The Total Mondesi Experience
The Royals won and made it back to .500, but there was a cost.
From the start of the season after Adalberto Mondesi began on the injured list, the hope was to hang around until he could join the team and give them a spark. And after missing the first 45 games of the season, he rejoined the team sitting at 22-23. You can argue about how they got there and whether or not they were really hanging around, but sitting that close to .500 was probably okay in the big picture for the organization.
And he immediately made an impact. He doubled twice in his first game. He had multi-hit games in three of the six games on the road trip that included a third double and then a home run. He was averaging 97.9 MPH on batted balls. The point here is that he hit the ground running and looked like he was picking up where he left off in 2020 when he hit .376/.424/.706 in his last 22 games.
The start of a homestand meant Mondesi’s return to Kauffman Stadium, and you obviously know that he did not disappoint to start the game. A popup in the first inning wasn’t what you want to see, but in the bottom of the third, he led off with a single. He then advanced to second on a wild pitch and got such an intense jump on Chad Kuhl to steal third that he was sliding into third about when Edward Olivares’ line drive landed in Kuhl’s glove. It was bad luck, but it was fun to see him on the bases like that.
Then in the fifth with the game still close at 3-2, two groundouts sandwiched an Andrew Benintendi single and brought Mondesi to the plate. Duane Underwood tried to start Mondesi off with a get-me-over curve and his eyes lit up and he put on a very real display of power.
The ball traveled 417 feet at 109.8 miles per hour. That’s the third hardest he’s ever hit a ball in the big leagues. And it was just so easy. When he’s going good and actually on the field, he makes the game look so easy. Plus, he has a pretty strong bat flip game.
No game is complete without him making a play at shortstop that leaves you amazed. In the top of the eighth inning, Kevin Newman led off with a soft chopper to shortstop. Newman can run. He ranks in the 81st percentile in sprint speed. While it helps that he’s a right-handed batter so he has an extra step, this ball is one that many shortstops don’t make. Some are likely even so far from making it that they don’t even make the throw.
But of course, the total Mondesi experience isn’t just the good. After Tyler Zuber made it out of the eighth inning with just one run allowed, Mondesi was set to come up to lead off the inning after Benintendi was caught in a weird stolen base attempt to end the bottom of the seventh. But I was at the stadium and looked down to see Nicky Lopez emerge from the dugout with a bat.
I like Lopez enough, but I’ve never wanted to see a guy less. Mondesi missed the first 45 games and the Royals managed decently. They were about to be 4-3 since his return and were at the start of a homestand with an opportunity to really make some noise. And now there’s uncertainty over the Royals shortstop once again. We can reserve judgment on what this means for the team until we find out the severity of the injury.
On the surface, it maybe isn’t anything that’ll keep him out for long. The Royals notoriously treat Mondesi with kid gloves and don’t give him the opportunity to work through aches and pains like some others. It could simply be that. We’ll find out soon. But for a guy who played just 102 games in 2019 and has now played seven out of 52 in 2021, another injury is just a blow to the idea that Mondesi can be what the Royals need him to be moving forward.
For the sake of the 2021 team and beyond, let’s hope this is a small injury that keeps him out a day or two and then he’s right back at it to build on his incredible start to his season.
Mike Minor Did It Again
There was a lot of disdain for Minor early in the season. The whole point of signing a guy like him was to provide innings for a rotation that was largely inexperienced. He barely averaged five innings per start through April, and it wasn’t like he was effective in those limited innings. He was at least striking out more than a batter per inning, but he was giving up too many home runs, walking too many and had a 5.26 ERA.
While the calendar flipping to May didn’t automatically turn him into the pitcher the Royals wanted, he was gradually getting better. Now in his last four starts, he’s thrown 24 innings and struck out 31 while walking just seven. He has a 3.00 ERA in those four starts and has actually struck out at least seven in five straight starts (but that first one in the run was a pretty rough one against the White Sox).
Last night’s start against the Pirates was one that really impressed me because he started the game not really having much. He had only gotten three swings and misses through three innings. While he did strike out three, he just wasn’t missing bats and when you’re not missing bats, things like productive outs scoring runs and some weak contact leading to runs can happen, which is how the Pirates scored their two runs off him in the first three innings.
It seemed like he found his breaking balls in the fourth inning. A 10-pitch 1-2-3 inning in the fourth featured just one fastball. In the fifth, he took advantage of Adam Frazier trying to repeat his first inning double by leaving pitches on the outer edge the whole plate appearance before getting him to swing and miss at a knuckle curve on the outer edge. Look at this sequence. He spotted a weakness and he exploited it.
I’d been waiting on him to finally get his fastball elevated with two strikes, which he didn’t really do for the longest time, and then he finally gave me what I wanted in the sixth inning with this strikeout of Jacob Stallings:
Kind of quietly, Minor has now thrown 60 innings in 11 starts with 51 hits allowed, 68 strikeouts and 22 walks with eight home runs allowed and a 4.65 ERA. There’s still some work to do to get to where the Royals want him to be, but he’s now on pace for 180 innings this season, which is exactly what the doctor ordered. The return of his fastball effectiveness has been huge for him, but his changeup being so good has been even bigger. It’s just nice to see him get going and do what the Royals signed him to do.
The Bullpen Did It Too
Since the end of the 11-game losing streak, a big reason that the Royals have gone 10-6 is their bullpen. In those 16 games, they’ve gotten 54 innings out of their relievers with a 2.17 ERA and 67 strikeouts. It’s not that they haven’t had hiccups. For one, the 38 walks in that time is a huge problem, and as I talked about in yesterday’s Weekend in Review, I have a hard time thinking they can maintain the success with that many free passes. But the home run allowed by Zuber was just the third by the bullpen in these last 16 games. And it was also just the 34th hit.
It’s been really encouraging to see Greg Holland have performances like he has the last two days with Josh Staumont on the IL for a combination of a tired arm and a knee sprain. I still think they need more. I love Scott Barlow and Kyle Zimmer is such a nice piece in a bullpen. And Jake Brentz has been so fantastic for the Royals this season. But I want to see one more piece because I think they’re going to be shuffling guys in and out.
One pitcher I like is David Bednar, who just happens to be in town with the Pirates. He’s exactly the kind of pitcher who the Pirates should be looking to move. But if not him, then I would love to see them go out and find some additional depth. There are plenty of options who could be available such as Drew Steckenrider, Paul Fry, Cole Sulser or any of a number of arms who might be there in the next few weeks. The bullpen has been good, but it feels a bit like they’re on the verge of some trouble, so I’d love to see a reinforcement or two.