Phillies

Gurriel banned 5 games in 2018 for racist gesture at Darvish

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Gurriel banned 5 games in 2018 for racist gesture at Darvish

HOUSTON — Yuli Gurriel will have to sit out for making a racist gesture toward Yu Darvish -- but not during the World Series.

Major League Baseball suspended the Houston Astros first baseman on Saturday for the first five games next season. The punishment came a day after Gurriel's actions toward the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher during Game 3.

"I understand that people may have different views," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "But it was my best judgment that this timing was appropriate."

"I wanted the burden of this discipline to fall primarily on the wrongdoer," he said.

The Cuban-born Gurriel pulled on the corners of his eyes after homering off Darvish during Houston's 5-3 win Friday night. He also used a derogatory Spanish term in reference to Darvish, who was born in Japan.

"I made an offensive gesture that was indefensible," Gurriel said in a statement released by the Astros. "I sincerely apologize to everyone that I offended with my actions. I deeply regret it."

"I would particularly like to apologize to Yu Darvish, a pitcher that I admire and respect. I would also like to apologize to the Dodgers organization, the Astros, Major League Baseball and to all fans across the game," he said.

Gurriel said Friday that he wanted to meet with Darvish to express his regret. Manfred said there would be a private apology.

Gurriel will lose $322,581 of his $12 million salary next year, which the Astros will donate to charitable causes. He also will be required to undergo sensitivity training during the offseason.

Immediately after the game, Darvish said he was angry.

"Acting like that, you just disrespect all the people around the world," he said in Japanese through a translator.

Darvish later tweeted "let's stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger."

Gurriel drew cheers when he batted in the second inning of Game 4 on Saturday night. He grounded into a double play.

The 33-year-old Gurriel played in Japan in 2014 and is completing his second season in the major leagues after leaving Cuba.

Darvish was born to a Japanese mother and an Iranian father. The four-time All-Star played professionally in Japan from 2005-11 before joining the Texas Rangers in 2012. He was sent to the Dodgers at this year's July 31 trade deadline.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said the team was "surprised and disappointed" by Gurriel's behavior and supported Manfred's decision.

"Yuli has always demonstrated respectful behavior and is extremely remorseful for his actions," Luhnow said. "Appropriately, Yuli has apologized for his gesture. He had no intention of offending anyone, but now recognizes the perceived offensiveness of his actions."

MLB suspended two players this season for using slurs. Toronto's Kevin Pillar and Oakland's Matt Joyce each were banned two games this season after making anti-gay comments. In 2012, Toronto infielder Yunel Escobar was penalized three games for a gay slur.

"That precedent is not adequate to deal with the current situation," Manfred said. "I've decided to go beyond that precedent as a statement of our disapproval of this behavior."

Manfred said he was "impressed in my conversation with Yu Darvish by his desire to move forward, and I felt that moving the suspension to the beginning of the season would help in that regard."

Said Manfred: "There is no place in our game for the behavior or any behavior like the behavior we witnessed last night."

"There is no excuse or explanation that makes that type of behavior acceptable," he said.

By imposing a penalty Gurriel and the players' union agreed not to contest, Manfred avoided a possible grievance hearing in the next few days before arbitrator Mark Irvings that would have taken attention away from the World Series.

Gurriel will be put on the restricted list next season, meaning the Astros can replace him and play with a 25-man roster.

Manfred would not compare Gurriel's actions with the Cleveland Indians' decision to keep using their Chief Wahoo logo, which has been criticized by Native Americans and others.

"I see a difference between behavior from one player directed specifically at a player and a logo," he said. "While both are problematic, I don't see them as the same issue. We continue to have conversations with the Indians about the logo, and it's an issue I intend to deal with in the offseason."

Gabe Kapler going with a 'stud' as Phillies' opening day starter

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Gabe Kapler going with a 'stud' as Phillies' opening day starter

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — Gabe Kapler got one of the rites of spring out of the way Sunday. He named his opening day starting pitcher. Not surprisingly, it is the Phillies’ best starter. Aaron Nola will take the mound March 29 in Atlanta.

“I’ll tell you, it’s Aaron Nola,” Kapler said after the right-hander’s spring debut in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees. “It’s going to be Aaron Nola, barring anything crazy happening. He’s our guy. He's the man. He's our opening day starter. He’s earned it. He’s unequivocally the right choice. He’s an absolute gamer, a grinder and a stud and we’re proud to have him.”

Nola, 24, will be the Phillies’ youngest opening day starter since Dennis Bennett in 1964. Nola departed before Kapler’s announcement. Earlier in the day, he said getting the opening day nod “would mean a lot.” He added, “But there’s a lot of games and I plan on pitching a lot of them.”

After making the announcement, Kapler was asked if he would stay with that plan if the Phillies landed a big-name starting pitcher. It’s no secret that the club would like to sign former NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta — if he’d be willing to take a short-term deal. There’s a feeling around baseball that the longer Arrieta remains unsigned, the better chance his road would lead to Philadelphia.

“Yes,” Kapler said in response to the question. “As of this moment, Aaron Nola is our opening day starter.”

Nola returned from an elbow injury in 2017 and struck out 9.88 batters per nine innings in 27 starts last season. His 3.54 ERA ranked 20th in the majors. He had 12 ultra-quality starts — seven innings or more, two or fewer earned runs. Only Clayton Kershaw (16) and Max Scherzer (14) had more.

“His performance lines up nicely with the Scherzers of the world, not far off (Zack) Grienke,” Kapler said. “He is a real stud, someone we can depend on.”

Nola worked two innings Sunday. He gave up four hits, but one was a ball that Maikel Franco lost in the sun. Had Franco made the play, Nola eventually would have gotten out of the first inning. Instead, he was charged with three runs. He did not walk a batter and struck out three.

“It was really impressive to see that horizontal curveball and the life on his fastball,” Kapler said. “His curveball has the most east-west break in baseball. You can see it make a sharp left turn out of his hand.

“The results are not representative of his work today. His work was outstanding.”

Nola said his goal this season was to make every start and pitch 200 innings. He believes the Phillies can contend.

“Everybody still thinks we’re in the rebuilding stage, but I don’t think anyone in here doesn't think we’re going to compete,” he said. “We’re definitely going to be better than last year.”

And if the Phillies can add someone like Arrieta?

“That’s not our decision,” Nola said. “That’s the big guys’ decision. It would definitely be good to get another veteran. It’s always good to have veterans because for us younger guys it’s good to learn from them. They’ve been in our shoes before.”

At career crossroads, 'fearless' Middlebrooks vows comeback from injury

At career crossroads, 'fearless' Middlebrooks vows comeback from injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Will Middlebrooks wears a bracelet on his left wrist that says fearless. That is the way he likes to play and it is the way he was playing when he suffered a broken leg – and maybe more – Saturday afternoon.
 
“As soon as you don’t take chances you don’t know how good you can be,” Middlebrooks said upon returning to the Phillies' clubhouse on crutches and with a cast on his leg Sunday.
 
Middlebrooks, 29, broke his left fibula in a collision with outfielder Andrew Pullin in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Middlebrooks was playing third base when he sprinted back after a soft fly ball to left. He slid trying to make a catch and his leg bent awkwardly under the hard-charging Pullin. Middlebrooks was to see a specialist on Sunday. More tests are planned to determine whether he sustained damage to the ligaments in his ankle, as well.
 
“It was just a freak play,” Middlebrooks said. “I had a good talk with Pully about it. He was distraught. I was at the hospital yesterday, got his number and texted him. I told him everything was fine, you didn’t do anything wrong. It was just one of those plays.”
 
Middlebrooks, who has played in the majors with Boston, San Diego, Milwaukee and Texas, is in camp with the Phillies on a minor-league contract. He appeared to be a long shot to make the big-league team as a reserve corner infielder and likely would have provided depth at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He will likely need surgery to repair the injury. No timetable was given for his recovery, but he will be out for a significant amount of time.
 
In one breath, Middlebrooks conceded that the injury could threaten his career.
 
“Yeah, the game is getting younger every day,” he said. “I’ll be 30 this year. Unfortunately, that’s not prime anymore. You look in this clubhouse and everyone is 23, 24 years old. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind.”
 
In the next, he promised to be back on the field this year.
 
“In the small window of time I’ve spent here with the staff and the training staff, I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “If it takes two months, if it takes four or five months, I don’t know how long it will take. I’m not counting myself out. I plan on playing this year.”
 
The Phillies are looking for versatility in filling out their bench. Middlebrooks is one of four veteran infielders with big-league experience in camp on a minor-league deal. Pedro Florimon, Ryan Flaherty and Adam Rosales are the others. Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery, both members of the 40-man roster, are also in camp. Kingery is expected to open the season at Triple A.