The Royals had great expectations for right-handed pitcher Yordano Ventura when he made his major-league debut in 2013.
Postseason workhorse is a bonus.
When Ventura makes his first start of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, he’ll extend the distinction of being the only pitcher to earn at least one start in each of the Royals’ playoff series over the last two years.
If he records four outs against the Toronto Blue Jays, Ventura will pass Bret Saberhagen for fifth place in career playoff innings pitched among Royals, and there’s a chance that by the time the postseason ends, Ventura could be No. 1 on the list.
Dennis Leonard pitched 50 innings with nine starts for the Royals from 1976-1981. Larry Gura threw 44 innings and had eight starts in the same period.
Ventura has made six starts and has pitched 32 1/3 innings.
Keep in mind, baseball’s postseason structure provides more opportunity to climb the charts. From the Royals’ first playoff appearance in 1976 through 1984, the championship series was a best of five. In 1985, it moved to a best of seven. The division series debuted in 1995 and the Wild Card Game in 2012.
Still, this is heady stuff for the 24-year-old, who is the only starting rotation holdover from 2014.
“The quality of his stuff is the same,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I don’t think he’s gotten any better in terms of his talent, but as a professional and as a competitor he’s gotten a lot better. He’s matured a lot.”
What Yost and the Royals like best about Ventura’s postseason career is the team’s success. In his six starts over two postseasons, the Royals won five times.
Ventura started four postgame games in 2014, saving his best for last. In Game 6 of the World Series, he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Giants, helping the Royals stave off elimination.
This year, the Royals went 1-1 in his ALDS starts against the Houston Astros. Ventura’s terrific second half of the season earned him the Game 1 start, and he trailed after two innings when a rain delay hit.
Ventura gave the Royals five innings and surrendered three runs while striking out eight in Game 4, when the Royals overcame a 6-2 eighth inning deficit to defeat the Astros 9-6.
He makes his seventh career postseason start against the Blue Jays, a team he faced once during the season. Ventura got the victory in the only game the Royals won at Toronto, 7-6 on Aug. 1, after serving up home runs to Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson.
“It’s a very talented group, a lot of power, a lot of experience,” Ventura said through interpreter Pedro Grifol. “On the other end, he’s got to do what he does best and stay within his game.”
Royals postseason career innings pitched
Dennis Leonard 1976-78, 1980-81
Larry Gura 1976-78, 1980-81
Charlie Leibrandt 1984-85
Paul Splittorff 1976-78, 1980
Brett Saberhagen 1984-85
Yordano Ventura 2014-15
Royals postseason career starts
5: Saberhagen, Leibrandt, James Shields