With Witt's historic day, KC rookies fuel DH sweep

First-year Royals hitters combine to log 7 hits, 4 RBIs from top of lineup in nightcap

July 12th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- The last time the Royals had three rookies batting 1-2-3 in the lineup before Monday night was more than 20 years ago.

The year was 1999, and Carlos Febles led off in Detroit on Sept. 26. Ray Holbert followed, with Carlos Beltran hitting third.

Now fast forward to Game 2 of Monday’s doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium. MJ Melendez led off against the Tigers. Bobby Witt Jr. followed, with Vinnie Pasquantino hitting third. The trio went a combined 7-for-11 with three walks and four RBIs, leading the Royals to a 7-3 win to secure the twin-bill sweep after a 3-1 win in Game 1.

“Put them 1-2-3 and see how it plays out, and they ended up coming up in big situations,” manager Mike Matheny said. “… Watching their excitement that they bring, their style of play -- they’re being themselves. They’re having fun, and it’s contagious.”

It started with Melendez. With Whit Merrifield sidelined by a right toe injury, the Royals are searching for a new leadoff hitter, and Melendez had a good audition on Monday. The 23-year-old became the first catcher in franchise history to start and hit leadoff in a game in the nightcap.

Melendez drew a leadoff walk in the first, singled in the second and hit a deep sacrifice fly in the third inning.

“[Bench coach Pedro Grifol] has been throwing that at me for a while, and we talked with the guys upstairs,” Matheny said about Melendez hitting leadoff. “You’re looking at one of the better on-base percentages on our club. He’s taking his walks. He did it right from the top. And he’s one of the faster guys, even though typically we don’t think that with our catchers, but he runs really well. So he’s not going to clog up the bases, but he’s got power to do damage, and you want those guys up there as often as possible.

“I thought he filled the spot really well, and we’ll see different guys in [that spot]. But what wasn’t there to like about what he did today?”

Next came Witt. The 22-year-old phenom logged six hits across both games, including going 4-for-5 in Game 2 -- his first career four-hit game. He drove in three runs in Game 2 and stole three bases on the day. Witt became the first AL/NL player with 6-plus hits, 3-plus RBIs and 3-plus stolen bases in a doubleheader sweep (since RBI became an official stat in 1920).

“He’s fun to hit behind for sure, because he’s in scoring position no matter where he is,” Pasquantino said.

Following his first career multi-hit game in Game 1 -- including his second home run -- Pasquantino added two more hits in the nightcap to go 4-for-7 in the twin bill. Game 2 also included two walks, the 24-year-old’s specialty.

“He’s got an eagle eye up there,” Witt said. “Fun to watch, especially when I’m on the bases. You know he’s going to put a good swing on it or draw a walk. That’s what he does, that’s who he is. And you saw him today with the home run, he’s got incredible juice.”

Pasquantino enjoys walking just as much as he enjoys jogging the bases for home runs or running them for base hits. At least with walks, he can have a conversation with the bat boy while walking up the line.

“I tell him to walk with me every time because it takes me forever to get my batting gloves off,” Pasquantino said. “… The first time I said, ‘Hey, come on, why don’t you take a walk with me?’ And then the second one, I said, ‘We should do this more often, it’s nice.’ It was nice. Hopefully I’ll see him more walking down the first-base line because it’s always a good time.”

To add to the youth movement: Daniel Lynch, 25, allowed three runs (two earned) in four-plus innings, before exiting with a cut on his left middle finger that was unrelated to the blister that put him on the injured list for over two weeks.

Lefty Angel Zerpa, 22, earned his first Major League win with two scoreless innings. Emmanuel Rivera, 26, was 2-for-4, as was Nicky Lopez.

“Two wins in one day is always a good day,” said closer Scott Barlow, who pitched the ninth inning in both games for a pair of saves. “It was really, really impressive to watch those young guys get the win today.”

The Royals lost, 6-1, in that game on Sept. 26, 1999. The three rookies went a combined 1-for-11. On Monday night, the rookies pushed the Royals to a doubleheader sweep.

"Anybody who hits at the top of the order, you can create some momentum when they come up,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “They're good kids. They were really good in Omaha. They're getting their feet wet here, and we're seeing first-hand why they like them."