Yordano Ventura was throwing major heat Tuesday night. Unfortunately, not many people at Arvest Ballpark knew just how hot it was.
The 21-year-old right-hander hit 100 mph four times with his wicked fastball in his latest start for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, but the stadium radar gun was off.
"I saw 96 -- maybe not 97 -- but definitely 96 a couple times up there," said Naturals pitching coach Jim Brower. "But that thing can be wrong by plus-or-minus 3 mph sometimes. We have our own radar guns that are pretty accurate, and that's what we go off."
By any measure, Ventura was dominant in his most recent outing.
The Royals' No. 3 prospect struck out 10 and allowed three walks in five one-hit innings Tuesday in the Naturals' 4-0 win over Springfield.
Ventura struck out the first four Cardinals and five of the first six he faced through the first two frames. When his night was over, it marked the first time he reached double digits in punchouts since last June 30 for Class A Advanced Wilmington, thanks to an arsenal that included much more than a big heater.
"He had three Major League-ready pitches tonight," Brower said. "He did a great job keeping the fastball down. I think it was averaging around 97-98, so he was blowing it by guys too. But more than that, he was hitting his spots. He controlled his curveball well too and was throwing it in a number of counts, including 3-2 for strikeouts. And he had a good changeup too. So overall, it was a really strong night for him."
Tuesday marked the Dominican Republic native's second scoreless outing through five starts in the young season. He is 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA over that span. His 33 strikeouts rank second in the Texas League behind only Carlos Pimentel's 34 for Frisco, although Ventura has pitched in almost seven fewer innings (30-23 1/3).
That five-game stretch is already better than his six-game experience with Northwest Arkansas in 2012, when he went 1-2 with a 4.60 ERA, 25 strikeouts and 13 walks in 29 1/3 innings.
As unfortunate as those previous results look, there was some good to come of it, according to Brower.
"It's a learning process with everyone here," said the pitching coach. "Until you put in the time at Double-A, you're never going to really know what it's like. You have to learn how to pitch to the good hitters here, or they're going to get to you. He's got into some long innings while he's been with us, but my job is to point out when he falls back into old habits so we can correct that immediately."
Among those old habits are the heavy reliance on the fastball, as is the case with many young power pitchers. But if Ventura can continue to find confidence in his offspeed offerings, he could find a spot in Triple-A Omaha's rotation this year or even Kansas City by September callups, when the Royals could determine whether they see his future as a starter or in the bullpen, where his electric stuff could prove highly effective in short spurts.
But for now, the right-hander will have to continue to string together more outings like Tuesday's if he hopes to see break from the Texas League for the first time.
"I know the Royals are looking to win and that they'll put the best guys out there, so it's their decision as to what happens with him from here," Brower said. "As of now, I'm going to work with him to repeat tonight's performance, find out why it worked and stay with that approach every time out there."