Yo geared up for potential clincher at The K
KANSAS CITY -- Yordano Ventura acknowledged just how high the stakes will be when he returns to the postseason stage for an encore performance in the American League Championship Series on Friday. But the Royals' right-hander downplayed most everything else about the looming Game 6 matchup with the Blue Jays (7 p.m. ET airtime on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, with game time slated for 8 p.m.), reflecting a kind of youthfulness that could seemingly play into the 24-year-old's favor.
"Just taking it like another game," said Ventura, who also insists he doesn't think "there's anything difficult" to facing the same lineup in consecutive starts, saying of the robust Blue Jays: "It's a good lineup, but I'm not too focused on their lineup. I'm focused on my stuff and how I'm feeling."
:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Royals -- Tune-in info ::In contrast, his counterpart admittedly has something to prove. Left-hander David Price, who said as much Thursday, shoulders more pressure and will no doubt garner more attention ahead of first pitch, since he's not only attempting to save his club's season but rewrite his own postseason history, which to this point has looked nothing like his dominant regular-season resume.
But Ventura's talent and fiery presence surely are deserving of hype as well in the rematch with Price. The right-hander took a no-decision in that Oct. 17 victory in Game 2, giving the Royals 5 1/3 innings with three earned runs allowed.
"In these types of games, you feel real good with him going, even though he's a young guy," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's got a lot of confidence in his abilities, he's got a lot of confidence in his stuff. And you know the moment is not going to overwhelm him."
"Very fortunate and happy that this game has landed on my turn here in Kansas City and with the opportunity for me to take this club to the World Series," Ventura said through his translator, Royals catching coach Pedro Grifol.
The right-hander was arguably Kansas City's most reliable starter in the second half of the season, enjoying his best stretch of an otherwise up-and-down campaign by going 9-1 with a 3.10 ERA. His postseason performance to this point, however, has seen those inconsistencies return.
Ventura has a 6.57 ERA in three postseason starts, having allowed a combined nine earned runs across 12 1/3 innings. Not once has he completed the sixth inning, pointing to his continued woes that surface when facing a lineup the third time through the order.
His opponents have mustered an OPS of .640 and .661 the first and second time through the order, respectively. That number jumps to .854 the third time through, and his postseason challengers are 4-for-8 against him in that span.
In Game 2, Ventura struck out six Blue Jays hitters and walked two. Commanding the ball is sometimes a struggle for Ventura, who allowed a walk rate of 3.2 per nine innings on the season, playing into the Blue Jays' ability to take pitches. They lead postseason clubs with 35 walks.
"Hopefully, if he's a little bit wild we take advantage of that," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But he's one of those guys. He's there attacking, there's no finesse to him. But I liked our bats against him the other day. Hopefully we can do that again."
Though Ventura has a formidable bullpen on his side, as the Royals hope to put this series to rest and avoid a Game 7, his ability to set the tone early and bring to life the kind of performance that defined his second half, rather than the first, when he endured a demotion that lasted only one day because of Jason Vargas' injury, will be crucial.
"You know, he just got to a point where I think he started the year off as the No. 1 starter, really tried to take the whole team on his shoulders, put too much pressure on himself, finally got to a point where we sent him down," Yost said. "He came back the very next day and started climbing back to where he was."
"He's got an overpowering arm," Gibbons said. "If he's on, I sound like a broken record, but when you've got that kind of arm, it's going to be a tough go."