In a move most people saw coming, Ned Yost officially named Yordano Ventura the final member of the Royals’ starting rotation, following the young righty’s dominant performance in the team’s 6-0 victory over the Texas Rangers Monday night. 610 Sports’ Josh Vernier also reported that Danny Duffy would now be competing for a bullpen spot. I don’t actually think Duffy will be in the bullpen, since it seems like they would prefer he start games in Omaha, but that could be something to keep an eye on in these last couple of weeks of spring training.
As for Ventura, his game last night was simply terrific. The game was televised live on FOX Sports Kansas City, and Royals fans got their first glimpse of him since his debut last September, and they were not disappointed. In all, Ventura threw 6 innings, allowed 4 hits, 0 runs, and 0 walks, while striking out 6. His fastball was electric, as always, touching 101 MPH and possessing lots of late movement. His curveball – my goodness, his curveball – was outstanding. Ventura struck out the first two hitters of the game (Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus) with knee-buckling curves after setting them up with the hard stuff. If his curveballs starred in a major motion picture, the film would have to be rated NC-17. They were that dirty.
He only threw 11 changeups all night, but with the way everything else was working, he didn’t need to throw that pitch as frequently. Of Ventura’s 73 total pitches, 48 were strikes, including 9 whiffs (3 fastballs, 1 changeup, 5 curveballs). He threw pitches to both sides of the plate and generated 9 ground ball outs. As you can tell from the walks total, he commanded his stuff extremely well.
However, one of the most impressive things I saw from Ventura was his ability to adjust to hitters. Early on, it seemed like he was relying on his fastball on the first pitch a bit too often. With a fastball like his, falling in love with it can be an easy thing to do. But at the same time, hitters pay attention to those things, and the Rangers hitters were starting to swing away on the first pitch, knowing it would probably be a fastball in the zone. In the first three innings, every hitter Ventura faced saw a first pitch fastball. After the third inning, only 5 of the 11 Rangers’ hitters who stepped to the plate against Ventura saw a first pitch fastball, while he started another 5 off with a curveball and 1 more with a changeup.
In other words, Ventura (along with Salvador Perez and the coaching staff) saw what the hitters were doing, and adjusted their approach. And it worked like a charm. Since he had been hitting his spots, batters were going to expect balls in the strike zone, and since no one wants to fall behind in the count against Ventura, they wanted to be aggressive. Then, when Ventura started throwing his curveball on the first pitch, they didn’t really know what to expect. It was a great plan, and Ventura executed it to perfection.
Despite a few opposing hitters making fairly solid contact (that happens when the ball hits their bat while traveling 100 MPH), Ventura showed why the Royals wanted him to be a part of their Opening Day rotation. He was his usual calm self on the mound, he worked quickly, and he made Rangers’ hitters look absolutely silly. Choo just received a $130 million contract, and in his first two at bats, he didn’t stand a chance against Ventura.
As I always say, we have to take spring training statistics with a large grain of salt, and even though his 15 strikeouts and 1 walk in 15.1 innings are impressive numbers, it’s the way Ventura’s pitching that’s making it difficult to contain my excitement about him. When his secondary pitches are as sharp as they were last night, and when his command is on, Ventura is a joy to watch, and a terror to hit against. Granted, he could still go out and have a rough game before breaking camp, and his spring training numbers may come down quite a bit prior to his first start of the season in Detroit. However, it’s looking more and more like Ventura is preparing to make an enormous impact in the major leagues this season.