beyond that whole "definition of insanity" thing is the physical reality the body can only handle so many elbow reconstructions. It is an invasive procedure that requires drilling into the bone, and doctors fear a fourth surgery involving a by-now weakened bone can cause a dangerous break.

But as unlucky as he was, Venters was fortunate in the sense that his ligament graph had, according to an evaluation from Dr. Neal ElAttrache, survived this latest injury unscathed. The way Dr. ElAttrache explains it, a person is born with a ligament layer and a tendon layer in his or her elbow, with separate stresses and strains of those two layers. For Tommy John recipients, the two layers scar together, meaning stress and strain of one layer affects the other. But in Venters' elbow, the doctor was able to clearly see that the tendon had split underneath the attachment site to the bone.

"I told him that if I could anchor some suture into the existing graph and then sew up the tendon scarred to that ligament and do it with minimal invasion to the bone," ElAttrache says, "I thought I could do this and prevent any catastrophic complications that can happen after third-time redos."

This was the most encouraging news Venters had heard in years. The procedure, which ElAttrache had previously performed on big league pitcher Shawn Kelly, wouldn't require as long a recovery time as Tommy John, and Venters had the support of his family -- and, importantly, the Rays -- to move forward.

"If you have nothing to lose, why not try again?" Viviana says. "If you can't, you can't. You come home. But the reward is so much greater than the risk of just trying. So why not?"

One last chance
So that's how we got here, to Charlotte Sports Park, where a left-hander wearing No. 49 throws his bullpen sessions and plays catch with the use of an elbow that, for the moment at least, is a source of possibility and not pain.

"It's way too soon to declare victory on this," ElAttrache says. "But he's having no pain, and he feels really good. So it's functioning every bit the way I hoped it would at this point. I know how much he wants it, and I'm just sort of living and dying with him with this."

Video: BAL@ATL: Venters tosses scoreless ninth vs. Orioles

Venters pitched 23 2/3 innings during four different Minor League levels last year, striking out 29 batters, allowing six runs and showing glimpses of the stuff he once had. He doesn't throw as hard as he once did. Venters doesn't throw as often as he once did. But he's throwing, and his confidence in his ability to get back in a big league game is growing.

"You can see the dedication with which he's gone after this," Rays vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom says. "And also what he does for other players around him. Every single person who comes in contact with Jonny ends up rooting for him, and he has a wonderful, positive effect on everybody around him. That makes it really easy to want to keep trying with somebody, even through some adversity."

There's an adage in baseball that as long as you are left-handed and breathing, you will always find a job. Venters is taking that notion to an unusual extreme, but he's got people in his corner across the industry.

"It sounds like he's getting pretty close," Kimbrel says. "That's exciting, as a friend and as a [former] teammate, to see him getting back in the league. It had to have been a full-family effort. I'm hoping the best for him, because I know the kind of guy he is and the kind of teammate he is."

His biggest fans! So proud of how far he has come!

A post shared by Viviana Venters (@vivianamventers) on

The recovery from three surgeries since his last big league appearance has given Venters and his family profound perspective on what it would mean to get back.

Wyatt and Walker don't yet totally grasp the distinction between the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues (Walker recently told his dad, "I really hope you get to play for the Stone Crabs again!"), but Viviana, who gave birth to the couple's third child, daughter Evie Grace, mere weeks ago, is already vowing to bring the newly expanded family from its Gwinnett County, Ga., home to wherever the clan has to go to see Jonny pitch, should that magic moment arrive.

"This time around, we're not going to take anything for granted," Viviana says. "We'll try to travel as much as we can and take it all in, because you just never know when it's going to end. Looking back, man, we were so lucky to even get that opportunity that most people never get. I want to make sure the boys see how far he's come."

It would be the greatest comeback story in baseball this year. Thanks to that recent foray into the souvenir stash, Jonny Venters knows what it's like to see his young son wearing a Major League jersey. Soon, if the elbow allows and if all the hard work and patience is rewarded, young Wyatt might get to see his dad do the same.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Tampa Bay Rays, Jonny Venters

Tigers, Liriano agree to 1-year deal

MLB.com @beckjason

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tigers added another contestant to their rotation competition on Friday with a familiar face from Ron Gardenhire's past. Detroit agreed to terms with left-hander Francisco Liriano on a one-year contract.

Liriano will earn $4 million, with another $1 million in incentives based on games started. The Tigers announced the deal Friday afternoon, with left-hander Jairo Labourt designated for assignment to make room for the 34-year-old on the 40-man roster.

View Full Game Coverage

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tigers added another contestant to their rotation competition on Friday with a familiar face from Ron Gardenhire's past. Detroit agreed to terms with left-hander Francisco Liriano on a one-year contract.

Liriano will earn $4 million, with another $1 million in incentives based on games started. The Tigers announced the deal Friday afternoon, with left-hander Jairo Labourt designated for assignment to make room for the 34-year-old on the 40-man roster.

View Full Game Coverage

"He told us he would like to start," general manager Al Avila said, "but that if we needed him to work out of the bullpen, that he would do that also. Obviously for us, it's really a good thing to have an experienced guy that can start, and if we need him out of the bullpen, we can do that. It'll play out in Spring Training to see how we start the season, and then once we commence the season, we'll see how that plays out."

The Tigers have been searching for starting pitching depth all offseason, an effort that had continued this spring. Avila said last week that he was looking to add at least one, and possibly two, pitchers before Detroit breaks camp. Another free agent, Chris Tillman, threw for team officials last Saturday in Lakeland, Fla., before signing a one-year contract with the Orioles. Detroit had been pursuing Tillman for a Minor League contract and a non-roster invite.

Avila said they saw Liriano throw recently in Miami.

Though Detroit has five starters with Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Fiers, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris, Avila has emphasized the need for depth. Zimmermann, who makes his first start of spring Saturday, has battled neck issues since signing with the Tigers two years ago, and he received a nerve block injection in his back earlier this month.

Norris, too, has battled injuries, and he traveled to Philadelphia earlier this week for a followup visit with Dr. William Meyers on his groin injury from last summer. He's being brought along slowly and has not been slotted into the Tigers' Spring Training rotation. Fiers also isn't scheduled to pitch in the first turn through the Tigers' rotation this spring.

"You saw how we ended up last year. It was not very good," Avila said. "We do have some question marks, so we always felt we needed a little bit more depth to make sure that we get started on the right foot and hopefully end on the right foot and hopefully give our young guys a little bit more time to develop. It's just something that we felt we needed at this point."

The Tigers know Liriano's potential well if he can bounce back, having watched him for the first half of his career as a front-line starter for the Twins under new Detroit manager Gardenhire and ex-Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson -- now the Tigers' bullpen coach -- from 2006-12.

"He's got filthy stuff," Gardenhire said. "He can throw a slider all day long, and people just keep swinging and missing. His fastball's good enough. And he's a great kid, just fantastic. He'll fit in perfect here. He's a worker, and these guys are going to love him over here. He's not a loud guy by any means, but he's a really good guy."

Liriano has bounced around in recent years, splitting last year between the Blue Jays and Astros after splitting the 2016 season between the Pirates and Blue Jays. In both years, he was dealt around the non-waiver Trade Deadline, giving him value for a rebuilding club like Detroit for the possibility of flipping him for prospects in the summer.

Liriano posted a 6-5 record and a 5.88 ERA in Toronto's rotation last year before Houston acquired him as a bullpen addition. For the season, his 4.9 walks per nine innings was his highest ratio since 2012. His 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings marked his first K rate under 9.0 since '11.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Francisco Liriano

4-year-old fan plans to marry Lance McCullers

Lance McCullers Jr. learned about a special admirer of his on Friday. Young Penny Boyle is not only a fan of the Astros and the pitcher, but the 4-year-old told her mom in a viral Facebook video that she wants something more long term from him: She wants to marry McCullers.

Jeter, Marlins proud to honor Stoneman Douglas

MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

JUPITER, Fla. -- In the aftermath of last week's tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the local area, state of Florida and country have rallied around the Parkland, Fla., community. On Friday, the Marlins and Cardinals joined in by hosting the school's baseball and softball teams for the Grapefruit League opener at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

The teams, accompanied by their families, arrived at the park around 11 a.m. ET and mingled with Marlins players, coaches, primary owner Bruce Sherman and chief executive officer Derek Jeter.

JUPITER, Fla. -- In the aftermath of last week's tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the local area, state of Florida and country have rallied around the Parkland, Fla., community. On Friday, the Marlins and Cardinals joined in by hosting the school's baseball and softball teams for the Grapefruit League opener at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

The teams, accompanied by their families, arrived at the park around 11 a.m. ET and mingled with Marlins players, coaches, primary owner Bruce Sherman and chief executive officer Derek Jeter.

"When there's tragedy, one thing you realize is communities rally around sports," Jeter told the gathering. "I know when I was in New York playing after Sept. 11, obviously, you will never forget what happened. But at least for three hours a day, we gave people something to cheer for. A lot of times, professional sports teams and sports teams, in general, can help distract people."

Video: Jeter addresses Stoneman Douglas baseball team

To honor the 17 people who lost their lives in the Feb. 14 shooting, there was a 17-second moment of silence before the national anthem.

In warmups, each of the 68 players in Marlins camp wore a black cap with a maroon "SD" on it. All 30 MLB clubs wore similar caps. In batting practice, they wore MSD Strong T-shirts, paying tribute to victims.

"It's really nice to see them supporting us and our school," said Jaclyn McKenna, a senior catcher on the Douglas softball team. "It impacted a lot of people. I'm glad the MLB teams are supporting us."

For the students, being around baseball is part of the healing process.

"It was honestly worse when we couldn't play baseball," Douglas outfielder Ricky Shimko said. "We didn't have baseball to watch. We didn't have baseball to play. We didn't have stuff to think about. We were just at home. Now that things are getting back to normal, teams are inviting us, like the Cardinals and the Marlins. It's great. It's helping us feel better. It's showing we're one big family."

Tweet from @MLB: Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS baseball and softball teams meet Derek Jeter and the @Marlins. #ParklandStrong pic.twitter.com/4UMbV8odN8

Parkland is about a 30-minute drive from the Marlins' Spring Training home in Jupiter.

"I hope today allows you to have a little light at the end of the tunnel," Sherman said, addressing the students and their families. "I was just talking with Derek Jeter about what we're going to try to do to help the school, both today and in our Major League ballpark. This is the most horrific thing I can ever imagine. ... I hope today gives you a few moments of levity and comfort in what's been a horrific week for you."

Manager Don Mattingly, first baseman Justin Bour and outfielder Cameron Maybin were among the many Marlins who signed autographs, took pictures and interacted with the students.

"It's not just touching one community, it's touching everybody," Mattingly said. "It's a good feeling to be able to do something. There's really no words that can help, but when you know other people are thinking about you and you're not alone, it is a nice gesture on the part of the league."

Video: Mattingly talks MLB efforts to honor Parkland victims

Shortstop Miguel Rojas has made South Florida home since 2015, settling in Broward County, not far from Parkland.

"We're going to show our support out on the field and use our brand to support South Florida and the people in Parkland," Rojas said. "I've been living in Miami now close to three years, and I feel part of this community. It's important for us to be supportive of those families and those people, because I have a son now, and I know at some point he's going to go to school."

Video: STL@MIA: Hollandsworth discusses Parkland tragedy

For their Grapefruit League opener, the Marlins also wore a special tribute patch on their jerseys.

"After that happened, this is the least we can do is to show our support," Rojas said. "It's going to be really important for us to show our support. It's really important for us to wear those jerseys and those hats. We're going to wear it with a lot of pride. To the community and South Florida, we're trying to show our support."

Tweet from @Marlins: For Parkland.#MSDStrong | #DouglasStrong pic.twitter.com/tURWRQ9KVb

Top prospect Lewis Brinson is a Coral Springs, Fla., resident, and Stoneman Douglas was his rival high school.

On Friday, Brinson proudly wore the Stoneman Douglas cap and colors.

"I'm honored to wear something like that to represent what happened," Brinson said. "Obviously, it's for a tragic cause, but it's the least we can do for the community -- to represent them, and for them to know we have their back, and to symbolize that."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

Miami Marlins

MLB creates kits to lend fun support for kids

MLB.com

Though it was a rainy and gloomy Friday morning on the East Coast, dozens of volunteers brought nothing but sunshine to children who wish for it the most.

More than 100 volunteers simultaneously gathered in three locations in New York and New Jersey to pack 1,000 craft kits for children in discomfort at hospitals. Major League Baseball partnered with Project Sunshine for the first time to brighten the days of 300 youth in medical centers across New York and New Jersey, as well as children undergoing cancer treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. 

Though it was a rainy and gloomy Friday morning on the East Coast, dozens of volunteers brought nothing but sunshine to children who wish for it the most.

More than 100 volunteers simultaneously gathered in three locations in New York and New Jersey to pack 1,000 craft kits for children in discomfort at hospitals. Major League Baseball partnered with Project Sunshine for the first time to brighten the days of 300 youth in medical centers across New York and New Jersey, as well as children undergoing cancer treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. 

"Some days, kids' families can't visit because they're working or they're really stressed because they're getting an IV drip for a really long time," said Ashley Krammer, a program assistant for Project Sunshine. "They're waiting for some kind of procedure and they're really bored and frustrated."

The Creative Arts and Crafts Kits are care packages used at medical centers when young patients face long hours of isolation, since family members and professionals cannot always be present. The craft kits contain superhero masks that allow children to feel empowered when they are at their most vulnerable. The kit also includes a journal, stickers and markers for children to play and mentally de-stress.

Volunteer events such as this are now part of the culture of Major League Baseball. Employees across the Office of the Commissioner, MLB Network and MLB Advanced Media take part in service activities throughout the year to help build stronger communities by addressing pressing issues.

In the past year, hundreds of employees volunteered at multiple packaging events providing toiletry kits and basic comforts to victims in crisis relief and recovery. More than 10,000 meals were delivered to youth and families in partnership with Rise Against Hunger.

"[MLB] has engaged in volunteer projects for many, many years," said Melanie LeGrande, Vice President of Social Responsibility. "This particular project provided an opportunity for the three offices in unison to work together. It's really special that we can also incorporate a local feel. Some of these kits are going to benefit kids in hospitals in Harlem and Brooklyn."

On Friday, volunteers learned basics of creating the care packages and immediately got to work. In less than an hour, the kits were formed, packaged and ready to be distributed to medical centers. Project Sunshine, a New York City-based nonprofit that began more than 20 years ago, operates programs in five countries and impacts more than 150,000 pediatric patients and their families.

"These packages are really helpful in a hospital setting where kids often feel small and stressed. It's a good outlet for children to express themselves and feel strong," Krammer said.

Deesha Thosar is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.

Piscotty raising funds for ALS in mom's honor

MLB.com

MESA, Ariz. -- A's outfielder Stephen Piscotty is rallying around his mom, Gretchen, and the entire ALS community through a donation page to raise funds that will help fight the debilitating disease.

Gretchen Piscotty was diagnosed with ALS last May while Stephen was playing with the Cardinals, who facilitated a trade with the A's in December that brought the right fielder home. The family lives in Pleasanton, Calif., which is less than 30 miles from the Coliseum.