Isbel, Brentz take in 1st big league moments

April 2nd, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- All knew was that he was going on the charter flight to Kansas City from Surprise, Ariz., on Monday. The Royals’ outfielder didn’t know if it meant he would open the season with the big league club or at the alternate training site, just that he was to get on a flight that night.

When he walked into manager Mike Matheny’s office and saw Royals player development director Alec Zumwalt standing there, Isbel knew what was about to happen.

“That’s when I knew a little bit, because he always said he wanted to break the news to me,” Isbel said. “And that was a crazy moment, something I’ll never forget, super emotional and a super awesome experience.”

Zumwalt told Isbel, the Royals’ No. 5 prospect, that he made the 26-man roster.

Isbel did not have to wait long for his first Major League hit and RBI. In the first inning on Thursday, he lined an RBI single to right field during the Royals' five-run outburst in their 14-10 victory over the Rangers at Kauffman Stadium. Isbel finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs.

Matheny was able to tell Isbel, 24, on Wednesday that he’d be in the starting lineup and playing right field when the Royals opened the 2021 season.

“That was one of the coolest I’ve ever been a part of,” Matheny said of Zumwalt informing Isbel. “As a Major League manager, I’ve had some exposure to a lot of these guys, but I haven’t been in the trenches with them just scratching and clawing and figuring things out. I had Alec Zumwalt come in, and they have a long history. Alec was with him all the way through, working with the swing.

“It was one I’ll never forget because you could just see that they had a cool relationship, and for Alec to be able to tell Kyle, ‘You’ve dreamt about this, we’ve talked about this, and it’s real.’ I get goosebumps just thinking about what I witnessed. It was special.”

Isbel, a powerful left-handed bat and solid outfield defender, was one of four non-roster invites to make the roster Thursday. Reliever Wade Davis and infielder Hanser Alberto weren’t surprises after signing Minor League deals this offseason, but Isbel and reliever built on strong Spring Trainings to earn their spots.

“I was talking to Wade in the outfield yesterday during BP,” Brentz said. “He just said to soak it in, enjoy the ceremonies and whatnot. The game doesn’t change, so come first pitch, be ready to work. There’s a job to do. So he’s like, ‘Soak it in, the Opening Day ceremonies are something you’ll never forget.’”

Brentz emerged in spring as a hard-throwing lefty -- hitting 100 mph consistently -- after signing with the Royals in 2019. The Royals are his fourth professional organization; the Blue Jays drafted him out of the St. Louis area in 2013, and he went to Seattle and Pittsburgh from there. The Royals took him on knowing he could be a pivotal piece of their bullpen one day if he can learn to command the velocity. That’s what he’s done the past year, along with integrating a changeup that Matheny called his second-best pitch during Spring Training.

Brentz, 26, hasn’t had the easiest journey to the big leagues. But hearing that he got there, and he’d be sitting among big league relievers Thursday, made the journey worth it.

“Honestly, everything I went through, the long road it took me, I would go through it again,” Brentz said. “I think that truly got me to this point, prepared me for this point. That built me as the pitcher I am. It helped me get to here.”

Lopez's new mindset back in big leagues
After being optioned to the Minors last Sunday, infielder didn’t know when he was going to be back in the big leagues but knew he needed to be ready when he was called upon. He got to work right away with Royals hitting coaches in Surprise, and his return happened quicker than he or the club thought with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi’s right oblique strain putting him on the injured list to start the season.

Lopez knows he’s the next man up, and he has to apply the fixes to his swing right away. He started Thursday’s opener at shortstop, batting ninth for the Royals, and immediately showed some adjustments. With a shorter swing and a smoother movement as the pitch was thrown, Lopez hit a sacrifice fly in the first inning, beat out an infield single and scored a run in the third inning and bunted in the fourth, beating out the throw to first.

It's exactly the kind of hitter the Royals want to see him be.

“After having the wind kicked straight out of [him] when we made the move [to send him down], and being real honest and raw about the things that needed to be worked on,” Matheny said. “It was a really good display of a guy who could have been pouting, but all he did was go to work and got ready for an opportunity that was coming. I don’t think any of us realized it was going to come this soon, [but] man, it was really fun to watch today.”

A tough Spring Training in which he hit .118 forced Lopez to focus on getting back to the player he was in the Minor Leagues -- contact-oriented, getting on base and using his speed to play small ball.

“I’m not a guy who’s going to leave the yard, I’m not a guy who’s going to have this strong, powerful swing,” Lopez said. “I’m more of a contact guy. It’s just getting back to knowing who you are. Sometimes people look at others and try to emulate them, try to ask what’s successful for them and then let me try it. I’ve fallen victim to that. … I need to perfectly execute bunts, hit-and-runs, hit the ball the other way, up the middle. It’s just the whole mindset of getting back to who Nicky Lopez is and not trying to emulate someone else.”