Weekend in Review: Salvy on Fire, Callups Coming and What's Next
The Royals couldn't close out the sweep, but it was a very good weekend and a fantastic road trip.
It’s very difficult to sweep a four-game series, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing when it felt like the Royals had a shot to win yesterday to close out and then don’t. Still, a 7-3 road trip, including 4-3 against actually good teams, is an impressive long trip in the dog days of a long season that has been lost for weeks now. I know that some might argue that wins are counterintuitive at this point, but I don’t agree with that. And I especially don’t agree with that when it’s parts of the future who are helping to fuel these victories. Winning is good for development, and the Royals are winning right now.
Roster Expand Wednesday
As difficult as it might be to believe, September is almost here. For years, that meant that rosters could expand to as many as 40 players. That is not how it works anymore. Roster can only expand to 28 players now, which, if you’re not great at math, means teams can only add two players to their current rosters. I agree with the decision to limit the size of the active rosters because of how crazy it makes the games in September with so many relievers available, but it does kind of hurt teams like the Royals who would greatly benefit from adding a handful of players to the roster to get them acclimated to the big leagues heading into a season where they’ll be counted on.
But the rules are the rules, so the Royals will get to add two players and they’ve basically indicated they’ll call up a pitcher and a position player. In the past, they mentioned they’d call up a third catcher, so it could end up being Sebastian Rivero, but Adalberto Mondesi appears to be hitting his stride on his rehab assignment and will need to be activated eventually anyway. After going hitless in his first seven rehab games across two separate assignments, he’s hitting .412/.444/.765 with two home runs in his last four. I imagine he’ll be activated before Wednesday’s game, which will cause a lot of roster questions, but that’s for another day, I guess. As for the pitcher, the Royals big league staff is dropping like flies, so it’s hard to say who it might be, but I could see them either going with another starter like Jackson Kowar or Jakob Junis or maybe Daniel Tillo with Jake Brentz and Richard Lovelady now on the IL. Tillo was hit very hard when he made his first appearances, but he’s thrown seven straight scoreless outings over 8.2 innings with four hits allowed, eight strikeouts and four walks. I’d be very intrigued to see him get some big league time.
After winning the first game of the series, the Royals were able to keep the momentum going with a thrilling win Friday night (you might have missed the end, since it was almost 2 in the morning locally) and a much more normal game on Saturday.
Friday - Royals 8, Mariners 7
After Brad Keller left Thursday’s game with an injury, the Royals needed some innings from Kris Bubic on Friday. He came out in the first inning and allowed a double, walk, single to load the bases and then walked a batter with the bases loaded and one out and then gave up a two-run double. Then he walked the next batter before getting the inning under control with a strikeout of Jarred Kelenic and a fly out.
He didn’t really settle down in the second either, and it was starting to look like this was going to be another situation like the one against the Cardinals a couple weeks ago. Three straight singles started the inning to load the bases and it looked like Bubic might be back on track with two straight strikeouts, but then he walked another batter with the bases loaded and gave up another RBI single before getting Kelenic to strike out to end the inning.
It was 5-1 at this point. The good news is that Bubic settled down after that. He had a decent third inning to keep the Mariners off the board and give the offense a chance. And they took advantage of it in the fourth inning. I guess I should say that Salvador Perez took advantage of it. If you’ll recall, Whit Merrifield hit a grand slam on Wednesday in Houston and then Perez hit one on Thursday to give the Royals a lead after trailing by three in the sixth.
So in the fourth, a Ryan O’Hearn single followed by Merrifield and Nicky Lopez singling with two outs loaded the bases for Salvy. Again.
Oh my. It was the third straight game with a home run for Perez and that one tied him with Steve Balboni, who is thankfully falling down the single-season team leaderboard finally. With the score tied at five, it was a whole new ballgame and that meant a change in philosophy for the game.
After Bubic got Kelenic to pop out to start the fifth inning, Mike Matheny emerged from the dugout to go to the bullpen and out came…Carlos Hernandez? Hernandez was supposed to start Saturday’s game, but with Keller going short on Thursday and the Royals in the 15th game of 17 in a row, the Royals needed some innings, so this was certainly unorthodox, but I was intrigued.
All Hernandez did was absolutely dominate. He got through the fifth. Then the sixth. Then the seventh. Then the eighth. And then the ninth. He didn’t allow a single runner and struck out five batters. Honestly, seeing him do that sort of made me wish that he wasn’t pitching in relief because we could have been watching a no-hit bid during a start on Saturday, but he kept the Mariners off the board while the Royals offense also went into hiding.
I’ll get to the Royals extra inning offense, but first I want to finish talking about Hernandez. He started the 10th inning, obviously with a runner on second and nobody out, facing Abraham Toro. On the sixth pitch of the at bat, he left a curve a little too close to the middle of the plate and Toro hit a ball kinda sorta hard to second that Merrifield had to dive for to save the run. So he gave up a hit and then ultimately gave up a sacrifice fly to tie the score at sixth before striking out Tom Murphy and getting Kelenic to ground out.
Hernandez was honestly insane. He threw 80 pitches and got 19 whiffs on 47 swings. Just look at these numbers:
That’s seriously crazy. Literally everything but maybe the changeup was absolutely dominant. I know the Mariners aren’t much offensively and Bubic wasn’t great before Hernandez, but they looked very different in at bats against the Royals righty. It was very impressive.
He was the story through the 10th, but in the top of the tenth, Hunter Dozier started on second base with Edward Olivares at the plate, freshly called up after Jarrod Dyson was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays. He had come in for defense and while he started off his plate appearance squaring around to bunt, a passed ball moved Dozier to third and Olivares changed his approach.
I just really like his swing. Hopefully he can actually stay up this time because the approach of getting that ball in the air was great.
A scoreless 11th brought us to the 12th, starting around 1:30am CDT. With Carlos Santana set to be the runner on second, he was pinch run for by Hanser Alberto. Andrew Benintendi had one of the least competent at bats of the season, popping out on the first pitch. Then Dozier hit a ball hard but right on the ground to J.P. Crawford. With two outs, Olivares was up again.
That ball barely made it out over Jake Fraley’s glove, but the runs count the same and the Royals had an 8-6 lead behind the bat of Olivares, who had now driven in three runs in extra innings.
Josh Staumont got the last out of the 11th and stayed on for the 12th. He did allow the runner on second to score, but ultimately nailed down a crazy win that took four hours and 40 minutes to complete. It was worth staying up for.
Saturday - Royals 4, Mariners 2
About 13 hours following the completion of Friday night’s game, Tyler Anderson threw the first pitch to Whit Merrifield for Saturday’s game. That’s a pretty quick turnaround. While Merrifield fouled off the first pitch, he did not foul off the second.
After not homering for nearly two months, Merrifield hit his second in four games to give the Royals the lead very quickly.
Anderson got the next three quickly, which meant it was Daniel Lynch time, and I think we all know how exciting that’s become. I thought Lynch looked awesome to start. He got a groundout to start things and then a fly ball. After the control issues and long first innings from the first two games, this was looking like a much better beginning. Ty France grounded a ball up the middle, but Lynch threw an unhittable 2-2 slider to Haniger to strike him out looking.
Only wait, it was called a ball. He ended up walking Haniger two pitches later before getting Luis Torrens swinging on a nasty slider.
But that was eight additional pitches after the bad call. It’s not all on the umpire. Lynch didn’t have to walk Haniger and it didn’t have to take eight pitches to get Torrens, but keep that in mind because in the second, Lynch got a flyout and gave up a single to start the inning. Then he got Kelenic to pop up, but the sun was tough and the Royals simply let the ball drop. Lynch’s four-pitch strikeout of Dylan Moore should have been hit, but a borderline long at bat from Crawford of six pitches to get the third out gave Lynch 14 extra pitches that you can argue were not his fault through two innings.
And then I felt like he just started struggling a bit. I’m not sure if it’s that the lineup turned over, but he seemed to have outstanding stuff without a ton in the way of command. The Mariners were doing a nice job of taking some pitches, which is rare for them, but Lynch was just kind of all over the place. There are worse things than being effectively wild, but in this case, it really cost him a chance to get deeper into a game. Thankfully the Royals bullpen was in pretty good shape because of Hernandez.
He clearly loved his slider, and with good reason, getting 12 whiffs on it in 26 swings and he threw it 45 times. His four-seamer, again, just wasn’t very deceptive. The Mariners took 16 swings on it and connected 16 times. Opponents are hitting .372 on it with a .547 slugging percentage and just a 12 percent whiff rate. The Mariners went 5 for 12 against it. If you want something for Lynch to work on, it’s that.
So he left after 4.2 innings and 104 pitches. He left with the bases loaded in favor of Domingo Tapia, who had inherited 11 runners to that point with none of them scoring, but he walked the first batter before getting out of the jam. In all, Lynch, gave up one run on seven hits with four strikeouts and three walks. I really do wonder how different it would have been if not for those 14 extra pitches, but those things happen and he needs to learn to pitch around them. Still, you can see what having nasty stuff can do. He didn’t look especially good and still only ended up giving one.
The hero of the bullpen was Joel Payamps, who ended up going 2.2 innings with no runs on one hit allowed and two strikeouts to earn his first career win. I thought he was outstanding in this one. His fastball did the work for him, but even though the Mariners didn’t swing and miss at one slider, that’s a pitch that has some serious potential. I don’t know if Payamps figures into the future at all, but that’s a nice basically free pickup.
Oh, and Salvy. In the top of the third inning, Cam Gallagher started things off with a single. Then Merrifield singled. Then Lopez laid down a bunt and he beat it out. The bases were loaded for him. It couldn’t be, could it?
Nah. But in the fifth, he did do this after Lopez got his second hit of the game.
Four straight games? That’s crazy. The Royals were up 3-1 at this point and would tack on another later and clinch the series win.
Sunday - Mariners 4, Royals 3
The finale didn’t go the Royals way, but Brady Singer was very encouraging for the second straight game. His day started off a little iffy. He gave up a hard hit groundout to start the game, a lineout for the second out and then Kyle Seager hit a ball hard right at Olivares in right field that should have been caught, but Olivares got caught in between and the ball just went off his glove. Seager ended up at second and France followed with a hard-hit single up the middle to score him before Toro grounded out with a hard-hit ball of his own.
So it was the 11th unearned run of the year allowed by Singer, but he was also getting smacked around, so while it should have been better, it could have been worse. I was a little worried.
But he really settled in nicely and found a rhythm from there. His slider was pure filth. Like Lynch he relied heavily on it, throwing 46 of them in 102 pitches and he got 32 swings and 14 whiffs on it. His sinker was really moving too with 12 called strikes. It got hit hard, but it was moving really nicely. And, of course, the changeups. He threw 12 of them. Baseball Savant registers 11, but again there’s a four-seam fastball in there that I know is a changeup.
Of those 12 pitches, he got three swings. There was not one miss, but he gave up one hard-hit ball, one medium and one soft. He actually threw a perfect one to Crawford in the third that was the medium hit ball.
But overall, he had the same problem with it yesterday that he did in Houston. It was a lot of arm-side run.
I included the fastball that was really a changeup. Of the 12 he threw, I’d say four or five were competitive. I appreciate that he’s throwing it and don’t want him to stop, but it still needs to get better. But throwing it at all is the first step, and that’s a great start for me. And as I’ve said before, if he ends up working on a splitter or something like that, I’m good with that too. He just needs something else.
His line was impressive. Six innings with two runs (one earned) on three hits will definitely work. I wish the walks were a little less, but I’ll take that every time out.
The issue for the Royals is that Tyler Zuber, just called up in place of Lovelady, left a changeup too much in the middle third of the plate, even though it was down, and gave up a two-run homer to give the Mariners a 4-2 lead. It wasn’t a terrible pitch, but it either needed to be four inches farther outside or a couple inches lower. The important thing in the long run is that Zuber threw strikes. I said it on Twitter and I’ll say it again. If he’s throwing strikes, I think he’s a solid reliever.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a day that ends in “y” without a Salvy highlight. The Royals offense was completely stagnant until the top of the sixth when he came up with the team down 1-0 and, well, he did it again.
I’ll get to him later, so let’s move on the next inning when Michael A. Taylor came up with the team down 2-1 after Singer allowed a homer to Kelenic. Marco Gonzales, who pitched a fantastic game, threw a 2-1 sinker to Taylor in a bad spot and Taylor missed it and fouled it off. Then Gonzales made the mistake of throwing it to almost the same spot again.
Whoops. But then Zuber gave up the home run and gave the Mariners a 4-2 lead. Of course, it wasn’t without drama because in the top of the eighth, Lopez picked up his third hit to bring Salvy to the plate again.
That ball was absolutely crushed at 109.4 MPH. It just got to the wall too fast to keep rising, but it was very close to his second of the game and second game-tying homer of the game. He didn’t end up coming around to score and that was that, though.
Still, an outstanding series for the Royals and an outstanding road trip. It’s hard to get too upset with a series win and a 7-3 trip.
The Salvy Files
What Salvy is doing right now is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen from a Royals player. Sometimes we’ll see things like what Kyle Schwarber did earlier this year and I wonder what part of my soul I’d have to sell to the devil to see a Royals player do that, and as far as I know, I haven’t made any transactions recently. Obviously, he has the home runs in five straight games. In those five games, he has 13 RBI, which are the second most in franchise history in a five-game stretch. His five home runs are actually seventh most behind three John Mayberry stretches with six (in an eight-game stretch, he had six over five games three times), Bo Jackson, Jermaine Dye and Gary Gaetti. It’s actually his second five homers in five games stretch this year.
But it’s more than just that. In August, he has 12 home runs and 10 walks. If he walks on Tuesday, he’ll get his most walks in a calendar month in his career. He’s currently tied with April 2014 for his most walks in a month. He has 17 homers since the break. Only Jorge Soler (25 in 2019), Steve Balboni (22 in 1985), Danny Tartabull (20 in 1987), George Brett (18 in 1977 and 1985) and Gary Gaetti (18 in 1995) have hit more and the Royals have 32 games left! And finally, he’s now 10 away from tying Soler for the single-season home run lead in team history. How likely is that? He has 10 home runs in a 30 game stretch 18 times this year. Of course, some overlap, but he’s currently in the midst of 15 homers in 30 games, so it could absolutely happen. Don’t forget the Royals play four games in Baltimore in September and they still have three in Minnesota where he crushes. That road trip alone could get him close.
The Royals have their first off day since August 12, so I imagine a lot of the team is going to relax and enjoy a day without playing baseball, but then they start their third to last homestand of the year against the Indians, who will soon be the Guardians. As it stands right now, they’ll face Zach Plesac, Sam Hentges and Logan Allen, so not exactly a murderer’s row, but the Royals have had their trouble with the Indians, going 1-8 against them so far this year. But they have been generally better in the second half, so they’ve got that going for them. Then the White Sox come in and the Royals have handled them well this year, especially since the break. Of course, there are no breaks in the White Sox rotation, so it’ll be a tough series no matter how well the Royals have played them.