Which Yordano Ventura will we see in 2016?

Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Yordano Ventura made his first start on Friday night, as the Royals came from behind to grab a 4-3 victory over the still-winless Minnesota Twins (0-4). Ventura struggled mightily in his first two innings, walking two batters and allowing two hits, but he would eventually settle down, only to run out of gas in the 6th inning, where he walked his first two batters. Ventura battled with his pitch count and command throughout the night, but really gave a solid effort in his season debut, despite walking six batters. His curve was his go-to pitch last night, and he really had it working.

During the offseason, many wondered if Ventura, the 4th year pitcher, would be able to take over as the team’s ace for the 2016 season. He has spent two full seasons in the league, and has yet to show the maturity level needed to be the Royals’ number one pitcher. About to wrap-up the first week of the regular season, Ventura finds himself as the team’s third starter behind hard-throwing righty, Edinson Volquez (1-0) and soft-tossing right-hander, Chris Young (0-1). Young was originally slated to be the team’s fourth man, but due to a hamstring issue with Ian Kennedy, the two have swapped places. Kennedy, who signed a 5-year (3 option years), $70 million contract in the offseason, makes his Royals debut tonight.

Last year’s Opening Day starter, Ventura failed to live up to his “Ace” moniker as he struggled – both the mound and with maturity and was even demoted, but didn’t miss a start thanks to an injury, and turned it around, finishing the regular season with a 2.38 ERA over his final 11 starts, including 81 strikeouts in just 68 innings over that stretch, adding fuel to the fires of optimism. Despite losing a full tick off of his velocity last season, his strikeout rate hiked up from 20.3 to 22.5 percent. The 0.88-point jump in ERA obscured the that fact that Ventura’s peripherals painted a similar picture as the previous season, and the improvements to his walks and strikeouts are an encouraging sign for the young right-hander.

Though it’s only been one start, Ventura’s demeanor has really changed in the course of six months. With every jam that he encountered, he appeared to keep his cool and pitch out of it. Body language is key as a pitcher, and Ventura showed no signs of defeat, even when he wasn’t getting calls on pitches that appeared to be in the strike zone. One thing to be concerned about as the season marches forward is his pitch count. Ventura threw 98 pitches in 5.0+ innings of work, mostly due to his six walks. He flashed some strikeout ability while also experiencing control problems throughout his five-inning stint. Ventura did get first-pitch strikes on 15 of the 22 batters he faced, but still managed the six passes. Luke Hochevar had to finish his sixth inning, and when it was done, one of the two inherited runners had scored as Papa Hoch allowed a 2-out single to Eduardo Escobar that tied the game, 2-2, giving Ventura, who was in line for the win, a no decision.

“I felt like I threw the ball good, but six walks is not me,” Ventura said.

Last year, would definitely be considered a sophomore slump for Yordano Ventura. He owned a 4.08 ERA with a WHIP of 1.298 and an ERA+ of just 102. His command wasn’t much of an issue in 2015, allowing just 3.2 walks per nine innings. Call it first game jitters or whatever you want, but command, although fixable with some work with pitching coach Super Dave Eiland, is something to watch for throughout the season.

Ventura certainly has the potential for a bounce back year. At just 24, he is still developing. The organization is hoping to see him evolve into the ace that they know he can become. With guys like Edinson Volquez as a mentor, Yo’s outlook is very bright. The only thing that will stand in the way of Yordano Ventura is Yordano Ventura, and we saw both sides of that last year. He has all of the right tools, but spent much of last season in his own head. Hopefully 2016 will show signs of improvement for the young flame-throwing righty.

Joakim Soria, who has allowed four of the Royals eight runs this season in just 2.2 IP (13.50 ERA), allowed a DONG to Korean slugger Byung Ho Park in the 8th to put the Royals down for the second time of the night, 3-2. Remember when Soria’s curve was unhittable? He hung one to Park, who led the Korean Baseball Organization with 53 homers last season before signing a three-year, $24M contract with the Twins in December. But, he brought the curve right back for a strikeout to strikeout the side.

The Royals, like they do, came right back. Salvador Perez tripled – his first since Sept. 25, 2014 – and came in to score on Omar Infante’s sacrifice fly. Infante, in just three games, is the Royals leading hitter at .333 and he also has 2 RBI.

The Royals took a 2-1 lead in the second inning right after Minnesota took the lead, when Reymond Fuentes, who was 0-for his first two games, drove in two Royals with a single for his first big league hit since Sept. 28, 2013 while with San Diego.

“It’s good to have that first one out of the way,” Fuentes said. “It means a lot, so the pressure is a little off now and we’re ready to roll.”

Wade Davis did Wade Davis things in the ninth inning, to close the door for his second save of 2016.

Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales – the Royals heart of the order – went 0-10 with 6 strikeouts. Cain took the infamous Platinum Sombrero with 4 K’s, one game after Alex Gordon had the Golden Sombrero (0-3, 3 K). Morales, for the second straight game, came up with the bases loaded. Last time, a 4-6-3 double play, this time, caught looking to end the inning.

Tonight, Tommy Milone takes the bump for the Twins, facing off against Kennedy. Milone was 2-0 with a 3.30 ERA in five starts last season against the Royals. Also today, Jarrod Dyson begins a rehab assignment with Triple-A Omaha.

***

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