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Daniel Lynch Flashes Big Potential in Royals Loss
Boy did Jakob Junis pick a bad time to implode.
Look, there are other things to talk about from last night’s game. Jakob Junis in his first game back in the bullpen fell into a habit from last year in hanging his slider, but that’s not fun. What’s fun is talking about Daniel Lynch. The results were mediocre and there was something left to be desired, but when the Royals have their biggest prospect debut in arguably a decade, we’re definitely going to talk about everything that went into that first big league game for Lynch.
While the line, as I said, was sort of meh, Lynch was let down by his defense in the fifth inning when Whit Merrifield had another issue in the field, letting a throw tail on what should have been an inning ending double play. In general, I also thought that he had the command of a guy making his big league debut, which is not a compliment by any stretch. He was sort of all over the place, especially early with two walks in the first, but I was struck by how electric the stuff looked. I want to break this down inning by inning because what is this newsletter if not thorough? But first, I think there was definitely a plan in place for Lynch with his pitches.
It was clear he wanted to put his fastball up and his slider and changeup down. And he mostly succeeded with that. There were a few that caught too much of the plate, but all in all, he did what I wish we’d see more of from Brady Singer. He changed eye level with the fastball and changed timing with the non-fastballs.
I was a bit surprised at the spin rates he put up last night. The fastball averaged about 2300 RPM and his slider was just over 2200. I don’t know if that’s nerves or what, but everything I’ve seen from him in the past has been higher on those two numbers, so I anticipate we’ll see better spin numbers moving forward from Lynch. He also only had seven swings and misses, but I’ll show you my favorite here in a minute. His slider was filthy, getting six whiffs on 14 swings. Okay, let’s get to the minutiae.
I can’t imagine what the nerves must be like when taking the mound for the first time in the majors, especially for a first place team hosting one of the teams hot on their heels. Cesar Hernandez is a smart hitter; he’s been around for awhile. A pitcher in his debut is likely to want to get ahead in the count. And there was a 94.3 MPH fastball in one of those spots where he could get hurt.
And Hernandez jumped on it. It took a heck of a play from Jarrod Dyson to start the game, but Lynch had his first out.
The next batter, Amed Rosario, got a taste of the gameplan from Lynch as he went fastballs up and sliders down and got a line out. Then after two walks to the two hitters in the Indians lineup you absolutely cannot let beat you, Lynch got a lineout to left off the bat of Eddie Rosario and he was through his first inning.
This was a quick inning, but also the first time he had a chance to work out of a real jam when he gave up a ringing double to Harold Ramirez. I think he was trying to get a first pitch strike and the Indians were once again ready to jump all over it. And Ramirez absolutely jumped all over it, hitting it 114.5 MPH for a double. Look where this pitch was:
The next batter was Josh Naylor, who became a villain later, but he looked world class bad on three pitches from Lynch and ended up becoming his first strikeout victim in the big leagues. I was on Baseball Tonight on Sports Radio 810 before the game and I thought we could see Lynch get noticed on the Pitching Ninja Twitter account. And sure enough…
If nothing else, Lynch has this to hang his hat on. With one out, Lynch also got his first balk out of the way, which is just a momentous thing to get out of the way. So he had a tough situation in front of him. But with a runner on third and one out, Lynch pitched to Roberto Perez like an absolute veteran, finishing him off with a slider on the inner third that Perez grounded to third. Dozier was able to hold Ramirez at third and throw to first for the second out. And then a high fastball to Yu Chang led to a popup to get out of the inning. It was very advanced pitching.
Lynch finally got the hint and stopped laying one in to start an inning. Of course, what ended up happening was he walked Cesar Hernandez. He has walked 95 times in a season before, so it’s not like Lynch is the first and he won’t be the last to walk him, but you hate to see the leadoff walk.
And then, there was more advanced pitching. After living with his fastball in the top third of the zone most of the game, Lynch started Amed Rosario off with a fastball down around the knees. I don’t think Rosario was quite ready for that as he watched a hittable pitch go by. Then the next pitch was a slider down that Rosario could only do one thing with and it’s hit a ground ball. It was hit hard, but it was exactly what Lynch was looking for in this situation.
Then it was all sliders and changeups down to Jose Ramirez other than an errant fastball up and a weak grounder to Nicky Lopez got Lynch his first inning facing just three batters. In all, no swinging strikes that inning, but I feel like it was another advanced inning for the young lefty.
The Royals had just given him a run and I kind of wondered if we’d see him pitch a little differently with a lead, even if it was just one run. The pitch Franmil Reyes actually doubled on was a better pitch than the fastball Lynch threw in the third pitch of the at bat. At 2-2, I think the mistake Lynch made on the ball just off the corner was that it was it either needed to be about three inches higher or three inches lower. It was thigh high and Reyes knows what to do with that. After a sacrifice bunt by Eddie Rosario, he was faced once again with the runner on third and one out situation.
And with Harold Ramirez up after absolutely pummeling a fastball in his first at bat, Lynch went slider, changeup, slider, all down before elevating a fastball that Ramirez hit softly to Carlos Santana at first that held Reyes at third. But after making Naylor look very silly in his first at bat, Lynch didn’t get a first pitch fastball quite high enough and Naylor was able to square it up and double home the run. To his credit, he came back the next batter with five sliders to Roberto Perez and ended up getting one of the few calls off the plate to strike him out.
At 62 pitches through four innings, Mike Matheny and the Royals would have a decision to make with Lynch coming up on the third time through the Indians lineup. On one hand, he hadn’t been bad, but on the other hand, it’s his first big league start and as I’ve said a few times already, the command just wasn’t great. But the Royals had just put up two runs in the bottom of the fourth, so it would be awfully nice to get the guy his first big league win, no matter what you think of the stat.
Lynch started off strong, getting Chang, the number nine hitter, to swing and miss at a slider in the perfect spot. The next plate appearances from Hernandez was one of the first times a sometimes tight strike zone reared its ugly head as a 3-2 slider probably clipped the zone, but the rookie didn’t get the call.
It’s borderline, but you wonder if the roles were reversed and Lynch was in his ninth year and Hernandez making his big league debut, would it be different? We’ll never know.
And then Lynch once again threw the perfect pitch at the perfect time, spotting slider right at the bottom of the zone that basically could only have one outcome if Amed Rosario made contact and he hit a grounder, and it was hard, but it was right at Nicky Lopez. Unfortunately, Whit Merrifield’s defensive issues continued and the throw just sailed on him because of some bad footwork. A good throw would have been the end of the inning, but it wasn’t a good throw. Amed Rosario reached and then Lynch gave up a single to Jose Ramirez on a pretty good pitch and that was the end of his night.
I didn’t mind the decision to pull him there. Reyes had a really good swing on him in his last at bat after walking in his first, and it seemed like Matheny didn’t want Lynch to have an opportunity to lose the game. The decision to go to Scott Barlow in this spot was completely defensible. It just didn’t work this time. I honestly thought the wild pitch was something Salvador Perez should have blocked. I find him to get lazy on blocking pitches at times behind the plate and after being completely locked in for Lynch, I wonder if he lost some concentration. That cost a run.
After Barlow escaped the fifth, they turned to new reliever Jakob Junis in the sixth inning and he was solid, but he just didn’t seem that sharp. Then the seventh came around in a tie game and he reverted back largely to what he looked like during the 2020 season that caused him to try to change his trajectory as a pitcher. His cutter just flattened out and both Eddie Rosario and Naylor slammed the ball over the right field wall for home runs to give the Indians a five-run lead that they’d try to give away but wouldn’t.
While he hadn’t been hit much on the cutter, he had been living dangerously with quite a few hard hit balls in his last couple starts. I don’t know that you could have predicted two big home runs allowed, but eventually those balls were going to fall in and that’s what happened in this one. I don’t think it had anything to do with the different role.
When it was all said and done, Lynch’s debut wasn’t the focal point because the bullpen had another rough game. The defense assisted a bit too. I still believe in the Royals bullpen, though their health is a bit concerning. The defense, on the other hand, is something that is likely going to continue to hurt them until they can get Adalberto Mondesi back to stabilize the middle infield. Regardless, it’s another loss, which is now four in six games. Good teams go through losing stretches. It’s how they respond that defines them, so now with six important games left on the homestand, it’ll be very interesting to see how they bounce back.
Is Dozier Heating Up?
After the third inning of the Royals/Twins game on Sunday when Hunter Dozier made two errors, I tweeted this:
And since then, Dozier is 4 for 7 for two home runs, a double and a triple. Oh and he also started that double play above, so he’s looked better on defense. It’s been an absolutely brutal start to the season for him, but it wasn’t long ago that I was praising him for his hard hit rate in 2019 and his walk rate in 2020. Here are some of his batted ball percentile rankings this year:
Average Exit Velocity - 82nd
Max Exit Velocity - 88th
Hard Hit % - 81st
Barrel % - 78th
So he’s obviously making good contact and I noted the other day about his bad luck on those. There have been plenty of things he’s done poorly with his second worst chase rate of his career, but that might be from pressing and now that some balls are falling in, maybe he won’t do that as much. His zone contact is the worst of his career right now, so he could just be regressing to the mean, but maybe, just maybe, he’s starting to heat up.
What About Whit?
Sorry for two questions there, but before Saturday’s game, Merrifield had gone eight games without an extra base hit and, let’s face it, Saturday’s wasn’t anything to write home about. He did have a ringing double on Sunday and then homered last night after hitting a ball hard to start the bottom of the first as well. He’s hitting .203/.268/.313 over his last 16 games, and this is now the second straight year that the player who doesn’t slump has indeed slumped. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, but he’s 32 now, which is super young for a human, but getting up there for a baseball player.
It seems there will be more ebbs and flows from Merrifield than we were accustomed to, but it looks like he might be starting to get hot again. That home run he hit in the fourth last night is one that he only hits when he’s seeing the ball well. Through it all, he’s maintained an outstanding contact rate and he’s still only struck out 11 times throughout the season, so hopefully he and Dozier both can join Carlos Santana and Andrew Benintendi in the world of hot hitters and the Royals offense can get a little length back.