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Three Up, Three Down: Power surge
On the back of two solo home runs, the Royals launch their way to their second victory of the season.
Maybe they just needed to get away from The K. Maybe playing on the road would be a little easier. Maybe expectations are just too great. Whatever the reason, the Royals looked like a (slightly) different team on Friday afternoon, playing their first road game of the year and coming away with a 3-1 victory. It doesn’t erase the stench of the just-completed homestand, but it’s a start.
(By the way, I’m not sure I buy that whole “too much pressure at home” narrative. But they were pressing in the season opening homestand. So until some other narrative is constructed, let’s just roll with that for the sake of convenience.)
Annnnnd…exhale. It’s win number two for those of you counting.
Here are three takeaways from Friday’s welcome victory.
After the Giants laid waste to the White Sox on the South Side, blasting 13 home runs over three days, it was time to flip the script. No one will mistake this Royals lineup for a Midwestern Murderer’s Row, but they muscled up and turned that extreme exit velocity we’ve all been hearing about into a couple of runs. Vinnie Pasquantino launched one to right (that almost got wet) in the fourth to push the Royals to a 2-1 lead. Salvador Perez added an insurance dinger by blasting one to left-center in the eighth.
That exit velocity thing? When the Royals and their announcers are trying to establish a narrative I’m always skeptical, but in this case, there’s something to that. Even in the win they were searching for hits. On Friday, they punished 11 baseballs that left the bat at above 100 MPH. Six of them were turned into outs.
Perez, in particular, is just destroying the ball. Mercy. It was nice that MJ Melendez was able to get a single late in the game because his first two times up he hit the ball on the screws and had nothing to show for it. Vincenzo’s lasers were finally dropping, which was nice. Maybe he uses this as a springboard.
Perhaps the offensive tide is starting to turn.
Brad Keller threw more sinkers and four-seamers in his second outing of the season, but the story remains the development of the curve. He offered it around a quarter of the time and it was his big swing-and-miss pitch. Even when that wasn’t happening, it was still effective. Two of his three strikeouts were on the curve—one looking and one swinging.
The Giants had nine hard-hit balls (95+ MPH on the exit velocity) but only two went for hits. Both were singles in the second inning. That was the only danger inning of this outing for Keller, as he worked around three singles by collecting a double play. Two of the singles came on elevated, or hanging, curves.
The difference between the two outings was he really raided the zone with the curve on Friday. Compare that to his 2023 debut.
Maybe a bit dangerous to consistently live there, but the pitch is fresh enough that, even though the Giants made hard contact against it (average exit velocity against the curve was 96.1 MPH), he was able to avoid serious damage. And while he did seem to tire a bit at the end, he was ultimately good for 94 pitches.
All in all, a very good second start for Keller.
I really like how interim manager Paul Hoover worked the bullpen. Ryan Yarbrough is going to be an absolute weapon for this team in a middle/long relief role. He came on in relief of a solid Brad Keller with two outs in the sixth to face the back-to-back left-handed batters in the middle of the Giants lineup in Joc Pederson and Mike Yastrzemski. He walked Pederson in an eight-pitch battle, but got out of it when Yastrzemski bunted into a 2-3 putout. Back out to set the side down in order in the seventh, it’s just nice to have a guy who can come in in the middle of an inning, sit for a bit and then get three more outs.
We know the blueprint if the Royals get the lead. It’s Aroldis Chapman and Scott Barlow. Chapman continues to pump high-octane gas. He worked around a single with a couple of strikeouts. Michael Conforto in particular looked extremely uncomfortable. After seeing a 101 MPH fastball in the dirt, he flailed at an 88 MPH slider on the outer half. Have mercy.
Barlow, having to work around a leadoff triple from Pederson, benefitted from the largesse of the home plate umpire.
The fourth curve in a row in that location is kind of a front-door sort of pitch. Barlow is probably looking to catch him hunting fastball and drop the pitch on the black. Close enough, I guess.
After walking Brandon Crawford, the winning run was at the plate in rookie Blake Sabol. The final pitch was just exquisitely placed at the bottom of the zone.
It’s not Herrera-Davis-Holland, but the bullpen trio of Yarbrough-Chapman-Barlow certainly did the trick in securing win number two.