Angel gets his Royal wings

Zerpa brings the stuff in his debut. Salvy stays in the yard. And Mondesi continues to struggle in September.

Good morning. Brief newsletter today. The Royals dropped the series finale to Cleveland on Thursday by a score of 6-1. A non-descript, playing-out-the-string type of baseball game, notable only for Angel Zerpa’s successful debut and Salvy’s continued pursuit of the club’s home run record. But any reason to watch a ballgame is a good reason to watch a ballgame.

Angel shines in his debut

It’s always nice to see a quality major league debut. As I’ve written seemingly every week this season as the Royals minor league pipeline continues to produce results, the rush these players feel in the moment when they step between the big league lines for the first time must be immense. It’s difficult to imagine what they’re feeling. So when a player channels that energy into a positive…that qualifies as a success.

Angel Zerpa’s major league debut was undoubtedly a success.

Zerpa came out firing strikes. He needed 11 pitches to navigate through a clean first inning, jumping ahead of the final two batters 0-2. After starting off Bradley Zimmer with a slider that sat middle of the plate (catcher Cam Gallagher had set the target low and away to the left-handed batter) Zerpa climbed the ladder.

He took the opposite approach to get 0-2 to the next batter, the always dangerous José Ramírez. Fastball up, followed by a nasty slider down and in.

That was a perfect pitch and right where Gallagher set the target.

Zerpa finished both off with called third strikes on fastballs on the inside corner. Both were perfectly located (especially with, at that moment, a generous strike zone) and hit Gallagher’s glove. It’s exciting when a young pitcher can command that fastball.

See for yourself. Here’s Zerpa’s first career major league strikeout.

Zerpa was even more efficient in the second. Cleveland touched him for a pair of unearned runs in the third after an Adalberto Mondesi throwing error, but it should be noted that Zerpa got through eight batters before surrendering a hit. In an alternate universe, it would be crazy interesting to see how that third inning would’ve turned out had Mondesi not spiked a throw on what should’ve been an easy first out.

Still, it was a hugely successful debut from a pitcher who the Royals placed on their 40-man roster last winter in something of a surprise move to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. In the last two seasons, the Royals have had six pitchers make their first major league appearance as a starter. That includes the highly touted prospect quartet from the 2018 draft. Of all those prospects and all those debuts, Zerpa’s was the most successful.

Can’t say that at the start of the year we saw this coming. Baseball is wild, isn’t it?

Did Salvy hit a home run?

No, Salvy didn’t hit a home run. Honestly, after leaving the previous game with that ankle sprain, it was a minor miracle he was in the lineup. I mean, it wasn’t a surprise that he played as the designated hitter, because the only thing that can keep Salvador Perez off the field in 2021 is a stomach bug. He is a machine.

Perez doubled leading off the sixth. On the bum wheel, I thought Mike Matheny would pinch-run for him in that situation, given that the score at the time was 3-1. But that would rob him of at least one more plate appearance, so you can understand the managerial inertia. Perez moved up 90 feet on an Andrew Benintendi single that probably would’ve scored an average runner with a decent break.

With runners on the corners and no outs, the Royals started Benintendi on a 3-2 pitch to Carlos Santana. The Cleveland infield would’ve been satisfied with turning two in exchange for that run, but with Benny breaking, second baseman Owen Miller came home with his throw to gun down Perez. It kind of was a contact play, but the Cleveland infield was back at all positions conceding the run, and Perez obviously thought they were going to flip the double play. Still, it was another out at home for the Royals. They’re now tied on the year with the Yankees for running into the most outs at the plate.

Man, the AL Central Division tends to go strong on the TOOTBLAN.

Oh, Adalberto

Even with Perez out at the plate, the Royals had an opportunity to put runs on the board in the sixth. After the Santana fielder’s choice, Hunter Dozier singled to load the bases with one out and Adalberto Mondesi up.

I’ll spare you any suspense: Mondesi grounded into a double play to end the threat.

It’s been a rough month for Mondesi. Really, it’s been a rough two months. He went hitless in his first 13 plate appearances on his Triple-A rehab assignment before he was briefly recalled. He returned and ended up hitting .200/.243/.371 in 37 plate appearances for Omaha.

Recalled at the start of September, he’s continued to struggle. In 86 plate appearances, Mondesi has hit .177/.226/.291 with 29 strikeouts. That works out to a 34 percent strikeout rate. He has four extra-base hits and four walks.

Mondesi is officially an enigma. The highs are supremely elevated and he can legitimately carry a team with his all-around game. The lows are incredibly discouraging and frustrating, where he becomes a black hole in the lineup—and as we saw on Thursday, even at times on the field.

Triple Zs

Yes, the Royals became the first team in major league history to have three pitchers whose last name starts with Z to appear in the same game. Zerpa was followed by Tyler Zuber and Kyle Zimmer (after a Dylan Coleman appearance).

If all three are back on the team next summer, I may need to look into remapping my keyboard so I can find that Z key a little easier. Newsletter problems.

Up next

It’s the final three games of the 2021 season as the Twins come to town. Minnesota is still within striking distance of fourth place, so the Royals will need to avoid the sweep to stay out of the Central Division cellar. Jon Heasley gets the start on Friday against John Gant. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 CDT.