It's still a long shot, but if the Kansas City Royals make the playoffs, Yordano Ventura made a case to be involved somehow with his stellar debut Tuesday.
In a game that was huge for the Royals' race towards October, Ventura pitched 5.2 innings of five-hit, one-run ball against the Indians. He left the game with a 3-1 lead, but unfortunately, the bullpen blew the chance for him to get his first big league win.
Despite that, I began thinking—if the Royals do somehow make the playoffs, how could they best use Ventura? Would they use him as a fourth starter if needed or as a closer-type player like David Price was used in 2008?
Before looking at what he could contribute in the playoffs, it's important to know what Ventura is working with on the mound.
According to Scott Evans of Razzball.com, Ventura profiles as a dominant closer-type pitcher:
I suppose it’s tough to escape that outlook when you stand 5-11, 180 pounds (he’s put on considerable weight over the past year to get even that big), and you chuck 100mph fastballs. There just aren’t many pitchers with that sort of frame who can sustain that sort of stuff over a full-season workload. He doesn’t pass the “eye test”, the scouts would say. However, he’s passing every other test there is.
His hammer of a curve can be unhittable at times. There's deception with his changeup, but it's fairly straight at this point in time, but it could be a Major League average pitch in the future. He can always improve his overall command, but he misses plenty of bats with his fastball-curve combination. That alone could make him a future closer, but there's enough there to think he should get a shot at starting.
Regardless, we know that the kid can pitch in the starting role given Tuesday's performance. But, what is his best role for the Royals should they make the playoffs?
Ventura's debut makes a good case for him to start in the playoffs. However, I don't see the Royals using him in that role in the ALDS if they were to make it there.
With James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, the Royals have three starters that are more than capable of handling the five games in the divisional series.
During the regular season, he spent time in both Double-A and Triple-A. Combined, he went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA. It's not a bad season, but at 22 years old, I don't think he's ready to take on the same role that Matt Moore did in the 2011 playoffs.
He showed he had the stuff, but that was also against a team with a .252 combined batting average. What if Ventura were to face the Tigers (.285) or Red Sox (.276)? Could he put that same kind of performance together against their potent lineups?
Even if they were to make it to the ALCS, starting pitching isn't the biggest need as it's been one of the Royals' biggest strengths in September.
This role may be the best for him as it would be an opportunity for him to come in and make a difference but not necessarily when it counted the most.
The Royals still have Greg Holland, who has 43 saves for the team this year. With him pitching so well in that spot, there would be no reason to thrust anyone else in that role.
But where Ventura could be used is in the sixth or seventh inning (depending on the starter). In those two innings, the Royals have tended to struggle, allowing a .269 average with 38 home runs. The sixth inning is the worst of the two as Kansas City pitchers have a 4.62 ERA.
If Ventura can show for one or two innings in the playoffs what he showed Tuesday, he will be a valuable asset to the bullpen. Then, next year, the Royals can worry about putting him into the rotation.
Ventura would be best in the bullpen should the Royals make it to the postseason. When it comes to October, your bullpen gets thinner (unless it's a blowout).
The Royals have Holland and Luke Hochevar that they can count on. After that, I'm not so sure.
Tim Collins has come on as of late, giving up only one run in his last 10 appearances, but three of those were only to obtain one out. Kelvin Herrera has given up at least one hit in six of his last 10 games, while Aaron Crow has given up five runs (including four home runs) in his last 10 games.
Collins deserves chances to get batters out in the playoffs. However, that same confidence couldn't be put in Herrera and Crow.
That's where Ventura comes in. We know he can throw the ball hard. So why not use him in a spot where he can throw the ball hard pitch after pitch, without having to worry about saving himself for later innings?
The bullpen is where Ventura belongs if the Royals make it to October. It's there that he will give the Royals the best chance to win.