'Fun to watch': Sweeney analyzes Royals' hot start on the mound

April 8th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- At 6-4, the Royals are over .500 for the first time since April 10, 2022, when they were 2-1 after ’s third career game. They just completed a four-game sweep of the White Sox -- Kansas City’s first four-game sweep since April 2021.

The biggest challenge yet will begin Tuesday, when the Astros come to town for a three-game set.

Over the first 10 games of the season, the biggest storyline has been the rotation, which has a 1.60 ERA (11 earned runs in 62 innings) and a MLB-best eight quality starts.

Before Sunday’s game, pitching coach Brian Sweeney talked with reporters about the staff’s hot start. Here are some of the highlights:

On what’s been working for the Royals’ starters:
“When you look at first-pitch strikes and early-and-ahead, these guys are doing a really good job. But when you look at the culture these guys are creating, it’s a lot of fun to watch. You see these guys here in the dugout, hanging out together, enjoying some time together. And the culture is created by the people that occupy the space. They’ve done an amazing job coming together. Before the season, they asked, ‘Hey, do you want the starters to be out in the bullpen watching sides and getting ready for a game?’ I left it up to them. You don’t want to force anything. They decided doing that together was a good idea. It’s really been fun to watch.”

On the bullpen, which didn’t allow a run in the four-game series against the White Sox:
“We’ve got a bunch of guys with experience down there. Another microculture -- a team within a team -- they’re creating down there. It’s fun to watch those guys interact with each other. The starting group, the relieving group and then together. Our starters are going deep into games, which is a lot of fun. The workload is a little bit low for the bullpen. But you’ll be seeing them pitch a lot. I’m excited to see them settle in.”

On reliever , who began the year as the closer but has allowed six runs in four innings to begin the season:
“He’s feeling a little out of whack in his delivery. This is a guy who’s been doing it a long time. You realize that there’s the ebbs and flows of the season, and he’s having a little bit of a downturn right now. … He’s a strike-thrower. When he’s walking guys, he gets frustrated. He’s constantly working on getting better. The consummate team player. He realized [on Friday] that he didn’t really have it in that game. For [James] McArthur to come in, finish the deal, that’s what they do -- brothers pick each other up.”

On starter handling heightened expectations as the Royals’ ace:
“It’s cool to see him channel the energy. Everybody gets nervous when they’re on the mound doing their job, when those competitive juices are really flowing. To see him channel that energy and take it on the mound, between the white lines and compete, that’s what this game is all about.”

On starter implementing his four-seamer and sweeper into his pitch mix this year:
“It’s been cool to see. There are some different pitches he’s thrown. He is implementing the four-seam, so not only is he working east and west, but he’s working north and south. It’s opening up avenues to build outs. It’s really cool to see because he doesn’t have to be perfect. If he doesn’t have command that day, well guess what? He can use different fastballs to open up avenues to build outs. He can use his bigger sweeper. He got a swing and miss on [his changeup] the other day. Anybody notice? Because he has these other pitches, it’s opening up other avenues.”

On recent pitching injuries around the game, including Shane Bieber -- whom Sweeney worked closely with in Cleveland -- needing Tommy John surgery:
“It’s really sad to see all these injuries happen. These are really good pitchers going down. Seeing Shane, who I have a relationship with, going down, texting with him, it’s like, ‘What can we do to help these guys? How can we figure out how to limit these injuries?’ We haven’t figured it out. Is it the pitch clock? Is it the training in the offseason? Are they overtraining? There are a lot of questions and not enough answers. It’s something we continued to dig into, monitoring workload here, thinking about these guys as individuals and competitors. You just hate to see it.”