Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura had words with Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado on Tuesday night and the next time Machado came to the plate, Ventura drilled him with a 99 mph fastball. (Apparently the velocity’s still there when Ventura is properly motivated.)
Watching from the comfort of my couch at home it appeared Machado believed Ventura hit him intentionally, because Manny charged the mound like a hungry Rottweiler that just heard the word “steak.” The benches cleared, words were exchanged and people who really didn’t want to fight were held back by teammates.
It’s now Wednesday morning and it’s time to diagnose the Royals wild-child pitcher and pontificate on what the Royals ought to do with him.
So, what the heck, let’s get started.
Ventura’s got stuff, but he’s inconsistent
If Vlad the Impaler had a 100 mph fastball someone would sign him (probably the Yankees). Baseball has a long and rich history of putting up with misfits as long as those misfits perform well; Ty Cobb might have been a jerk, but he was jerk who had a .366 lifetime batting average — and now that jerk’s in the Hall of Fame.
So what about Ventura?
Despite being temperamental, at times Ventura has pitched brilliantly: on April 13 he threw six innings against the Astros and gave up one earned run. On April 24 it was seven innings and one earned run against the Orioles. June 2 against the Indians — six innings, one earned run.
Pitchers who can perform like that are incredibly valuable. But Ventura has also been inconsistent; he’s had three outings where he didn’t complete five innings and got lit up like a Christmas tree.
An emotional roller coaster
When Ventura first came to the big leagues he had a ball hit back to the mound and calmly caught it, turned toward second base and started a double play. Afterwards, Royals officials talked about Ventura being unflappable and plenty of people bought into that image.
But before long Ventura was provoking confrontations; he stared down Mike Trout and it seemed like nobody (including Trout) could figure out why. Ventura got into it with Adam Eaton when Eaton thought he was being quick-pitched; Ventura responded with the two words everyone in America can lip read and the second word is “you.”
Ventura drilled Brett Lawrie after he took out Alcides Escobar with a hard slide at second base. (OK, let’s face it; drilling Lawrie goes on the positive side of the ledger.)
Frustrated with the way things were going at the plate one day, Ventura turned around and threw the baseball as hard as he could toward first base. Eric Hosmer had to protect himself and keep the ball from going down the right-field line at the same time. Hosmer later talked to Ventura and explained why trying to kill your first baseman with a billion-mile-an-hour pickoff throw might be a bad idea.
Just recently Ventura stared down Todd Frazier and a confused scout asked me what the heck Frazier had ever done to the Royals.
A willingness to fight when necessary is considered a positive trait in the big leagues. Veterans will try to intimidate rookies and you need to show you’ll fight back or you’re going to spend a lot of time getting pushed around.
Anyway … focus on that word “necessary.”
After Tuesday’s game Ned Yost was asked if Ventura’s teammates were frustrated or irritated with his antics. Ned said, “Probably.” When talking to the media, managers usually protect players at all costs; if a player needs to be aired out, that’s done in private. So for Ned to admit there’s a “little” frustration there probably means there’s a lot of frustration there.
Even when punches aren’t being thrown, people get hurt in those baseball scrums. Guys are pushing and shoving, grabbing and pulling and it’s pretty easy to fall over and screw some body part up. Imagine getting your shoulder separated over a dumb fight somebody else started.
Nobody needs that.
If a player gets into a confrontation, the baseball code says teammates have to join in; but if a teammate is causing unnecessary confrontations, those teammates don’t appreciate it.
Ventura’s put a target on his back
A visiting manager once told me his team really wanted to beat Yordano Ventura. When I asked why, the manager said: “Too much bling.” Ventura’s antics have put a target on his back and it’s not just other teams that will be taking aim; umpires will be on the lookout for any sign of an outburst and other teams might try to provoke one.
So the Royals have a very talented pitcher who carries a lot of emotional baggage out to the mound and if this stuff keeps up they’ll have to decide if he’s worth the trouble. Ventura is currently 4-4 with an ERA of 5.32 so you might say no, he’s not worth the trouble; but over his career Ventura’s 31-23 with an ERA of 3.87 and numbers like those will make you a lot of money.
Now here’s the truth: I really don’t know what the Royals should do with Yordano Ventura — but if Vlad the Impaler ever signs a contract, I’d buy a ticket to watch him pitch.