Yordano Ventura was teetering on a high wire, a can of gasoline in one hand, a baseball in the other, the opening night of a baseball road trip set to end badly on Friday at Progressive Field.
It was the bottom of the third inning, and Ventura had already walked five batters and allowed two runs to the Cleveland Indians. He could not locate the strike zone with his fastball, and the lack of command was threatening to be his undoing. Ventura had loaded the bases again, was nearly nearly decapitated by a line drive from Rajai Davis (the ball mercifully found his glove), and as Jose Ramirez stepped into the batter’s box, the Royals were on the ropes.
Ventura unleashed a 91-mph cutter on a 2-1 pitch. Ramirez roped a three-run double into the left-center gap. Ventura had taken another tumble as the Royals suffered a technical knockout, falling 7-1 in the opening round of a three-game series.
When the night was done, the Royals had faded back to .500 for the first time since April 7, sitting at 14-14. And the rest of the context is no prettier: KC has lost 8 of 10 overall and 8 of 9 on the road. The Kansas City offense, which entered Friday tied for 13th in the American League in runs, was nearly shut out for the fourth time in the last eight days. (Alex Gordon finally broke through with an RBI single in the ninth.)
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But the most concerning development on Friday may not have been the offense or the now .500 record. Instead, it might have been Ventura, the enigmatic right-hander, who was wild and erratic for the second straight start.
Ventura allowed five runs and six hits in four innings, issuing five walks while striking out just three. His ERA bloated to 4.65 after six starts. His latest flameout came just two days after the Royals suffered a 13-2 beating to the Washington Nationals at Kauffman Stadium.
In the last week, the Royals’ starting pitching has been shaky to the point that manager Ned Yost dipped into the minors on Friday and added left-handed reliever Brian Flynn, the former Wichita State pitcher, to the bullpen. His presence was needed immediately. He allowed two earned runs in four innings in his Royals debut, saving the bullpen from further over-use.
The offense, meanwhile, could not inflict any damage on Indians starter Danny Salazar, who threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings. The end result: Another loss for a team still searching for a spark.
Flynn, a towering left-hander, nearly made the club out of spring training last season.
Flynn joined KC from Triple-A Omaha before Friday’s game. He took the roster spot of outfielder Terrance Gore, who was optioned to Double-A Northwest Arkansas on Wednesday.
Flynn had not appeared in a big-league game since Aug. 7, 2014, when he was a member of the Miami Marlins. The Royals acquired Flynn along with minor-leaguer Reid Redman from the Marlins in exchange for Aaron Crow in a Nov. 28, 2014 trade.
The 6-foot-7 Flynn was a breakout performer during spring training in 2015, transitioning to a bullpen role and posting a 2.40 ERA in 12 appearances. He injured his latissimusi dorsi muscle during his first outing with the Storm Chasers last year and missed the rest of the season.