The follow-through of Yordano Ventura can resemble a combination of beauty and chaos. His right leg rises to his waist and whip-saws his body toward first base. His right arm resembles a windmill. His limbs flail as his body absorbs the energy created by the velocity of his fastball.
At times in Friday’s 6-3 Royals victory over the Rangers, the chaos overrode the beauty. Manager Ned Yost watched his 23-year-old starter battling himself for six innings one-run baseball. His changeup failed to function. His delivery wasn’t repeated. Fastball soared in the upper portion of the strike zone.
And yet …
“All in all,” Yost said, “I thought he threw a good ballgame for us.”
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Ventura (10-9, 3.40 ERA) exemplifies brute force in a small package. He unleashed that fury on the Rangers burying them with heaters.
At 23, Ventura is still shaping the finer edges of his repertoire. Against Texas he demonstrated nuance is not always necessary as Kansas City (71-56) triumphed for the fifth time in the first seven days of this trip. The Rangers notched only four hits against Ventura. He offset three walks with six strikeouts.
“He had good stuff,” first baseman Billy Butler said. “He was throwing hard. He was throwing all of his pitches. Once we gave him the lead, he preserved it.”
Facing a shell of a club, the Royals never showed much strain. Butler and Josh Willingham paced the offense with a pair of solo homers. Lorenzo Cain rapped three hits and scored twice.
For Yost, the lone frustration was the sustained infirmity of his middle relievers. Handed a four-run lead in the seventh, Francisley Bueno surrendered a pair of doubles. Both runners came around to score, and Yost was forced to utilize his trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
“There’s no concern,” Yost said. “But we do need to step it up in these areas.”
On this trip, the challenge has not been victories. Those have been plentiful, as this group has drubbed a trio of teams with losing records. At this point, as the Royals jockey for playoff position, their hope is maintain momentum while not running down their regulars.
This weekend, the Royals visit the home of a fallen empire. This ballpark rollicked during runs to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. Now the temperature still sizzles, with a 98-degree first pitch on Friday, but the upper stories of the ballpark are abandoned. Annihilated by injuries in 2014, the Rangers limped into the game with the worst record in baseball.
A familiar name vexed the Royals in the first. The team pursued Texas outfielder Alex Rios as a trade target this past July. They were unable to consummate a deal, in part deterred by Rios’ no-trade clause blocking any potential deals to Kansas City. Instead he lingered on this last-place club, contributing to a first-inning dinging of Ventura.
After a single by shortstop Elvis Andrus, Ventura tested Rios with a 96-mph at the thighs. Rios rocketed a double that one-hopped the wall in left-center field. Andrus scored on a groundout by former All Star Adrian Beltre.
The Kansas City response was prompt. Butler tattooed an 89-mph fastball for his eighth homer of the season. Then Lewis hit Willingham with an inside fastball. A bevy of singles fell in his wake.
First Mike Moustakas threaded a hit up the middle. Lorenzo Cain pulled a fastball into left field for just his fourth RBI in the second half. Alcides Escobar completed the jab session with an RBI single up the middle.
“We’ve got a complete team, because other guys pick each other up,” Cain said. “We continue to do that, we should be fine the rest of the season.”
In the opening at-bat of the fourth, Lewis picked up two quick strikes on Willingham. He passed on the next three pitches, a pair of sliders away and a low fastball. Willingham fouled back another fastball down the heart of the plate.
In their previous 22 encounters, Willingham had homered three times off Lewis. With the count full, Lewis opted to return to that spot in the zone. He paid for it.
“He does give you some fastballs to hit most of the time,” Willingham said. “You’ve got to be on time and square it up. You’ve got a good chance of hitting it out. That was kind of what happened tonight. He left me a fastball out over the plate.”
Inside this ballpark, a three-run lead can evaporate in expedient fashion. Ventura could not afford to falter. An error by Butler hampered him in the bottom of the fourth. Butler misjudged the flight of a pop-up by Beltre, and allowed the ball to fall in foul territory. Beltre soon smashed a leadoff double off the right-field wall.
Ventura opted to stick with smothering the Rangers with fastballs. He ceded a walk in the inning, but otherwise collected three groundouts to maintain the lead.
In the seventh, Cain roped a double. Friday became the third game in the second half in which he collected three hits or more in a game. He stole third base and scored when Nori Aoki’s grounder shot between the legs of first baseman Mike Carp.
“We’ve got to keep pouring it on,” Cain said. “Keep scoring run. Keep doing what we’re doing.”