A Royal sweep

Keller finds his slider, Staumont loses some velocity, Taylor does everything and the Royals have back-to-back wins for the first time in three weeks.

Sure, it’s a modest winning streak of two games. But when the last time the Royals strung together multiple wins was all the way back in late April (a five game winning streak from April 21 to the 26th), that’s worth noting. So I’ll go ahead and refer to this moment in time as a winning streak.

And for the Royals to outlast Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in back-to-back games, that’s likewise notable.

So with that pesky extended losing streak out of the way, the Royals have now won four of their last six. They did it on Wednesday with some decent pitching, a couple of timely bombs and a little help from the man in blue behind home plate.

And bunts. We can’t forget the bunts.

As the Royals sweep the Brewers out of Kansas City, these last two wins are reminiscent of those early April victories where the team battled to remain in the game and capitalized on opportunities. It’s impossible to wash away those 11 losses in a row simply because something like that should not be happening to a good team. But the Royals have shown a resiliency that is admirable.

Staumont lost a little heat

Today, we start at the end. Josh Staumont was brought in to close out the game in the ninth. It was a bit of a scuffle as Whit Merrifield re-caught the yips in throwing to first, Kolten Wong doubled and he walked Christian Yelich. However, he was able to dance around with minimal damage. Thank goodness for insurance runs.

Except it was obvious from the jump that something wasn’t right with Staumont. He opened with a 95 mph fastball. Two pitches later, it was 93 mph. For a guy who can tickle triple-digits, that’s a severe drop in velocity.

“It’s as simple as it can be. And it’s as complex as you want to make it,” Staumont said after the game. “As a closer, your job is to just kind of work with what you’ve got.”

He never found the heat. It was the slowest average fastball he’s thrown all season. By quite a bit.

This was the second day in a row Staumont was throwing. He also closed out the victory on Tuesday. He’s generally been decent throwing on back-to-back days out of the bullpen. And in 2021 he’s rarely seen any kind of velocity drop in that situation.

It’s not instructive to take a small sample of relief outings and reach a conclusion. What follows is a table of Staumont’s outings where he’s thrown in consecutive days this year. For reference, I’ve included his outing the day before, along with the number of pitches and the average fastball velocity.

Staumont’s worst outing of 2021 came on May 5, the day after he threw 21 pitches. It followed a bit of a high-stress outing on May 4 as he allowed a leadoff double. The walk in that game was an intentional one.

Otherwise, Staumont has been relatively solid when appearing in back-to-back games. Likewise, his velocity seems to hold in that second game. Until Wednesday night.

Staumont missed the first part of spring training battling Covid. He’s been slowly trying to build back his strength, but I imagine that’s difficult to do during the grind of the regular season. Staumont said he’s still trying to get to the point where he feels he should be.

“It has been hard, coming back (from Covid),” Staumont said. “I hold myself to a pretty high standard. I want to be as good as I can be. I would be lying if I said I was as good as I want to be right now. But at the same time, that just gives me opportunity to grow. So I’m not really worried about it.”

Overall in 2021, his velocity is down about a tick on his four-seamer and about two on his sinker he will occasionally break out. Still, he’s hit triple-digits a handful of times, most recently in a game against the Pirates on April 28. He’s also uncorked one at 101.8 this year, tied for his fifth fastest pitch he’s thrown in the majors.

Staumont himself didn’t seem bothered after the game. Covid is a wicked virus and it hits everyone differently. Staumont missed enough time that it’s not surprising he’s still trying to get to where he feels he should be at this point in the season. So I’ll take my cue from him and remain calm, yet vigilant. The Royals simply can’t afford another bullpen setback.

Sliding with Keller

Let’s let Keller give his own assessment of where he’s been as far as his slider is concerned.

“To start the season, I didn’t really have a slider. It was kind of floating in there and guys were just teeing off on it.”

Indeed, his slider was getting hammered in his first handful of outings. Keller has spoken in vague terms about mechanical adjustments he’s been making between starts to rediscover that 2020 mojo. As such, he’s been slow to rely on the slider the same way he has previously. On Wednesday, it looked like he was finally totally comfortable with the pitch. It was the most he’d thrown the slider all year.

Six balls were put in play on the slider, with just one hit. Sure, the one hit was a large one—the Jackie Bradley Jr. home run in the fourth—but that was a middle-middle slider that lacked that bite that Keller exhibited for most of the game. Maybe it was the rain. It was just an anomaly pitch on an otherwise solid night.

He threw the slider 41 percent of the time and generated 14 swings with four of those misses. He also got five called strikes for a 24 percent CSW%. It was clear he finally had the confidence in the pitch.

After the game, Keller acknowledged as much as he said he felt as though the slider was working how it was supposed to for the first time in a while.

“To kind of get that bite back, to kind of get that feel back that I had the previous two years, it was definitely a positive thing,” Keller said.

In the third, Keller uncorked four consecutive sliders to ring Dan Vogelbach up on strikes. Keller did get some help from the home plate umpire (more on that in a moment) in that duel getting a couple of low called strikes out of the zone, but the last pitch was exactly what you want given the circumstances.

It wasn’t an easy night for Keller—in only the second inning did he retire the side in order—but the confidence in the slider seemed to permeate his evening. He bent, but he never came close to breaking. The slider meant he didn’t have to rely on his fastball as much.

“It doesn’t make me have to be so fine with my fastball, knowing I have another pitch that I have command in and trust in again,” Keller said.

It appears Keller might be on his way back.

Taylor does it all

I don’t normally do things like hand out accolades for a player of the game, but in this edition, I’ll make an exception for Michael A. Taylor. Two innings after putting the Royals ahead with a home run off Burnes, he did this…

That’s just one of the best catches I’ve seen from a center fielder at Kauffman Stadium, especially given the circumstances. It gave the Brewers the lead, but if that ball had gone over the fence, it would’ve been a two-run lead. It’s always important to keep runs off the board, but given the back and forth of the game on Wednesday, this play was massively important.

Soler finally turns the power back on

It’s been a while. As is custom at Into The Fountains, all home runs that get wet will be gif’d.

There was quite a bit of launch angle on that.

How great was this? Especially after what we saw in his previous plate appearance where he just looked completely lost against Burnes. This season has been difficult for Soler. Maybe he’s about ready to go on one of his patented home run binges.

Poetry in bunting

After Soler put the ball into the fountains in the sixth to tie the game, the Royals rallied on the back of a Kelvin Gutierrez single, a steal from pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson, a walk and then…BACK TO BACK BUNTS!

First, it was Cam Gallagher who sacrificed to move the runners to second and third. Again, I’m really not enamored with the sacrifice in this situation. You’re surrendering an out and moving runners up for your ninth-place hitter. There’s just no logic in that strategy. The Royals now have nine sacrifice hits on the year, tied for the most in the AL with the Tony LaRussa White Sox.

Or maybe that strategy does make sense when you’re going to ask that number nine hitter to lay down a bunt of his own. Nicky Lopez is back to hitting with a plan at the plate and has established himself as an extremely good bunter of baseballs. And he laid down a beauty to push in the go-ahead run.

(Sorry, I will not gif bunts. I have standards!)

I believe it’s the second time this year Lopez has been the second man in a bunting tandem to bring home a run. I’ll begrudgingly concede that if it’s successful like that, I won’t hate on bunts too much. But I’ll still hate them.

Consistently inconsistent

The strike zone was all kinds of brutal on Wednesday.

The Royals were able to take advantage in a big way. Keller, Brentz and Barlow all got strikes called out of the zone. Keller got almost all of the low ones you see in the chart above. And there was the big strikeout of Omar Narváez to end the game on a pitch well out of the zone.

Central issues

  • White Sox 2, Twins 1

Lucas Giolito throws eight innings of two-hit ball, striking out 11. The lone blemish on his day was a home run allowed to Nelson Cruz.

  • Cleveland 3, Angels 2

Aaron Civale goes seven, allowing two runs while striking out eight. Shohei Ohtani’s velocity was way down in his start for the Angels. Josh Naylor broke a 2-2 deadlock with a single in the sixth.

  • Tigers 6, Mariners 2

Tarik Skubal went five, striking out nine. Kind of surprising the Mariners got a hit, I suppose.

Up next

The Royals are off Thursday. They close out their homestand with three against the Tigers starting on Friday. Mike Minor will get the start when they return to action.