Yordano Ventura is one of the Kansas City Royals' top prospects and possesses a 100-mph fastball that has made him one of the more intriguing prospects in the minors. He fanned 155 in 134 2/3 innings across two levels in the minors and when the Royals need a starter to fill in for Danny Duffy, they decided to give Ventura his first major league start.
It was a gutsy decision by the Royals, but what's the quote, "Fortune befriends the bold"? Emily Dickinson, according to Google. For five innings, Ventura was brilliant, reaching 100 on the gun a couple times, allowing just two hits and taking a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning. It appeared Ned Yost and Dayton Moore would be rewarded.
Yost probably should have been happy that Ventura had given him five great innings and turned the game over to one of the game's best bullpens -- Kansas City's 2.54 bullpen ERA is second in the majors to the Braves.
But this is Ned Yost we're talking about here, and he's not exactly pulling an Earl Weaver from the dugout this year. Go back to Sunday's game against Detroit, 2-2 in the eighth. Jeremy Guthrie had allowed 12 hits but just two runs. Yet there he was pitching in the eighth, well past 100 pitches. No offense to Guthrie, but he'd done his job; this isn't James Shields or Kevin Appier or Bret Saberhagen here. Alex Avila hit a home run and the Tigers won 3-2.
It's not like the Royals pen been has overused either -- it ranks just 28th in the majors in innings pitched. If anything, it has been underused. So take your five innings from Ventura and turn it over to the pen. Instead, Nick Swisher reached on an infield single and with two outs Carlos Santana singled sharply to right and Michael Brantley singled in Swisher. The Royals escaped after allowing just the one run but the inning gave the Indians life.
Look, I'm not completely blaming this loss on Yost. He still got the game to the seventh inning with a 3-1 lead and a slew of relievers available. Give Cleveland credit for rallying for two runs off Kelvin Herrera in the seventh, one off Wade Davis in the eighth and a final run in the ninth to win 5-3. Even then, however, did Yost use the right guys?
Why take out Louis Coleman after he had escaped the jam in the sixth? Coleman has allowed one run in 25 innings with a 27-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Herrera has actually been the most inconsistent of Royals relievers, with seven losses and a 3.70 ERA entering the game. Coleman has been hot.
And then why go to Davis in the eighth? He had struggled all season in the rotation before the Royals finally sent him to the pen. Sure, he was great as a reliever with Tampa Bay last year, but he'd only pitched in four games in relief for Kansas City. Where was Luke Hochevar and his 1.64 ERA and .164 average allowed? He'd thrown 18 pitches on Monday and nine on Saturday -- hardly reason to hold him back. Of course, Yost wouldn't use closer Greg Holland and his 1-point something ERA in a tie game in the eighth. Why waste your closer in such a high-leverage situation? Asdrubal Cabrera doubled in the go-ahead on a fly ball over Alex Gordon's head in left, a play that Gordon appeared to be in good position to make but somehow didn't make.
The Royals are in must-win mode in every game and Yost blew a lead while using his three best relievers for one batter. (After Davis gave up a run in the eighth, he did finally use Hochevar, who allowed a home run to Michael Bourn.)
The relievers didn't do the job. Gordon didn't make the catch. I don't believe Yost utilized his best options, however. It was a brutal loss for the Royals, now 3.5 behind Texas and Tampa Bay and needing to jump three teams in the standings (plus the Yankees, who are tied with the Royals).
I've probably short-changed the Indians here. Their bullpen did a terrific job in relief of Corey Kluber, as six relievers combined to toss 5.1 scoreless frames. Unlike Yost, Francona pulled Kluber very quickly. Already down 3-0, there were two outs and a runner on first and Kluber was at just 79 pitches but Francona was willing to use all those September relievers and not let the game slip away. How many managers would have that quick of a hook?
There isn't much separating the Royals from the Indians, but this game showed how and why one team has a huge edge in the dugout.