Yordano Ventura picked up the first win of his promising career on Tuesday night against the Astros, and he set new career highs with seven strikeouts and seven innings pitched.
More importantly, the 22-year-old right-hander guided the scuffling Kansas City Royals to their first road win of the season.
Ventura scattered two hits and struck out six over six scoreless innings last week against the Rays in his season debut. On Tuesday night, he was equally impressive despite allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks. He finished the outing with 101 pitches, 66 of which were strikes.
Ventura had his entire arsenal on display against the Astros, who entered the game with a major league-worst .189 batting average through 13 games.
As usual, the flame-throwing right-hander lit up the radar guns, sitting 97-99 mph with his fastball and bumping triple digits on three occasions, with the final one coming with two outs in the sixth inning. Ventura’s final fastball of the night and 100th pitch of the game registered at 99 mph but resulted in a two-out walk to Jonathan Villar in the bottom of the seventh.
Speaking of that electric fastball, Grantland's Rany Jazayerli was likewise wowed by his ability to light up radar guns despite his small stature (you Game of Thrones fans out there will particularly enjoy this):
I have no explanation how a 5'11" guy can command fire like this. I am left with one inescapable conclusion: Yordano Ventura is a Targaryen.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) April 16, 2014
Ventura’s curveball was his least consistent offering, as he threw it for a strike 53.8 percent (7-for-13) of the time in the outing. However, the pitch did produce a pair of swinging strikeouts, as he fanned Carlos Corporan in the second inning and then Chris Carter in the fourth.
Lastly, Ventura’s changeup was just as nasty and effective against the Astros on Tuesday as it was last week in his season debut. Overall, he threw 19 of 25 changeups for a strike in seven innings of work, six of which were a result of a whiff.
Royals manager Ned Yost praised Ventura for his performance—and for recording his first big league win—following the game (via Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports):
I'm just really proud for him because that was like his fifth time he's gone for his first win and he's had an opportunity to win ballgames two or three times and we couldn't hold it for him. To finally get that out of the way for him, to get his first major league win was big for all of us tonight.
Arguably the main reason the 22-year-old was able to establish new career highs in strikeouts and innings pitched was his consistency in throwing first-pitch strikes. Ventura faced 28 batters in the outing and recorded a first-pitch strike 19 times, including 12 of the first 15 to open the game.
The few times Ventura ran into trouble stemmed from his own mistakes, both mental and physical.
After a leadoff double by Dexter Fowler and one-out single from Jason Castro, Ventura faced free-swinging Chris Carter with two outs and runners on the corners. However, rather than attacking Carter with his electric stuff, Ventura made an ill-advised pickoff attempt of Castro at first base and uncorked an errant throw that allowed Fowler to score.
The only earned run surrendered by Ventura this season came in the fourth inning in the form of a solo home run by Carlos Corporan. Yet the long ball could have been avoided; Ventura fell behind in the count 2-0 and was forced to pipe a 95 mph fastball on the inner half. Needless to say, the left-handed hitting Corporan was waiting for it.
Ventura’s three walks also could have been avoided, as each came with two outs in an inning after he failed to get ahead in the count. If anything, the walks were a result of him losing focus after getting two quick outs and were not something command related.
However, even though young Yordano Ventura has looked like an ace this season in both starts, not to mention the fact he owns the lowest ERA (0.69) and opponents’ batting average (.133) of any Royals starter, the team will need to fire on all cylinders to climb out of its early season rut.
Through 12 games this season, the Royals rank seventh among all 30 teams with a 3.17 staff ERA and fourth with a .214 opponents’ batting average.
On the flip side, the Royals offense basically has been lifeless to begin the year, as Omar Infante’s second-inning home run on Tuesday was just the club’s second dinger of the 2014 season. Unsurprisingly, the team currently ranks dead last in the major leagues with a .319 slugging percentage.
Ventura’s high-water mark for innings pitched in a season is only 150, which he amassed last season between Double-A, Triple-A and the major leagues. However, the right-hander will be allowed to go 180 to 200 innings this year.
Will Yordano Ventura be the Royals ace for the entire 2014 season?
With that in mind, the organization should be able to occasionally skip Ventura’s starts during the season and offer him additional rest. However, a potential 50-inning increase in workload could be a challenge, especially if the Royals find themselves contending for a postseason berth late in the summer.
The good news is that, despite going 5-7 through their first 12 contests, the Royals are only two games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers. And if they begin to heat up at the plate and rally around their other starters as they have Ventura, then it only should be easier for the organization to handle the right-hander’s workload moving forward.