On the weekend before the season began, general manager Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals front office finalized the terms of a five-year, $23 million contract with 23-year-old pitcher Yordano Ventura. The organization cast him as the leader of their rotation in 2015 and a pillar of their franchise in the future.
Three weeks later, Ventura now occupies a place in the nation-wide debate about the behavior of the Royals. He helped catalyze a brawl with the White Sox on Thursday night. For the second game in a row, he exited via an ejection. Once more he faces the possibility of suspension, a few days after vowing not to engage in on-field disputes when Major League Baseball fined him for plunking Oakland third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Reached by phone on Friday morning, Moore declined to condemn the actions of his young pitcher, who the Royals signed for $28,000 from the Dominican Republic in 2008. But Moore, like manager Ned Yost, conceded Ventura must learn to handle his temper as he develops in the major leagues.
“If you’re going to have long-term success, it’s crucial that you manage your emotions well, in a way that’s constructive for the team,” Moore said. “So you have to be able to do that. There’s no doubt, it’s something that you have to manage.”
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Ventura is the youngest pitcher on the Royals roster. Yet his contract status and placement in the rotation have pushed him into a place of prominence for the defending American League champions. He expressed contrition about his role in Thursday’s incident.
The two dugouts exchanged words throughout the night, but the fight began when White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton shouted at Ventura as he ran down the first-base line. Ventura screamed an expletive at Eaton. The dugouts emptied. Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Samardzija threw punches at each other. Five players were ejected: Ventura, Cain, Samardzija, Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez and White Sox starter Chris Sale. Sale reportedly stormed to the Kansas City clubhouse to try to fight Ventura afterward.
Like other Royals officials, Moore framed the club’s recent engagement in spats as part of their responsibility as a winning club.
“I think our guys have done an incredible job of managing some of the things that have came their way, early on in the season,” Moore said. “It’s not unexpected. When you win, those types of things happen. People are coming for you. That’s part of it.”
So once again, the Royals found themselves being discussed not for their roaring start or their sterling bullpen. They have the best record in the American League, but they have suddenly been cast as villains. It is their behavior that causes them to lead segments on ESPN and MLB Network.
The Royals have been hit with 17 pitches, a number which is tied with Texas for the most in baseball. They also play with a brashness and exuberance that could be construed as off-putting by opponents.
“They love to play,” Moore said. “They play with passion. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things as a professional. Our guys realize that. Now you have to go out and do it.”
He added, “I’m not concerned about what anybody else says or does to any of our players. I’m more concerned about how we respond, and how we do things. I trust our group of players, along with Ned and the coaching staff, to make sure that we’re moving on in a way that puts us in a better position to handle some of this stuff going forward.”