Vahe Gregorian

Yordano Ventura’s move to Omaha could be just blip in larger narrative for young starter

Yordano Ventura (left) had an early exit in Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was optioned to AAA Omaha on Tuesday.
Yordano Ventura (left) had an early exit in Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was optioned to AAA Omaha on Tuesday. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

Royals rookie Yordano Ventura ascended so rapidly and seamlessly to the pinnacle of his profession last year that it was natural to shrug off his precociousness at 23 years old.

And it was easy to simply assume that his trajectory would be an ever-upward arc.

His regular-season, marked by a 14-10 record and a 3.20 ERA, was cause enough for optimism, but coming through in the caldron of the postseason escalated that anticipation to another tier.

When he yielded just two runs in 12 1/3 innings in the World Series, including a masterful performance in game six with the Royals facing elimination and Ventura mourning the death of friend Oscar Taveras, it seemed no circumstance would be too much for Ventura to withstand.

He was a budding national hero when he returned to the Dominican Republic a few days later, as hundreds, if not thousands, greeted him at a toll booth on his way home to Las Terrenas.

Then he made his way to the beach and an open-air café, Restaurant Luis, his favorite place to be and where he would later eat lobster fresh out of the water and laugh easily on a carefree January day as he showed The Star around his life.

As stardom beckoned, no sooner did the 2015 season begin than Ventura abruptly went supernova.

Suddenly, he went from outshining a galaxy a year ago to flaring out and, finally, fading from view on Tuesday when the Royals announced Ventura, their opening day starter, was being sent to Class AAA Omaha.

The move in part was made to alleviate a logjam with what appears will be a short-lived return of Jason Vargas, who left the game against Pittsburgh in the second inning on Tuesday night with an elbow injury that was to undergo an MRI.

At press time, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that Vargas’ loss would mean reinstatement of Ventura.

But the crux of the matter was a remedial step that needs to be taken with Ventura, who still has the right stuff but has to find his equilibrium.

Jarring as this might seem, the notion of optioning him was one the Royals needed to make lest they be perceived as being guided by one of the definitions of insanity:

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results — from a pitcher who at various times has misplaced his mojo, self-control, pitching control and even confidence on the way to generating just 15 innings in his last four starts, including giving up six runs in four innings on Monday.

Any expectation that, shazam, he will just find himself was fool’s gold propped on a trap door inside a mirage.

Right now the Royals can only hope and guess they might get a productive start from Ventura, and that’s not good for them or him if he’s going to resume the promising path he’d been on.

And why shouldn’t he resume that, by the way?

What he did a year ago means there is every reason to believe this all is merely a blip, and it’s ample reason to believe the move ultimately will prove manager Ned Yost’s words prophetic.

“A lot of times, it’s good for players to take a step back,” Yost said, “so that they can take three or four steps forward.”

That matters more than how it came to this, really, which is a multi-layered riddle with no one answer but also worth trying to understand.

And you can bet the prime elements include squeezing too hard to justify his newly minted $23-million contract and appointment to the top of the rotation.

That manifested itself early with overpitching and outlandish behavior that led to him being suspended by Major League Baseball and reeled in by the Royals.

Ventura was mistaking flamboyant bravado for competitiveness, something he had scant inclination toward in 2014.

It affected his composure … which in turn undermined his mind-set and control … which in turn sabotaged his swagger.

All of that helps explain how Ventura produced only 22 innings in his first four starts, each of which ended with ultimately self-inflicted departures (twice by cramping, twice by ejections).

So now, when the Royals were scheduled to give out a bobblehead of Ventura on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium, Ventura will be in Omaha starting for the Storm Chasers against the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Ventura wasn’t available to comment on Tuesday, but Yost said Ventura understood the move.

If the examples of Mike Moustakas and Danny Duffy a year ago serve as any example, Ventura went knowing this wasn’t a punishment or even a regression so much as a pause to fine-tune, relax and get back to basics.

As no doubt was impressed upon Ventura, Moustakas and Duffy also had the psychological benefit of knowing that their place in Kansas City basically was being held for them.

“When you really think about it, they send you there because they know they need you,” Duffy said. “We need Yordano. It’s not about any kind of demotion or anything; it’s about ‘we need you.’

“‘We need you right, so get right and come back and carry this squad,’ and that’s what he’s going to do.”

It all seems a long way from the end of last season and that serene scene on the beach when it appeared all was perfect in Ventura world.

But Ventura hardly is the first young pitcher to go through turbulence, as Yost noted in citing the careers of Kelvin Herrera and Edinson Volquez, and few ever will know uninterrupted success on the way to becoming who they are.

Because no matter how easy and simple it all might look, nothing just happens. Every season is its own adventure and own story, and Ventura’s remains to be written even if it hasn’t gone to script so far.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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