That's about the only way to describe last night's game, especially from the seventh inning on.
Last night’s game was weird. It was weird from the start. Jonathan Heasley walked the leadoff man and gave up a single to put two men on with nobody out. He eventually got out of it with a traditional 2-5-3 double play where the Diamondbacks batter didn’t even leave the batter’s box because he was sure it was a foul ball at the plate. It’s probably easy to forget that’s how things started because that play was a long time before the end of the game. But I think it says something when the starting pitcher vomits not once, not twice, but three times and what he did on the mound wasn’t the ugliest part of the game.
I debated not writing anything about it because those last three innings were so ugly that I’m not sure what there is to say. And I’m still not entirely sure what there is to say, but it reached that threshold in my mind that I felt like I should. And the reason was that it occurred to me while I was sitting at the game that one game, heck, one three-inning stretch, basically highlighted so many of the issues with this organization. And I’ll tell you that it hasn’t changed my viewpoint that to give the Royals the best shot to be competitive, there are going to need to be some changes in that dugout. There was some good and I will get to that, but first, let’s start with the bad.
With the game an actual game, Mike Matheny went to Josh Staumont for the seventh inning. Staumont came into the game with a gentleman’s 11.57 ERA since the break with 10 strikeouts and eight walks in 9.1 innings. But the fact that he had to be used in a 2-1 game was the first of the organizational flaws. I could explain it, but Clint Scoles said it best on Twitter last night.
This, to me, is just dead on. With Dylan Coleman likely unavailable, Amir Garrett serving a suspension, Jose Cuas already used and it not being a big enough situation that early to bring in Scott Barlow, Matheny’s options were Carlos Hernandez (who pitched Monday and has never pitched back-to-back days), Brad Keller (with just one day of rest as he’s adjusting to a bullpen role), Staumont or Luke Weaver. I am not faulting Matheny for going with Staumont. That is an organizational problem. From 2014 to 2018, the Royals chose 21 pitchers in the first five rounds of the draft and they can’t seem to find a reliable reliever from any of them.
Some of that is that a couple have become starters, which is great. But from that number, the organization should have been able to develop at least a couple of them into guys who can shift from starting to relieving when the starting thing didn’t work out. Dayton Moore has always been mentioned as someone who can build a bullpen, and while he can, he and JJ Picollo (and Lonnie Goldberg and the development staff) have not been able to do that this season. As much as Taylor Clarke has been a fun story outside of a few weeks early, when your bullpen misses him that much, it wasn’t a good one to start.
Looking forward, the good news is that bullpens are the quickest fixes in baseball in terms of turning a group around. I think it’s possible to see a good bullpen as early as next season. Barlow, Coleman and Clarke are solid. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hernandez becomes a good reliever if that’s his role. Richard Lovelady is working his way back and he could be a part of it. Garrett has been good for awhile now, so he could be there. If Keller is on the team, I still think he’ll be a good reliever. I don’t know that this is a problem that will last that long, but if things go poorly next year, I’m not sure where they turn organizationally because it could be a carbon copy of this season.
So Staumont comes in and he has a tough seventh. He got a great play by Salvador Perez on a ball that kicked off his foot to get the first out, but then he gave up two singles, walked a batter and gave up a sacrifice fly. It could have been worse. He threw 17 pitches, but he only gave up one run and the Diamondbacks bullpen is a little bit leaky, so a two-run deficit was something that could be overcome.
But this is where Matheny lost me. He put him back out for the eighth. And it was a disaster. It went double, strikeout, walk, walk. Those four batters took 25 pitches, which brought Staumont to 42. That’s one more than his previous career-high, which he threw in 2019. And it looked like he was working about as hard as possible on every single one of those pitches. Matheny explained after the game that he was short and Staumont and Luke Weaver both knew that they were going to have to be stretched a bit, but that was managerial malpractice, in my opinion.
I’m not the high man on Staumont right now, though I’m not sure who is, but you can make an argument that he’s part of a good bullpen in the future. It’s hard to see right this second, but the guy with a 2.76 ERA between 2020 and 2021 with three years of control is someone you try to get right, not run into the ground. Weaver was there. He’s started this season. It’s been awhile, but he threw 74 pitches on June 18. And also, he’s not part of any future. Let him go and if it gets ugly with him, so be it. But Staumont was allowed to stay out there for 42 pitches, with the last plate appearance needing eight after needing nine for the one before it. That was a huge mistake.
Weaver came in for the third straight game with at least two men on. He’s now allowed five inherited runners to score out of seven. He’s been considerably worse with men on base than with the bases empty (small sample, yes, but still, the sample we have) and he was put in a position to have to clean up a mess. Just give the a guy a clean inning and if it goes bad, it goes bad. And then it did go bad in the ninth.
The final tally for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings were six runs on six hits with one strikeout and five walks. Staumont and Weaver combined to throw 88 pitches and 49 strikes. Drew Rasmussen recently threw 87 pitches in 8.1 innings against the Orioles. There have been 56 outings in baseball this season in which a pitcher has thrown fewer pitches in seven or more innings. And these two did it in three innings. It was awful.
Those five walks brought the total to nine. It was the fourth time they’ve walked nine or more, which is actually not the most in baseball. It’s second-most. It was the eighth time they’ve walked eight or more. That’s the most. It was the 14th time they’ve walked seven or more. That’s the most. And it was the 29th time they’ve walked six or more. That’s the most by seven times. The difference between the Royals and the team that’s done it the second-most times is the same as the difference between that team (the Rangers) and the team that’s done it 14th-most.
When an organizational edict coming into the season is to throw more strikes and then the team puts up the worst walk rate in baseball, the second-worst strikeout rate in baseball and has that many games with that many walks, I just don’t think that’s a good sign. Cal Eldred is the pitching coach until he’s not the pitching coach, so it’s hard to see a path where he gets fired given that this isn’t anything new, but I will be surprised if he’s back next season. Even if he isn’t the problem (and you know I think he probably is), you just have to do something after what this team has done.
Okay, let’s talk a couple of good things because this is depressing.
Bobby Witt Jr. is Back?
I wrote on Royals Review on Friday that Witt doesn’t look right. He was hitting .203/.236/.243 since coming back from his hamstring issue and not hitting the ball hard at all. Had he hit a wall? Was he hurt? Whatever it was, I don’t think I’m worried anymore. He’s now riding a five-game hitting streak and has six hits in those five games with five going for extra bases. His average exit velocity in these last five games is 92.7 MPH, which is even higher than it was before his injury. It’s just 15 batted balls, but his hard-hit rate is 53.3 percent. It’s a tiny sample, but it’s encouraging. This swing on his home run was beautiful. It was hit 112.7 MPH and went 429 feet. Wow.
And this triple was fun too.
(Sorry for the not great gif quality today…weird things going on)
I was never worried for Witt long-term, but in the short-term I thought he was about to see his numbers truly tank. But if he can get hot again and take advantage of some actual off days in the schedule, maybe he can finish strong and work his way back toward the top of that Rookie of the Year race.
There were a lot of jokes thrown around on Twitter, and I’m guilty of a few of them (and kind of proud of mine really), but when it comes down to it, Heasley showed off a lot of, ahem, guts on the mound last night. He struggled from the start and had two runners on in each of the first four innings he threw. But, as I’ve said when guys like Brady Singer have struggled but found a way, it’s almost more impressive when they don’t have it to see how guys can work their way through tough situations. He needs to figure something out with his fastball because I think it can be a lot better than it is, but he has three other pitches that can all be plus.
Last night, it was his changeup and slider that were getting the job done. He had a 31 percent whiff rate on the changeup and 50 percent on the slider. Actually he had a 50 percent whiff rate on his curve as well. The fastball didn’t get hit hard, but he just has a tough time getting it by hitters. It’s unfortunate that he had the issues he did, both because it was gross to watch and because I think he was having a solid game of working around trouble and he probably looked his best in the fifth inning before he had to come out.
That’s about it for the positives in this one, but I will say I’m very excited for Singer vs. Zac Gallen tonight. A good pitching matchup should help to wipe away the vulgarity of what we saw on the field in the late innings last night.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around if it is good or bad when your starting pitcher throws up behind the mound more times than he strikes people out. That’s interesting.
I have a hard time getting worked up about the bullpen uses late last night. I completely understand what you are saying. I think when he went back out there it was 3-1 (I could be wrong) and you know Matheny’s MO is win every game possible. I remember when we thought this bullpen was going to be a strength of this team. Its just that bullpens or so volatile…..it can still be 100% a strength next year with a good addition here or there…..and some better performance. Just like…while you think it may be a strength…it can very well turn into a weakness. Its just so volatile year to year. Maybe its not on good teams and good organizations…but that’s a different discussion.
As the year has gone on and (honestly, I’ve seen more of the braves and cardinals this year in the Nashville area and how good organizations do it) I just keep coming back to how DM has to fall on the sword this offseason. We can blame Matheny, we can blame Eldred, we can blame the minor league development. But let me ask this question. If you are going to replace your manager, pitching coach, pitching development team, third base coach (hopefully), and ONLY keep your hitting coach (THAT YOU REPLACED THIS YEAR) and hitting development team. If you replace everything but the hitting side….how do you not replace you FO? Or at least someone in the FO has to fall on the sword for JJ. You don’t have to get into that…just my two sense that means nothing. Lol
After he came out it looked like Staumont was rubbing his shoulder somewhat intensely. I know throwing 42 pitches would do that for most any reliever, but do you think we could see an IL move here soon?