Thrilling victory aside, Royals are seeing Ventura should be in '14 rotation
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Virtually lost in the drama of yet another did-you-see-that victory in Seattle on Monday night was a dominating performance by rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura in just his second major league start.
Long before Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon rifled down the potential winning run at the plate in the 10th inning, and long before Sal Perez delivered in the clutch again with an RBI double in the 12th, and long before closer Greg Holland high-wired the save after walking the first two hitters, Ventura showed what he can do when he has command of his fastball.
And, oh my, Royals fans and club officials must have gotten goose bumps watching Ventura simply overmatch a major league team.
Ventura, with an easy and fluid motion, pounded the strike zone early on, striking out the side in the first inning.
FOX Sports Kansas City broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre reported that Ventura's fastball was hovering in the 95-98-mph range, perhaps just a shade lower than the 99-101-mph range he showed last week in his debut.
The reduced velocity may be a signal of what Ventura can do when he is calm and relaxed and not overthrowing.
Again, Royals officials must be grinning.
Ventura absolutely breezed through the first five innings, allowing only a ground-ball single to Raul Ibanez and a walk on a borderline 3-2 pitch to Nick Franklin. The Mariners looked completely bewildered.
Ventura struck out six, including Mike Zunino in the fifth when Ventura reached back and blew a 100-mph fastball right past him.
In the sixth, Ventura continued to breeze, getting the first two hitters on routine fly balls. It looked like Ventura would easily register his first quality start, and perhaps even cruise into the seventh or eighth inning as his pitch count was only in the 60s at that point.
Then, somewhat like he did in his debut, Ventura lost his command briefly. He walked Brad Miller on a 3-2 pitch.
Then, out of nowhere, Ventura started overthrowing. With Abraham Almonte up, Ventura unleashed a fastball that never touched the mitt of Perez and sailed to the backstop. Miller took second. Ventura again overthrew a fastball that straightened out, and Almonte sent a sharp one-hopper that shortstop Alcides Escobar knocked down.
But the ball trickled into the outfield and Miller scored. Kyle Seager, the next hitter, drew another walk on a 3-2 pitch and that was enough for manager Ned Yost, who called on Will Smith.
Ventura left with the lead for the second straight time, and once again the bullpen could not hold it for him.
But Ventura not getting the win is a minor side note. The bigger story is that Ventura is proving he belongs in the rotation next season, and he is proving he could be a major weapon as well.
With more experience, it is clear that Ventura can be the type of dominating, home-grown product that Dayton Moore and his staff have been coveting.
And Ventura's emergence couldn't have come at a better time. The Royals, whether they pull off the Hail Mary and sneak into the playoffs or not, have some major decisions regarding the rotation next season.
It's no secret that the strength of this team has been its pitching, and it all starts with the rotation. But whether Moore can bring back another solid rotation with the budget he will be handed is the big question.
Beyond James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie, there are no locks for the 2014 rotation. Ervin Santana is a pending free agent who could command $15-20 million a year, perhaps out of the Royals' financial reach. Left-hander Bruce Chen is also a free agent after the season.
Wade Davis has proven again -- as his former team, Tampa Bay, found out -- that he is more effective out of the bullpen than as a starter. And Danny Duffy, who pitched well at times, is still an unknown coming off Tommy John surgery.
Being able to count on Ventura for one of the rotation spots would be huge for Moore, who has to be beaming after what he's seen in two starts from the rookie.
Ventura will get one more start this weekend in Chicago, and one more chance to all but cement his spot in the 2014 rotation.
That could go a long way in setting up the Royals for another playoff chase in 2014.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.