On Sunday afternoon against the Baltimore Orioles, Yordano Ventura threw 96 pitches and the hardest pitch he threw was a 97 mph fastball. So what happened to Ventura’s triple-digit heater?
Well, funny you should ask. (Actually, you didn’t, but for rhetorical purposes, let’s pretend you did.)
Royals manager Ned Yost talked Sunday morning about Ventura’s secondary pitches and how Ventura had to learn to back off on them if he was going to control them. You can power a fastball, but it doesn’t work the same way on a curve or a changeup; those pitches require touch and feel, not brute force. Once Ventura backed off a bit, there was a better chance of those pitches going to their intended location.
And the same thing happened with Ventura’s fastball.
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If you can throw a baseball 100 mph, but you’re not real sure where it’s going, you get worse defense behind you. Outfielders have to play straight up because you might be aiming for the outside corner and hit the inside corner and that means the outfielders might have to go left or right in pursuit of a batted ball.
But if you back off a few miles an hour and now you can hit that outside corner when you want to, outfielders can shade toward the opposite field; that’s where a 97 mph fastball is likely to be hit.
On Sunday, Ventura showed signs of improved control, walking two batters in seven innings.
And one of those walks was issued to Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. Ventura fell behind in the count and didn’t exhibit a whole lot of interest in feeding Machado a cookie to get back in the count. He hit 35 home runs last year and six more this year, so Ventura put him on base. Machado did come around to score, but at least Ventura made someone else beat him, and that’s a sign of maturity.
Young guys think they can get anybody out and often find it would have been smarter to go after someone else.
But Ventura did not spend a whole lot of Sunday afternoon behind in the count. He faced 26 batters and by my count only five of them found themselves in hitter’s counts, 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1. Hitters look for fastballs in those counts and that’s what Ventura threw in those counts, but they must have been well-located because he got away with it.
Another way to keep hitters from crushing fastballs is to throw secondary pitches for strikes; then hitters aren’t exactly sure what’s coming when the pitcher has to hit the strike zone. Ventura is now 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA and — at least early in 2016 — appears to be figuring some things out.
When you’re young, lighting up the radar gun is a good way to get noticed, but once you get to the big leagues, throwing harder isn’t always better.
What Lorenzo Cain said on his way to first base
When hitters reach a milestone they like to collect the baseball for their mantelpiece. Lorenzo Cain hasn’t been tearing the cover off the ball lately, so when he got an RBI single in the seventh inning he ran down to first base, looked into the Royals dugout and said: “Get the ball.”
That’s why Cain and everyone in the dugout were laughing.
Duffy in the ninth inning
The other night against Detroit, Royals reliever Danny Duffy got beat on a changeup and curve when he was throwing 99 mph. On Sunday afternoon, Duffy pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning and threw six pitches; five fastballs and one two-strike curve he buried in the dirt for a swinging strike three.
Pitching in relief is different than starting.
When he was a starter, Duffy had to mix it up; ideally he’d go through the opponent’s batting order three or four times. As a reliever Duffy can gas it up; ideally he’ll see three hitters total and he can throw as hard as he likes.
It doesn’t mean he’ll never throw off-speed — he has to — but when Duffy can get into the upper 90s, use it. But just like Ventura; it would be a good thing if Duffy knows where that upper-90s fastball is going.
Why Buck Showalter has the reputation for over-managing
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter has the reputation of micromanaging ballgames and if you watched Sunday’s game, you know why.
With two outs in the eighth, down 6-1, Showalter decided it was crucial to change pitchers. He had Dylan Bundy on the mound and brought in Zach Britton to face Alcides Escobar.
Down by five runs it was not exactly a turning point in the contest, especially considering the Orioles would have faced Royals closer Wade Davis even if they made the game close.
So Showalter made two teams, both eager to wind up the game and get on the road, sit there and watch him over-manage a pretty much meaningless situation.
Fans will see a manager switching pitchers three times in an inning and assume they’re seeing good managing. Ballplayers look at that and see a guy showing how smart he is and burning up his bullpen while he does it — especially down by five runs in the eighth inning.