All 3 phases: Pitching, defense set up late Royals rally

May 7th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals keep finding a way.

Held to one hit in six innings against Brewers starter Bryse Wilson on Monday night, questions swirled about the Royals’ offense and missed chances in the middle of the order. But the Royals flipped the game with a three-run seventh inning en route to a 3-2 series-opening win at Kauffman Stadium.

“We’ve seen it over and over,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “… They just don’t quit. I wish I could put my finger on it and say, ‘Let’s do that in the first,’ but for whatever reason, the game gets later, and they come through.”

The offense has questions to answer, no doubt about it. The formula for many of the Royals’ victories this year has been about elite pitching, defense and team speed. The Royals allowed two runs or fewer for the Major League-leading 18th time in 36 games (50%) on Monday and are 16-2 in those games.

That has allowed the offense -- individually and as a unit -- a chance to work through struggles while maintaining a winning record (21-15).

Once again, that defined Monday’s win.

“They’ve been great all year allowing us to have those kinds of opportunities off the [opponents’] bullpen,” second baseman said. “I think when the pitchers keep us close like that, the hitters, at some point, we’re going to break through.”

Starter allowed two runs over six innings, with his only mistake a down-and-in fastball to Gary Sánchez, who blasted it out for a two-run homer. Ragans struck out eight on Monday, with five of them coming on his changeup, a pitch that registered nine whiffs on 16 swings (56%).

A scoreless top of the seventh inning from Nick Anderson gave the Royals a chance to get back in the game when the Brewers turned to lefty Jared Koenig, who entered Monday with an 0.93 ERA.

Trying to get a feel for the funky angle Koenig throws from, Massey took a called strike and swung at a fastball way out of the zone. He laid off the next breaking ball and fouled off a sinker, trying to stay in the at-bat and get a pitch up. It came next on a fastball that Massey crushed 412 feet for his third homer in the last six games.

Two batters later, pinch-hitter Nelson Velázquez was hit by a pitch. Adam Frazier worked back from 0-2 to take a walk, and Dairon Blanco legged out an infield hit to shortstop Willy Adames, who tried to set his feet quickly knowing Blanco’s speed and the good jump Frazier got off first base.

In doing so, Adames bobbled the ball. And that loaded the bases for , who promptly lined a two-run single into center field.

“See the ball and hit the ball,” Garcia said. “I know the guy throws hard, and he’s coming at me with a two-seam. I took the opportunity to get it up the middle.”

Having scratched out a lead, the Royals turned to their strength again: Pitching and defense. Reliever Tyler Duffey got an out but also allowed a single and a walk to put two runners on, and Quatraro turned to Will Smith to face lefty Brice Turang.

The Royals liked the left-on-left matchup with Turang, but Rhys Hoskins loomed in the on-deck circle. Perez made sure the Royals never got there by throwing out Jackson Chourio stealing third base, with Garcia applying a quick tag that stood after a review.

“That’s the play of the game right there, just being able to stop the rally,” Massey said. “We knew they were going to make a push after we took the lead. For him to make that play, Mikey with a great tag, that was huge.”

Smith, who allowed 11 runs in his first seven innings of the season but has now put together five consecutive scoreless outings, got Turang to fly out to center field. His command has been better, and getting Smith back to high-leverage opportunities is important, especially when John Schreiber and James McArthur are unavailable.

“Day by day,” Smith said. “It can't rain forever. So hopefully we’re starting to turn it around a little bit.”

Using Anderson, Smith and Chris Stratton, who served as the closer, in late and close games is going to be imperative as the season gets into the summer months.

“[Pitching coach] Brian [Sweeney] felt really good about the matchup with Turang,” Quatraro said. “But regardless, Will’s been in those spots. We know he’s not going to be nervous. We know he’s going to come in and do what he does. When he executes, his stuff still plays.”