Yordano Ventura treats opponents with something bordering on disdain, an acknowledgment that when he can command the gifts inherent in his right arm, few lineups can affect him.
As he prepared for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, Ventura offered few compliments about the fearsome lineup of the Toronto Blue Jays. In his mind, as a 24-year-old flamethrower, the Blue Jays will act as mere fodder before him.
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“Everybody knows what I feature every day, it’s no secret to this game,” said Ventura, who received translation from catching coach Pedro Grifol during a news conference at Thursday’s optional workout at Kauffman Stadium. “I’m going to attack the strike zone. If I’ve got to pitch in, if I have to make an adjustment away, I’ll make the adjustment. And I’m going to give everything tomorrow to help this club win and get to the World Series.”
The assignment fell on Ventura’s shoulders after the Royals missed a chance to finish the series at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday. Kansas City allowed the Blue Jays to extend this series, and Toronto will hand the baseball to its ace, David Price.
Kansas City counters with Ventura. He has a 9.57 ERA in three starts this October. He has yet to complete the sixth inning in any of them. Opposing batters are posting a .909 on-base plus slugging percentage against him.
The Royals designated Ventura as the leader of their rotation at the beginning of the season, and then again at the start of the playoffs. Ventura stepped into a spotlight ceded by Johnny Cueto, who has declined to pitch on short rest and offered a trio of performances of varying competence. If the Blue Jays force Game 7, they’ll get another crack at Cueto, who folded in Game 3 at the Rogers Centre.
Ventura has yet to author a definitive statement this October. A rain delay forced his exit from Game 1 of the American League Division Series. He gave up three runs in five innings in Game 4 of that series, then watched his team’s stirring comeback to save their season.
A similar outcome occurred in his last start, Game 2 of this series. Ventura left with one out in the sixth. Three runs were charged to his ledger. His team appeared set for a defeat. After giving up a leadoff single in the first, Price did not allow another hit until Ben Zobrist’s bloop fell between second baseman Ryan Goins and right fielder Jose Bautista.
The Royals responded with a rally that made Price a loser. But manager Ned Yost indicated his club did not learn much from that sequence.
“He’s a guy that’s routinely in the top five in the voting for Cy Young,” Yost said. “He’s a tough matchup. We’re just going to have to hope that we can take advantage of mistakes, if he makes any, and just keep battling. Do whatever it takes to get on base.”
And hope that Ventura holds the line. He knows the stakes on Friday. A loss puts Kansas City’s season on the brink, with an unreliable pitcher in Cueto on the mound. A victory delivers the team to its second pennant in a row.
“Very fortunate and happy that this game has landed on my turn here in Kansas City and with the opportunity for me to take this club to the World Series,” Ventura said. “And I’ll be ready for tomorrow’s game.”