More happy Royals returns
Jackson Kowar was locating and confounding hitters. Adalberto Mondesi was doing Adalbert Mondesi things. Welcome back!
I can’t get over how much I despise Rob Manfred’s extra inning rule of placing a runner on second base. I’m not certain about the point he’s trying to make. Is he saying that baseball is boring and it’s bad enough we forced you to sit through an entire nine innings, so here’s a little something to spice up the 10th and beyond? Or does he legitimately believe that putting a runner on second somehow speeds up the game?
Personally, what I’ve found is that it injects a sort of artificial tension into the game that, given we’ve progressed to extra innings, we don’t need. Let the kids play!
It also lends to some kind of otherworldly frustration when a team is twice gifted runners into scoring position and then fails to bring said runner home.
Such was the outcome on Wednesday at The K as the Royals loaded the bases in their half of the tenth with no outs and failed to score. Blow and opportunity handed to you on a silver platter from the Commissioner of Baseball and the Cleveland bullpen and the baseball gods are guaranteed to punish you. And punish the Royals, they did as the Royals fell 5-3, their 10th consecutive loss to the Future Guardians.
Of course, at this point of another lost season, the primary focus isn’t on victories and defeats.
Welcome back, Jackson Kowar
Colby Wilson will join us in a moment with his takes on Kowar and Mondesi, but I wanted to highlight a couple of things.
Can I interest you in a right-on-right changeup? Yes? Good.
This was Kowar’s 94th—and final—pitch of the night. It was just a perfect pitch in a perfect location. There is just nothing Harold Ramirez can do. If he watches the pitch, he’s going to get rung up. If he swings…well, you saw what happened.
Kowar had his command working on Wednesday, something that was absolutely missing from each of his first three big league outings. When he’s locating that fastball and pairing it against the changeup…mercy. Check out the location of his swinging strikes.
Yeah, there are a couple center-cut fastballs, but when you’re pumping heat at 97 to 95 mph and mixing it with a dancing changeup that comes across about 10 mph slower, you can steal a strike or two down the chute. Like this…
That’s a 3-0 heater to Franmil Reyes. A bit of a challenge pitch from Kowar. He passed.
Back to the change. Kowar threw 34 on the night, split almost evenly between left-handed and right-handed batters. He throws it mostly away from the lefties. He was a bit more inner-half to the right-handers, but damn if it isn’t a weapon.
It’s as if the most same-siders can do is foul it off. Or swing and miss. Either outcome is just fine with Kowar, I’m sure.
Here’s what the Kowar cambio looks like running away from a lefty.
And the devastation it inflicts on a right-handed batter.
This was just a fantastic return for Kowar. He dealt through the first four innings, allowing a couple of baserunners but he picked off one and got a double play to erase another. Things got sticky in the fifth and sixth. An error from Michael A. Taylor led to a pair of unearned runs in the fifth. (I know the Royals’ broadcast was banging on about how Taylor had a 10 percent chance to make that catch, but that discounts his speed and how he was able to actually reach the ball. It wasn’t easy and he had to run a long way, but he was there and needed to make that catch.) Kowar then escaped a jam in the sixth by striking out back-to-back hitters. Both on changeups. The first gif in this entry was the second strikeout. Because I believe in giving you, the reader, what you want, here’s the first.
Take a moment to scroll up and revisit the pitch chart of the changeups to left-handed batters. Kowar was working down all night. Perez set his target a little lower, looking for another one down, but when you’ve been on all night, you can afford to miss a little location when you’re ahead in the count. In this case Bradley Zimmer is helpless. He, and his teammates, haven’t seen 88 mph in that location all night.
Just a triumphant return from Kowar. And with this stable of young arms assembled for September, this could be a fun month to watch some major league development.
Welcome back (again), Adalberto Mondesi
Yeah, yeah, yeah…the Royals can’t count on Mondesi. But when he’s in the lineup, he’s capable of doing everything.
With two hits, including a dinger, and a stolen base and a pair of runs scored, the dude has provided instant offense on the rare occasions he’s been healthy this year.
This tweet from Nick Kappel, the Royals manager of communications and broadcasting, let me to Stathead at Baseball-Reference. Mondesi has done hit the home run/stolen base daily double twice in 2021. Here is the complete list of Royals who have done this.
I mean, the guy has played in 11 games this year.
(How crazy is it that Carlos Santana is on this list? I could give you 10 guesses to name the players who have one home run and one stolen base in a game this year and you never would’ve named Santana.)
Mondesi is an elite talent who has a history where he can’t avoid the IL. But you take what he can give you when healthy. You absolutely take it.
Two Take Thursday: More on the returns of Messrs. Mondesi and Kowar
The finish line is in sight. It won’t be the worst or the best Royals season ever, which is probably what we all guessed in March. Sometimes things just exist in your life for a few months and you get to pick a couple of small, fun snippets out of the memories while acknowledging that it mostly was a disappointment. If we haven’t reached that point with the 2021 Royals, we can at least recognize that the meat is largely off the bone and if you’re planning to have fond memories of this club and don’t already, it’s probably time to make hay while the sun still shines. Takes are incoming, you know what to do with them.
Take One: We’re never quitting Adalberto Mondesi
It would be easy, honestly. He gets hurt a lot. He’s (allegedly) sort of mercurial. There’s become an increasing concern for where, exactly, the team should play him in a Bobby Witt Jr.—Nicky Lopez—Whit Merrifield near-future. For an alleged cornerstone who is going to stay at a significant cost when he’s eligible for free agency in 2024, these are not insignificant concerns to have.
Then he does this.
The questions vanish. Maybe Mondi is destined to be a comet, to burn out rather than fade away. That’s fine; I’m here for a good time, not a long time. The money isn’t mine. The product is what matters, and a product with Mondi on the field is better than one without him. Give me that breathtaking home run and I’ll put up with multiple IL stints each year or an adventurous newbie patrolling centerfield or both. I’m easy that way.
(Also, since he caught the thing and since I now have that knowledge whether I want it or not, please eject Zack Hample from the park on sight, Royals security.)
Take Two: Jackson Kowar is following in the footsteps of his peers—but why?
Sometimes it happens. Sometimes, especially with pitchers, guys come to the big leagues and just aren’t quite ready yet, or are too good for Triple-A but not quite seasoned enough for the big time and struggle. Saw it with Daniel Lynch, saw it with Kris Bubic and if Wednesday night is an indication, saw it with Jackson Kowar too.
Kowar was absolutely rocked in three appearances prior to Thursday and went longer in his first start since June than he had in all the other appearances combined. This has crossed from interesting to surreal, how the young pitching the Royals have placed a premium on over the last few years have followed a similar pattern to what is hopefully sustained success. I would love to know what is happening during this adjustment period back in Omaha—or in Bubic’s case, early-season bullpen exile—that brings them back into the fold, pitching with the confidence that made them early-round selections in the first place. It would be easy and trite to say, “Oh, first-game jitters or rookie struggles or hitting The Wall or [fill in whichever -ism for baseball struggles you can find],” but the pattern this follows beggar’s description. Come up, struggle, go down (or to the ‘pen), find your chi or whatever, come back exactly as expected all along.
It becomes difficult to assign blame—fun though it would be to crap on Cal Eldred some more for all of this—but it’s equally difficult to suss out whether or not the success will be sustainable or if we’re all doomed to ride the quality start—bounced after three innings—quality start roller coaster in perpetuity. People have lost money on sillier gambles than high-round pitchers eventually turning out just fine, but the questions that remain unanswered—and are largely unanswerable without a larger body of work to fall back on in the case of Lynch and Kowar—will worry me until we work this out. LIKE A FAMILY SHOULD.
Prior to the game the Royals announced that Jakob Junis was heading to the IL with shoulder impingement syndrome. To take his spot on the roster they activated Jake Brentz who was on the IL with…shoulder impingement.
It continues what has become a disturbing trend with Royals’ pitchers (and Cam Gallagher) in 2021. According to Baseball Prosepectus’ Injury Ledger, there have been 15 cases of shoulder impingement this year. The Royals have been responsible for a third of those.
(The Ledger has not been updated with Junis’ injury.)
I’d like to resist the temptation to read anything into this, but one does like to wonder. I figured with the cases of Greg Holland and Brentz, that the listed reason was more or less an opportunity to give them a bit of a rest coming off the shortened 2020 season and since Mike Matheny has leaned on his favored relievers probably a little more than he would’ve liked to. Brentz’s quick return lends a little bit of credence to that theory.
After his successful outing on Tuesday, it’s quite disappointing that Junis is on the IL. While the Royals had previously been coy about the injury he suffered while with Omaha, he mentioned after the game that he had been dealing with some shoulder issues. Maybe this was related, although he did run through a full complement of rehab outings before making his return to the Royals.
A’s 6, Tigers 8
I read somewhere yesterday that the Tigers are looking for a strong finish from Akil Baddoo, the Rule 5 pick from the Twins organization who has put together a fine rookie campaign. Message received. Baddoo homered and singled, scoring two and driving in a pair. Miguel Cabrera hit career home run number 502 and brought home three. And the Tigers stormed back from a 6-3 deficit to even their series against Oakland.
Cubs 3, Twins 0
So has Minnesota just kind of packed it in? Wouldn’t blame them if they have. They lost their second consecutive game to the Team Formerly Known As The Cubs, scoring just a single run in the process. On Tuesday, they were limited to two hits. One each off starter Justin Steele, who went five innings, and reliever Adbert Alzolay, who closed out the game with four. All of Chicago’s scoring was courtesy of Frank Schwindel, who hit a three-run jack in the third.
Pirates 3, White Sox 6
Mondesi and Kowar weren’t the only callups who provided instant results. Gavin Sheets returned from Triple-A and hit two dingers and drove in four as the Sox powered past the Pirates. Carlos Rodón allowed just a run in five innings. He threw just 77 pitches as the Sox have the luxury of keeping their rotation fresh while lining things up for the postseason. That crafty Tony LaRussa!
The Royals close out the series with Mike Minor on the mound against Triston McKenzie. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 CDT.