The kid is learning fast: Ventura gets first win with savvy outing
The best part about Royals rookie Yordano Ventura getting his first career win in the big leagues Tuesday night? He didn’t even have his dominating stuff.
Ventura threw seven innings — his longest stint so far — and gave up just one earned run in a 4-2 triumph over the Houston Astros. He surrendered four hits, walked three and struck out seven.
But Ventura did it without really being able to use his dominating curve, the pitch that often buckles hitters’ knees. On Tuesday, Ventura’s curve didn’t have its normal snap and he wasn’t able to locate it precisely, either.
So, instead, Ventura basically became a two-pitch pitcher, throwing his four-seam fastball about 50 percent of the time and his change-up about 26 percent. And that was enough to contain Houston.
The Astros noticed that Ventura was relying heavily on those two pitches, yet couldn’t do much about it.
"It wasn’t any surprise the way he was going to attack us," Astros manager Bo Porter told mlb.com. "It was pretty much power fastball and, ‘Here it is, let’s play, boys.’ We didn’t do too much with it."
That’s a great sign for Ventura, because even the game’s best pitchers sometimes don’t come out with their ‘A’ stuff — and they find a way to win anyway.
Ventura was far more dominating in his first start this season against Tampa Bay — a better hitting team, mind you. In that game, Ventura threw six shutout innings, gave up just two hits, walked none and struck out six. On that night, the Rays simply had trouble getting the ball in play as Ventura’s fastball touched 100 mph numerous times.
But Tuesday night in Houston, while Ventura did hit 100 mph twice, Ventura’s fastball mostly remained in the 95-98 range. He averaged about 97.84 mph, according to brooksbaseball.net, just a tick below where he has been all spring. And Ventura seemed to have trouble commanding that fastball.
But the encouraging thing is that Ventura battled like a veteran pitcher. He remained poised. And he got the outs he needed to.
With two outs and one on in the sixth inning, Ventura faced Astros power-hitting first baseman Chris Carter, an all-or-nothing type of slugger who could have ruined Ventura’s night. Ventura fell behind 2-1 but then threw a hard change-up (88 mph) for a strike that completely fooled Carter. Ventura then polished Carter off with a blazing cutter at 98 mph.
In the next inning, Ventura gave up a leadoff single to Matt Dominguez and a two-out walk to Jonathan Villar.
Danger lurked as that brought the lead run to the plate in Dexter Fowler, who has home-run power. Manager Ned Yost had Kelvin Herrera up in the bullpen, but considering the shakiness of his ‘pen lately, Yost really needed Ventura to get through the inning on his own.
Ventura did just that, going with a first-pitch change-up that Fowler got ahead of and tapped on the ground to first baseman Eric Hosmer for the out.
"That was the biggest positive, the great job of getting us out of the seventh," Yost said after the game. "He had a great first-pitch change-up to Fowler to turn it over to the bullpen."
And from there, Wade Davis and Greg Holland shut down the Astros to secure a much-needed win for the Royals, who were coming off a sweep in Minnesota.
And just as important as the win was the manner in which Ventura achieved it. The kid is learning fast.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email email@example.com.