When Yordano Ventura was making a run at the Royals' rotation in March, I wrote about the reasons everyone should root for him. How odd, then, that in his last start of the season, I'm hoping he allows 36 runs. They can be unearned runs. But I'll still be nervous if the Giants can crank out only 35. Weird things can happen in baseball, and I'm terrified of them.
Ventura got a no-decision in his Game 2 start against the Giants, and he pitched well enough, allowing two earned runs on eight hits over 5⅓ innings. He left after throwing just 87 pitches, so it was more a case of the Royals getting eager to deploy their nuclear bullpen than Ventura pitching his way out of the game. Here's what Ventura threw:
Fastball (sinker, fastball, cutter): 62
Even though the Giants are widely known as a fastball-hitting team, Ventura's game plan was still to use the fastball. Why not? He averaged 97.9 mph with his fastball, hitting 101 on one occasion. His sinker averaged 96.7 mph and topped out at 98.7 mph, which is ludicrous. Sinkers aren't supposed to do that. Sinkers aren't supposed to do that! I might be decent at Stratego, but if I'm playing someone with 13 Marshals, I'm screwed.
Ventura's crazy fastball: basically 13 Marshals in a game of Stratego.
Except, here's the twist: We're talking about 62 fastballs, which were high quality pitches at something close to peak velocity. They were thrown for strikes, too, with 41 of the 62 either put in play, swung on, or called strikes. They were tempting, around the plate, some of them in two-strike situations. How many swings and misses did Ventura get from that fastball?
The dangedest thing. The Giants were sitting, sitting, sitting fastball. They had just five swings-and-misses against Ventura all game. In the fourth inning, Brandon Belt came up with a runner on second and swung through a 97-mph sinker for strike one. Here's how the at-bat ended:
My point isn't that the Giants have Ventura's number, or that his fastball isn't going to work. Are you nuts? There are baseball gods reading this. Literal, not-made-up baseball gods. One of the invisible ones is in my house right now, inspecting my beard, I'm sure of it. So, no, the Giants don't have Ventura's number. I mean, it's "30." I found that on Baseball-Reference.com. But they aren't necessarily predisposed to hitting him or his fastball hard.
My point is that the Royals might consider moving away from the fastball, if just a bit. How has Ventura done when he throws more offspeed stuff? His top five offspeed-laden starts:
- May 5 @Padres (54% fastballs): Six innings, 10 strikeouts, zero walks, three ER
- April 25 @ Orioles (58%): Eight innings, eight strikeouts, two walks, zero ER
- April 8 vs. Rays (60%): Six innings, six strikeouts, zero walks, zero ER
- April 15 @ Astros (60%): Seven innings, seven strikeouts, three walks, one ER
- May 26 vs. Astros (62%): 2⅔ innings, three strikeouts, three walks, five ER
So he can succeed with more offspeed stuff. Except if you're some sort of detective, you might notice something up there: Those starts all came early in the season.
Upward and onward. It's not that Ventura didn't want to rely on offspeed pitches against the Giants -- that was him relying on offspeed pitches, at least compared to his last two months. I'm not sure what the difference is between now and earlier in the season. Maybe the Royals and Salvador Perez just got to know Ventura as the season progressed, and this is what they figure will help him succeed. Maybe the offspeed stuff is harder on his elbow (which bugged him in May) or his shoulder (which bugged him during the ALCS), so they don't want to push it. Or maybe he throws a 97-mph sinker that moves all wiggly-like and they're cool with that.
Either way, I expect just as many fastballs from Ventura tonight. The Giants didn't miss the ones he threw last time, and they hit into a pinch of bad luck, but it's not like they pummeled him, either. If the Giants want to win the World Series -- literally, no joke, tonight -- they'll probably have to figure out Ventura's freaky fastball. Maybe put a couple of extra donuts on the bats or something.