Here we go again.
Just like early in the 2015 season, the Royals are at the center of attention in Major League Baseball for all the wrong reasons. A series of benches clearing incidents (the word “brawl” is a bit strong in most of these cases), a good number involving pitcher Yordano Ventura, made the Royals the “Bad Boy” team of MLB.
Yes, the Royals managed to collect themselves, and Ventura managed to control himself a bit better, limiting the escalation of incidents involving pitches that are a bit too far inside. The Royals shed the label, and all was pretty much forgotten throughout the postseason run and even into 2016.
Well, that was until Tuesday night.
With the Royals already getting shellacked again after a rocky first inning on the hill from Ventura, Yordano found himself getting embroiled in controversy again. First, it was a couple of inside brush back pitches to Orioles’ shortstop Manny Machado in the second inning. Then, when Machado stepped to the plate again in the fifth inning, the brush back pitch turned in to a bean ball. It was the hardest pitch Ventura threw all night, a 99-mile per hour fastball right to the hip of the Orioles’ superstar.
Yes, there was a history between Machado and Ventura from late last season, and the second inning incident likely led to the bean ball in the fifth. But two things strike me about this incident.
First, Ventura sure looked like he was ready for Machado to charge out of the box in the fifth. He looked calm and collected as he dropped his glove and cap to the ground, and then promptly whiffed on his punch before Machado connected on his.
Second, watch the reaction of the rest of the Royals as they come to the mound. They were peace makers. No one else was there trying to escalate anything. Salvador Perez came in and grabbed Machado from behind to try and pull him off of his pitcher, and separates the two. He might have been a bit rough in doing so, but he wasn’t trying to hurt Machado and trying to prevent injury to his teammate. The demeanor of the rest of the team says they likely didn’t want to be in this situation again, as they quickly tried to diffuse the incident.
Ventura was such a promising pitching prospect for the Royals, drawing a start in the Futures Game at All-Star weekend in 2012 in Kansas City. However, since reaching the big leagues, he has been inconsistent at best. At times, he looks like the pitcher the Royals need to be at the top of the rotation. Other times, like the first inning last night when he gave up four runs, and nearly more if not for a spectacular home run-saving catch by Lorenzo Cain, he looks like yet another Royals’ system starting pitcher, that fails to capitalize on his potential.
As the Orioles’ commentators mention in the above video from MLB.com, Ventura has this bad reputation, and he did nothing to help it last night. Ventura just turned 25 years old last week, and there’s still plenty of time for him to realize his potential in the major leagues. But it’s not going to happen as long as he’s more focused on building his reputation as a tough guy instead of focusing on refining the command of his pitches and developing his composure on the mound. Ventura stands on a point where his career can slip away from him if he doesn’t let the tough guy act go.
Last year, Ventura was optioned to Omaha for one day before being recalled. Maybe its time for another wake-up call, maybe one of a longer trip north, to see if he can save not only his season, but his career.