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Yordano Ventura's Improved Curveball Could Be Next Step in His Ace Evolution

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 25: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals pitches in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 25, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Mike RosenbaumMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 11, 2017

Yordano Ventura will have many great starts in his career, but his outing on Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles is one he’ll never forget.

The 22-year-old rookie turned in his finest performance to date against one of the top offenses in the American League, striking out a career-high eight batters over eight shutout innings en route to a 5-0 Royals win. It marked the first time Ventura has worked eight innings in a start, as he allowed seven hits, issued two walks and hit a batter while throwing a career-high 113 pitches.

"I think that's as good as I've seen him," Royals manager Ned Yost said, via the Chicago Tribune. "He had everything going tonight. I mean good fastball, his curveball, that was probably the most consistent curveball he's had all year, and a great changeup. He just pitched a great game."

Despite his success, Ventura’s outing wasn’t as clean as his line suggests; he actually pitched with runners on base in every inning.

He drilled Nelson Cruz with a fastball in the first inning and surrendered a pair of singles to open the second. He yielded a leadoff single in the third inning, a walk and single in the following frame and then another leadoff knock in the fifth.

The right-hander allowed a two-out single in the sixth, two-out walk in the seventh and two-out single in the eighth. However, Ventura was able to get strikeouts when he needed them most and ultimately kept the Orioles off the board.

Specifically, Ventura’s ability to execute his curveball Friday night was a revelation compared to his other starts this season—especially his previous outing, in which he allowed four earned runs on six hits and four walks in four innings. Ventura’s curveball has always lagged behind his dynamic fastball-changeup combination, and it had been his least effective offering this season.

However, that wasn’t the case against the Orioles.

Yordano Ventura: Curveball Strike and Whiff Percentages by Start
Strikes%Whiffs%
April 8 (vs. TB)52.6%5.3%
April 15 (at HOU)53.8%15.4%
April 20 (vs. MIN)30.0%0.0%
April 25 (at BAL)72.7%27.3%
Brooks Baseball

Ventura’s command of his curveball was the best it’s been since his arrival in the major leagues last season, as he posted a career-best 72.7 percent strike rate (via Brooks Baseball) and recorded five of his eight strikeouts with the pitch in eight innings. His victims were Ryan Flaherty, David Lough (twice), Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop.

Ventura’s release point was consistent throughout the game, which in turn allowed him to generate the tight rotation and sharp, downward break necessary to generate whiffs. He also used his curveball to generate five ground-ball outs.

Ventura’s changeup took a backseat to his suddenly improved breaking ball, but he was still effective with the offering and kept the Orioles off balance by using it aggressively in fastball counts and at times on the first pitch of a plate appearance. Meanwhile, the flame-thrower’s fastball sat comfortably in the high 90s (as usual), topping out at 99 mph, and produced seven swinging strikes and a pair of strikeouts.

With a consistent and effective third pitch at his disposal, there’s no telling how good Ventura will be. He’s already proved to be one of baseball’s premier young pitchers this season, and developing a more complete and refined arsenal could make him one of the game’s best in short order.

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