The kid called “Ace” is bringing his high heat to the Royals’ quest to return to postseason for the first time in 28 years.
Right-hander Yordano “Ace” Ventura, the organization’s most-advanced pitching prospect, will make his major-league debut tonight when he starts in place of an ailing Danny Duffy against the Cleveland Indians.
“We all thought about just doing a bullpen day (to replace Duffy),” manager Ned Yost said, “but the intrigue ... let’s see what we’ve got. It’s kind of a tough spot to put Ventura in, but he’s got good-enough stuff.
“We’ll watch him real closely. He can go as long as he’s throwing strikes.”
Ventura touches 100 mph on his fastball despite his size at 5 feet 11 and 180 pounds, but he also flashes a curve and change-up for a power mix that often draws comparisons to Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera.
“I’m very excited,” Ventura said in using veteran pitcher Bruce Chen as an interpreter. “I’m going (to do) everything I can to do a good job for the team.”
Duffy is missing a second straight start because of what he and club officials are characterizing as inflammation in the flexor muscle of his left (pitching) elbow.
“It’s just inflamed,” he said. “I had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging test), and it confirmed I have no structural damage whatsoever. We’re all just taking some precautions.”
Duffy said the injury is not related to his new ulnar collateral ligament, which he received June 13, 2012, in a procedure commonly know as Tommy John surgery.
“I’ve felt like Superman every time I’ve started,” he said. “I’m not surprised that it happened. It’s a normal thing (after Tommy John surgery). I just wish it could have waited at least two more weeks.”
Duffy made 21 appearances this season, covering 931/3 innings, including 241/3 innings in five big-league starts.
“They skipped me the first time for matchup reasons,” he said. “I’ve pitched against the Tigers a lot in the last month. But I was also feeling some fatigue. A little bit. But none of this has anything to do with the UCL.”
While Duffy and club officials said the decision was primarily a precautionary measure, all conceded it’s possible he won’t pitch against this season.
“We’re going to be really cautious with him,” Yost said, “but we’re not ruling it out.”
So up from Class AAA Omaha comes Ventura, who entered the season ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s No. 3 prospect behind right-handed pitcher Kyle Zimmer and outfielder Bubba Starling.
The Royals must make a corresponding move to clear space for Ventura on their 40-man roster before the game.
While it will be Ventura’s big-league debut, it will be his second appearance at Kauffman Stadium; he started for the World team in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game.
As for facing the Indians?
“I’ll talk to everybody,” he promised. “Everybody has more time than me. I’ll listen to everything they say.”
Ventura was 5-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 15 games after joining the Storm Chasers from Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He had 81 strikeouts but 33 walks in 77 innings.
Duffy was on the Omaha roster for many of Ventura’s starts.
“He throws gas,” Duffy said. “He’s got a really good curveball, and a really good change-up. He’s a lot like me. If he wrangles his stuff, it’s going to be scary. I’m excited to watch him pitch.”
Ventura was slotted to start Omaha’s postseason opener at Oklahoma City (Astros), but he was pulled from that assignment after arriving to the ballpark just 50 minutes before the start of the game.
“Sometimes, you make mistakes,” he said. “You have to learn from those mistakes. I apologized to my teammates, and I won’t the mistake again.”
The Royals reinstated Ventura for the Pacific Coast League championship series against Salt Lake (Angels). He started the second game and allowed one run in six innings but got a no-decision in the 2-1 victory.
Omaha won the PCL title and had listed Ventura as a likely starter tonight against Durham (Rays) in the Triple-A Championship game in Allentown, Pa.
Now that start will come in the big leagues with the Royals doggedly pursuing their long-shot quest to reach postseason.
“I needed a spot starter, and it’s day (to pitch),” Yost said. “I could have (used long relievers), but I like the way our pen is set up right now. And I want to see (Ventura).
“We may adjust again after (Tuesday). We’ll see what we’ve got, and we’ll move forward from that.”