Yordano Ventura tucked his chin to his chest as he left the diamond. He looked up to acknowledge only a smattering of polite, Easter Sunday applause, a far cry from the roar that greeted him in his last appearance at Kauffman Stadium.
He is still only 22, and on Sunday, fresh off his first big-league victory last week, he reminded observers of that reality. Ventura floundered for four innings in an 8-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins. The Royals, 9-8, saw their five-game winning streak snapped and their budding young right-hander bruised.
The outing was far from a disaster. Ventura, 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA, gave up only four runs. He struck out six batters. His star did not dim, despite an afternoon when he could not repeat his delivery, could not pepper the Twins with the arsenal that tantalizes so many in this organization.
“He needs to learn to make adjustments when that happens,” manager Ned Yost said. “I’ve been saying this from day one: There’s going to be days when he struggles with his command.”
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On Sunday he displayed all the hallmarks of youth and inexperience. In his last outing, Ventura survived against the cellar-dwelling Astros despite a lackluster curveball. He was less fortunate on Sunday.
His command was erratic at best, nonexistent at worse. In his first three games, Ventura walked three batters. He issued four walks on Sunday. The Twins demonstrated little fear in the face of his velocity and raked six hits off him.
The bullpen was not much sharper behind him. Louis Coleman served up a solo home run. Making his big-league debut, Justin Marks yielded three runs in two innings. By the time the offense awoke from its Sunday afternoon slumber, it was too late. Alcides Escobar chased Twins starter Phil Hughes in the seventh with a two-run home run — which only cut the deficit to five.
“Today was a tough game,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “It was just one of those games.”
The Twins milked Ventura for 34 pitches in the first. Brian Dozier opened with a single, and Joe Mauer followed with a walk. From behind the plate, catcher Salvador Perez kept signaling Ventura to slow down.
The message did not take, at least not against third baseman Trevor Plouffe. Ventura grooved a 98-mph fastball at Plouffe’s waist. He ripped a two-run double. Ventura did not allow another run that inning, but his pitch count escalated thanks to two strikeouts and a walk.
“He said he tried to concentrate,” said pitcher Bruce Chen, who translated for Ventura. “He made adjustments throughout the game. But not every day he’s going to have the good days.”
Ventura smoothed out during the next two innings. But his skittishness cost the Royals in the fourth. With two outs, Minnesota outfielder Aaron Hicks stood at first base. Ventura skipped an errant pickoff throw past Eric Hosmer. Hicks took second base. When Ventura bounced a curveball for a wild pitch, Hicks moved to third and scored on a subsequent single.
In his last outing, Ventura also allowed a run to score thanks to a misguided pickoff attempt. Team officials hope he ceases this habit, which is sometimes considered a nervous tic adopted by young pitchers. Hosmer framed it as a teaching moment.
“Honestly, dude, you throw one away, let a guy get to third, give up a run? That’s how you learn from it,” Hosmer said. “He should never do that again, you know what I mean? He’ll learn.”
Plouffe stepped in against Ventura at the beginning of the fifth. Once again, Ventura fed him a belt-high fastball. Once again, Plouffe tattooed it. His triple boomed off the Budweiser sign in center field. Chris Colabello floated an RBI single into center, and Ventura was done.
In the bottom of the inning, the Royals finally began to connect against Hughes. A rally sprouted after a double and two singles. But it ended when Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier sprawled to snare a hard-hit grounder by Perez and start a double play.
“There’s no telling what would have happened if that ball got through right there,” Yost said.
But Dozier made the play. Yost opted to protect his more precious relievers. After Coleman and Marks struggled, the victory drifted out of reach.
“We won the series,” Butler said. “We wanted the sweep — but it didn’t happen.”