What a Relief!
Trailing 3-0 before coming to bat and your starting pitcher out of the game typically doesn't end well.
The first pitch of the game came at 7:11pm and by about 7:16, I was ready to start in on yet another terrible first inning from a young Royals starting pitcher. Brady Singer started the game with what I thought was a mistake to Myles Straw, going to a sinker after he looked bad on a slider the pitch before. Then he walked Amed Rosario on four pitches, gave up a first pitch single to Jose Ramirez to load the bases and then a rocket single on the first pitch to Franmil Reyes. It took 11 pitches and the Royals were down 2-0 and the Indians had runners on first and third with nobody out. Harold Ramirez hit a rocket, but it was a double play and it looked like things calmed down.
But after a 1-2 slider missed way inside to Bradley Zimmer, Whit Merrifield ran in to the mound in a panic, Mike Matheny came out and Singer’s day was done. They announced it was upper right arm discomfort during the game and then Matheny sounded relieved after the game when the tests came back and showed no issues with either the elbow or the shoulder. So we can worry about first innings later when the pitcher doesn’t leave in the middle of an at bat. Yesterday was about the bullpen giving Salvador Perez and the Royals a chance to come back.
It started with Ervin Santana, who got the final out of the first and then eight more to get the game into the fourth inning. Then Dylan Coleman took over and got the game through the fifth with 1.1 perfect innings. After Coleman was Gabe Speier, who did give up a hit, but he got the game into the seventh. Domingo Tapia retired three of the four hitters he faced before yielding to Jake Brentz, who continued to struggle since the break. But Josh Staumont came in and bailed him out and got through the end of the game. I want to talk about some individuals, but I also want to appreciate the bullpen as a whole.
They went 8.1 innings and allowed one run on six hits with five strikeouts and three walks. It was just one good performance after another with just the hiccup from Brentz that caused a little bit of a problem. And now since the break, the bullpen has a 3.41 ERA in 256 innings. Their total line is kind of fun:
256 IP (≈3.2 IP/G)
244 K (23.3%)
97 BB (9.3%)
Yes, you’d like to see more strikeouts and fewer walks, but they’ve shown they are very difficult to hit with those hits to innings pitched numbers. The ERA has benefited from some unearned runs, but compare the numbers above to their first half:
344 IP (≈4 IP/G)
358 K (23.9%)
175 BB (11.7%)
While the innings per game have started to converge with the pre-break, a lot of that has come lately. The starters going more innings up until the last couple weeks has been huge to keep the bullpen fresh and able to pitch better. It’s also been great to see guys like Tapia, Joel Payamps, Richard Lovelady and now Coleman and Speier step up and show something. I still think the Royals would do well to add one of those big, nasty closers this off-season, but I don’t know where that might come from and I think they might have that in Coleman.
I want to break down last night’s performances because it was such good work.
There have been questions throughout the season about why Santana has remained on the roster. Those dissipated a bit when it started to become obvious how much of an impact he’s had on Carlos Hernandez, but it’s easy to question why a 38-year old is getting so many innings for a team going nowhere. Last night’s game is why. I personally am a bit curious what he would have done in a short relief role given that he’s actually been pumping mid-90s with a good slider a lot of the time, but he’s largely been the long reliever.
Last night was the 15th time this year he’s been asked to go through a lineup at least once. It hasn’t always been pretty but after a year with so few innings thrown, to handle a lot of those innings has been a lifesaver. Last night was his ninth time throwing three innings or more and the third of those nine that were scoreless. So yeah, he hasn’t always gotten the job done, but again, that’s okay.
His slider was really popping last night with six whiffs in 16 pitches. Not all of these went exactly where he wanted them to go, but being able to throw a pitch for strikes is what allows a pitcher to get whiffs on pitches.
You can see that he was in the zone plenty with the slider, which allowed for the whiffs. He didn’t get the win or a hold or anything, but the Royals don’t have a shot at this game without him.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I have been on the edge of my seat waiting for Coleman since a scout told me that the Royals traded Trevor Rosenthal last year for a guy who might be better eventually. And he hasn’t disappointed so far in his three outings. He only had one whiff, but I thought the slider looked really good and his fastball was showing the kind of velocity that you hope to have in the back of a bullpen. This slider to Reyes was just nasty.
What are you supposed to do with that pitch? The answer is nothing.
Speier came over in the Jon Jay deal a couple years ago and hasn’t been very good in the minors, but he was so good in AAA this year that he’s gotten another shot and given himself a chance to be a part of next year’s bullpen. He’s now thrown 5.2 innings in five games since his callup and he hasn’t given up an earned run or walked a batter. We’ve seen so many issues with walks that if a guy doesn’t walk anyone for five games, it’s news. There was a lot of talk about his velocity with Omaha and it hadn’t really shown yet, but last night he averaged 94.5 MPH with his sinker, which is way up from the season average and about what I had heard he was throwing in the minors.
Oh, and by the way, he got four outs on 11 pitches. That’s huge.
Tapia went from his most dominant performance in the second game of the double header against the Indians last week to two pretty rough outings in Detroit. I think it was important to get him back out there pretty quickly after those, and he came in to relieve Speier and face the 2-3-4 hitters for the Indians. I don’t know if he wasn’t feeling the slider or if he was really feeling his sinker, but he only threw one slider. I’ve had my concerns about his control, and he did walk a batter, but he’s just been such a nice find for the Royals. I don’t think he was great last night, but he got the job done.
Here’s the one blemish on the bullpen’s night. Brentz has struggled quite a bit since the break, which isn’t great for him given how Lovelady and Speier have both emerged throughout the second half of the season. And last night was no exception. The good news is that I actually liked his location quite a bit.
Living on the edge is a good thing. The Indians were just prepared for it. It also didn’t help that his velocity was way down, which could be a result of fatigue pitching in a sixth month for the first time. Still, with the run allowed last night and only getting one out, he’s now pitched in 30 games since the break and has a 4.81 ERA with 11 walks in 24.1 innings. He’s going to have to earn his spot in next year’s bullpen.
If Coleman isn’t the closer next year, I think Staumont probably should be. It’s not that I don’t love Scott Barlow, but as I’ve said before, I think he’s a little too volatile in the ninth. The power of Staumont or Coleman is helpful. And Staumont seems to have started to figure out the control thing. He has a walk rate of 8.1 percent since the break. While that isn’t great, it’s a huge improvement. And it definitely plays with the 29.7 percent strikeout rate. When he came in for Brentz to face Owen Miller, I was a little worried he’d get cute on 0-2. He didn’t.
That’s 98 and it’s basically unhittable. His velocity in general was down, but it’s nice to know he can reach back for it when he needs it.
And that’s how the bullpen turned a disaster into a chance for the Royals to win.
The Offense Did Their Part
No matter what the bullpen did, it wouldn’t have mattered if the offense stayed in their slump from the past week. Since they scored four runs in the second game of the double header, the Royals came into last night’s game having scored 10 runs in their last five games. They were 2-3, so it wasn’t hurting the bottom line as much as it could have, but they hadn’t scored more than three in any of those games.
So when Perez worked a first inning walk with two outs to get Andrew Benintendi to the plate, that became a very big point in the game already. Aaron Civale seemed to have a plan against Benintendi, pitching him up and in with his cutter and four-seamer, but he went to that well one too many times.
To get two runs back right away seemed like just an absolutely huge hit there. And it, of course, continued Benintendi’s monster September. With that home run and walk later in the game, he’s now hitting .347/.382/.584 with five homers and 27 RBI. Those numbers are made even more impressive when you realize he went 3 for 20 with one RBI in the first five games of the month. I do wonder if we’ll see him again tonight after he fouled a ball off his shin, but I hope he’s okay from that even though they pinch ran for him in the eighth after he walked.
In the bottom of the fourth, they tied the game because of the legs of Perez. Yes, you read that right. He hit a soft gap shot to left-center that he legged out a double on. Most hitters would be able to make it pretty easily, but Salvy isn’t exactly fast, so it took a little extra effort. Then he moved to third on a fly ball from Benintendi and scored on a sacrifice fly from Carlos Santana.
And then in the sixth, he gave the fans what they wanted.
That’s his 47th of the season, which means a few things. He’s now one away from tying Jorge Soler for the most home runs in a season in team history. He’s also one home run away from being the second Royals hitter ever to have 200 home runs with the team. He also tied Andres Galarraga for the second most home runs in a season by a Venezuelan born player. Oh yeah, and it was his 25th of the year that tied the game or gave the Royals the lead. Including Perez this year, the Royals have only had an individual hit 25 or more home runs 37 times in team history and he has that many that have changed the game.
And he got a much-deserved curtain call.
It’s hard to put into words how amazing his season has been, but outside of watching winning postseason baseball, it’s been one of the most entertaining things I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing as a Royals fan. Very cool.
While I thought things were setting up for a Salvy walkoff after the Indians tied the game, the offense just continued to go in the bottom of the eighth. Merrifield started things off with a single and then Nicky Lopez worked a count from 0-2 to 3-2 and got a cutter in a spot to drive. And he did what he was supposed to do.
What a story Lopez has been this season. It feels like big hit after big hit after big hit. He’d come home on a wild pitch to give the Royals their 6-4 lead that ended up being the final score.
And what a relief it was to finally beat the Indians at home.
Hernandez Kinda Sorta Shut Down
Before the game, Matheny indicated that Carlos Hernandez would not take his start in the series finale on Thursday and wouldn’t start again this year. That’s not really that big of a deal considering it would have been his last start of the year anyway, but I think it’s the right decision. I wrote a bit ago about how absolutely gassed Hernandez looked in his last few starts. Between the big leagues and the minors, he had thrown 112 innings this year after throwing just 14.2 innings last year. A lot of people will argue that he was at the alternate site and there was spring training before the shutdown and he probably threw during the shutdown and all that, and while that’s true, there’s something very different about competitive game action. So yeah, it’s a good time to keep him from throwing 80-100 pitches one more time.
Matheny did say that he would be available out of the bullpen, which I don’t think is necessary, but that’s okay. It was a heck of a year for the young righty, who hadn’t pitched above A-ball due to injuries before his big league debut last year and has limited experience even in AAA. He made some major strides with both command and control and before he started looking tired, he showed some of the best stuff of any of the Royals young starters. He ended up with a 3.68 ERA in 85.2 big league innings, but in his first nine games (that included that long relief outing in Seattle), he put up a 2.94 ERA in 49 innings with just 34 hits allowed and 16 walks. I want to see him build on that next year, but he’s put himself firmly in the conversation to not only be in the rotation to start next year, but maybe to be the best of the young arms. It was very impressive how he improved this year.