The Royals will start hard-throwing youngster Yordano Ventura in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, regardless of whether Kansas City plays the Yankees or Astros on Thursday night.
Royals manager Ned Yost announced his starter before Tuesday's workout at Kauffman Stadium. Johnny Cueto will pitch the second game and Edinson Volquez will start Game 3, with the rest of the rotation to be announced only if Games 4 and 5 are necessary.
''For us, the last two weeks, three weeks, all three of those guys have been throwing the ball good,'' Yost said. ''Ventura has been excellent in his last six, seven starts. And we wanted to keep everybody on five days' rest. We thought that would work out best for us.''
The 24-year-old Ventura weathered a rollercoaster year that saw him briefly banished to Triple-A Omaha. But the star of Game 6 of last year's World Series rebounded down the stretch, flashing his 100-mph fastball while going 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA in seven starts in September/October.
He allowed one run and four hits over seven innings - striking out 11 - on Saturday in Minnesota.
That string of success earned Ventura the Game 1 nod over the 29-year-old Cueto, whom many expected to anchor the Royals' playoff rotation when he was acquired from Cincinnati in July.
But while Cueto has pitched better his last four outings, he went through a long slump in late August and early September. Throw in the fact he is just 0-2 with a 5.19 ERA in three playoff starts with the Reds, and the decision to start Ventura in the opener became clear.
Volquez, who will start Game 3 on the road, has lost both of his previous postseason starts.
''Really, your ace is whoever is pitching that particular night. Everybody on your playoff roster is there to help you win games,'' said Royals general manager Dayton Moore when asked about Cueto starting Game 2. ''We're going to need everyone in our rotation.''
Yost was still considering the rest of his playoff roster Tuesday, though he did say it would not depend on whether New York or Houston wins the AL Wild Card Game. The bigger issue for Yost was finding the right balance between speed and power off the bench.
''We like the speed aspect. You like to have the extra bat, too,'' he said. ''But sometimes you have to choose between one or the other. We'll make a final decision on that probably tomorrow.''