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The Royals weren't nearly as good on the field as they looked.
Opening Day is one game out of 162.
Opening Day is one game out of one.
Both of these things are true, but the latter explains why our brain doesn’t care so much about the former. When there’s only one outcome to discuss, that outcome is 100 percent of the season. If the Royals had lost 2-0 to the Twins when the Twins come to town in late July in their 105th game, we wouldn’t think twice. They’d fall to something like 46-59 and it would just be another game. But this isn’t just another game. It’s the only game. That’s what makes Opening Day special. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, right up there with Thanksgiving and my birthday. The day after Opening Day, though? I don’t love it.
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And it’s not just because of the day off that typically follows it. I think the reason behind that day off makes a whole lot of sense even if nobody wants to admit it. But the day after Opening Day is also a day of overreaction. We all logically know that one game means as close to nothing in the big picture as possible and not even the one game that starts it all. You might recall the Guardians won the division last year. They also lost to the Royals on Opening Day. The Braves lost to the Reds. The Padres lost to the Diamondbacks. All three losers made the playoffs and all three lost to teams who lost more than they won when it was all said and done.
I’m done with that portion of my soapbox now. Let’s talk a little about the game because I do think interesting things can come out of one game even if it doesn’t mean too much. And I’ll start with Zack Greinke, who you might recall I boldly predicted would show his age in 2023. If that’s going to happen, yesterday didn’t prove that. He pitched differently than last season. Greinke threw more curves than any other pitch, followed closely by sliders, then sinkers, changeups, cutters and four-seam fastballs. Last season, he threw four-seamers more than anything, followed by curves, changeups, cutters, sliders and sinkers.
Was this because of the wind? The opponent? I don’t know, but I’m sure curious to find out as he makes more starts this season. One thing I do know is that his slider was really good and really different from last year. He threw it generally slower than last season but with a bit more spin. It also had more horizontal and vertical break, which lead to four whiffs on 10 swings against it. Those four whiffs were a season-high for him on the slider last season. He did it on two separate occasions. So that’s worth noting. Here’s what it looked like:
And when it was hit, it wasn’t hit hard at all. I remember last season that Greinke talked about wanting to throw the slider more often and then he just didn’t. He ended up throwing the cutter quite a bit more than we expected and more than he had in more than a decade. Maybe he’s figured out how to make the slider work and we’ll see quite a bit of that. In all, his nine swings and misses matched the seventh-most he had in any game last season out of 26 starts. That’s encouraging for a guy who really struggled to get the swing and miss.
And we got our first taste of how Matt Quatraro might handle his bullpen, and ultimately a great explanation on how he made the decision he did to go to Amir Garrett. I don’t know if I could enjoy Quatraro more than I did from hearing him speak throughout the spring and having the chance to talk a little with him before spring training, but I do now. He went to Garrett with a man on first and one out and a run in. The Twins were set to send up Nick Gordon and Joey Gallo, so it was two lefties, but they were both pinch hit for. Kyle Farmer worked a walk as the first pinch hitter and Donovan Solano singled as the second.
So bad decision, right? Not so fast. In the postgame presser, Quatraro said he felt like there was a chance one or both scheduled hitters would be replaced, but he still felt good. And then he gave his reason. He said that Garrett gets righties and lefties both out. I’d argue a bit with that, though righties hit just .228 with a .315 SLG against him last year, so I could at least see it. And he said that even if they did pinch hit, those guys don’t tend to hit as well. In 2022, pinch hitters hit .213/.314/.331. Non-pinch hitters hit .243/.310/.395. Okay, that checks out. That was his thought process and, to Quatraro, the results in any one individual game aren’t going to change the process. I love it.
I think it’s worth mentioning that while Dylan Coleman struggled a bit with two more walks and a hit allowed in his inning (still scoreless), Jose Cuas and Carlos Hernandez looked outstanding. Cuas had his slider really working. He threw eight got four swings and four whiffs. He threw seven sinkers, got five swings and three were fouled off with two missed. He struck out the side and looked fantastic. Hernandez averaged 99.7 MPH with his fastball and hit as high as 101.3 MPH. His slider also looked really good. He seems to have simplified his repertoire. I have my worries about consistency with both of these two, but they looked so good.
But I want to head back to the strategy for a second and talk a bit about how the Royals lined up against Joey Gallo because I just can’t imagine Mike Matheny doing this. As you know, the shift is very limited now. So the Royals got creative.
Now, similar to the Garrett decision, the result wasn’t what they wanted, but the process was.
I love it. I love the creativity and I just love that the Royals have a staff that can think this way. I can’t prove they wouldn’t have done it last year, but I have a hunch.
Okay, now you want to talk about the offense, and I get it. It was bad. They had two hits and struck out 11 times. I have what I think is generally an unpopular opinion here, but I think this is a situation where you have to give a lot of credit to what Pablo Lopez did. He struck out eight of the 11 in 5.1 innings, which means that they struck out three times in the final 3.2 innings, and that’s much more palatable. So why credit Lopez?
He was using a new pitch and it was pure filth. He worked on a sweeper this offseason that sort of replaced his cutter that wasn’t very good (what a novel idea!). And while he threw it in the spring, it’s fair to think there wasn’t exactly a lot of video against it and certainly nobody in the lineup had ever see it. He threw it 19 times and got eight whiffs on 11 swings. That’s just ridiculous. He only got three of his strikeouts on that pitch, but he set things up beautifully and got two more swinging strikes with his changeup, which has always been great and two more with his fastball, which also is a very good pitch.
I believe the Royals offense was simply bested by a legitimately very good pitcher. Does that mean it was fun to watch? Absolutely not. Does it mean the Royals didn’t do some things to hurt themselves? Absolutely not. I think they were playing a little tight. Vinnie Pasquantino, in particular, swung out of his shoes early in the game in a situation where he wouldn’t have done that last season. I think if he gets in that situation tomorrow, he’ll be more controlled. MJ Melendez had one of the more puzzling moments of the game when he was up with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth.
After working the count to 3-0, he took strike one and it was a fat one. I was pretty positive he had been given the take sign, and I get why. Lopez had just hit Edward Olivares and walked Bobby Witt Jr. The game was still scoreless and the Royals could use that run, so Melendez was told to let one go and he did. Then Melendez swung over the top of an excellent changeup that would have been ball four. And then tapped a grounder to the right side on another changeup that would have been ball four also. But after he hit the ball, he just stopped running for a second.
Why did he stop? Honestly, I get it, but it was the wrong decision. He wanted to make Gallo throw over him. In the moment, it’s understandable. In reality, Gallo shuffled a step to get around Melendez and made an easy throw, but Melendez’s momentum had stopped and that was that. The inning and the threat were over and then the Twins scored in the top half of the sixth and that was ultimately the game. Melendez would ground into a second double play in the eighth after a second Witt walk too. With the earlier error, it wasn’t his best game, though I do think it’s a fun little nugget that he grounded into just two double plays all year last year. Makes you wonder if he grounds into another this season. The odds are yes, but you never know.
And so that was kind of it. I did find a few things encouraging:
Witt walked twice and saw 22 pitches in his four plate appearances. He swung at just 20 percent of pitches outside the zone and only 43 percent in the zone. He was absolutely showing off a new approach. I think he’ll need to refine it a little if it continues, but the swing less idea is a good one.
Kyle Isbel had a very nice game. He worked a walk in the third and hit a double in the bottom of the fifth as the first to reach base to lead to the bases loaded situation. He didn’t swing at a single pitch outside the zone. He only saw eight pitches, but still. And he made a heck of a catch in center and covered way more ground than I expected in even getting close to the Byron Buxton triple.
They did work some counts against Lopez. For as well as he was pitching, to be able to get him out after 5.1 innings with 85 pitches was pretty solid. Generally that’s not a bad thing. It didn’t work in this one, but I’d bet getting the starter out before six will benefit them more often than not.
And the aforementioned decision-making. We’ll see how it holds up. I thought Matheny did a nice job early on too, so time will tell, but I think it’s pretty clear this staff is different.
Man those powder blue pants looked great with the jersey. I hope they find. away to incorporate that into a weekly look. I think they will.
Now it’s on to game two of two, making game one half as important as it is today.
This’ll be a condensed version since there’s so much about yesterday’s game here. Some weeks I may push this to a Saturday article, but I’m not going to bite off more than I can chew already.
Before the game yesterday, Matt Quatraro, along with Mike Sweeney, George Brett and Frank White, presented Salvador Perez with a jersey with a “C” on it making him the fourth team captain in Royals history. What does it mean? On the surface, not a ton, but it indicates what he means to this organization and to this particular team. If you look at the lineup they put out yesterday, four players were making their first Opening Day start and two more were on their first Opening Day roster. There are some veterans, but none command as much respect as Perez does.
I just think this is a very cool honor, and I’ll admit that my brain did go to what this means for his future with the team. There was a little talk about him being unhappy they let Pedro Grifol go and little whispers that teams were interested in him. I never really bought it. First, I think his contract is difficult to move. But also, I can’t imagine a team values him like the Royals do, for better or for worse. So it’s pretty cool that he gets to be the captain, and it means he’s likely finishing his career in KC or at least the productive part of it.
Lovelady to Atlanta
The big news of the day before the games got started was the news the Royals traded Richard Lovelady to the Braves for cash considerations. As I’ve said so many times before, multiple things can be true in any given situation. It can be true that I believe the Royals did not do right by Lovelady. It can also be true that I don’t think trading him (or optioning him the other day) was part of that. On the last broadcast in which Lovelady pitched, Jeremy Guthrie noted his decreased velocity. I asked around and heard that, yeah, he was sitting upper-80s a lot more than they’d like and they were a bit worried about that. So they sent him to AAA. Lovelady fired off a tweet he’s since deleted that showed his unhappiness, which is probably not the best move, but I get it.
I don’t know if the tweet is why he was traded or if they knew they were going to do that anyway when they needed to clear a third roster spot for their third NRI to make the team. I do think it was interesting that he was sent to the Braves and they chose to keep him in AAA while they’re currently rostering Michael Tonkin, who last pitched in the big leagues (and poorly) in 2017 and Kirby Yates, who has thrown 7.1 innings since the end of the 2019 season. I think the Royals could have kept Lovelady and moved on from someone else. I know Collin Snider had a great spring, but come on. Jonathan Heasley got lit up and has never really shown anything to me. I also don’t think it’s a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. I’m more bummed than anything that we didn’t get to see Lovelady have the success that he should have with the Royals and I really hope he finds it in Atlanta.
The next two games of the weekend will feature the Royals taking on Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan. Gray has been ridiculously good against the Royals throughout his career and Ryan has somehow been better. Ryan had an outstanding spring with 20 strikeouts and just three walks in 16.2 innings. I’ll be curious to see what the over/unders are on these games, but I wonder a little if the under isn’t a smart play. That is, of course, if Jordan Lyles and Brad Keller do their part as well. I’m most excited for this weekend’s games to see what Keller looks like on Sunday. I’d love to see that sweeper and new curve get it done in the regular season.
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