The rookie shall lead the way
Bob destroys multiple baseballs, Salvy's thumb gets angry again and Santana has something for all the haters as the Royals win the wildest game of the year.
Where to even begin?
If you stayed up Tuesday night into Wednesday morning (thank you, West Coast baseball!) you were treated—or was it subjected—to some kind of ball game. The Royals held a 6-1 lead going into the sixth with starter Jonathan Heasley cruising. We know the 2022 Royals don’t do anything with ease and grace, so to expect the beating to continue would’ve been foolhardy.
Indeed, everything went bananas starting in that sixth. The Angels chipped away at that lead to tie the game in the seventh before the Royals again put some distance between them in the eighth and ninth innings. But apparently everything Bobby Witt Jr. can do, so can Shohei Ohtani. In the end, aided by Manfred’s magic extra inning runners, the Royals prevailed in a game that ended with a 12-11 scoreline.
If you had told me last month that the Royals would participate in a 12-11 game this season, I wouldn’t have believed you. Had you told me they would participate in a 12-11 game and won, I would’ve thought you a lunatic.
Again…with a game like that where do you start?
I’ll try to do my bleary-eyed best. But first a favor…If you haven’t already, won’t you kindly subscribe to the newsletter? Or if you’re a hopefully happy subscriber, would you see fit to perhaps share Into The Fountains with a friend? It would be greatly appreciated as I try to stay caffeinated to cover these Pacific Time Zone games.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
Bobby Two Bombs
Friends, I write this without a hint of hyperbole…this was possibly the plate appearance of the year.
First, some context. Witt Jr. watched the first curve tickle the low edge of the zone for the first strike. He tried to hold up on a fastball up out of the zone for the second strike. At this point, Detmers had thrown a grand total of six pitches and was looking to make quick work of the Royals.
Bob had other ideas.
He fouled off pitch number three, a slider on the inside edge that could’ve been called a ball but we’ve all seen those types of two-strike borderline calls go against him this year. Witt Jr. spit on a fastball way up and out of the zone and a change in the dirt. Detmers came back with another fastball on the inner edge for four number two. After a curve that dropped well out of the zone, Detmers went exclusively with the fastball.
And on the tenth pitch, Bobby took it straight to Dong Town.
The 95.5 MPH fastball was located in Bob’s happy spot—dead center to a little bit inside. If he’s going to put a charge on a pitch, it’s helpful if it’s located in that vicinity.
Honestly, he has some impressive plate coverage across the vertical middle of the zone. But the pitch finished more on the inner third, where Witt Jr. posts a .261 ISO (stats are prior to Tuesday’s game). So when the pitch is located there to a right-handed batter, you’re thinking the ball will be pulled to left. If it’s going to right, it's probably because the batter was late and couldn’t get his hands inside the pitch and it ended up a weak jam shot.
That wasn’t a weak jam shot.
Look at how the kid keeps his hands inside of the baseball. Look how he drops the barrel to make perfect contact. It’s just a beautiful swing.
And he drove the ball to right field. An opposite field shot, it was the first time Bob went oppo-taco. This is his spray chart for base hits prior to Tuesday.
The power is already impressive to the pull field, but if he can start banging them out of the yard to center to right…look out.
He drove in another run in the seventh on an opposite field double, also on a 3-2 count. It was almost a carbon copy of the home run, just six degrees lower on the launch angle. Then came his second blast of the evening…On a pitch in practically the same location…And he hit it out just to the right side of center field.
I mentioned hyperbole earlier, and I feel like I need to be careful, but all three of these at bats were just special pieces of hitting. Go back and revisit that spray chart above and realize in one game Witt Jr. added 38 percent of his total extra base hits that are located from center field to right. And the Royals needed every single one of those runs he drove in.
Witt Jr. may not be in the Rookie of the Year conversation (at the moment), but he’s truly having a very fine start to his major league career. Entering the game on Tuesday, he had a 97 wRC+, a number that’s been steadily climbing. Baseball Savant provides a nice visual on rolling rate stats to illustrate how a player is performing relative to the league. Bob’s rolling wOBA chart shows how he found a comfort zone around plate appearance 120 or so.
Sure, he had a bit of a dip from 180 to 220, but that’s going to happen. The thing you like to see is the sustained time above the MLB average line is longer than the time below. And the peaks above the line are well above the inverse we see below the line.
Speaking of that AL Rookie of the Year race…while Bob hasn’t been part of that admittedly very early conversation Tuesday’s game alone has placed him there. Here are the current top three AL rookies ranked by fWAR.
The kid is going to be special.
Running on empty
Through the first five innings, Jonathan Heasley was throwing a helluva game. He allowed just three hits and struck out six. The only damage was on a Jared Walsh home run in the fourth. He had thrown 71 pitches.
In the sixth and the Angels flipped the batting order for the third time, Heasley ran out of gas. He couldn’t locate his fastball and the velocity was down. These are the pitch charts for the first two batters he faced.
Heasley fell behind 3-0 on both. He lost both on high fastballs that weren’t anywhere close to the zone.
In between, beleaguered pitching coach Cal Eldred made a mound visit. I feel obligated to note this if only because it’s well documented the disasters that befall the pitchers after such a visit. Except in this situation, I don’t think Eldred’s presence made a difference either way. With two on and nobody out, Heasley delivered a pipe shot to Shohei Ohtani that landed 423 feet away. The Royals’ five-run lead shrunk to two.
No, I hang this on Mike Matheny. I get that he needs his starters to go deep into games, but in the sixth inning, as the lineup has turned for the third time, he has to be getting someone hot. The mound visit should’ve bought more time. When Heasley lost Trout (again, without really coming close), it was time for him to exit.
Although I have to admit, I find Ohtani dingers to have their own magisterial quality. Maybe Matheny likes them as well.
I’ll throw this in here because it was equally confounding but I didn’t understand subsequently bringing in the infield with a runner on third with the Royals up two. After Max Stassi grounded a single through the right side, it had the potential to backfire.
After finding so much to like about Matheny’s managerial tendencies in his first two seasons, this year has been…a lot different. I’m starting to look at the bullpen’s failings as the product of overuse.
After Heasley exited, the bullpen was shambolic. Since being called up, Jose Cuas has pitched in 12 of 19 games. That works out to over 100 appearances in a full season. That’s…quite unsustainable. Matheny is riding him too hard and we’ve seen some negative results in his last couple of outings. He allowed a run in the sixth in relieve of Heasley. In the seventh, Josh Staumont walked two of his three batters faced and both came around to score. Scott Barlow has been mostly fine, but was unable to lock down a three-run lead on Tuesday. It was the fifth appearance for Barlow in eight games on the road trip. In two of those games he was asked to go more than an inning for a save and twice he’s pitched in back-to-back games. Of course, Ohtani has something to do with the issues on Tuesday, but still.
The question to ask though, is what is Matheny supposed to do? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think that’s one of the responsibilities of the manager. He has to figure out a way to keep everyone fresh. Or at least as fresh as possible. The Royals bullpen is now capped at eight pitchers and he brought all eight of them out on Tuesday. Overall, the relief corps provided six innings, allowing seven runs with just two strikeouts. Not good enough.
Thumb down for Salvy
After drawing a four-pitch walk following Bob’s home run in the first, Salvador Perez had a full count in his second plate appearance of the game. On that 3-2 pitch, he swung and fouled it off, but at a considerable cost.
Clearly, he reaggravated that thumb injury he’s been dealing with on his left hand. After striking out a couple of pitches later, he was pulled in the bottom half of the inning for Cam Gallagher.
If it’s anything serious, it’s a terrible break for Perez and the Royals. Salvy has been hitting well since his initial struggle when returning from the IL in late May. Over his last 16 games covering 67 plate appearances, Perez hit .286/.328/.635 with 11 extra-base hits and 18 runs driven in. It’s not surprising the Royals are 8-8 in those games. Sal is the straw that stirs the drink.
Of course, since these are the Royals and they know they absolutely need to have a healthy and productive Perez in the middle of their order to give them their best shot at success, we’ll have to monitor this situation. It wouldn’t be surprising if Perez had a day off on Wednesday ahead of a scheduled off-day on Thursday. Give him a couple of days to rest the thumb. By the same token, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was back in the lineup immediately. It wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do I would think, but the Royals have a certain way of handling these things. And Salvy has a way of surprising the hell out of me.
Are you prepared for this?
So much Carlos Santana vitriol. (Hey, I’m not pointing fingers. I can’t figure out his role on this club, either.) But credit where it’s due and the guy had a helluva game on Tuesday, going 3-3 with a double and a home run. He scored two runs and drove in four.
Maybe this is some kind of reverse Royals voodoo. Last year, Santana started slumping in June and July before cratering in August and September. This year, he’s showing signs of life in June after a miserable April and May. Or, as I prefer to think about it, right ahead of the upcoming trade deadline.
I still don’t think Santana comes with any kind of trade value, but if him playing better over the next 30 days means he’s likely to be moved sometime after the All-Star break, give him those PAs I say. In the monht of June, he’s hitting .381/.509/.595 entering play Tuesday. Yes, I double-checked the OBP. It’s amazing. His wR+ is a stratospheric 219. That’s one hundred and nineteen percent better than the league average hitter this month. Even though he knocked a couple of extra-base hits on Tuesday, his true value comes from working that walk and getting on base. The dude has been a machine this month. Hopefully, he can keep it going for a bit longer. Long enough to move on to a contender.
On Tuesday, Santana and Witt Jr. combined to bring home nine of the 12 runs the Royals scored. The past and the future combining for a victory now. What a fun, maddening, exhausting ballgame. Personally, I prefer pitcher’s duels although I can certainly get behind the occasional slugfest. And if Bobby can lead the way, I’m all for it.