The sequence replayed itself on a loop, a recurring nightmare in a 3-1 Royals loss. The batters stood at the plate and attempted to pounce on the lukewarm fastballs of Seattle starter Chris Young. Upon impact, the baseball floated into the chilly Pacific Northwest sky. A Mariner settled underneath to collect another out.
A day after raking 16 hits in a Friday night rout, the Royals offense lapsed back into a helpless state on Saturday. They notched just three hits in eight innings against Young, a surgically-repaired right-hander. Their lone run occurred after a fluky third-inning play.
“Right now,” manager Ned Yost said, “we’re just a little inconsistent with the at-bats.” He added, “There’s nothing that can be said. There’s nothing more that can be done. They’re going to get to a point where they’re hot. And when they get hot, they’re going to put a bunch of runs up.”
That moment has yet to arrive, despite occasional hints at a revival. At least the volatility fit a recent pattern. The Royals veer from pole to pole, capable of outbursts and outages. The offense scored eight runs on Wednesday; they scored none on Thursday.
Young benefited from their futility. He had walked 16 batters in 29 2/3 innings this season. He walked none on Saturday. He cobbled together 15 flyball outs. In the process, he bested Royals starter Yordano Ventura (2-2, 2.34 ERA), who served up two home runs and allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings.
“Not a good day,” said Ventura, who spoke afterward without an interpreter for the first time this season. “Every day is not a good day. So today was a little bad day. But I’ve got it next time.”
The unpredictability places an undue stress on each evening’s starter. Their run prevention remains excellent. The starting rotation entered the game with a 3.22 ERA, the third-best in the American League. Yet the offense often lets them down. Ventura recorded two quality starts on this road trip. The Royals lost both games.
On Saturday, the pitching matchup presented a contrast in styles. Ventura entertains the casual fan with the velocity of his fastball. He impresses the more seasoned observer with the maturity of his changeup and curveball. But at 22, his arsenal centers on power more than finesse.
His control, he said, was “a little bad.” He tied a career-high with four walks. The Mariners tagged him for six hits. He could not match his elder, taller counterpart on the mound.
Young is 35. The Mariners are his fourth big-league club. In San Diego, back when his fastball cracked 90 mph, he made an All-Star team in 2007. A series of shoulder injuries robbed him of velocity. Now he relies on guile, movement and the deception created by his 6-10 frame.
“With the deception, we just didn’t get good swings on him,” Yost said.
Young befuddled the first seven batters he faced. The eighth was the team’s least-productive hitter, the slump-ridden Mike Moustakas. He looped a changeup into right field. Charging in was Michael Saunders, who tripped en route. The ball rolled past him, and Moustakas received a triple.
Alcides Escobar was the next batter. He skied a fly ball to the left field warning track. It was deep enough for Moustakas to tag up.
Ventura entered the game with a 2.00 ERA, the lowest among the team’s starter. He also was averaging only six innings a start. The team monitors his pitch counts with a careful eye. But Ventura is still learning to be efficient on the mound.
In his last start, he wrecked a solid evening with one misplaced curveball. San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal parked that pitch in the seats for a game-tying homer. On Saturday, Ventura surrendered the lead when he tried to bury a fastball inside against first baseman Justin Smoak.
The pitch hummed at 96 mph. It was the third pitch of the at-bat, and the first fastball. There would not be a second. Smoak turned on the ball. His two-run shot disappeared over the right-field fence.
A similar result came in the sixth. Outfielder Dustin Ackley belted a changeup for a solo home run. It was an insurance run, even if the Royals lacked the ability to make the extra tally necessary.
“You go back and you look at some of the replays of the pitches, and there were pitches you could hit,” Yost said. “We just didn’t have good swings at them. So, again, you wait it out.”