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Yordano Ventura wins final spot in Royals’ rotation

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, March 17, 2014, at 10:43 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at 2:03 p.m.

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James Shields now has an opponent for Opening Day in Detroit. The Tigers tabbed Justin Verlander with that honor. Verlander is recovering from offseason abdominal surgery. That, combined with the presence of 2013 American League Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, made Verlander less than a certainty for the role.

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The Royals have Tuesday off. It is their only day away on the entire Cactus League schedule. They return on Wednesday evening playing host to the Reds at Surprise Stadium.

QUOTE

“Every day, I’m getting better.” — Alcides Escobar on his sore right shoulder.

— Ned Yost walked across the Royals clubhouse, high-fived Yordano Ventura and told him the worst-kept secret in camp was finally ready for public consumption.

“I told them,” Yost said. “You’re free. You can talk.”

After four outstanding performances in the Cactus League, Ventura won the final spot in the team’s rotation, besting Danny Duffy in the competition. He will start the third game of the season, on April 3 in Detroit. The team hopes his flame-throwing right arm can provide them with 200 innings this season.

Ventura entered this camp as the favorite for the job. Luke Hochevar exited because of Tommy John surgery. Wade Davis shifted to the bullpen to replace Hochevar. And Ventura out-classed Duffy with each passing performance.

Ventura left little doubt on Monday. He struck out six Rangers in six scoreless innings of a 6-0 victory at Surprise Stadium. He allowed four singles and walked none. He survived one hiccup, when he hit a batter and balked in the fourth, with ease.

He utilized the weapons that give the Royals such hope for his future: A fastball blazing past the 100-mph barrier, a devastating curveball and a burgeoning change-up. The combination left Texas flailing and prompted their manager, Ron Washington, to ask “Where did they get that guy?”

“It doesn’t do any good to drag this stuff on,” Yost said. “Really, after an outing like tonight, and after outings like he’s had all spring, you look foolish if you try to continue to hold your cards close to your chest.”

For outside observers, the decision appeared obvious after Ventura’s last performance, when he rolled the Athletics with six strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. Duffy combusted in his previous outing, which only heightened the difference between the two.

If the announcement with Ventura was expected, their next move with Duffy was more of a surprise. For weeks, both Yost and general manager Dayton Moore said they felt Duffy would best serve the club as a starter in Class AAA Omaha. But Yost described a change of course: Duffy will compete for the final spot in the big-league bullpen, making his first relief appearance on Wednesday.

“We want to take the 12 best pitchers that we’ve got,” Yost said. “We want to get off to a good start. I’m sure there’s been a lot of debate amongst ourselves, a lot of debate probably from a lot of different people. But he’s still got to go out and make the team.”

The team never seriously considered using Ventura as a reliever this season. His potential is too immense. Now he slots in between No. 2 starter Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie, who will start the home opener.

Yost broke the news to Ventura after he departed the game. Ventura viewed it as both an honor and a challenge.

“He’s grateful for that opportunity to not only win a job, but compete for it,” said hitting coach Pedro Grifol, who interpreted for Ventura. “Now he’s got to work harder to keep it.”

Ventura began 2013 at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He vaulted all the way to the majors. In a three-start cameo, he posted a 3.52 ERA and elicited hope for this coming year. The team intends to let him capitalize on his promise this season.

“It’s obvious,” Yost said. “Everybody in Kansas City saw it today. It’s obvious.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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