Insult to injury: Yordano Ventura injured as Royals lose to Astros

5/26/2014

BY ANDY MCCULLOUGH

BY ANDY MCCULLOUGH

The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (MCT) — A disappointing Royals season experienced a potentially devastating blow on Monday night, when rookie starter Yordano Ventura left in the third inning because of an elbow injury.

The official diagnosis from the club was "lateral elbow discomfort," on the outer side of his right arm. He will undergo an MRI on Tuesday. The pain did not manifest on the medial side of his elbow, which includes the ulnar collateral ligament, the one involved in Tommy John surgery. The team listed Ventura as "day-to-day," a categorization fans can only hope is more than a euphemism.

The injury occurred at a time of great distress around major league baseball because of the proliferation of elbow injuries. The season-ending surgery has already hit more than three dozen pitchers this year, including Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and Royals reliever Luke Hochevar.

The situation should be clarified on Tuesday. Ventura throws a fastball that can blaze past 100 mph. The pitch registered as low as 91 mph on Monday. He gave up five runs in 2 2/3 innings in a 9-2 loss to the lowly Astros.

The stadium's radar gun clocked his final fastball at 94 mph. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve fouled it off to prolong the at-bat. Ventura appeared a tad sluggish in his delivery, but there was no visible sign of discomfort. When he returned to the rubber, he looked up and saw a powder blue convoy approaching the mound.

He spoke with trainer Kyle Turner for a few moments. He used his jersey to wipe the sweat off his brow. Turner motioned to manager Ned Yost, and departed the mound with the 22-year-old. The subsequent ovation was muted, a stunned near-silence of 32,070 inside a packed Kauffman Stadium.

When this season began, Baseball America rated Ventura the No. 26 prospect in the game. His teammates call him "Ace." But as Monday showed, the path from nickname to reality is fraught with barriers.

To observers, Ventura inspired both wonder and fear. The wonder related to his repertoire, his poise, his knack for on-mound adjustments. The fear related to his size: He stands no taller than 6-0. He is listed at 180 pounds. Team officials insist his lower body is a powerful force, capable of sustaining his tremendous velocity. But worries still persisted.

As the Royals (24-26) planned for 2014, they projected considerable contributions from Ventura, Danny Duffy and perhaps even Kyle Zimmer, their first-round pick in 2012. Zimmer has yet to pitch in a minor-league game. Duffy just entered the rotation a few weeks ago. The status of Ventura is now in doubt.

For a team struggling to find offense, the loss of a dynamic pitcher stings. One American League talent evaluator referred to the injury as a potential "death blow."

Ventura displayed such promise in April. He allowed five earned runs in 30 innings, good for a gaudy 1.50 ERA. He captured the first victory of his career against these Astro. He earned raves from teammates and opponents alive.

In May, his star has not yet diminished. But his production has regressed. Through five starts, his ERA is 5.81. He was vulnerable to home runs. On Monday, he looked uncomfortable from the outset.

Ventura started the evening in danger. He yielded a leadoff single to Altuve, then promptly walked the next two batters. His fastball hummed at its usual register in the upper 90s. But his location was inexact.

Ventura extricated himself from the bases-loaded jam after allowing a pair of runs, both on productive outs. It was the next inning that proved more painful.

The inflection point occurred against Altuve. Ventura spotted a 3-2 fastball at the thighs. Umpire Gary Cederstrom ruled the pitch just wide of the zone.

Shortstop Marwin Gonzalez had already ripped a two-out double. Now Altuve trotted to first. Ventura fell behind rookie sensation George Springer. Fed a 2-1 fastball at the waist, Springer scorched a two-run double off the center-field wall. A well-placed single by outfielder Dexter Fowler pushed the Astros' lead to five.

The game was already distressing. It would only get worse.

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