Judging the Royals

Why some pitchers don’t like to be the Opening Day starter

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Edinson Volquez jsleezer@kcstar.com

Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez recently told Star beat writer Rustin Dodd that he didn’t particularly want to start on Opening Day.

Edinson is not the only pitcher that feels that way; baseball players thrive on routine and there’s nothing routine about Opening Day.

Opening Day tends to include a lot of pregame ceremonies — having won the World Series the Royals will have more than usual — so it’s difficult to know exactly when the game will start.

If a pitcher mistimes it, he might have to warm up more than once.

And then there’s the opposing pitcher.

If your home opener is also the first game of the season, that means you’re the No. 1 starter for your team. That also means you’re facing the other team’s No. 1 starter and until days off or rainouts throw things out of sync, you’ll be facing top-of-the-rotation pitchers for a while.

Yordano Ventura got the Opening Day start in 2015 and here are the opposing pitchers he matched up with in his first six starts:

1.) Jeff Samardzija: 11-13/4.96 ERA

2.) C.J. Wilson: 8-8/3.89 ERA

3.) Jesse Hahn: 6-6/3.35 ERA

4.) Chris Sale: 13-11/3.41 ERA

5.) Danny Salazar: 14-10/3.45 ERA

6.) David Price: 18-5 /2.45 ERA

In his first six starts, Yordano Ventura matched up with only one pitcher who would go on to post a losing record and an ERA over 4.00. When you’re facing top-of-the-line starters, you can pitch really well and still wind up with a losing record.

Yordano was inconsistent and finished 2-2 with an ERA of 5.13 in those first six starts.

In 2012 the Royals announced Bruce Chen was their Opening Day starter and some people had a fit, and I’m pretty sure I was one of them. The fact that Bruce was the best pitcher the Royals had to start the 2012 season did not appear to be a good sign.

But I missed the point. Bruce Chen was the Opening Day starter not because he had the best stuff on the Royals staff. Bruce Chen was the Opening Day starter because he was best prepared to handle the situation psychologically. Bruce had been in the big leagues a long time and was not going to lose confidence if he got off to a poor start.

Last year at about this time I wondered if Yordano Ventura was mature enough to handle the pressure of being the No. 1 starter and — based on 2015 — I think you’d have to say the evidence is mixed.

On the other hand, maybe Yordano needs to belive he’s the No. 1 guy on the staff.

In 2015, Yordano’s ERA in July was 5.63. Johnny Cueto came to the Royals at the end of the month and in August, Ventura’s ERA was 3.41 and in September/October of the regular season Ventura’s ERA was 3.14. The easy explanation is Cueto was “mentoring” Ventura, but here’s an alternative explanation: Yordano Ventura may have felt competitive when another pitcher got so much attention. And if that’s true, it means one of two things:

A.) Ventura needs to be the No. 1 starter to give him confidence, or

B.) Someone else needs to be the No. 1 starter to make Yordano compete

I’m not a pitching coach, manager, GM or psychologist, so I’m glad someone else has the burden of figuring this thing out.

But don’t hold your breath

Ned Yost is probably not going to announce his Opening Day starter until he has to. We badger him for this kind of information all the time, but there’s no good reason for Ned to go out on a limb. Let’s say he names Ventura as the guy and then Ventura pitches lousy or blows a hamstring or falls off one of those hover boards that ought to be banned from the Royals clubhouse.

(I know, because Jarrod Dyson let me ride his and I almost killed myself when I tried to step off the thing. Dyson made his most important catch of the season when he grabbed me before I could slam into a wall. Ballplayers — and most reporters — are way too immature to have those things around.)

Anyway…

So say Ventura is named the Opening Day starter and then for some reason it needs to be someone else and then Ned has to go back on what he said (and get criticized for it) and then let some other pitcher know he was actually the No. 2 guy until something happened to Ventura.

Better to wait until the last minute to announce an Opening Day starter and who made the roster and who’s singing the national anthem.

But let’s hope that Opening Day starter is someone who actually wants to pitch that day, because a lot of pitchers don’t.

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