The statement was posed as a question. All day, Royals general manager Dayton Moore had answered queries about Yordano Ventura, the embattled starting pitcher at the center of Tuesday’s brawl in Baltimore, the 25-year-old right-hander who was under fire once more.
By late Wednesday afternoon, Moore was on the phone, talking about Ventura’s intensity, about the fearlessness he has shown during two postseasons, about his importance to the Royals’ organization.
“Yordano is a very intense player,” Moore said. “He’s emotional. That’s one of his strengths.”
On early Wednesday morning, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan had reported that the Royals had discussed trading Ventura, broaching “other teams’ interest” in the hard-throwing righty. Moore declined to comment on the speculation but offered this rebuttal to the idea.
“If we traded Yordano Ventura, who are we going to put in the starting rotation that’s as talented as he is?” Moore said. “I may not be the best general manager, but I can count to five.”
One day earlier, Ventura had ignited a melee in Baltimore after plunking Manny Machado in the bottom of the fifth inning. As the fallout from the incident filtered around baseball, the Royals took turns offering support.
Royals manager Ned Yost said there was “more to this thing” than was being portrayed on highlight shows. Left fielder Alex Gordon said Ventura was shouldering too much of the blame for the fight.
“When you look at the two guys involved, I think both guys are at fault,” Gordon said. “I think it’s kind of unfortunate that Ventura is getting all the blame for this situation.”
Both Gordon and Yost referenced Machado’s at-bat against Ventura in the second inning on Tuesday night. After flying out to left, Machado had turned to Ventura and, according to Yost, groused about two inside pitches.
“Look at the whole scenario,” Gordon said. “If I’m Machado, and I did what he did in my second at-bat and walk out of the box and kind of chirp at the pitcher, going into my next at-bat, I expect to be hit. I don’t think he handled it the right way. I don’t think Ventura handled it the right way, but I do think Ventura shouldn’t be getting all the blame. Both sides were in the wrong.”
On Tuesday night, in the moments after a 9-1 loss, Yost had conceded that some of Ventura’s teammates had “probably” grown frustrated with some of his on-field antics, which had contributed to a rash of bench-clearing incidents last season. On Wednesday, Gordon offered a measure of pushback to that idea.
“I would say we’re not frustrated,” Gordon said. “Because if you say you’re frustrated, you’re frustrated with Yordano, and we have our teammates backs no matter what. If something like that happens, we have to stand up, be a team, and handle a situation as a team. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
In the coming days, Ventura will likely face a suspension from the league office. The Royals will likely appeal, allowing him to make his next start — Monday against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium. The question then: Which Ventura will show up?
In 12 starts this season, Ventura has posted a 5.32 ERA while issuing an AL-leading 35 walks. On Tuesday, he allowed six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings before his ejection. For now, though, the Royals still view his improvement as critical to their quest of competing for a third straight American League pennant and returning to the World Series. Which is, in part, why Yost offered a full-throated show of support Wednesday.
“He’s going to have to fight that reputation for a while,” Yost said. “I told him: ‘You cannot quit pitching inside.’ Because that’s what he did last year. He got to the point where he was like: ‘I don’t want any more.’ He quit pitching inside, and it got to the point where we had to send him down.”
A year ago, the demotion lasted just 24 hours. Left-hander Jason Vargas blew out his elbow the following day, and Ventura returned to the rotation, finishing the season with a flourish.
For now, the Royals are prepared to back Ventura again, while recognizing the drama he helped create Tuesday and the ensuing debate he fostered Wednesday.
“Everybody wants to jump on Ventura’s maturity,” Yost said. “But they look at the incident, where (Machado) got hit. They didn’t see the at-bat before, when Manny was screaming at him, ‘Don’t throw inside to me, don’t throw inside.’
“And then what did Ventura do? Did he turn around and say anything? He didn’t look at him. Obviously, when you’ve got one of the best hitters in the American League who doesn’t like being pitched inside, then don’t you just normally think: ‘I’m gonna go back in there, start him off in there.’ ”
“He gets thrown into the spotlight that he’s guilty. There’s more to this thing.”