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Three Up, Three Down: Pain
The Royals can't hold their first inning lead, Yarbrough was cruising until he wasn't and Salvy does some yard work before he exits with an injury.
It started so promising before it all unraveled.
The home nine jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first, but the Orioles were only slowplaying their hand, suckering the Royals into thinking they were in control. And then they struck. Hard.
Five runs in the fourth. Two runs in the fifth. Three runs in the sixth. Adley Rutschman and Ryan Mountcastle went a combined 7-11 with three doubles and two home runs plus six runs scored and six RBI. (Both dingers were from Mountcastle, but I digress.)
It was just two years ago Rutschman and Mountcastle were top prospects in the Orioles system. Baseball America rated them number one and five, respectively, ahead of the 2021 season. Lump Gunnar Henderson (#6 in 2021 and #1 this year), who drew three walks, and a third of the Orioles’ lineup is the manifestation of their draft strategy in their recent overhaul. I mention this because it’s interesting to see a successful rebuild up close, that’s all. Dare to dream.
Salvador Perez decided to match Mountcastle with a couple of monster jacks of his own. It made the game interesting in the later innings, but the damage the Orioles inflicted in the middle innings was too much to ultimately overcome. The Royals lost the opener of this 10-game homestand 11-7.
Their record is 7-23. They are 1-13 at home.
With a top-heavy lineup, the Royals haven’t had issues scoring in the first. (Well, they have issues scoring overall, but you know what I mean.) They erupted in the first against Tyler Wells and the Orioles, plating three courtesy of a couple of bombs sandwiched around a walk. For a team that needs to string together three hits at a minimum to plate a single run, this was somewhat shocking. Two hits…three runs. I wasn’t aware the Royals were capable of this.
Bobby Witt Jr. got the festivities started with a 406 bomb to the seats in left-center. I write a lot about process at the plate and generally, how the Royals collectively seem to lack any kind of one on a sustained basis. Well, Witt’s blast was absolutely the result of a terrific process at the plate.
He spit on the first two pitches out of the zone, both fastballs. He fouled off a pair of tough cutters on the outer edge, the second one a swing of protection with two strikes. Then he got a hanging slider right down the chute. he didn’t miss.
(That process went by the wayside as he struck out three times later in the game.)
Wells came into Tuesday’s game with a 2.9 percent walk rate. That was the fourth-best walk rate among qualified starters.
Wells walked Salvador Perez.
He jumped ahead 1-2 and started working off the outside of the zone, as one should do against Perez. Back-to-back sliders off the plate and he didn’t bite. Ball four came on a curve well outside.
The Baseball Gods do not let such blasphemy go unpunished.
Up next, MJ Melendez. Ahead of the game, Manager Matt Quatraro said Melendez would play as the Royals' everyday right fielder in order to allow him to concentrate on his hitting. The Royals recalled Freddy Fermin from Triple-A to serve as the backup catcher. I was on board with this back in the spring and still believe this is the correct move, especially given his obviously improved defense in right.
So maybe that strategy is already paying dividends. Melendez turned on the second pitch he saw—a belt-high 85 MPH changeup—and dropped it in the seats in right. (Alas, he did not collect another hit the rest of the evening, so let’s just table that discussion for another day.)
Just like that…three runs.
Starter Ryan Yarbrough was very good on Tuesday. Until he wasn’t.
The lefty opened the game by striking out the side. It wasn’t particularly easy—he needed 19 pitches to get those three strikeouts—but was getting some swing-and-miss. The curve in particular was sharp.
The momentum carried over to the second where he struck out the first two batters he faced. The changeup was doing the heavy lifting in that frame. He threw nine in that inning and got three swings and misses.
That’s five consecutive strikeouts.
The Orioles started discovering some contact against Yarbrough from there. It wasn’t particularly hard contact, though. A couple of balls were hit just a touch under 90 MPH. He got a couple of squib grounders with exit velocities in the mid-60s. Nine up, nine down. He was cruising.
Then the wheels fell off, the axles snapped in half and the car caught on fire.
A double to Adley Rutschman opened the floodgates. Ryan Mountcastle deposited the next pitch into the bullpen in left. (He hit another an inning later to continue the bludgeoning.) From there, Yarbrough’s relationship with the strike zone came to an end. He couldn’t spot the curve or the cutter. Three of the next five batters walked. The changeup, which had been so good two innings earlier, betrayed him. Two singles in the barrage came against that pitch. The only pitch he seemed to have a feel for at the end was his sinker. They were catching too much of the plate.
Yarbrough’s final pitch of the night was a center-cut sinker 89 MPH sinker to Cedric Mullins. He went inside-out with his swing and laced a single to left, bringing home the fourth and fifth runs of the frame.
I thought Yarbrough looked ok on the last road trip. His work as the Bulk Guy in Anaheim was what the Royals needed and even though they didn’t win, he certainly kept them in the game. The same could be said about his start in Arizona. He went four innings and allowed just one run. It should be noted that the Royals dropped both those games by a scoreline of 2-0. So where do the Royals go from here? Another moment with The Opener, maybe using Taylor Clarke again, and then having Yarbrough go as the Bulk Guy. Or does Yarbrough continue to slot into the rotation, but as The Opener himself? He could maybe be used as a one-time-through-the-order guy. It would’ve worked on Tuesday.
In the midst of another lost season, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the brilliance, the magnificence and the absolute fortitude of The Captain, Salvador Perez.
It was almost as if he was single-handedly willing the Royals back in this game. Almost. The walk in the first inning was brilliant, but he was at his best when the Royals were down big in the middle innings.
After falling behind 10-3, he wouldn’t let the Royals go quietly. He led off the sixth with a blast just to the right of the batter’s eye in center.
He followed that up an inning later with another monster blast. This time to the Hall of Fame in left.
The second one plated Pasquantino, who doubled just ahead of Perez. Overall, Salvy was 2-3 with three runs scored and three RBI. The way the game was tilting in the later innings, there was a glimmer of hope that the Royals could chip away. Maybe, just maybe, Perez could come up with the game on the line in the ninth. I mean, that wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. Even considering how grim this season has gone to this point.
I mean, look at this…
Yet it wasn’t to be. Catcher is a dangerous position. Nobody, I mean nobody, takes more of a beating behind the plate than Salvy. He exited the game in the top of the eighth after taking an Anthony Santander backswing to the top of the glove hand. The club announced during the game that he suffered a left middle finger contusion. He is day-to-day.
Once Perez exited the game with his injury, he any remaining hope the Royals had of mounting a comeback with him.