On Sunday afternoon, after Yordano Ventura received the first ejection of his brief big-league career, fellow Royals starter Edinson Volquez pulled him aside. He did not reprimand Ventura for hitting Oakland third baseman Brett Lawrie with a 99-mph fastball. But he did remind his 23-year-old teammate about the club’s ultimate pursuit.
"I don’t mind whatever he did last night," Volquez said. "But the biggest thing for us is winning, to stay in the game as long as you can and give us a chance to win. And he understood that."
The incident occurred in the fourth inning of a loss to the Athletics. Ventura hit Lawrie after allowing a three-run home run to outfielder Josh Reddick. Umpire Jim Joyce ejected Ventura. The night before, Lawrie injured the knee of shortstop Alcides Escobar with a takeout slide, and Joyce could not ignore the context of the situation.
Joyce threw out Ventura even though he had not issued a warning to either side before the game. The quick hook surprised manager Ned Yost "a little." Yost mentioned how White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija was not ejected on Opening Day for hitting Lorenzo Cain after yielding a home run. But Yost acknowledged the circumstances on Saturday were different.
In this current era of baseball, players are often reluctant to discuss these situations on the record. An informal survey of Royals on Sunday revealed Ventura’s teammates felt his actions were justified after Lawrie’s spikes-up slide. His teammates found the timing unfortunate, which contributed to Ventura’s ejection.
Before Sunday’s game began, Yost indicated he had not yet heard from Major League Baseball regarding potential discipline for Ventura, but he expected he "probably" would in the near future. MLB has made strides in recent years to reduce plunkings.
"I’ll hear it when I hear it," Yost said. "I don’t know what to expect."
The ejection exposed the Royals’ relief corps to extended duty at a time when they are without closer Greg Holland and in the early stages of a 19-day stretch without a day off. Yohan Pino delivered a stellar performance to soak up 4 2/3 innings to prevent major damage to the bullpen, but the point remained.
Saturday marked the second time Ventura engaged an opponent in an uncongenial manner. He shared words with Angels star Mike Trout in his previous start. He appeared to be walking toward Lawrie as Lawrie ambled to first base on Saturday. In both instances, catcher Salvador Perez grabbed Ventura and dragged him from the fray.
Yost chalked up these incidents to Ventura "part of growing up in the big leagues."
"He’s got an edge to him," Yost said. "And that’s all part of your job as a coaching staff, is to continue to help these kids grow and get better and become smarter players, more consistent players. It’s all part of it. It’s like anything else."
Volquez felt a similar responsibility. He debuted as a 22-year-old in Texas a decade ago. He endured a career complete with seismic shifts before rejuvenating himself last season in Pittsburgh.
In Ventura, Volquez said, he found a receptive audience to his advice.
"He got it," Volquez said. "He told me last night he understands the role now. He’s got to stay in the game. He’s got to pitch his own game. There’s a lot of people in the stands who come to see him pitch.
"He’s got a lot of fans. He’s one of the favorites in the city. Everybody comes to see him pitch that day. They don’t want to see somebody take him out in the third or the second inning. Now he understands, he’s got to stay in the game a little bit longer. But he’ll be good. He’ll be alright."