The line of demarcation for Royals rookie Yordano Ventura’s first full season in the majors revolves around his elbow injury on May 26, the valgus extension overload that cost him a start.
During his first 10 starts, Ventura (7-8, 3.59 ERA) struck out 9.26 batters per nine innings and pitched to a 3.45 ERA. During his subsequent nine appearances, including one relief outing, he has fanned only 5.19 per nine and posted a 3.75 ERA.
The lowest moment of the second stanza occurred on Sunday, when Ventura bumbled his way into giving up six runs to Boston. For the first time since a game in the Dominican Summer League in 2009, he did not strike out a batter in the start.
Appraised of the difference in Ventura’s statistics since missing time, pitching coach Dave Eiland shrugged. He declined to make a connection between the injury and Ventura’s subsequent struggles with strikeouts.
"He’s still pitching good," Eiland said. "You media guys, analysts, want to get enthralled with, because he throws 100 mph, he should be striking out 10 a game. The league’s making an adjustment."
Ventura has yet to make one of his own. His fastball has stayed steady at about 98 mph during the duration of the season, according to Pitch f/x data. But the critical component of his strikeout ability is his chief offspeed pitch, Eiland explained.
"For me, it all depends on the command of his curveball," he said. "If he’s commanding his curveball for strikes, and being able to expand the zone with it, that’s where his strikeouts come."
The curveball was off on Sunday. Boston outfielder Daniel Nava smoked one for a two-run double in the third inning.
Yet Ventura’s entire arsenal was imprecise during the day. He pumped catcher David Ross a 97-mph fastball an inning later, and Ross thumped a two-run homer.
"This is a big-league learning year for him," Eiland said. "Again, he’s 23 years old. He just turned 23. It’s his first full-year in the big leagues. I still think he’s doing a great job for us."
Hosmer a late scratch
First baseman Eric Hosmer was scratched from Monday’s game because of lingering discomfort in his right hand.
He was hit by a Jon Lester pitch on Sunday, spent the afternoon in the trainer’s room receiving treatment and did not take batting practice.
An X-ray on Hosmer’s hand was negative. But he could not produce strength in his hand.
“Real tough to grip a bat today,” he said. “I could grip it, but there’s not much strength with the hand right now.”
With Hosmer out, Billy Butler manned first base for the first time this season. Salvador Perez replaced Butler as the designated hitter, and Brett Hayes was the catcher.
Perez returned after missing Sunday’s game because of a strained right groin.
Vargas throws bullpen session
Jason Vargas (appendectomy) threw a 20-pitch bullpen session Monday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, and could return as early as Sunday, manager Ned Yost said. Yost had initially indicated Vargas would not throw off a mound until Wednesday.
Instead, Vargas could toss his second session that day, which would put him on track for the weekend. Bruce Chen will take his place in the rotation on Tuesday.
Aoki sits, Dyson plays
With a left-handed pitcher on the mound, Nori Aoki rode the bench on Monday night. Yost started Jarrod Dyson, in part because of his defensive capability, and in part because of Aoki’s ongoing slump.
"A little of both," Yost said. "We’ve got to find some offense, somewhere."
Aoki had three hits in his first 20 at-bats since returning from the disabled list on July 11.
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