He had gone 60 days between appearances, first felled by a bruised finger and then stranded on a rehabilitation assignment by a Royals club in little hurry to return him to the major leagues.
Francisley Bueno entered in the seventh inning of a 3-2 victory over the Cardinals assigned a simple but vital task: serve as the bridge between starter Yordano Ventura and the club’s wipeout, late-game duo of Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
Manager Ned Yost turned to Bueno because he lacked suitable alternatives. Kelvin Herrera had crumbled the night before. Aaron Crow was unavailable because of recent usage. Wilking Rodriguez is a rookie with an inning of big-league experience, Michael Mariot carries a 6.52 ERA and Tim Collins has devolved into a pint-sized can on gas.
So it was up to Bueno, a 33-year-old Cuban southpaw. He performed his job with aplomb. He induced a pair of groundouts. He froze utility infielder Daniel Descalso with an 88-mph fastball for the third out.
As he left the field, he raised his hands skyward and slapped his glove. Davis and Holland buzzed through the final two innings, and the Royals (29-31) captured their third victory in four games of this I-70 Series.
On Wednesday, the Royals waited nine innings before denting Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. A day later, Michael Wacha, Wainwright’s 22-year-old counterpart, stifled them in similar fashion.
Wacha throws a curveball, but it does not carry the potential for humiliation like Wainwright’s does. He also wobbled earlier than his veteran teammate. The Royals pecked out three runs in the sixth inning thanks to a pair of doubles and a trio of singles.
The extra-base hits opened the flurry. After Alcides Escobar’s double, Nori Aoki notched the Royals’ first run by slicing an RBI double just inside the left-field line. Aoki advanced to third on a groundout, so Cardinals manager Mike Matheny drew his infield closer.
The positioning backfired. Eric Hosmer rolled a single into right to tie the game. Alex Gordon floated another two-out hit, and Perez hopped the go-ahead hit up the middle soon after. The scoring put Ventura in line for the victory.
Ten days ago, Ventura walked off the mound midway through the game with assistant trainer Kyle Turner by his side. He complained of elbow pain. Alarm bells rang, even after an MRI determined no structural damage to Ventura’s ulnar collateral ligament.
Even after Ventura skipped one start, Yost opted for a disdainful tone. “It wasn’t an elbow injury,” he said a few hours before the game, even if the team’s medical staff disagreed. The valgus extension overload occurred when the bones in Ventura’s elbow collided as he threw his fastball. His velocity dipped as low as 91 mph during that fretful start against the Astros.
The club placed no restrictions on Ventura for Thursday. Yost estimated he could throw more than 100 pitches. Even so, he conceded, “we’ll have our eyes closely on him all day long.”
Ventura conveyed reasons for optimism at the start. He touched 100 mph in the first inning. Less encouraging was his command. He worked around a single and a walk in the first, but St. Louis tagged him for a two-out run in the second.
Part of the responsibility falls with Lorenzo Cain. He undershot a line drive from outfielder Peter Bourjos, which rolled past him for an RBI triple. Bourjos had belted a 96-mph fastball, which can be quite vulnerable when thrown belt-high.
Ventura surrendered another tally with two outs in the fourth. Jon Jay singled on a 94-mph fastball. Ventura buried Bourjos with two strikes, but fired four consecutive fastballs outside the zone.
The stadium’s radar gun registered Ventura’s next fastball at 92 mph. Matt Carpenter smashed a grounder to the right side of the infield. Eric Hosmer sprawled to his right and knocked down the ball. He couldn’t glove it, though, and Jay raced home for his second run of the game.