BALTIMORE – Yordano Ventura emerged from the dugout, jogged through the rain and bluster and entered the eighth inning for the first time as a Royal. He waded into unfamiliar territory on Friday night, undaunted by both the elements and the sluggers in Baltimore’s lineup, en route to a 5-0 victory.
In his finest start in the majors, Ventura struck out a career-high eight batters during eight scoreless frames. He tossed 113, the most in his seven-start career, surpassing his previous benchmark of 101.
In the final inning, the only drama occurred when Ventura yielded a two-out single to Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. “One more,” manager Ned Yost mouthed from the dugout to his 22-year-old phenom. “And that’s it.”
Ventura responded with aplomb. He grounded out shortstop JJ Hardy with a curveball. Ventura pounded his fist into his glove and returned to the safety of the dugout.
A late-April storm delayed the game for 55 minutes. About 90 minutes into the evening, the rains returned. Still, the Royals (11-11) posted their magic number – they are now 11-0 when scoring four runs – plenty of room for Ventura to breathe.
The Royals came to Camden Yards still stinging from one of their most pitiable offensive performances of the season. On Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field, Indians starter Corey Kluber orchestrated the first complete game of his career, a one-run, 11-strikeout pummeling. A day later, Yost tipped his cap to Kluber and shrugged off his team’s ongoing offensive malaise.
“Even when it’s going good, you’re always going to be complaining about the offense,” Yost said. “It’s just the way it is. If you score five, and win, 5-2, you think you should have scored 10.”
The Royals lived that axiom in the first inning against Ubaldo Jimenez. They played two runs on a walk and three singles. Omar Infante jostled the offense to life with a one-out walk. Eric Hosmer followed him with a single. Billy Butler won a eight-pitch battle with an RBI liner to right, and Alex Gordon stroked a run-scoring hit of his own.
Jimenez leaned into the ropes. His guests could not flatten him. Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas traded groundouts to let Jimenez wiggle free.
The team’s failings were just as acute in the second. Alcides Escobar led off with a single, stole second base and took third on a throwing error by catcher Matt Wieters. There Escobar would remain. Jarrod Dyson struck out, Nori Aoki did likewise and Infante flied out.
Aoki’s punchout was the most disturbing. His greatest asset as a hitter is his ability to make contact. In 155 games with Milwaukee last season, he struck out 40 times. He has already fanned 16 times in 21 games as a Royal – trailing only Butler for the team lead. Aoki atoned with an RBI single in the seventh.
Through the middle innings, the lineup went frigid in the chilly rain. Jimenez found his rhythm, and the Royals did not collect another hit until Jarrod Dyson laid down a seventh-inning bunt single. But Ventura stayed steady.
He worked with traffic on the bases all evening. He plunked Nelson Cruz with a 98-mph fastball in the first, and yielded a pair of singles to start the second. There was a leadoff single in the third, a walk and a single in the fourth, another leadoff single in the fifth.
And still the Orioles could not crack Ventura. He possessed touch with his changeup and curveball, a quality he lacked in his last outing, a four-run stumble against Minnesota. His fastball remains world-class.
The variety of his strikeouts tells the story. Ventura pumped a 98-mph fastball past Chris Davis in the first. He froze Cruz with a third-inning changeup. Former Royal David Lough fanned twice on curves, as did Adam Jones in the sixth.
The lineup came through with another two-run rally in the seventh. Ventura had a four-run advantage to protect. He would not disappoint.