Friday night Yordano Ventura threw five scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians and one bad one. And because Ventura’s teammates weren’t hitting, that one bad inning was enough to cost the Royals the game.
In the first two innings Ventura threw 29 pitches, 15 were off-speed and that’s about 52 percent. The Cleveland Indians did not score in those first two innings; throwing secondary pitches keeps hitters from sitting on the fastball.
In the third inning Ventura threw 27 pitches, six were off-speed and that’s about 22 percent. In that third inning Ventura gave up four runs and four hits and every hit came on a fastball. Ventura was throwing fewer secondary pitches and that made hitting easier.
In the scoreless fourth inning Ventura went back to throwing more secondary pitches; he threw 11 pitches, eight were off-speed and that’s 73 percent.
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So what have we learned so far?
Math is hard early on a Saturday morning.
I’m a little bleary after a late Friday night (heck, I’m a little bleary after an early Tuesday night) so if I’ve miscounted any pitches forgive me. Nevertheless, it would appear that Ventura is a better pitcher when he mixes it up and changes speeds.
Why Ventura didn’t mix it up in the third inning is still a bit of a mystery.
Through coach Pedro Grifol, Ventura said he gave up a hit in the third inning and then just started throwing fastballs. When asked why he went away from his secondary pitches the answer was a bit vague, but it seemed to be because Ventura lost focus.
When catcher Drew Butera was asked why Ventura went away from his secondary pitches — was Butera neglecting to call them or was Ventura shaking them off — Butera said the answer was a bit of both.
After the third inning Butera and Ventura huddled and decided to get back to using more off-speed pitches and Yordano threw three more scoreless innings, but by then, the damage was done. Yordano Ventura has all the talent in the world, but this is the kind of thing that keeps him from getting the most out of his talent.
Did Ventura hit Lindor on purpose?
In that third inning Francisco Lindor broke a long hitless streak with a double, looked into his dugout, grinned and pumped his fists. His teammates were laughing and pumping their fists in return.
The next time Lindor came to the plate Ventura hit him with the first pitch. Lindor appeared to ask catcher Drew Butera about it, seemed satisfied with the answer and took his base.
You can ask about incidents like this after a game, but most of the time nobody is going to say anything on the record. If a pitcher admits he hit a guy on purpose he might get fined; if a hitter says it was intentional he might get something started with the other team.
If the Indians choose to respond they have two games left to do it in, but with the playoffs just around the corner they might want to take care of it next year or ignore it completely. (And just in case you’re wondering: yes, teams will wait a year to hit a guy they think needs hitting. You put it on your to-do list and wait for the right opportunity.)
Here’s why this matters: if Ventura hit Lindor on purpose it’s a sign that Yordano can still be distracted from the matter at hand; getting people out.
Drew Butera’s season
Drew Butera hit a triple on Friday night and finished the evening with a batting average of .282 and a slugging percentage of .487. A lot of backup catchers get abused at the plate, but Butera doesn’t.
Butera has also thrown out 29 percent of would-be base stealers and Rusty Kuntz says that means the Royals don’t have to wait to face a team of lead-footed sluggers to give Salvador Perez a day off; Butera can hold the fort.
And guess which Royals pitcher has an ERA of 0.00. Frankly, I don’t see how Butera isn’t the opening day starter in 2017.
Having a backup catcher this good is a luxury; Royals fans might hope it’s a luxury the Royals can afford.