It’s already been a full and strange week for Royals rookie sensation Yordano Ventura ... even as he prepares for the most important start of his career tonight in game two of the American League Division Series.
Ventura was off his game Sunday in Chicago, where he gave up four runs on eight hits in four innings. Just over 48 hours later, he was called on in a rare relief role that proved an ill-fated maneuver when he immediately gave up a three-run homer to Brandon Moss and left after getting one out with a postseason ERA of 54.
If that moment seemed too big for him, well, it was in a sense.
“He was in a big spot the other day. He was a little more amped up than he thought he would be, and (than) we thought he would be,” manager Ned Yost said. “But it was a great experience for him.
“We talked to him yesterday about it, and he knew. He said that’s not going to happen again.”
Taking his word for it might not seem like a lot to go on for the first Royals rookie pitcher to start a road playoff game.
But account for the awkwardness of being used in a different way and the moxie he’s routinely demonstrated (and had gobs of with seven shutout innings in a crucial game in Cleveland last week), and Ventura figures to have a reasonable chance to be himself tonight.
And that’s this: a composed 23-year-old who throws 100 mph fastballs and went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA.
“When someone has as good stuff as he has and is able to throw strikes and command pitches, you should be confident no matter the situation,” teammate Jeremy Guthrie said last week. “And I think that’s the case for him.”
2. Ventura’s Path: If you’re wondering “where did they get that guy?” as then Texas-manager Ron Washington marveled after a spring training game, his story is testimony to an essential element of this Royals team: the rise, at last, of home-grown starting pitching and a deep investment in Latin American scouting.
And something to know about the Dominican-born Ventura is this: He started managing pressure when he was 14.
The story remains murky, in part because Ventura still prefers to make use of a translator.
But through some combination of wishing to provide for his divorced mother and believing he was being mistreated in school, that’s when Ventura dropped out of school and began working in construction, Royals assistant general manager for international operations Rene Francisco said in March.
This is a different sort of pressure, of course, but one way or another it also speaks to how Ventura had to grow up fast and why he’s wired to cope with challenges.
3. To Idle An Idol: Part of this pressure-cooker sensation for Ventura will be facing country man Albert Pujols, who has one hit in two career at-bats against him:
“It’s very special. … No. 1, I know what he’s done on the field. Tremendous credentials. But also I know what he’s done off the field (in terms of charity work). … He’s one of those guys that everybody idolizes, and we know how Albert Pujols is.
“But I also have a job to do tomorrow, and my job is to go out there and make pitches. And it’s necessary to get Albert Pujols out and compete against him.”
4. Scioscia’s Flashback: Every game generates its own tale, as the contrast between the Royals’ 9-8 win on Tuesday and 3-2 victory on Thursday reminded in many ways.
One of them: The Royals swiped a playoff record-tying seven bases on Tuesday and just one on Thursday.
But the threat of what Yost calls “havoc” always looms and dictates strategies and counter-strategies in the game within a game.
And there’s no doubt it weighs on Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
“One of their best tools is their ability to create in the base paths, and they do it as well as anybody,” he said before the game Thursday. “I mean, anybody I’ve seen. It’s reminiscent of the Cardinals back in ’85.”
Scioscia should know. He was the Dodgers catcher in that NLCS as the Cardinals scampered to the World Series won by the Royals.
“So even though their slugging percentage maybe isn’t with other clubs when you stack it up, the way they create on the bases adds a lot of situations and offsets some of (that lack of power) …
“You have to, obviously, pay attention to them.”
5. Comfort Food: Looking forward to seeing Alex Smith’s return to San Francisco on Sunday. Sure it will be emotional for Smith, but his move to Kansas City has proven compatible and beneficial for all parties.
And here’s betting he’ll be able to lock in just fine by compartmentalizing, as well-put by coach Andy Reid as he compared it to his return to Philadelphia last year.
“What I did, I just ordered a cheesesteak and then went and coached,” he said. “You focus in on what you do. All the distractions, going home and all that — it doesn’t mean anything. You’re there to play the game, and once you’ve said hi to your buddies it’s over. …
“You’re playing the game, that’s what you’re doing. You’ve got to prepare and you’ve got to go through all the steps here on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
“That’s what it is. Everything else is kind of fluff.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com