KANSAS CITY -- This certainly was not the Yordano Ventura that the Royals and their fans were used to seeing.
So an air of deep concern fell on Kauffman Stadium when Ventura suddenly was taken out during the third inning of Monday night's 9-2 loss to the Houston Astros. It turned out that he had what the Royals termed lateral elbow discomfort and he will undergo an MRI on Tuesday to determine the extent of the problem.
It was not a good night for Royals fans, because the Astros blasted away with rookie right fielder George Springer going 4-for-4, with a walk, five runs, three RBIs and a home run. He's had homers in four straight games, five roundtrippers in all.
There was extreme apprehension, because Ventura was removed after he'd given up a season-high five runs and after manager Ned Yost and assistant trainer Kyle Turner hastened to the mound with a 1-2 count on the Astros' Jose Altuve. After a brief conversation, Ventura was removed immediately.
But there also was optimism on the part of Ventura and Yost after the game.
"I'm not concerned it's a ligament injury," Yost said. "The trainers were right on it, and they came two minutes later and said it's the outside of the elbow, and that's where my concern dropped way off."
Tommy John surgery generally repairs damage to the ulna collateral ligament on the inside of the elbow.
"I came out of the game but, thank God, after the treatment, I started feeling better," Ventura said. "So I'll see how I feel tomorrow after the tests."
Had he experienced such discomfort before?
"No, this is the first time," Ventura said.
Given that, the Memorial Day crowd of 32,070 and Royals fans everywhere were left to wonder what awaits the pitching prodigy who has wowed Kansas City and the American League with his blazing fastball and vast potential. Not much good has come from recent news about elbow problems and the increase in Tommy John surgeries.
But Royals pitcher Danny Duffy, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012, cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
"It seems like every time somebody hears 'elbow,' they completely correlate it to Tommy John right away, and that's just not the case," Duffy said.
That Ventura was feeling his pain on the outside of his elbow was comforting to Duffy.
"When it happened to me, it was right below the elbow -- the complete opposite side," Duffy said. "That's huge, great news. I have a good feeling about it. He's a good kid and he's going to do what he can to make his next start. You've just got to hope for the best."
Ventura came into his 10th start with a 2.80 ERA that was 10th best in the AL and an average of 9.22 strikeouts per nine innings that was seventh best. His record was 2-4, but he hadn't been given much run support, either.
His fifth loss came after the Astros had buzzed him for five runs in the first two innings, not the type of thing seen previously from Ventura. In those two innings, he gave up five hits and three walks.
None of that, however, was attributed to Ventura's elbow problems. His fastball in the first two innings was registering at 96 and 97 mph on the radar gun, and topped out at 99 in the second. But his velocity dropped noticeably in the third inning.
"In the third inning, after I threw a few pitches, it started feeling a little weird," Ventura said. "I felt like it was something unnatural, a little uncomfortable with a little bit of pain, so I decided to say something."
Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland noticed something wrong from the dugout.
"He was getting under pitches and his velocity was starting to drop a little bit," Yost said. "That's when we decided to go out and check it."
Right-hander Michael Mariot, up from Triple-A Omaha on Sunday, took over and the Astros tacked on single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth and went ahead, 8-2. Springer's homer off Louis Coleman in the eighth topped off the scoring.
The Royals got their first run against veteran right-hander Scott Feldman in the fourth when Alex Gordon singled, daringly advanced to second as Salvador Perez flied out to center, and scored on Lorenzo Cain's single. They added a run in the sixth after Billy Butler led off with a double. Gordon singled and Butler scored as Perez grounded into a double play.
Cain finished 4-for-4, all singles. However, as evidence of the Royals' inefficiency, he was stranded in scoring position all four times.
But the Royals had something else on their minds besides a paltry plate performance -- Ventura.
"It's something you never want to see, because he's a young kid and he's got electric stuff," Cain said. "He always makes my job easier when he's pitching, so I definitely like to play behind him. But hopefully he's OK."
The strange thing was that as the game began, everything seemed absolutely great with Ventura.
"He warmed up as good as he has all year long," Yost said.
Yost doesn't like to ask about his starting pitcher after his warmup throws in the bullpen, but this time, he ventured to ask Eiland how Ventura looked.
Eiland's answer: "Scary good."
Three innings later, nothing seemed very good and the Royals just had reason to be scared.
Ventura, though, sounded optimistic, because he said that the medical staff seemed optimistic.
"Yes, they worked with me the whole game after I came out," he said. "They did a lot of treatment to see if I could continue with my regular routine and maybe pitch again in five days."
Back in five days?
Even if there is good news on Tuesday, that might be pushing it.
"I'm sure we'll be very cautious with him," Yost said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less