Ned Yost waved his hands in the air, a gesture that both batted aside a question and acknowledged the veracity of its premise. As he sat inside the visiting manager’s office at Target Field, shortly after the Royals’ 4-1 loss to Minnesota, he pondered how differently he would have managed had his two best relievers been available.
“Of course,” he said. “Yes. I mean that’s — of course you would.”
Of course, Yost would not have left Yordano Ventura to wilt in the seventh inning. Of course, he would have been more proactive in the deployment of his relievers. Of course, Yost would have turned to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the late-game trio that has buoyed the Royals this season.
But the attrition of a playoff chase limited Yost’s options.
He insisted on resting both Davis and Holland. He tabbed Herrera for the ninth, with veteran Jason Frasor slated as the temporary set-up man. As the seventh inning crumbled, Yost warmed up Aaron Crow and Francisley Bueno, but he placed his faith in Ventura, the 23-year-old rookie.
“Look, you’ve got to deal with this stuff,” Yost said. “That’s the fun of a pennant race. You’ve got to maneuver. You’ve got to be able to work through these types of issues. Because you’re not going to have perfect conditions every single day. That’s the adjustment you have to make.”
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak. The Royals, 67-55, fell for just the second time in 13 games. A victory by the Tigers cut Kansas City’s lead in the American League Central back to a half-game.
A disappearance by the offense heightened the scrutiny of Yost’s maneuvers. Twins starter Phil Hughes buzzed through the Royals lineup for 7 1/3 innings. The lone Kansas City run scored on a Minnesota error. It was still enough to provide the team with a lead heading into the fateful seventh.
Ventura had yielded one hit — and five walks — when the inning began. Kurt Suzuki smacked a leadoff single. Brian Parmalee surprised the Royals with a bunt single, which Mike Moustakas could not nab with his bare hand. After another bunt, both runners were in scoring position.
Ventura shattered the bat of leadoff man Danny Santana. A grounder trickled to first base, and Billy Butler fired home. Salvador Perez whirled to tag Suzuki, but fell short.
“Billy hesitated just enough where we could make the tag at the plate,” Yost said.
He added, “The throw wasn’t bad. It was just that hesitation, that split-second hesitation, that was the time that Sal needed to catch the ball and make the play.”
Butler said he was not surprised Suzuki broke for home. He defended the quality of his peg.
“He made a good slide,” Butler said. “That’s all there is to it. The ball beat him there.”
Either way, the game was tied. Here, Yost could have turned to his relief duo of Bueno and Crow. Bueno helped the team escape a similar jam on Friday. Crow, who gave up a solo homer to Suzuki in the eighth, has been utilized mostly as a right-handed specialist in recent weeks.
Yost opted to stick with Ventura.
“He’s still got the stuff to get out of it,” Yost said.
The deadlock lasted all of one pitch. Brian Dozier ripped an RBI double past Moustakas and pulled Minnesota ahead for the first time. Joe Mauer added a sacrifice fly that completed the scoring in the inning.
“All throughout the game, he tried to make good pitches,” said Bruce Chen, who translates for Ventura. “In that situation, in the seventh inning, he tried to do everything he could to make good pitches. Some of the pitches came out for some hits.”
When the day began, Yost understood the task facing him. Davis had pitched in four games in six days. Holland looked rickety as he surrendered two runs Friday. Yost determined that each man required rest.
Inside his office before the game, he concocted a scenario to escape the evening with a victory. “If Ventura can go seven tonight … ” he said, then began ticking off the names of his available middle relievers.
An offensive explosion would have made life easier. Instead, the Royals fell victim to six strikeouts by Hughes. Cast off by the Yankees, Hughes appears refreshed as a Twin.
After breezing through three innings, his 28th pitch of the night was a 92-mph fastball. Aoki smashed it into right for a double to start the fourth. After a strikeout by Omar Infante, Aoki produced a run with his legs.
He broke for third on an inside fastball to Perez. Suzuki, the Twins catcher, uncorked an unsightly throw, closer to the shortstop than the third baseman. The ball landed in left field, and Aoki scurried home.
Aoki appeared bewildered, at first, by the location of the ball. When he heard third-base coach Mike Jirschele shout “Go!” Aoki understood.
“The ball sailed where I wasn’t looking,” Aoki said through his interpreter, Kosuke Inaji.
The lineup fell flat from there. The team did not advance a runner past second base in the final five innings.
In the aftermath of the seventh-inning collapse, Yost lamented his lack of options. But he acknowledged this is the landscape facing the club during the upcoming weeks.
“You can’t throw these guys every day,” Yost said. “I wish I could. But you can’t. That’s the tough part of my job. I’ve got to be able to judge when I can do it, and when I can’t. Because if I run these guys into the ground, we’re in trouble.”