Yordano Ventura cemented his case for April 6, the first day of the Royals’ 2015 season, on Oct. 28, 2014, which could have been the final day of Kansas City’s 2014 season. The year lasted one more day, in part because of Ventura’s seven scoreless innings in the sixth game of the World Series.
As a rookie, Ventura lit up radar guns, won praise from Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez and started four playoff games. Ventura can now add a new line to his resume: He will start on opening day for the Royals on April 6 at Kauffman Stadium, manager Ned Yost announced Wednesday afternoon.
“He’s ready for it,” Yost said. “He’s got the stuff. He’s got the composure. And he really wants to do it. Wants to be that guy. I wouldn’t say it was an easy decision. But it was a decision that we’re really, really comfortable with.”
The proclamation was hardly a secret. The Royals scheduled Ventura to lead off their rotation from the first week of Cactus League games. Yost finally tipped his hand a few hours before the Royals played host to the White Sox in an exhibition game. When these clubs meet again in 12 days, Ventura will duel with Chicago right-hander Jeff Samardzija.
In determining the order of their rotation, the Royals placed a vote of confidence in youth. Danny Duffy will follow Ventura in the No. 2 spot. The next three pitchers will be Edinson Volquez, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie.
To replace the steadiness of James Shields, Kansas City will rely upon the two youngest members in their rotation.
“The consensus for the coaching staff and everybody we talked to was: Time to let Ventura and Duffy be at the top,” Yost said.
Ventura joins a lineage of opening-day starters that includes Paul Splittorff, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier, Zack Greinke and Shields. For the last two seasons, the presence of Shields rendered this discussion moot. The Royals acquired Shields to lead their club. It was his bequest to pitch the season’s first game.
Shields now holds that mantle for San Diego. In his absence, the Royals expect both Ventura and Duffy to pitch 200 innings in 2015 for the first time in their careers. Ventura made 30 starts and lasted 183 innings in 2014, with a 14-10 record and a 3.20 ERA. He posted an identical ERA in 25 1/3 postseason innings. Given these results, Yost identified Ventura as the “perfect candidate” for opening day.
“He didn’t think he was going to get the nod,” said assistant general manager Rene Francisco, who translated for Ventura. “But he worked for it. He wanted to be the opening-day starter.”
Ventura assuaged some of the fears about his health by avoiding the disabled list last season. But he still experienced a few minor blips. He missed a start in May because of a valgus extension overload in his right elbow. He skipped another outing in late August for back stiffness. And he experienced tightness in his right shoulder during game two of the AL Championship Series.
Duffy also represents an injury risk. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012. He posted a 2.55 ERA in 25 starts last season but was was a non-factor the final two months of the season. Duffy missed time in September because of inflammation in his rotator cuff. He was sent to the bullpen in October as he tried to pitch through a rib-cage injury.
Duffy added about 15 pounds of muscle in the winter. He targeted the 200-inning goal as he revamped his training regimen.
The Royals are encouraged with the results.
“We look at Duffy’s development,” Yost said. “We look at Ventura’s development. Both of these guys are ready to take the next step as starting pitchers. We really like the fact that we’ve got power right, power left, and then our quality veterans after that.”