CLEVELAND — Mike Moustakas has suffered indignities this baseball season. He slumped from the start, heard jeers in his home ballpark and earned a demotion to the minor leagues. His at-bats often end in strikeouts or pop-ups, a flurry of failure that obscures an undeniable reality: He can still pulverize a baseball when his barrel connects.
A reminder occurred in the sixth inning of a 7-1 Royals victory over the Indians on Friday night. The victim was Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin. Moustakas had just whiffed on a cutter a few inches out of the strike zone. With the count full, Tomlin chose to repeat this tack, flinging another cutter, this one higher in the zone.
Moustakas did not whiff.
His three-run shot provided a healthy cushion for starter Yordano Ventura, and bolstered the team’s fourth win in five games. Ventura limited Cleveland to six hits across 8 1/3 innings. He relied on a combination of weak contact and stingy defense. When the Indians struck line drives, the Royals defenders ensnared them. A solo home run by Michael Brantley spoiled Ventura’s bid for a shutout.
The team also benefited from a newcomer. In the first two at-bats of his career, utility infielder Christian Colon tripled and doubled. He scored soon after on a pair of singles from Lorenzo Cain. For good measure, Colon scored Moustakas with a double in the ninth.
When Omar Infante suffered a recurrence of tightness in his lower back, the team scratched him and inserted Colon into the lineup. The injury afforded Colon, the No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft, the first start of his career.
His tour of duty might extend past Friday. Infante missed 17 games with back trouble in May. And Colon catalyzed an otherwise sluggish lineup until Moustakas broke through in the sixth.
From there, Ventura continued to roll. In the middle of his first full season in the majors, Ventura has shown little sign of fatigue. He authored an excellent June, with an ERA of 2.90. He allowed only one home run in five starts last month.
During this stretch, manager Ned Yost said, Ventura has been "keeping the ball down, not making mistakes. When you’ve got really, really good stuff, that helps you. He’s done a good job of staying strong downhill with his fastball, mixing in his curveball and a nice changeup. But the majority of it is he keeps the ball down in a good part of the plate – he doesn’t leave too many balls up, out over it."
Ventura is the highest-profile rookie on Kansas City roster. But another rookie aided the Royals in the third inning.
The second pitch Colon saw as a major leaguer was a 90-mph fastball. Tomlin spotted it on the outer half of the plate. Colon slashed the ball past center fielder Michael Bourn, and he raced into third base. Cain brought him home by looping a single into right.
Ventura bulldozed the Indians for the first three innings. He induced a bevvy of groundballs, fanned Jason Kipnis with a 100-mph fastball and kept his opponents hitless. An outburst of Cleveland offense in the fourth afforded Ventura another opportunity to shine.
After a pair of one-out singles placed runners at the corners, Kipnis stepped in once again. Ventura whipped an 98-mph fastball. The pitch hovered over the middle at the knees. Kipnis tapped a grounder to Colon, who ignited an inning-ending double play.
Colon continued to hector Tomlin in the fifth. He fell behind, 0-2, but still yanked a fastball on the hands into the left-field corner for a double. In the next at-bat, Cain splashed a double into the same area for his second RBI.
Moustakas allowed Ventura more room to breathe. Ventura took advantage. In the eighth inning, his fastball still sizzled in the triple digits. Indians catcher Yan Gomes flailed at a 100-mph heater for Ventura’s fourth strikeout of the evening.
On his 101st pitch, Ventura yielded his first extra-base hit to Cleveland. It was a double for Michael Bourn. The subsequent at-bat was more representative of the night. Asdrubal Cabrera lifted a meek fly to right field, and Ventura stomped into his dugout with his ledger still spotless.