Royals rookie Yordano Ventura was delayed in making his first start this season, but he's back on track as he prepares to face the Astros in the opener of a three-game set on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
Ventura's 2014 debut was pushed back because of a rainout in Detroit. Manager Ned Yost chose not to have the 22-year-old right-hander start the home opener on April 4.
But Ventura couldn't have been much better last Tuesday night against the Rays at Kauffman Stadium. He went six shutout innings, giving up just two hits and no walks and left a scoreless game that the Rays eventually won, 1-0.
"I threw strikes and kept the ball down, and every pitch worked. Salvy [catcher Perez] called a good game for me and I threw the ball for strikes," Ventura said.
Ventura, making the fourth start of his career, tossed 95 pitches with some of his fastballs hitting 101 mph, but he also made liberal use of his changeup and curve.
"He's always had that special knack, on any given day, to throw those three pitches for strikes," Yost said. "He's still a little inconsistent with his curveball because he tries to get too big with it but, when his curveball is right, he's got three pitches he can get you out with."
Yost admires the attitude Ventura brings to work.
"He's special in that respect," Yost said. "He's good and he knows it. Not in a cocky way, but he's got a lot of confidence in his abilities and what he can do. He's not afraid to compete. He feels like he belongs here."
Lucas Harrell will get the ball for Houston, which will be coming off of its first off-day. After two identical seven-hit, five-run outings, both losses, Harrell's ERA is a robust 11.05.
Astros manager Bo Porter said after Harrell's second start that he saw improvement in Harrell's ability to induce grounders with his two-seam fastball, which functions as his go-to pitch.
"I felt like he did a better job of establishing the strike zone," Porter said.
Astros starters have gone 2-2 with a 1.61 ERA in the team's last four games as Dallas Keuchel, Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer all pitched seven innings. Collectively, they've allowed 18 hits and five earned runs in 28 innings, so it will be up to the struggling Harrell to keep it going.
Astros: Hoes eager to wear Jackie's 42
The chance to wear the No. 42 of Jackie Robinson is something Astros outfielder L.J. Hoes has been anticipating for quite some time. Hoes, who has never been in the Major Leagues on Jackie Robinson Day, will get that chance on Tuesday when the Astros and Royals wear the number at Minute Maid Park.
"It means a lot, just thinking about what he's done for all minorities in baseball," Hoes said. "Being African American, it's something that's going to be very special, and I'm very excited. Without him, I wouldn't have this opportunity to be able to play Major League Baseball. Just realizing what he went through to create an opportunity for everybody to play Major League Baseball, it's something that's tremendous."
Royals: Duffy ready to relieve
Starter-turned-reliever Danny Duffy will be in the bullpen for the Astros' series after making his big league relief debut on Saturday at Target Field. Duffy, who was recalled from Triple-A Omaha, is the only lefty in the Royals' pen.
Duffy had been sent to Omaha to work his way into starting shape, but that plan changed when left-handers Tim Collins and Francisley Bueno went on the disabled list.
Against the Twins on Saturday, Duffy retired all seven batters he faced, but he made 45 pitches by running up full counts on six of the seven.
• The Royals went 4-2 against the Astros in Houston's first American League season, but both losses came at Minute Maid Park.
• Outfielder Justin Maxwell, hampered by injuries last year with Houston, was limited to 40 games (.241, two homers, eight RBIs) before the Astros dealt him to the Royals last July 31 in exchange for pitcher Kyle Smith. Maxwell hit .268 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 35 games for Kansas City.
• The Astros grounded into four double plays on Sunday and had two baserunners caught stealing.
• The Astros are struggling mightily on offense, hitting .189 as a team entering Tuesday.
Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.