Royals

Yordano Ventura shelled as Royals fall to Pirates 10-7

Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura (30) walks off the field after being relieved in the fifth inning during Monday's baseball game against the Piratesat Kauffman Stadium.
Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura (30) walks off the field after being relieved in the fifth inning during Monday's baseball game against the Piratesat Kauffman Stadium. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

The double landed in left field and pitching coach Dave Eiland retreated to a secure phone line inside the Kansas City dugout. For the fourth time in five innings, he rang the bullpen. As Eiland spoke into the phone, Royals manager Ned Yost stalked onto the diamond. He had seen enough of Yordano Ventura.

In the latest chapter of a maddening, mystifying second season, Ventura weathered a pounding from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 10-7 defeat. Ventura allowed six runs, the most he has given up in 14 outings this season, and departed with no outs in the fifth. As the Royals ponder who to remove from their station rotation, Ventura looks like a candidate for a role change.

“He just left too many pitches over the plate,” said catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Ventura. “That wasn’t his intention. But that’s what happened. He just got hit.”

Kansas City Royals pitcher Kris Medlen returns to the lineup following his second Tommy John surgery. Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star

His performance marred a furious comeback from the offense, which peppered Pirates starter A.J. Burnett. Kendrys Morales and Mike Moustakas each smacked home runs of Pittsburgh’s All-Star A.J. Burnett. The Royals trimmed the deficit to one heading into the eighth, only to watch their bullpen falter.

The other relievers were still recuperating from the weekend series in Chicago, so Yost stuck with Kris Medlen for 3 1/3 innings in his first outing since his second Tommy John surgery. Medlen yielded a two-run homer to first baseman Travis Ishikawa after Ventura left in the fifth. He gave up another run in the seventh. He departed with two on in the eighth, and both scored when second baseman Neil Walker tripled off Luke Hochevar.

“Physically, I felt great,” Medlen said. “But I’ve just got to put up some zeros. Especially when you’ve got your guys battling all the way back to within one.”

The pinball scoring should not obscure the day’s most pressing concern. The worry about Ventura (4-7, 5.19 ERA) has lingered for months. Now his performance could produce consequences. The team will activate Jason Vargas from the disabled list on Tuesday. His return leaves manager Ned Yost with six starters and five slots. Ventura is slated to start again this weekend against Houston, but his spot could hang in the balance.

After a dazzling rookie season, Ventura has regressed in agonizing fashion. He has given up at least four runs in seven of his 14 starts. He has lasted fewer than six innings in seven. It is not a surprising outcome – few developmental paths resemble a straight line – but still a painful one for the Royals.

Gone is the swaggering, leg-kicking stalwart from his last October. In his place stands a 24-year-old unable to overwhelm hitters with his fastball velocity and unable to locate his offspeed choices. The combination has led to a sudden fall for a pitcher granted $23 million guaranteed this spring and designated as the club’s Opening Day starter.

“Nothing is scripted in this game,” Grifol said. “This is baseball, and that’s the way it is. And this is a new year. Last year is last year. He’s just got to work and get better. That’s it.”

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost talks about coming off the All-Star break, the return of pitcher Kris Medlen, and facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three-game series starting today. Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star.

At times on Monday, Ventura showed glimpses of his prior brilliance. He defused a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the third, part of a convoluted sequence when he accidentally cut off a throw from Salvador Perez to Eric Hosmer that could have completed an inning-ending double play. Ventura recovered to fan Ishikawa with a curveball.

Yet those moments were rare. He gave up hits to the first five batters in the second inning. Ishikawa thumped a 97-mph fastball for a two-run, opposite-field double to complete a four-run Pirates flurry. Ventura punched his glove with his right hand as he left the diamond.

“Mostly his issues deal with command,” Yost said. “He’s behind in the count, and then he tries to overpower pitches over the plate. And big-league hitters can handle that.”

Two innings later, former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen pounded a curveball as it drifted across the plate. His RBI double prompted Eiland to call down to the bullpen for the third time.

At that point, Medlen had already warmed up once, during the third inning. He began to throw once more. His moment would not arrive until the fifth, when Ventura served up a leadoff double to rookie shortstop Jung-Ho Kang.

Kang’s double was the 10th hit Ventura allowed. Medlen struck out the first two batters he faced. A hanging changeup doomed him against Ishikawa. The two-run shot landed in the Kansas City bullpen.

The Royals climbed back into the game with a two-run homer by Morales in the bottom of the frame. Moustakas opened the seventh with a solo shot. Eric Hosmer followed with an RBI triple. Morales brought the Royals within one with a groundout.

“That’s a good team over there,” Hosmer said. “I think offensively we did a lot of good things tonight.”

But Medlen and Hochevar could not maintain the deficit. Yost wanted to protect his relievers after four games in three days against the White Sox. The team had already been dumped into a hole by Ventura.

Ventura appeared on Monday for the first time in 11 days. It was only his second outing in 38 days, a layoff Yost considered too lengthy to allow for a proper judgment.

“You can’t make a do-or-die start under those circumstances,” Yost said before the game. “We definitely need to get him going, though.”

The gap between outings was created by an onset of irritation in his right ulnar nerve. Ventura lost feeling in three fingers during a start in St. Louis on June 12. The injury marked another blemish on his sophomore campaign.

Turbulence beset him in the season’s first six weeks. Ventura dealt with a recurring case of cramps, a series of emotional outbursts, a seven-game suspension and hints of inconsistency.

Ventura appeared to turn a corner in the middle of May. He logged three consecutive starts that lasted at least seven innings from May 19 to May 31. He allowed only five runs in that span.

The turn was swift. Ventura could not record an out in the fourth inning against Texas on June 6. He pouted on the mound, his shoulders slumped. His body language was so negative that Eric Hosmer spoke to him during the game about it. An outing later, Ventura landed on the disabled list.

At some point next week, Yost will assemble his starting rotation. Monday offered evidence for why that group may not include Yordano Ventura.

“Obviously he’s not feeling too good about what’s going on,” Grifol said. “But he knows that this club needs to be able to do what we need to do. He’s going to continue to work, as hard as he can, to get back to where he needs to be.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4730 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @McCulloughStar. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.


Pirates 10, Royals 7

Pitt.

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

G.Polanco rf

5

2

2

0

0

1

.244

N.Walker 2b

5

0

1

2

0

1

.275

McCutchen cf

5

0

2

1

0

3

.294

S.Marte lf

5

2

3

0

0

1

.280

Kang ss

4

2

2

0

1

0

.278

P.Alvarez dh

5

1

2

2

0

2

.233

Cervelli c

4

1

1

0

0

1

.285

Stewart c

1

0

1

0

0

0

.302

Ishikawa 1b

5

1

3

4

0

2

.174

Rdriguez 3b

5

1

0

0

0

2

.201

Totals

44

10

17

9

1

13

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Escobar ss

5

1

2

0

0

0

.296

Moustakas 3b

3

1

2

2

0

0

.301

L.Cain cf

5

1

1

0

0

0

.319

Hosmer 1b

4

2

3

1

1

1

.298

Morales dh

5

1

1

3

0

0

.280

S.Perez c

5

0

2

0

0

1

.256

Infante 2b

3

0

1

0

1

0

.233

Rios rf

4

1

1

0

0

1

.249

J.Dyson lf

3

0

1

0

0

1

.259

Totals

37

7

14

6

2

4

Pitt.

040

120

120

10

17

0

Royals

100

120

300

7

14

1

E: L.Cain (6). LOB: Pittsburgh 8, Kansas City 8. 2B: G.Polanco (18), McCutchen (25), Kang (11), Ishikawa 2 (3), Infante (19), Rios (7). 3B: N.Walker (1), Hosmer (3). HR: Ishikawa (1), off Medlen; K.Morales (12), off Burnett; Moustakas (9), off Burnett. RBIs: N.Walker 2 (36), McCutchen (57), P.Alvarez 2 (43), Ishikawa 4 (5), Moustakas 2 (36), Hosmer (48), K.Morales 3 (65). SB: S.Marte (18), A.Escobar (7), Rios (7), J.Dyson 2 (14).

Runners left in scoring position: Pittsburgh 6 (N.Walker, Ishikawa 2, S.Marte 2, S.Rodriguez); Kansas City 5 (Moustakas 2, A.Escobar 2, L.Cain). RISP: Pittsburgh 6 for 23; Kansas City 2 for 9. Runners moved up: N.Walker, Kang, P.Alvarez, K.Morales. GIDP: L.Cain, K.Morales, Infante. DP: Pittsburgh 3 (N.Walker, Kang, Ishikawa), (Kang, Ishikawa), (S.Rodriguez, Kang, Ishikawa).

Pitt.

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Burnett W, 8-3

6

11

6

6

1

2

93

2.44

Bastardo

0.1

1

1

1

0

0

4

4.08

Hughes

0.2

1

0

0

0

0

3

2.18

Watson

1

1

0

0

0

1

20

2.05

Melancn S, 30

1

0

0

0

1

1

20

1.43

Kansas City

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Ventura L, 4-7

4

10

6

6

1

7

92

5.19

Medlen

3.1

4

4

4

0

4

52

10.80

Hochevar

1.2

3

0

0

0

2

26

3.32

Ventura pitched to 1 batter in the 5th. Burnett pitched to 2 batters in the 7th.

Holds: Bastardo (5), J.Hughes (14), Wastson (21). Inherited runners-scored: Bastardo 1-1, Medlen 1-1, Hochevar 2-2. HBP: by Burnett (J.Dyson, Moustakas), by Watson (Moustakas). Balk: Burnett.

Umpires: Home, Phil Cuzzi; First, Gerry Davis; Second, Tony Randazzo; Third, Will Little. Time: 3:31. Att: 38,169.

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