Royals stand tall vs. White Sox thanks to Melendez's adjustment

May 9th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- Early last week, during the first series of the Royals’ current homestand, and were in the batting cage with Royals hitting coaches taking swings using “heater balls” -- which are softer than a baseball -- off a machine emulating extreme rising fastballs.

Melendez was struggling with the drill and trying different stances to have better success.

“You’d think, ‘Well, the ball’s coming up, so let me stand up more,’” Melendez said. “But that wasn’t working. So I tried the opposite to see what happens. I started hitting it really good. I was like, ‘OK. That’s what it is. I found it.’”

Melendez bent his upper body slightly more toward the plate, and while it was a minuscule change, it was an effective one. The Royals outfielder found success in the cage that day and encouraging results on the field in the week since.

Melendez drove in four Monday night in the Royals’ 12-5 rout of the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium, first hitting a game-tying, two-run homer – 431 feet out to the Pepsi Porch in right field – in the fourth. His two-run single during the Royals’ eight-run sixth inning broke the game open.

The Royals sent 12 batters to the plate that inning, and they scored a season-high 12 runs on 14 hits on Monday night to continue the offensive breakout they’ve seen this homestand: They’re averaging 7.4 runs per game in the last week.

“The phrase 'hitting is contagious' is really true,” said Michael Massey, who hit the go-ahead single in the sixth after Maikel Garcia drew an impressive walk to load the bases. “You get guys on base, get fielders out of position, get runners in scoring position -- just like pitchers get a little tougher, I think hitters kind of focus up there a little bit more. It’s nice to see us break out there.”

While the Royals fought to break out of their season-opening offensive slump, they preached patience and sticking with the processes in place. Eventually, hits would fall. Eventually, quality at-bats would reap rewards. Eventually, the pitching would stabilize enough for the offense to build a lead, like it did Monday. Zack Greinke allowed four runs (three earned) in 5 2/3 innings, and the White Sox couldn’t overcome the deficit their starter, Dylan Cease, and lefty reliever Aaron Bummer allowed in the sixth.

But patience is hard to continue when the losses mount. No one felt that more than Melendez, who entered Monday having just gotten his batting average to .200 for the first time this year. 

“Some days it’s harder than others,” Melendez said. “It really depends on what’s piling up to it. There are days where I go 0-for-5 and I’m really calm and (thinking), ‘Hey, it’s baseball.’ And there are times where you go for 0-fer and it’s like, ‘Man, this is tough.’ And it beats you up. So it depends on the day. Some days I take it a lot better than others.”

Melendez’s average exit velocity is 94.8 mph this season, which entered Monday tied for the seventh-highest in the Majors. His 57.5% hard-hit rate also ranked seventh (fourth in the American League). But he was also striking out at a 33.3% clip. While he likely will have some chase in his game as a power hitter, he was falling out of his stance and swinging at pitches he typically takes.

Now slightly hunched over the plate, Melendez feels more balanced in his leg kick and more on time with his swing.

“I’m not taking as many swings where I’m bailing out,” Melendez said. “When my posture’s too upright, I’m leg kicking and falling out of the swing. I have to feel bent over at my hip. It’s really working. I used to do that. I don’t know why I ever got away from it. But I feel like I’m seeing more pitches and able to hit them.”

Melendez is 9-for-28 with two homers on this homestand and has hit safely in 12 of his last 16 games. The Royals moved their 24-year-old slugger, who also made an excellent diving catch in the second inning, exclusively to the outfield instead of having him juggle both catching and playing outfield in order to help simplify things at the plate.

Melendez said he’s happy to do what’s best for the team. So far, it seems to be paying off.

“MJ’s got a different swing,” Quatraro said. “It’s longer, [there's] more power behind it, obviously as you saw tonight and in the past. So he’s probably got more things to sync up for him. 

“But when he does, it’s special.”