Time has come for Ventura to display maturity
Skipper Yost wants Royals ace to keep emotions in check, have pitching do the talking
CHICAGO -- Yordano Ventura is too good for this. The Royals, for that matter, are too good for this.
Yet here they sit again after a Thursday night fracas, which will have the 23-year-old ace and some of his teammates in trouble at the principal's office with Joe Garagiola Jr.
Come on, fellows. This is getting old.
Even the Royals know it.
"That's not who we are as a team," Eric Hosmer said after Kansas City had won, 3-2, in 13 innings. "That's not who we are as an organization. We don't like when stuff happens like that."
Sure, there are two sides to every story and, yes, White Sox leadoff man Adam Eaton did say something when he hit a hard grounder back to Ventura in the seventh inning, just as Brett Lawrie slid late and hard into Alcides Escobar last Friday.
But April isn't over and the Royals have had major issues with the A's and White Sox, and a silly dust-up with the Angels' Mike Trout, of all people.
We knew James Shields was influential, but do they miss him that much?
The common denominator to all of this is Ventura, whose 99-mph fastball would seem to be all the machismo any man would need. But it turns out the guy who seemed to be so relaxed and under control in the Royals' run to the World Series last season is wound a little tight.
"I just think he's a No. 1 starter," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "I think he feels like he has big shoes to fill. But it's his arm that does the talking. That needs to do the talking."
From the outside, we see the wealth and financial security that come with long-term contracts. But they also can change guys.
Was it a coincidence that the two guys who lit the fuse to a two-minute, 30-second altercation that will result in mass suspensions -- certainly to White Sox All-Star Jeff Samardzija, and possibly also to Lorenzo Cain, MVP of the 2014 American League Championship Series for the Royals -- both recently signed almost identical contract extensions?
Eaton got a five-year, $23.5 million guarantee, and he's hitting .180 with a .230 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot. Ventura got a five-year, $23 million deal, and he's turned into a drama king, with incidents or emotional outbursts in his past three starts.
"The last three outings, my emotions have spilled over, gotten the better of me," a contrite Ventura said afterward, with teammate Jeremy Guthrie translating his Spanish to English. "I'm an emotional pitcher, but I have to control them. I want to do that, moving forward. I certainly want to avoid the results and certainly the way the outings have ended. To use the emotions to pitch well but not to go over the top where it causes these type of incidents."
Ventura's pitching has been only OK since he took Shields' spot at the top of the rotation. The no-decision on Thursday left him 2-1 with a 4.09 ERA and only 22 innings over four starts, including a 10-1 victory against the White Sox on Opening Day.
You wonder what happened to the fresh-faced kid from the Dominican Republic, who entertained us throughout the 2014 postseason while showing maturity beyond his years in handling that stage.
Ventura was ejected in the fourth inning last Saturday in Kansas City, drilling Oakland's Lawrie in apparent retaliation for Lawrie's hard slide into Escobar the night before. That would lead to the ugly incident on Sunday, when A's lefty Scott Kazmir drilled Cain and Kelvin Herrera answered with a fastball behind Lawrie's head, leading to a bench-clearing scrum, but not the contact that spilled over on Thursday.
Less significant, maybe, but part of the trend was the Ventura-Trout staredown in Anaheim on April 12. Apparently upset about Trout lining a single past him, with the Royals leading 7-1 in the sixth inning, Ventura turned to stare down Trout for several seconds -- long enough that Trout eventually gestured to him and asked what was going on.
Ventura resumed pitching, and Trout rounded the bases on an Albert Pujols liner that Cain muffed. Trout yelled something to the on-deck hitter, Matt Joyce, and Ventura said something to Trout. Catcher Salvador Perez moved quickly to keep that from getting out of hand.
"I don't think I did anything wrong," Trout said afterward. "When I touched the plate, I told Joyce, 'Let's go,' and then he got in my face. I'm just trying to play my game. I'm not trying to get into any fights or anything."
For his part, Joyce called the incident "very peculiar." A lot of what has gone on with Ventura has been peculiar, and Yost wants it to stop.
"That was our conversation after the game," Yost said. "He's a young guy. I had trouble learning how to control my emotions when I was young. It's something you have to continue working on, and he knows it. It just comes out. He's a competitive guy. It just comes out of you. He's going to be focused on trying to control those emotions going forward."
Ventura is the No. 1 starter for arguably the best team in the Majors. You might want to argue with that, but can you find another team that has won 64 of its past 95 games, including everything except Game 7 in last year's World Series?
The Royals have come out of the gate playing as well as they did down the stretch a year ago. The 12-4 start gives them a 29-10 record since they won six of their last eight in the regular season in 2014, wrapping up a Wild Card spot.
They're a compelling story in their own right, but the message they're sending out is all wrong, as Hosmer acknowledged. On some level, Cain gets it too, but he wasn't going to give in after going two rounds with Samardzija, who had drilled him on Opening Day, immediately after a Mike Moustakas home run.
"He was a little aggressive tonight," Cain said about Ventura. "But at the same time, we're going to back our teammates regardless. That's what we do. We're family in here. We back him regardless of what happens, and that's the way we're going to continue to do it. We're going to back each other. That's the way we work."
We get that. We really do. But every series can't be a turf war. The Royals have been plunked 17 times this season already. It's not the category a team wants to run away with. Somebody could get seriously hurt. Then what they'd have would be a team not at its best.
So what makes it stop?
"It just stops," Yost said. "Everybody gets tired of it. Everybody feels like, 'OK, enough's enough,' and you just start playing baseball again."
No better time for that to happen than now.