Judging the Royals

What to watch for as Yordano Ventura takes on the Mets

Yordano Ventura in the ALCS
Yordano Ventura in the ALCS jsleezer@kcstar.com

Look up Yordano Ventura’s matchup numbers against the Mets, and you’ll see that the only hitter he’s faced in the New York lineup is Yoenis Cespedes. Ventura has faced Cespedes seven times; Cespedes got one hit.

That’s it.

The rest of the New York lineup has not faced Ventura, and Ventura has not faced them. You can watch video and read scouting reports until your eyes bleed, but you don’t really know what a pitcher has until you stand in the batter’s box and see his stuff live and up close.

And nobody — including Yordano Ventura — will know what Yordano Ventura has tonight until Yordano gets on the mound and starts pitching to the Mets hitters.

Everybody on both teams will be watching closely; the team that can spot patterns or weaknesses and quickly attack them will have an advantage.

What to watch for

Pitching out of the stretch:

In his last start Ventura surprised everybody by pitching out of the stretch, even without runners on base. Pitching out of the stretch simplifies things — there’s less that can go wrong mechanically — but pitching from the stretch is supposed to take a few miles an hour off a pitcher’s velocity. Last time out Yordano was hitting 98 out of the stretch, so I guess he had a few miles an hour to spare.

If Ventura pitches from the stretch, check the radar gun readings: Can he still get his fastball in the upper nineties?

Outfield positioning:

Royals outfield coach Rusty Kuntz will probably start the game with his outfielders playing straight up, no dramatic shifting or positioning.

He’ll watch closely to see if Yordano is hitting the mitt. Rusty might ask Lorenzo Cain what he’s seeing because Lorenzo has a center field view of home plate.

They’ll probably go through the Mets lineup once to see how Ventura’s locating tonight and if he’s hitting his spots, start to shift in the outfield second time through the lineup. If they show outfield positioning on TV, look for those shifts; if the Royals continue to play straight up throughout Yordano’s appearance, his control is off, he’s missing his spots.

Throwing strikes:

If Ventura is behind in the count he’ll have to make some great pitches. If he’s in a 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1 count the hitters will probably be looking for a fastball; Ventura will need to throw a strike, and the fastball is his best chance of doing so.

If the hitters get the fastball they’re looking for in a location they like, Ventura will be in trouble.

So if Yordano is in fastball counts he needs to throw off-speed pitches or fastballs in tough hitting locations. Hitters ahead in the count look to “turn and burn” — pull the ball — so Ventura might need to hit a spot away, but it depends on the situation.

If there are runners in scoring position the hitter might be happy with an opposite-field single, so he’ll handle the pitch away; if there are two outs and nobody on, the hitter might be looking for extra bases — he’ll turn and burn.

This is why you have to read the scouting reports; a pitcher needs to know a hitter’s tendencies.

Throwing low strikes:

Citi Field is smaller than Kauffman Stadium, so Ventura will want to keep the ball out of the air. An out caught on the left-center field warning track in Kansas City is a home run in New York.

The best way to keep the ball out of the air is to keep the ball down; hitters will tend to hit the top half of the baseball, and that will result in grounders. Watch Salvador Perez’ mitt: If it’s moving up to receive the pitch, that’s not good.

Throwing secondary pitches:

At times Salvador Perez can get first-pitch fastball happy, and if he calls that pitch often enough, some Mets hitter will go up to the plate looking for it 0-0. That’s what Alcides Escobar is doing and it’s working out pretty well for him.

So Perez needs to call for some off-speed stuff on that first-pitch; he doesn’t need or want to do it on every batter, but Sal needs to do it often enough to keep the Mets from cheating on a first-pitch fastball and ripping it — especially with runners in scoring position.

When runners are in scoring position the table is set, there’s nothing more to wait for and hitters should be jumping on the first hittable pitch they see.

So watch for Ventura’s secondary pitches: How soon does he throw them and when he throws them, does he throw them for strikes?

Pitching inside:

If a Mets hitter crowds the plate — and Daniel Murphy immediately comes to mind — will Yordano come inside? If he doesn’t, the Mets hitters will have an advantage; they’ll crowd the plate and that tough pitch away suddenly becomes very reachable.

Ventura got away from pitching inside back when everyone thought he was a troublemaker; he didn’t want to hit anybody or get anything started.

But even the most mild-mannered pitcher needs to pitch inside: if Mahatma Gandhi pitched in the big leagues, once in a while he’d need to knock some hitters on their backsides. (And now that I’ve got that image in my head, I would really like to see the Mahatma dump a hitter on his rear end.)

Staying in control:

At times Yordano Ventura wears his emotions on his sleeve and that can be a good thing; a pitcher needs a certain amount of swagger to compete. Some hitters like to stare a pitcher down; if the pitcher drops his head — if he won’t stare back — the hitter feels like he’s gained a psychological advantage.

When the pitcher meets the hitter’s gaze with one of his own, that’s the same as saying: “I’m not afraid of you, I’m coming after you.”

So some theatrics aren’t bad, but Yordano needs to keep it under control. If Ventura gets too emotional it can backfire. He might try to overthrow his fastball and then he’ll throw it up in the zone. Or — like he did once in the past — he can take out his frustration by attempting a 100-mph pickoff over at first base. Eric Hosmer had to take Yordano aside and explain that killing his first baseman wasn’t a great response to feeling frustrated.

And if the postseason umpiring so far is any indication, Yordano might feel frustrated.

The ball/strike calling in the 2015 postseason has been inconsistent, and if it continues tonight, Ventura needs to let it go and concentrate on making his next pitch. If he spends a lot of time walking around the mound between pitches, that’s not a good sign. If Ventura keeps his tempo — if he gets the ball back and goes — he’ll probably have a better outing.

OK, that’s it.

You’ve now got stuff to watch for, and so do I; enjoy tonight’s game.

New York City resident Ellie Waxman, 34, has no qualms representing her home team, the Kansas City Royals, on Mets turf. Waxman will have plenty of additional supporters as the series moves to Citi Field.

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