Blanco channels HOFer in Royals' rout of Angels

Outfielder has huge hitting night unseen in MLB since Larry Walker in 1996

May 10th, 2024

ANAHEIM -- , the Royals’ weapon off the bench as an elite pinch-runner and reliable defensive replacement, hasn’t gotten many starts this season. Although he’s appeared in 25 of the Royals’ 39 games this year, Thursday night was just his seventh time in the starting lineup.

He sure made it count.

The Royals’ left fielder went 3-for-3 with a home run, a bunt single, a double, a walk, two stolen bases and four runs scored in Kansas City’s 10-4 series-opening win over the Angels at Angel Stadium.

Blanco is one of two players in the last 50 seasons to have a homer, a bunt hit, double and two steals in one game, joining the Rockies' Larry Walker on Aug. 25, 1996.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m starting or [coming in] late,” Blanco said through interpreter Luis Perez. “I’m always prepared. I keep working hard, and every time I get the opportunity to do it, it’s just a matter of being ready.”

Blanco got things going against Angels lefty Reid Detmers in the third inning. After Hunter Renfroe drew a leadoff walk, Blanco crushed a hanging slider to left field for his first homer of the year.

The Royals scored two more in the third on Vinnie Pasquantino’s 442-foot monster homer -- the longest of his career.

Kansas City kept pouring it on throughout the game, which helped widen the gap for starter Michael Wacha. The righty cruised through six scoreless innings before facing five batters in the seventh without recording an out.

He walked three that inning before Daniel Lynch IV entered for his first career appearance out of the bullpen, escaping the frame with a stellar double play that ensured Wacha still recorded a quality start with six innings of three-run ball.

“When [Blanco] hit that homer, it kind of lifted everybody,” Wacha said. “Seemed like a little hit parade started after that. He kept it rolling through all of his ABs. … He put on a show.”

Blanco made the Royals’ Opening Day roster as their speedy bench player. The 31-year-old ranks in the 95th percentile for sprint speed with a 29.2 feet/second mark. He only has 30 at-bats and nine hits in 2024, but his 10 stolen bases are tied for eighth best in baseball -- with 57 fewer at-bats than the next highest player on the list (Lane Thomas, 87).

Blanco is a true threat on the bases, not just in stealing bags, but also getting in scoring position or scoring on almost any ball put in play. That’s what he did on Pasquantino’s 273-foot sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.

But his bat was even more impressive on the night. Blanco, who is now slashing .300/.302/.500, showed his power, crushing the mistake Detmers left over the middle of the plate. He showed his ability to bunt, which the Royals have always felt comfortable with.

And he showed a gap-to-gap approach with an opposite-field double.

“He’s not just a guy that, for us, is just a runner,” Pasquantino said. “We trust him. When he’s in the lineup, he’s going to do something.”

The Royals’ outfield entered Thursday with a .556 OPS and 55 wRC+, both worst in baseball. Although it was just one game, might the Royals start Blanco more to see if he can inject some offense into the outfield? It’s a balance, manager Matt Quatraro has said, because of Blanco’s value as a pinch-runner late in close games.

On Thursday, the team liked the matchup Blanco presented against Detmers.

“It is a balance, and clearly if we think he’s going to give us a big upgrade, he needs to play more,” Quatraro said. “We try to do the best we can of trying to figure out the right time to play guys and what the best matchups are. … He always brings energy. We know there is something there, and it’s a matter of whether we decide if it’s a good night for him or not.”

Quatraro continued: “When he’s using the whole field like that, he’s really dangerous. We’ve seen at times where he’ll get pull-happy and hit ground balls to the left side, and that doesn’t work as well. But when he stays on the ball and uses the whole field -- and his bunt was a perfect bunt. He does a lot of different things, and it’s just a matter of bringing it out consistently.”

Whatever happens, Blanco will be ready.

“I feel very good,” Blanco said. “I’m athletic, and every time I’m not playing, I’m always prepared for that opportunity to come in and have an impact. It’s just about staying ready.”