Weekend In Review: Mondesi's New Position, Salvy Has Another Huge Series and What's Next
Salvador Perez was the headline, but young pitching handled the White Sox in the two wins over the weekend.
The last time the Indians came to town and swept the Royals was early May. You might recall the events of that series. Daniel Lynch was called up for the first game and the Royals were in first place. Life was good. The Indians beat the Royals bullpen in each of the first three games before shutting the Royals out in the fourth game. I’m telling you this because the White Sox came to town next, swept the Royals and those were losses two through eight of the 11-game losing streak. It’s easy to have watched that Indians series and wonder last week with the White Sox coming in next and wondering if we were headed for a repeat. A late and long win to start the series made that moot. Maybe you didn’t think of it at all, but I sure did.
Mondesi at Third
A few weeks ago, Dayton Moore made some comments that the Royals couldn’t count on Adalberto Mondesi as an everyday guy. Then he went on a rehab assignment that he had to be taken off because he aggravated some of the scar tissue from his first injury. He obviously was activated on September 1 and during infield work, he was spotted playing third. And then on Friday, he made his first career start at third base. He didn’t have a ton of opportunities, but he is easily one of the best athletes to play third base and is obviously comfortable on the left side of the infield, meaning it likely wouldn’t be a problem. His first chance at third went well too.
There were a couple small mistakes. I think he probably didn’t handle a popup over his head that ended up scoring a run especially well. And he went to second on a ground ball with two outs that was a lot closer than necessary when he could have gone to first. Then on Sunday, he let a ball paly him and then made a bad throw, but overall, he looked fine out there. My issue here is that I just don’t understand why you clearly have an idea in mind to play him at third and don’t give him any chances during his rehab assignment. I suppose I can buy that they didn’t think he needed any reps there in a game, but also what’s the harm of playing him there a couple times? I just don’t get this organization sometimes, but I am intrigued to see Mondesi play some third this month and anticipate there will be a fair amount of outfield work done during the winter.
The Royals took two of three against the White Sox and were 7-3 against them after the break to take the season series. That’s quite a change from last season when they were only able to beat them once in 10 games.
Friday - Royals 7, White Sox 2
About half an hour to game time, I saw the tarp on the field but skies over head were blue. That’s generally a sign that there’s going to be a delay for quite awhile, and, sure enough, the clouds rolled in, the rain fell for awhile and the game was delayed a full two hours. The late start was one that seemed to contribute to a very fast first inning on both sides with both Carlos Hernandez and Dallas Keuchel getting through quickly. In fact, Keuchel threw just seven pitches.
But after Hernandez was good in the top of the second too (I’ll get to him), it was obvious that thing were already different for Keuchel. He walked Edward Olivares on seven pitches, gave up a single to Carlos Santana and then gave up an RBI groundout to Michael A. Taylor before allowing a triple to Andrew Benintendi. He threw 22 pitches in the second, but that was just the start for him.
In the bottom of the third, facing the top of the order, he got Whit Merrifield trying to bunt for a hit, which isn’t a terrible idea against a lefty except for the fact that Keuchel is a fantastic defensive pitcher. But then he walked Nicky Lopez, gave up a rocket single to Salvador Perez that he was probably lucky Salvy didn't lift and then Olivares hit a rocket single on another seven-pitch plate appearance.
So the bases were loaded with one out for Santana, who came into the game with a .209/.313/.327 line since May 3 and a .178/.241/.255 line since the break. Keuchel started Santana with three straight out of the zone, but Santana was passive (maybe he had the take sign, but I doubt it) on a 3-0 pitch that is exactly the pitch he should be looking for to drive. Then he fouled that same pitch off (so maybe he wouldn’t have driven it) and watched a pitch on the inside corner for strike three.
But he was lucky because Mondesi is back.
He squared up that 3-2 pitch that scored two and then a Luis Robert error allowed a third to score. The Royals were up 5-0. Mondesi then stole third without a throw and scored on Taylor’s single to give the Royals a 6-0 lead and by the time the inning ended, Keuchel had thrown 39 pitches. He gave up a double to Andrew Benintendi in a long at bat to start the fourth and he was done after throwing 75 pitches. That’s a pretty impressive turnaround from a brutal first inning from the offense.
I thought at that point, the White Sox offense made a true business decision. It was the fourth inning at like 10:25 local time and it very much appeared that they were going to swing at anything close. Hernandez was good too, but I kind of wonder if that approach had him trying to be a little too fine as he struggled with his control a little more than we’ve seen in awhile. In all, the results were great. He had five shutout innings before he lost the zone a bit in the sixth (and had that aforementioned popup drop to score a run), but he ended up with six innings and two runs allowed. He did strike out only three and walked three, but he took care of the White Sox again.
I absolutely love that he avoided the middle of the plate. You can see a distinct lack of pitches right there in the center.
I think the issues he was having were with his fastball, but everything else was quite good. He was getting weak contact and some ugly swings on his slider and made the White Sox look silly. It was a good start, a businesslike start, and the Royals had another win against the White Sox.
Saturday - White Sox 10, Royals 7
Daniel Lynch struck out the first batter he faced, and if you could go back in time, you’d probably say just to pull him then because that was the high point of his night. Okay, that’s not entirely true. He did get a couple strikeout of Romy Gonzalez, who was making his first big league start. And he had a very good second inning. So it wasn’t all bad, but it was mostly bad. He ended up with his worst start since his return and one that rivaled, though was far better than, his start against the White Sox back in May when he couldn’t get out of the first inning.
We later learned that he was dealing with a cut on his finger that was impacting his ability to grip the ball. Why he was even out there with blood dripping enough that hurt his grip, I don’t know, but he was. His second pitch to Luis Robert in the first was one of the loudest home runs I remember seeing in person. It was a 95.8 MPH fastball on the inner third that traveled 452 feet and got out at 112.3 MPH. Then he walked Jose Abreu and gave up a long home run to Yasmani Grandal.
In the third, the inning started with two singles and a walk, but on ball four, Cam Gallagher threw to third to try to get a running Robert and threw it into left field. Live ball and all, Robert scored. It seemed like a pretty terrible mistake, and it was, but a base hit by Grandal would have scored the run anyway. A sacrifice fly from Leury Garcia was the last pitch Lynch threw before Ervin Santana came in and finished the inning with one pitch.
Lynch said he had trouble controlling his slider, and I buy that. You normally don’t see the zone filled with them this much.
But he did get some swings and misses on it, which was good. But the pitches that were hit were hit very hard. The average exit velocity on the slider was 102.8 MPH. But he also had issues with the fastball, which had an average exit velocity of 102.9, so he just didn’t have anything working. Hopefully this is a one-time issue for him and he can come out and show better in his next start.
While it was 6-0 heading to the bottom of the third, it seemed like the game was pretty much over. Emmanuel Rivera hit a sharp double to left and Gallagher followed with an RBI single to get the Royals on the board against Reynaldo Lopez. After Merrifield and Lopez made outs, Perez stepped to the plate.
That pitch was off the plate. Nobody has any business doing what he did to that pitch, but Salvy has been doing it all year. Suddenly it was a game again. Unfortunately Santana wasn’t very good in this one and allowed the White Sox to tack on a couple in the fourth and one more in the fifth.
But trailing by six again, Michael Kopech came on and got two quick outs in the bottom of the order. But the lineup’s new mantra has to be to figure out a way to get the inning to Salvy. Merrifield singled off Kopech and then Lopez singled to right and here he came again.
It wasn’t the impressive blast he hit earlier, but he turned 99 on the inner third around and powered that one over the wall for his 40th homer. He’s the second Royals player now to hit 40 in a season and that home run tied a couple players for the most home runs at Kauffman Stadium in a season. And no, Brian Dozier was not one of those players, though it felt like it in 2016.
Carlos Santana led off the next inning with his first home run since July 24 and it was a massive blast.
After some huge struggles, the first two games of the series might have been a sign of life for Santana, who was 3 for 7 with that homer and a walk as well. It’d be nice if he could turn it back on for the final month and make himself tradeable.
It seems weird to say the offense was fairly stagnant in a game they scored seven, but outside of the three big home runs, they really couldn’t get much going and the bad start by Lynch did them in.
Sunday - Royals 6, White Sox 0
I’m going to start with the Salvy blast because what more is there to say? This pitch was off the plate at 99.3 MPH and he absolutely demolished it.
You just don’t see opposite field home runs hit that far very often. A Merrifield walk and a Lopez double set up Salvy’s 193rd career home run, tying him with Amos Otis for his career and giving him more home runs in a season at Kauffman Stadium than anybody had ever hit. I know that we talk about him quite a bit, but it really feels like we’re maybe not even talking about him enough, if that’s possible. He’s now just five home runs away from breaking the record for most home runs in a season hit by someone catching 70 percent or more of his team’s games.
And the great thing is that Brady Singer was so good that the Royals didn’t need anything else. He had a 1-2-3 first. You could just see the slider was working in his strikeout of Yoan Moncada in that inning.
He gave up a soft single to Eloy Jimenez in the second, but struck out Brian Goodwin and then threw a double play slider to Garcia. The only problem is that Garcia didn’t hit the ball on the ground, but rather right at Mondesi, who threw flat-footed to get a surprised Jimenez at first.
And from there, he basically just rolled. He’d give up a hit here or there, but he was in total control the entire game. He ended up with seven shutout innings, which is his second career start of seven or more innings with no runs allowed. It was his first start since April 24 where he didn’t walk a batter and fifth of his career.
His sinker was really working. He threw 61 and while he only had seven whiffs on 31 swings, he had 15 more called strikes on that pitch for a CSW% of 36 percent. His slider was really sharp in the first six innings. I thought it lost some bite in the seventh, but it was really, really good up until then. This doesn’t have quite the middle-middle hole that Hernandez did, but he filled up the zone without spending a ton of time in the worst no-no zone. I’d still like to see him a little more on the edges, but he had the White Sox guessing a lot and not hitting much hard.
And now in Singer’s last four starts, he’s gone 24.2 innings, allowed 20 hits and struck out 23 while walking nine. His ERA in that span is 1.46. He has given up a few more runs in that time, but his defense has been letting him down all season. The only thing he didn’t do much of in the series finale was throw his changeup. He threw just two all game, but the last pitch was a changeup and a good one tha I do want to touch on.
He was locked into a long battle with Gavin Sheets in the top of the seventh inning. He started him with two sliders. One was just off the plate and the second was probably a strike but called a ball. Then he threw three more that were fouled off. Then two sinkers fouled off. And then another slider fouled off. This is the exact spot where a different pitch for a lefty is useful. And if you believe Mike Matheny’s postgame comments, Perez didn’t let him throw anything but a changeup. And it wasn’t even especially good, but it was a different enough pitch that it got the groundout and was a nice way to end his outing.
I still think he needs to throw that pitch more because just having it allows him to do some things, but this was one of his best starts of his career and I’m happy he had it.
The Royals hit the road and head to Baltimore and Minnesota this week. It’s an afternoon game today for Labor Day, so if you’re reading this after like 3pm or so, you probably missed the first game. The Orioles were in the midst of basically their only good stretch of the season when they came to Kansas City right after the break and the Royals looked back after coming out strong in the first game. While the Royals have struggled some against the lesser teams, they’re still better than Baltimore. Based on probable pitchers, they’ll get the chance to face a couple former Royals in Matt Harvey and Chris Ellis. The thing to watch in this series is Salvador Perez against Orioles pitching in that park.
Then they head to Minnesota to face a Twins team that sold at the deadline, but still has talent, including Byron Buxton off the IL, though he isn’t playing especially well. I have a theory that a team like the Twins is more likely to completely tank down the stretch. They expected to be at the top of the division and after selling off some parts, they’re in last place, and, yes, they have guys fighting to make an impression, but I feel like teams like this tend to just have brutal Septembers. So this is a good chance for the Royals to pick up some wins. And, of course, we’re all on Salvy watch as he’s a career .324/.352/.593 hitter at Target Field with 19 home runs.