KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A month ago the Royals traded for an ace. There might be competition for that designation.
Yordano Ventura delivered his best outing of the season Thursday, mowing down the Baltimore Orioles in a 5-3 victory.
The 31,155 at Kauffman Stadium sat through a 95-minute rain delay to start the game, and Ventura made it worth the wait.
With 11 strikeouts, Ventura set a career high. A fastball that touched 99 and a biting curveball had Orioles hitters fooled all afternoon.
“There’s been a lot of work put into this, and he feels like this was one of his better outings, especially the breaking ball,” said catching coach Pedro Grifol, who was interpreting for Ventura.
In his last seven starts, Ventura is 5-0 with two no-decisions, a run that started on the day the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto from the Reds. Cueto is regarded as the Royals’ top pitcher, but Ventura is on the best run of his young career, and Thursday he was almost untouchable.
The only Orioles hits off Ventura came from a player who didn’t start the game. Paul Janish entered the game in the third after center fielder Adam Jones crashed into the wall chasing down a Ben Zobrist double in the first.
Janish singled in the third and the sixth.
Otherwise, Ventura pitched like an ace. He walked four, including two in the first, which became a 27-pitch inning in which the only contact made by Orioles hitters were three foul balls as Ventura struck out the side.
The rain delay had an impact here.
“His rhythm wasn’t there in the first inning,” Grifol said. “That can’t be an excuse. But he was ready to go at 1 for a 1:10 game and obviously when you have to re-stretch and all that, it takes a little bit of a toll. But he was able to overcome that.”
Over his last four games, Ventura has posted a 1.08 ERA and has averaged 11.52 strikeouts over nine innings.
Not long before Cueto arrived, Ventura had struggled to find the form that earned him the opening-day starter’s role. He was the winning pitcher in his first two appearances and had only two victories in his next 13, a stretch of stops and starts and even a demotion to Class AAA Omaha after a string of ineffective outings.
Ventura never made it to Nebraska, immediately recalled when Jason Vargas was placed on the disabled list, and he hasn’t lost since then.
“Things weren’t going good at the time,” Grifol said. “The only thing he can do is continue to work and not worry about that.”
The Royals started to give Ventura and the relief corps of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland _ the HDH band was back together for the first time since July 21 _ run support in the fourth.
Mike Moustakas continued his sizzling pace, leading off the inning by pushing a double off the left-field wall. Salvador Perez drove him in with a bloop single to left, and Alex Rios’ double sent Perez to third.
Paulo Orlando drove home Perez with a sacrifice fly to right.
The fourth inning hit gave Moustakas an eight-game hitting streak. He worked on his RBI total in his next two plate appearances, driving in Zobrist, who had singled and taken second on Kendrys Morales’ walk, in the fifth.
In the seventh, Moustakas’ single to right brought home Eric Hosmer, pinch-running for Morales, who had just launched his 35th double for the season.
“I’m comfortable in the box right now, I’m seeing the ball good, and that’s all you can really ask for,” Moustakas said.
Moustakas has established a monthly best RBI total with 17, and his three-for-four performance Thursday marked his 35th multihit game of the season. Last year, he had 18.
The Royals got a solo home from by Orlando in the sixth, his fifth of the season, and the Orioles matched it with a shot from Ryan Flaherty in the seventh.
The Orioles tacked on two runs in the ninth off Holland, who was pitching for the first time since Saturday. Holland started the inning with a 90-mph fastball and finished at 95, which was the important takeaway from Royals manager Ned Yost.
“It’s been five days, a non-save situation, and I got a little concerned the first couple of pitches were 90 mph,” Yost said. “But by the end of the inning, he was up to 95 and a good slider, so OK.”