OAKLAND -- As Jorge Soler works on his mechanics to find the swing that will bring him the consistent power he and the Royals need this season, there is one category in which he’s leading the Majors. And it’s an obscure one.
The Royals slugger has reached base on a catcher’s interference call six times this season, which leads the Majors and is halfway to Jacoby Ellsbury’s Major League record of 12, accomplished with the Yankees in 2016. Before that, the record was eight, by Roberto Kelly in 1992. In Thursday’s win over the A’s, Soler was awarded first base in the seventh inning after a replay review showed his bat hitting catcher Sean Murphy’s glove, which helped spark the three-run rally the Royals put together on their way to victory.
“It’s just odd how many he’s had,” manager Mike Matheny said after the game. “But any way you can get on base [is good].”
Catcher’s interference happens when a batter is awarded first base when a catcher (or another fielder) interferes with the batter at any point during a pitch. It usually involves a catcher’s glove making contact with a bat, such as during a swing. With six such occurrences already in 2021, Soler reigns above the Twins' Nelson Cruz and the Padres' Jake Cronenworth, who each have three.
Thursday's was Soler’s 11th career catcher’s interference -- each of them happening since 2019 -- which is a franchise record, eight more than the previous mark of three held by Mike Macfarlane and Alex Gordon. Soler also has 11 of the 54 catcher’s interferences (20.4 percent) in Royals history.
Soler has a big and powerful swing, so it’s not a huge surprise to see some of his on-base rate come via catcher’s interference. But to do so at this rate is simply an interesting trend.
“I don’t know,” Soler said through interpreter Luis Perez on Friday when asked what was behind it. “I scoot back, maybe they get too close to me. Don’t really know what’s happening.
“I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on. Maybe I go back too far with the back. I don’t know. I feel like if they know I do that all the time, then maybe they’re the ones that have to scoot back. I definitely don’t want to get anybody hurt or for anything to happen."
A few weeks ago, Matheny pointed out it might be partly due to Soler trying to get back on track at the plate. On Thursday, Soler blasted his sixth homer of the season and second in four games as he works through the struggles that have seen him hit .179 through 57 games this season.
Part of unlocking the power that he’s displayed before is staying back on the ball and not swinging too early.
“There are just certain guys that you know that are going to get you with a backswing,” Matheny said. “Those guys you’ve got to give a little more space to, and we keep close tabs on the guys that are more likely to have the kind of swing that casts a little bit back before they begin their swing path. And this is something we’ve seen him do in the past, too. It’s not new this year but it just seems more frequent. I think most of it is because he’s trying to use more of the field, which is the right approach.”
Let the kids play
Starting Friday night with Brady Singer, the Royals will send three pitchers from their college-pitching heavy 2018 MLB Draft class to the mound this weekend in Oakland. Singer was the Royals’ first-round pick (No. 18 overall) in 2018, followed by Saturday night’s starter, Jackson Kowar, at No. 33 overall.
Lefty Kris Bubic, the 40th overall pick in 2018, will take the mound in Sunday's series finale.
The Royals knew their future was bright after that Draft, and much of that future is already contributing at the big league level. Now that they’ve made it, the goal is to stay here and perform as consistently as possible.
“It is exciting, and it is rare,” Matheny said. “I never want to make light of the importance from an organizational perspective of having these young guys from a recent Draft. That’s very special. But we’re kind of past that. They’re here now. You’re a Major Leaguer, let’s go get a job done and figure out how to make you better.”