The probable replacement for Ervin Santana in the Royals rotation glanced at his sneakers. His teammate Christian Colon was translating for him after his best outing of the spring.
“He felt great out there,” Colon said of Yordano Ventura. “He just hopes to continue to do that.”
A little less than three weeks shy of opening day, the team has yet to deem Ventura worthy of the starting five. He continues to duel with Danny Duffy, who offered an encouraging three-inning performance on Sunday against the Rockies. But Ventura delivered an emphatic, 4 1/3-inning statement in a 3-1 victory over the Athletics on Wednesday.
Ventura, 22, struck out six, walked none and allowed only a pair of singles. His fastball clocked in its usual 96-to-98 mph range and was “really jumping” in the eyes of manager Ned Yost. When necessary, Ventura reached the triple digits. In the fourth, he fanned Josh Donaldson with a 102-mph missile. Ventura also spotted up on both sides of the plate and utilized his change-up late in the count, catcher Salvador Perez said.
Yost pulled Ventura after he allowed a single in the fifth. A run came around to score that inning, but it did not tarnish Ventura’s outing.
“That was pretty darn good, boy,” Yost said.
Ventura’s outing provided a fitting accompaniment for the morning’s developments. The Braves introduced Santana on a one-year contract worth a reported $14.1 million, the same terms as the Royals’ qualifying offer in November. Santana rejected that and sought riches on the open market.
Instead, he searched for months for a multi-year lifeline that never came. The Royals moved forward with a four-year, $32 million deal for Jason Vargas and a $4.25 million reunion with Bruce Chen. General manager Dayton Moore explained he did not regret how his organization handled the situation, moving aggressively on Vargas rather than waiting out Santana.
“It’s hard to predict,” Moore said Wednesday. “But at the end of the day, I think Erv’s going to do very well. And we’re going to get the pick. And it all worked out.”
The draft-pick compensation is the 28th selection in the June draft, which was worth $1.785 million in last summer’s draft. In summation, the Royals converted the rights to a minor-league reliever, Brandon Sisk, swapped to the Angels last October, for a strong season from Santana and an extra first-round draft pick.
But they also must replace Santana on the field. He logged 211 innings for them with a 3.24 ERA. The team intends for Vargas, a veteran left-handed command specialist, to offset some of what was lost. But they also bank on contributions from Ventura and Duffy, along with lefty Chris Dwyer and perhaps 2012 first-rounder Kyle Zimmer.
“It’s part of the equation,” Moore said. “That’s for sure.”
Despite his age and stature, Ventura may be the most reliable. Both Duffy and Dwyer battle their command issues each day. Zimmer is crawling through his throwing program after an offseason recurrence of biceps tendinitis. Thus it falls to Ventura, who impressed observers with his three-start cameo in the majors last season.
He stands 5 feet 11 and weighs 180. He looks slight. But team officials vouch for his durability. In February, Moore indicated Ventura could handle 200 innings this season.
The belief is not outlandish, one American League talent evaluator said.
“Some guys pick on his size,” the scout said. “I don’t get that. He’s strong like a bull. He’s like Pedro” Martinez.
The challenge for Ventura is simply harnessing his gifts. This spring he has asked veterans Bruce Chen and James Shields for advice on dialing back his velocity early in games. Perez issued similar guidance on Wednesday.
“Sometimes he tries to throw 110,” Perez said. “So I have to tell him to calm down a little bit.”
Ventura didn’t have that problem on Wednesday. Team officials raved about his composure, the ease of his delivery and the quality of his off-speed offerings. For a club seeking to replace a former standout like Santana, Ventura provided a reason for optimism.
“Pretty impressive stuff,” Yost said.