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  • 10 April 2019

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    , Fla. (AP) — Justin Verlander relished facing Blake Snell
    on opening day.“I don’t try to hide behind the this-is-just-another-start
    anymore,” the Houston ace said.The Astros star delivered, beating Snell and the
    Tampa Bay Rays 5-1 in a rare season-opening matchup between pitchers who
    finished first and second in balloting for the Cy Young Award.“There definitely
    is more intensity to it,” Verlander added. ” It’s kind of somewhere between a
    playoff game and a regular-season game, so I just kind of used the adrenalin,
    and you go from there.”George Springer homered on opening day for the third
    straight year. Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve also went deep for the Astros
    against Snell, the AL Cy Young recipient who won 21 games and led the league in
    ERA.Verlander (1-0) allowed a leadoff homer to Austin Meadows on his fourth
    before dominating a mostly young Tampa Bay lineup featuring just one player —
    center fielder Kevin Kiermaier — who started for the Rays on opening day last
    year.“I just hit the reset button real quick,” the 36-year-old right-hander
    said.“It’s not something you want to do, to lead off the year with a homer,”
    Verlander added. “But I’ve done it before, so it was let’s go turn the page and
    try to find it.”Verlander, fresh off signing a three-year contract that added
    $66 million in guaranteed money for 2020 and 2021, limited the Rays to one run
    and three hits over seven innings before a crowd of 25,025 at Tropicana Field —
    Tampa Bay’s 14th consecutive sellout for a home opener.“We ran into a buzz saw.
    He did a great job having all of us off balance,” Kiermaier said. “For me
    personally, I feel like every time I thought a fastball was coming it was an
    offspeed. A couple times I thought he’s going to try to get me to chase an off
    speed, it was a
    heater.”Verlander ,
    who improved to 4-1 in 11 opening day starts, struck out nine and only allowed
    one hit — Yandy Diaz’s seventh-inning double — and three baserunners total after
    walking a batter and plunking another in the second.Ryan Pressly pitched a
    scoreless eighth and Roberto Osuna worked a perfect ninth inning to finish a
    combined four-hitter.Springer gave Astros ace all the offensive support he’d
    need with a three-run homer in the third off Snell, who yielded five runs and
    six hits over six innings of his first opening day start.The 26-year-old lefty,
    who signed a $50 million, five-year contract extension this month, walked two
    batters ahead of Springer’s home run and finished with three strikeouts.“I was
    happy with a lot of things I did, but I was upset with sequencing,” Snell said.
    “Threw first pitch curveballs to Springer twice. Right there credit him. He was
    waiting for it. I fell in love with the curveball and didn’t mix pitches like I
    should have been doing.”With the NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom facing
    Washington’s Max Scherzer earlier Thursday, Snell vs. Verlander became the
    fourth instance of a reigning Cy Young recipient facing the runner-up for the
    award on opening day the next season.The other two matchups both occurred in
    1979, when reigning AL winner Ron Guidry (Yankees) faced runner-up Mike Caldwell
    (Brewers) and NL winner Gaylord Perry (Padres) faced Burt Hooton (Dodgers).LATE
    SELLOUTDespite closing the upper deck at Tropicana Field, reducing capacity of
    the domed stadium to 25,025 for this season, Thursday’s game wasn’t announced as
    a sellout until late Wednesday. It’s the 14th consecutive season the Rays have
    sold out the home opener, however the club routinely finishes near the bottom of
    the majors in attendance, including 29th among 30 teams in 2018. Attendance for
    the past five home openers was listed as Last year’s opening day attendance was
    announced as 31,042.“It’s problematic,” Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg said
    of the late
    sellout Matt
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    , noting there were far fewer tickets available than for
    previous openers.“25,000 seats given everything that we are; the way we finished
    last year; the team we had; the 4 o’clock start, it should be a layup to use a
    different sport phrase,” the owner added. “It is what it is.”SUBPAR
    OUTINGSnell’s loss was his first since July 12 at Minnesota, ending a stretch of
    nine consecutive victories over a span of 10 starts. … The young left-hander
    didn’t allow more than two runs in any of his 14 starts at home in 2018. He
    yielded one or fewer in 12 of them.TRAINER’S ROOMAstros: RHP’s Lance McCullers
    Jr. (right elbow surgery) and Joe Smith (left Achilles’ tendon surgery) were
    both placed on the 10-day injured list. Meanwhile, SS Carlos Correa (nick
    stiffness) said before the game that his injury is “nothing major” and that he
    hopes to be ready to play some time before the end of the four-game series.Rays:
    To finalize the opening day roster, 3B Matt Duffy (left hamstring tightness),
    LHP Anthony Banda (Tommy John surgery) and RHP Jose De Leon (Tommy John surgery)
    were placed on the 10-day injured list.UP NEXTRHP Charlie Morton, 15-3 with a
    3.13 ERA in 30 starts last season with Houston, will make his Tampa Bay debut
    Friday night against the Astros and RHP Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA in 2018).
    Signed to a $30 million, two-year contract as a free agent by the Rays, Morton
    won Game 7 in both the ALCS and World Series in 2017 for the Astros. BOSTON (AP)
    — Mookie Betts keeps putting up big numbers.The AL MVP and the World Series
    champion Boston Red Sox agreed to a $20 million, one-year contract Friday, a
    raise of $9.5 million that was for a few hours the highest for an
    arbitration-eligible player.Betts was later surpassed by New York Mets pitcher
    Jacob deGrom, who got a raise from $7.4 million to $17 million.The Red Sox
    reached deals with all nine players eligible for arbitration ahead of Friday’s
    scheduled swap of salary figures. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts got a $12 million
    contract and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. got $8.55 million.After beating the
    Red Sox in arbitration last offseason, the 26-year-old Betts led the major
    leagues in batting average (.346) and slugging percentage (.640) and was second
    in on-base average (.438). He also had 84 extra-base
    hits C. J. Cron
    , including 32 home runs, and stole 30 bases. The right fielder
    also won his third straight Gold Glove while making $10.5 million.Betts can make
    more in award bonuses, including $100,000 each for AL MVP, World Series MVP and
    ALCS MVP, and $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star team or winning a Gold
    Glove or Silver Slugger award. He would get $75,000 for finishing second in the
    MVP vote and $50,000 for third.Betts is eligible for free agency after the 2020
    World Series.All-purpose player Brock Holt ($3,575,000), pitchers Matt Barnes
    ($1.6 million), Eduardo Rodriguez ($4.3 million) and Brandon Workman ($1.15
    million) and catchers Sandy Leon ($2,475,000) and Blake Swihart ($910,000) also
    reached agreements. Pitcher Steven Wright got a deal Thursday for
    $1,375 ,000.Leon
    could earn $50,000 in performance bonuses for games at catcher: $25,000 each for
    75 and 100. Rodriguez could earn $25,000 for 100 innings.After posting a
    team-record 108 wins and romping to their fourth championship in 15 seasons, the
    Red Sox mostly stood pat during the early part of free agency, making their
    biggest noise when they re-signed pitcher Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68
    million contract.Last season, Boston exceeded the luxury tax threshold and is on
    track to endure another tax and penalty in next June’s amateur draft. But
    president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said last month during the
    winter meetings that dropping below the highest surtax this year would be ideal,
    but not mandated.Bogaerts hit .288 with 23 home runs last season and his 103
    RBIs were second on the team behind only J.D. Martinez’s 130. He was also third
    in slugging percentage (.522) behind Betts (.640) and Martinez (.629). A 2016
    All-Star, he made $7.05 million this past season.Bradley had an up-and-down
    year, hitting just .234 with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs during the regular
    season.The 28-year-old came up big in the postseason, though, and was chosen the
    ALCS MVP despite hitting just .200 (3 for 15) in the best-of-seven series win
    over Houston. He was clutch with go-ahead hits in two Boston wins and
    game-sealing grand slam in another.Bradley earned a Gold Glove for the first
    time in center field. He made $6.1 million.Holt, 30, was Boston’s most-versatile
    utility infielder this season, hitting .277 with seven home runs and 46 RBIs.
    His biggest moment came in the playoffs when he became the first player in
    postseason history to hit for the cycle, sparking a 16-1 win at Yankee Stadium.
    He made $2.25 million in
    2018.Leon Jonny
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    , 29, split time with Christian Vazquez behind the plate.
    He hit just .177 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He made $1.95 million last
    season.Swihart, 26, appeared in 82 games this past season. He hit .229 and had
    three home runs and 18 RBIs in his 207 plate appearances.Rodriguez went 13-5
    with a 3.83 ERA in 23 starts last season. The lefty spent six weeks on the
    disabled list from mid-July until September with a right ankle sprain. Despite
    not making a start since late September, he was called on to start Game 4 of the
    World Series after Eovaldi’s marathon relief appearance in an 18-inning loss in
    Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.Rodriguez was up to the challenge, pitching five
    scoreless innings and giving up only two hits. The 25-year-old made $2,375,000
    last season.Workman, a 29-year-old right-handed reliever, appeared in 43 games,
    going 6-1 with a 3.27 ERA in 41 1/3 innings. He made $835,000 last
    season.Barnes, a 28-year-old righty, has spent his entire career in Boston and
    become a steady presence in the bullpen. He appeared in 62 games in 2018,
    striking out 96 with a 3.65 ERA in 61 2/3 innings. He made $305,000 last