Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Salvy, slider help Keller get back on track

March 10, 2020

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For the first time this spring, the battery of right-hander Brad Keller and catcher Salvador Perez got to work together during Cactus League play Tuesday. The results? A complete 180-degree turn in results from Keller’s first two outings of the spring.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For the first time this spring, the battery of right-hander Brad Keller and catcher Salvador Perez got to work together during Cactus League play Tuesday.

The results? A complete 180-degree turn in results from Keller’s first two outings of the spring.

During a 5-2 loss to the Brewers, Keller tossed four innings and allowed one run on five hits while walking one and striking out three.

Keller last worked with Perez in 2018, as Tommy John surgery kept the Royals’ All-Star backstop out of the equation last season.

“I think it was nice to get Salvy back behind the plate,” Keller said. “A bigger target is always obviously better, too. I definitely loved having him back there.”

In addition to the rapport with Perez, the 24-year-old credited an increased reliance on his slider for the positive outing.

“Today, I felt like I had really good command of [the slider],” Keller said. “I was able to put it backdoor to finish guys with it. I kind of made it look like my fastball. Today was definitely the best feel I’ve had for it since camp started.”

A candidate to be named Kansas City’s Opening Day starter, Keller utilized a pair of double plays to limit the damage, only seeing a runner reach scoring position during the third.

Succinctly summarizing the start, Keller said, “It’s all positives.”

Kennedy bounces back big time
Another pitcher who got back on the right track Tuesday was closer Ian Kennedy, who retired all six batters that he faced. He had previously yielded five runs in his first 3 1/3 innings of Cactus League action.

Just how rare is Kennedy working a multi-inning outing? The last time that he did so came May 1, 2019.

“The idea is just to build me up,” he said. “It’s easier to back me off when the season comes.”

Kennedy described being a full-time reliever throughout spring camp as “so much easier,” when compared to the transition that he went through last year, as the former starter had to acclimate to an entirely new role just weeks prior to Opening Day.

“This spring has been a lot better mentally knowing that, ‘OK, I’m throwing on this day, throwing after this pitcher,’” Kennedy said. “You’re treated as a reliever the whole time.”

Split squad splits the difference
Nicky Lopez paced the Royals’ offense during a 4-2 win against the A’s, opening the proceedings with a home run, his first of the spring. He homered just once in 290 plate appearances last season as a left-handed batter.

His second at-bat saw him plate a run with an RBI single. The 2-for-3 performance raised his spring batting average to .360.

After a strong finish to his rookie campaign in 2019, Lopez figures to play prominently into Kansas City’s lineup from the outset this season.

• The speed of outfielder Nick Heath has been on display in spades this spring, with the club’s No. 26 prospect per MLB Pipeline swiping his team-leading fourth and fifth bags of Cactus League play.

“He should be a well-rounded player -- with speed,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s going to still continue to work on the efficiency of his jumps. He’s still going to work on the consistency with his at-bats. But I think he has the potential to -- and I got to be careful saying it -- he’s going to have some surprising power.”

Heath remains a candidate to make the Opening Day roster, but even if he doesn’t break camp with Kansas City, he should factor into the team’s plans at some point in 2020.

Up next
Brady Singer, the Royals’ No. 2 prospect, makes his third start of the spring on Wednesday vs. the division-rival Indians. The 3:05 p.m. CT matchup will be available on Gameday Audio. The 23-year-old has struck out six batters over his 5 2/3 frames of Cactus League action and has pushed his way into contention for a spot in the club’s starting rotation. The Indians will counter with their Opening Day starter, right-hander Shane Bieber.