Friday night, Yordano Ventura stepped onto a mound inside the Peoria Sports Complex and started a baseball game for the first time in 126 days. His last start came on Oct. 30 in New York, the last time the Royals lost in 2015. This time, the stakes were considerably lower.
Ventura tossed two scoreless innings as the Royals lost to the San Diego Padres 3-1, falling to 0-3 in the Cactus League. He threw 32 pitches, hit 95 mph with his fastball and struck out former Royals prospect Wil Myers with an 86-mph change-up in the top of the first. After a turbulent 2015, Ventura began laying the foundation for a better 2016.
“I’m feeling great,” Ventura said. “My body, my arm, everything is good.”
For Kansas City, another loss came with some genuine anxiety when center fielder Lorenzo Cain was drilled in the right foot with a 93-mph fastball in the top of the fifth. As the fastball hit his back foot, Cain hit the dirt and writhed in pain for a few moments before slowly coming to his feet. He was replaced by pinch runner Brett Eibner and walked back to the dugout under his own power.
Cain escaped major injury. After leaving the game, he did not seek the assistance of the Royals’ trainers in the clubhouse, instead remaining in the dugout.
“He’s fine,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It kind of got him in the heel. Dr. (Vincent) Key ran in the dugout and said there’s some nerves down there. It made it go numb on him. But by the time he walked out of here, he was fine.”
Before Cain left the game, he scored the Royals’ only run in the top of the third. Cain stroked a two-out double to right-center before coming around to score on an RBI double from designated hitter Kendrys Morales.
The lead evaporated when left-hander Jonathan Dziedzic allowed one run in the seventh inning and right-hander Peter Moylan yielded two runs in the eighth. For the Royals, though, the night offered a first glimpse of Ventura, the hard-throwing right-hander who labored for much of last season before finishing strong in the second half. Ventura posted a 4.08 ERA in 2015, down from a 3.20 mark in 2014. He was at the center of a rash of early-season skirmishes. He threw just 163 1/3 innings during the regular season, nearly 20 innings fewer than in a standout rookie season.
“I think he was trying to live up to the hype of being the No. 1 guy and put a lot of pressure on himself to go out there and live up to that,” Yost said. “And when you’re playing this game, you can’t worry about that. You got to just go out and pitch your game. You got to stay aggressive and play your game.”
Ventura stabilized during the final months of 2015 and made five starts during the postseason. He was on the mound for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, allowing just one earned run in 5 1/3 innings. Now he will try to carry the lessons of 2015 into a new year.
“I thought Yordano Ventura was sharp,” Yost said. ‘Good change-up, good curveball, he looked really, really good the first time out.”
Working just two innings, Ventura said he sought to use his first start to work on his fastball and change-up. He threw just three curveballs in 32 pitches. The next time out, he said, he will incorporate the curve.
“I’m ready to go,” Ventura said. “I’m working hard for my team. We’re ready for the season.”
Left fielder Alex Gordon was zero for two with a walk. First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas had the night off and didn’t travel to Peoria. Shortstop Alcides Escobar and catcher Salvador Perez are expected to make their first appearances of the spring today against the Chicago White Sox at Surprise Stadium.
“The guys we expect to play every day we’re trying to work into it easy,” Yost said. “After we get a week or 10 days, we’ll start doubling them up and tripling them up.”
Left-hander Matthew Strahm offered two solid innings in relief of Ventura. He entered the game in the third and worked two tidy innings, recording two strikeouts during his first outing of the spring. Strahm, 24, recorded a 2.59 ERA in two minor-league stops last season, finishing the season at Class A Wilmington.
The Royals will return home to face the Chicago White Sox at Surprise Stadium at 2:05 today.