The Royals again are searching for solutions on how to jump start the career of left-handed prospect Mike Montgomery.
Privately hoping this spring that Montgomery might make a move toward making the 25-man roster, the Royals instead settled for sending Montgomery back to Triple-A Omaha. There, Montgomery was again just as inconsistent as he was last year.
Then the Royals reached the point two weeks ago when they felt a demotion back to Double-A Northwest Arkansas might be the best thing for Montgomery.
So far, it hasn't worked. Montgomery is 1-2 in three starts for the Naturals with an alarming 7.13 ERA.
"He's had a tough go of it," said Royals assistant general manager of player development J.J. Picollo. "We sent him there thinking it would give him a mental break. We thought he might get there and be able to relax a little more."
Montgomery took the demotion as well as can be expected.
"He was great about it, and he agreed with it," Picollo said. "It almost became a mutual sort of thing."
The Royals have not given up on Montgomery, but they continue to search for ways to help him improve his command. And his confidence.
"He's a guy with a plus fastball, probably in the range of 92-96 (mph)," Picollo said. "He's got an excellent change-up. He's pretty much been that type of pitcher with a 1-2 punch. He's learning a curve and that's becoming better.
"But he's pretty much had the same issues. He will pitch great for three or four innings, then lose his command and have a big inning, and the final line doesn't look good. But we know he's got good stuff. We will get through this."
VENTURA BOUNCES BACK
Another prospect, right-hander Yordano Ventura, was recently promoted to Northwest Arkansas and, perhaps predictably, sufferied some lumps.
Royals fans may remember Ventura from the Future's Game at Kauffan Stadium. Ventura rolled through a 1-2-3 inning there and lit up the radar gun by hitting 100 mph on several pitches.
Ventura wobbled at Double-A, posting a 6.10 ERA in his first two starts, though he struck out nine batters in 10 innings.
Then on Wednesday night, Ventura was sensational, giving up just two hits and one run over seven innings while striking out seven against Tulsa.
"The stats from the first two starts are a little misleading," Picollo said. "In that second start there, he was basically pitching a no-hitter through five innings and then he started thinking about that a little and lost his command. He walked some guys and got in some trouble, but he was really dominating the game. He wasn't hit hard.
"He's got a bright, bright future. Once he learns that he doesn't have to throw it 100 (mph) every pitch, he will become an even tougher pitcher to face. He's got talent."
Another once promising starter, left-hander Noel Arguelles, is having a dreadful season for the Naturals. Arguelles, who is Cuban, signed in 2009 for 6.9 million.
Arguelles is 2-10 with a 7.60 ERA for the Naturals.
This year's first-round pick, right-hander Kyle Zimmer, was overpowering for the rookie Surprise (Az.) Royals, posting a 0.90 ERA through 10 innings while striking out 13. He earned a promotion to Class A Kane County, where he'll make a start Thursday night.
Picollo, by the way, spent a week in Burlington, N.C., and had positive reports about 2011 top pick Bubba Starling.
"Bubba seems to rise to the occasion," Picollo said. "When I watched him, he would have some so-so at bats early in the game. But when the game was on the line, he hit a triple one time to help win a game late, and then another time, he singled, went to third on a wild pickoff throw, and scored on a wild pitch.
"He just seems to make things happen in the late going. He also threw out a couple of guys at home plate. Very competitive player. He's doing fine."
JOHNNY G IMPROVING
The Royals still have issues at second base as they wait for either Johnny Giavotella or Christian Colon, the top pick in 2010, to emerge.
Giavotella, who was not impressive in an earlier call-up to the Royals, has found his groove at Omaha. Giavotella has lifted his average to .325 and has a team-high .414 on-base percentage. He also has nine homers and 50 RBIs.
"Johnny has come back strong," Picollo said. "He's really turned it up offensively, which he will need to do. His defense has improved as well. He didn't go down there to pout. He's working."
Colon, by the way, had been making great strides this year at Northwest Arkansas until a freak injury sidelined him for several weeks. Colon suffered a broken toe while sliding into home plate after getting his foot caught in the catcher's gear.
Colon is just returning to the lineup this week. He is still hitting .290 this season with five homers and 24 RBIs.
"He was due for a promotion to Triple-A before the injury," Picollo said. "He will still be a candidate to get to Omaha soon."