Taylor called into duty on mound as bullpen taxed

July 10th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- By the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon, the Royals had their walk-off hero from the previous night on the mound.

Michael A. Taylor made his first Major League pitching appearance -- and his first in general since high school -- and became the Royals' first position player to pitch this season in Kansas City’s 13-1 loss to Cleveland at Kauffman Stadium.

The center fielder gave the Royals two innings, helping out the pitching staff during a stretch of 18 games in 17 days, including an upcoming Monday doubleheader. And he pumped some heat, registering his fastball up to 94 mph.

“Tried a couple to see what I could hit,” Taylor said. “I didn’t think it was safe to try to throw any harder than that.”

Taylor is only the fourth Royals position player to record six outs in a game, joining Joe Simpson (Sept. 5, 1983), Bill Pecota (June 24, 1991) and David Howard (April 12, 1994). And Taylor is the first Royals position player to record two strikeouts in a pitching appearance -- the previous 19 combined for four strikeouts.

“I thought it’d be something fun to say I threw in a game,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t something that I was like, looking forward to on the schedule. But I can say I did it. Obviously it’s not the situation you want whenever a position player comes in, but it happened.”

Of course, how the Royals got to that point wasn’t how they had hoped Saturday’s game would play out.

Jonathan Heasley was off from the start, experiencing what Royals manager Mike Matheny described as “a little bit of a dead arm.” He recorded four outs total and allowed six runs (five earned).

Most concerning, though, was the significant drop in his velocity. Heasley’s fastball was down 2.9 mph to a 91 mph average Saturday. His curveball was down 3.6 mph to 75.7 mph, and his changeup was down 2.8 mph to 82.6 mph.

“I think it was one of those days,” Matheny said. “Dead arm day. Didn’t really see anything going into it that would have made us believe that would happen. He went short in the bullpen, barely threw many at all. Just wasn’t coming out, couldn’t find a feel. … We were able to get him out relatively early, hopefully that will take some of that workload off and then be ready to go again. He got checked out from everybody, and the medical team said everything was good.”

Heasley, coming off a spectacular start in which he allowed one earned run over six innings against the Astros, said he felt fine throughout the week and warming up Saturday afternoon.

But not long after he threw his first pitch, he knew something was off.

“I felt pretty normal in the bullpen,” Heasley said. “I don’t know what my velo was in the bullpen. But once I got there and seeing 88, 89, I knew something wasn’t really right because everything felt normal on my end. It was one of those things that was really weird. I don’t really know how to describe it. Hopefully it’s just a little fatigue, and we’ll move on.”

At one point, second baseman Whit Merrifield made a mound visit to check on Heasley, who assured everyone he felt fine.

“Coming into today, everything felt normal,” Heasley said. “... Just got out there today and just didn’t have it. I hate that I put the team in the position I did, and had to eat up the bullpen, obviously that puts us in a tough spot. I hate that it happened the way it did, but I just simply didn’t have it today. Hopefully, we get that figured out.”

The Royals turned to Jackson Kowar after Heasley to eat some innings, but the right-hander needed 60 pitches to go 2 2/3 innings and allowed five more runs -- including a fountain-splashing, three-run home run to Nolan Jones that went 457 feet. The Royals' offense, put in a deep hole early, logged more double plays (four) than hits (three) against Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie.

“It creates a hole, for sure,” Matheny said. “You feel it. … That’s just not a good recipe when we can’t get consecutive guys on base.”

Relievers Wyatt Mills and Amir Garrett combined for three scoreless innings before Taylor made his appearance, “saving the ‘pen,” for the Royals, Matheny said.