Keller in command
On the day when Adalberto Mondesi lands on the IL, Brad Keller steps up and shoves as the Royals complete the series win against the White Sox.
I don’t know how you feel about this, but it seems that if a team draws eight walks in a game, they should be in a fantastic position to win. Accept that many free base runners and you have to score enough to win, especially with an ascendant Brad Keller on the mound, right?
The Royals left it close, cashing in two of those walks in the 10th inning of Thursday’s 5-2 victory over the White Sox. They leave Chicago as winners of two of three.
As noted here on Wednesday, the Royals entered the series with the White Sox with a team OBP of .272. They leave with a team OBP of .283. Quite a bump even accounting for the fact they’ve played just 17 games. Still not great (they rank 11th in the AL), but we certainly can’t turn up our noses at any kind of improvement in that category.
Keller shoves…and sinks!
The star of the game was the aforementioned Keller. What a performance.
Keller threw more sinkers on Thursday than he has at any time in 2022, dividing it almost equally between his four-seamer and slider. He only got three whiffs on the sinker, but with a horizontal break of 13 inches on average—about 11 more inches than he gets on the four-seamer, it can be an incredibly effective third pitch.
That’s where he was keeping the sinker for most of the afternoon-to the arm side. That makes it an extremely nice compliment to the slider that dives in the opposite direction.
Of course, he doesn’t have to keep that slider on the glove side. It’s capable of locking up hitters when it finishes on the opposite edge of the dish.
His overall pitch chart illustrates how well he was able to locate everything on Thursday.
Obviously, the first thing that stands out is how there’s absolutely nothing in the nitro zone. Zip. Zilch. The White Sox hitters saw a steady diet of pitches up and pitches on the edges. You can see the cluster of sinkers on in the inner half to right-handed batters and the sliders down and away to those same hitters. The four-seamer is up, exactly where he needs to be for a successful start.
Yes, the Sox were able to generate some loud contact, coming up with nine hard-hit balls (exit velocities greater than 95 mph), but again…it’s all about the location of the pitches where the hard contact is made.
Very few mistakes and a lot of contact on pitches low in the strike zone. And while it’s not always true that contact on low pitches results in ground balls, in Keller’s case, it generally is. He recorded 12 ground ball outs to two fly outs.
What a performance. The Royals needed that to finish off a road trip that didn’t start on the highest of notes.
Roster moves aplenty
As expected, the Royals made a flurry of roster moves ahead of their series finale against the White Sox on Thursday.
The Royals placed Adalberto Mondesi on the 10-day injured list.
The diagnosis of the injury to his knee which caused him to leave Tuesday’s game is the worst-case scenario—a tear of the ACL. He will require surgery to repair the tear and the recovery time is nine to 12 months. (Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña returned to action on Thursday nine months after tearing his ACL.)
It’s just another frustrating turn in Mondesi’s career. So many injuries and so much unrealized potential. He was off to a dreadful start at the plate in 2022, hitting .140/.204/.140 in 54 plate appearances, good for an OPS+ of 4. That’s 96 percent worse than the league average. Woof.
Despite being on base just 11 times, Mondesi swiped five bases and scored three runs. Imagine those numbers if he was just league average. Sigh.
The other day when I was writing about Mondesi looking lost at the plate (again), I was struck by his games played column on his Baseball-Reference page.
And now his 2022 season is over after just 15 games. That comes a year after he appeared in 35 contests. Somehow, he managed to play in 59 out of the 60 games in 2020. He just can’t stay on the field. It’s a shame, really, for an athlete with so much talent and so much potential to have his body continually break down in such a devastating manner.
The Royals are fortunate from a defensive standpoint that they have the players to fill the shortstop role. They’ll keep Bobby Witt Jr. at third for the time being, slide Nicky Lopez over to short and bring in Whit Merrifield from the outfield. It’s probably the best defensive alignment the Royals could deploy with those three.
The Royals will have a decision to make on Mondesi after this season. He will be eligible for arbitration for the third time this winter. He certainly won’t be in line for any kind of raise on the $3 million he’s making this year. They are allowed to offer him a reduction of up to 20 percent. We’ll see. The likely scenario would be for the Royals to simply non-tender a contract to Mondesi, making him a free agent. I would assume the decision would be dependent upon the progress he makes during his rehab process, but really, with just a year left before he would be eligible to depart as a free agent, what’s the point? Maybe he needs a fresh start in a new organization. I wouldn’t blame him if he felt that way.
A discussion for another day.
The Royals recalled Kyle Isbel from Omaha.
Isbel was in Chicago on Wednesday as part of the taxi squad in case the move needed to be made. In five games since his demotion earlier this month, Isbel hit .250/.348/.500 in 22 PAs. He started on Thursday and immediately found himself in the key moment of the game in the 10th inning with the bases loaded. After a wild pitch plated the go-ahead run, Isbel cashed in a pair of insurance runs with a two-out double. Welcome back.
It stands to reason that he and Eduardo Olivares will form a platoon in right field. Personally, I’d prefer to see Isbel in center with Michael A. Taylor as a late-inning defensive replacement and occasional spot starter. Not going to happen, though.
The Royals optioned Brady Singer to Omaha.
This one was a bit of a surprise. Singer pitched two innings against the White Sox on Tuesday, allowing just one hit while striking out two. Overall, he’s made three appearances, throwing 5.2 innings this season. And that’s the heart of the reason why he’s been optioned.
The Royals just haven’t found the innings for Singer to remain stretched out. He will head to Omaha to get that opportunity as the Royals still see him as a starter. While club president Dayton Moore said the team is happy with their rotation at the moment, I think this move puts Kris Bubic on notice. Zack Greinke isn’t going anywhere. Keller turned in his fourth fantastic start of the year on Thursday. Daniel Lynch has been impressive in his three starts. Carlos Hernández hasn’t been great, but had his best start of 2022 the last time out against Seattle. That leaves Bubic who’s had issues in each of his three starts this young season.
Singer will need at least two and probably three turns through the rotation in Triple-A to get to the point where he could throw 80+ pitches in an outing. That gives Bubic a couple of weeks to show something. We’ll see.
The Royals recalled Emmanuel Rivera from Omaha.
Rivera has been abusing Triple-A pitching to the tune of .290/.389/.532 in 17 games. His current .921 OPS matches the number he posted last year splitting time between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. The plan, according to Moore, is for Rivera to serve as a backup infielder for the time being.
Boy, it sure would be great if they gave Merrifield a day off at some point. Move Witt over to short and Lopez back to the keystone…that could be a fun infield alignment.
With these moves, it feels like the Royals are getting just a little closer to giving more of their young hitters playing time. With Vinnie Pasquatino, Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez waiting in the wings, we could see seismic lineup movements this year.
We can dream, can’t we?