What a difference a year makes.
The defending American League Champion Kansas Royals ended a dreadful 28-season playoff drought last year before losing Game Seven to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
The story of the Royals’ historical season began in Spring Training. The Royals were looking for someone to fill in as the team’s fifth starter for the 2014 campaign. Right-hander Yordano Ventura, who turns 24 next month, was considered the early favorite to earn the spot, but starting the season in the rotation wasn’t a given. He had only made three starts in the Majors, prior to the 2014 season, and there were concerns about whether the 6’-0″, 180-pound righty could carry his weight and the demands of a 200-plus inning workload.
The Royals had a staff ace in James Shields, a stud at the top of the rotation. Shields posted a record of 14-8, 3.21 ERA (34 starts) for the Royals last year, to lead a staff that included proven Major League veterans, Jason Vargas 11-10, 3.71 ERA, (30 starts), Jeremy Guthrie 13-11, 4.13 ERA (32 starts) and hard luck Danny Duffy 9-12, 2.53 ERA (25 starts), who had the lowest ERA on the staff, and was the only sub .500 pitcher in the rotation.
Ventura made the team out of Spring Training, slated as the Royals #5 starter. Blessed with a 98-mph four seamer, a 95-mph sinker and 89-mph moving change up, Ventura made himself at home in the back end of the Kansas City rotation as his stock continued to rise.
Once the season got underway, it became clear that Ventura was the team’s fifth starter in name only. He emerged as the Royals’ most dependable starter behind Shields and finished 2014 with a 14-10 record and 3.20 ERA in 30 starts for the Royals while tossing 183 innings. He finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting and had enough fuel left in his tank left to make two impressive starts in the World Series. He started Game Two after Shields dropped Game One to the Giants. Ventura pitched well and the Royals won, but he did not factor into the decision. He started and won Game Six, where he pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only three hits to keep the Royals alive and force a Game Seven.
The Royals would lose Game Seven. Their ace James Shields, who would be a free agent in a few weeks, was tagged with two of the Royals four losses, while Kansas City won both of Ventura’s starts, with Ventura getting a no-decision in his first game, before he picked up the win in Game Six.
In the offseason, the winds of change were in the air, as Shield split for San Diego and Ventura was promoted to the top of the rotation.
Fast forward one year and Ventura entered camp this spring, not looking or hoping to hitch his way onto a Major League rotation, but as the crowned staff ace of the defending American League Champions.
The expectations for Ventura entering this season after his success from last season and in the World Series were astronomical, begging the question, are the Royals and their fans expecting too much, too soon, from this young right-hander?
Earlier this week, Ventura (3-3, 4.58 ERA) pitched seven scoreless frames and picked up his first win since April 12. His performance on Tuesday was a stark contrast to his previous three starts, where he had gone 0-2, with a 6.87 ERA, and a 1.80 WHIP. Since the 12th, Ventura has suffered three losses, two no decisions and has had issues with his control and emotions on and off the mound. Not the stuff and numbers you would expect from a staff ace.
Beyond the line scores, Ventura was suspended last month, for seven games after an incident that involved him yelling at the Chicago White Sox’ outfielder Adam Eaton after Ventura fielded a comebacker to the mound. Moments later the benches were clearing and the bullpens were emptied as both teams met on the field. If the Ventura and Eaton incident wasn’t enough, it was the third time in the month that Ventura had let his emotions get the best of him. He was fined earlier in April for hitting the Oakland A’s, Brett Lawrie, with a pitch and Ventura also got into a confrontation with Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout.
As a Royals fan who took his four-year-old, granddaughter to her first Major League game in Kansas City last year, Ventura’s recent antics have been embarrassing to say the least and were beginning to wear thin with me by the end of April.
One cannot dispute the enormous talent and potential that Ventura possesses, but someone once said that the worst thing you can say about someone is, “the kid has potential.”
Hopefully Ventura can come to grips with his emotions and get a grasp on his role and responsibility as the staff ace for the defending American League Champions, but for now, it looks like Royal fans were expecting too much, too soon.