Patience pays off: 12-pitch AB ends with Melendez's 1st grand slam

June 16th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- With the bases loaded and two outs against one of baseball’s nastiest relievers, fought off pitch after pitch … after pitch after pitch … to keep the at-bat alive in hopes of coming through in the Royals’ best scoring opportunity on Saturday night.

His reward was grand.

Melendez worked a 12-pitch at-bat in the top of the sixth inning against Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen -- who entered the game having thrown 13 consecutive scoreless innings -- and on the final pitch, Melendez launched a go-ahead grand slam out to right field.

The slam rocketed the Royals to a 7-2 win at Dodger Stadium, evening the series ahead of Sunday afternoon’s finale and making just the second pitcher in baseball this year with 10 wins -- along with Phillies starter Ranger Suárez -- after the Kansas City righty spun six innings with two runs allowed.

Treinen, who’d issued just two walks since his season began on May 5, walked three consecutive batters in the sixth. When Melendez stepped to the plate, Treinen was already at 27 pitches. But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stayed with him. Their bullpen was so taxed already due to starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto exiting after two innings with right triceps tightness.

“After the three-strike punch to [Adam] Frazier, he’s been our best reliever, and I’m gonna go with him,”Roberts said. “I didn’t expect a 12-pitch at-bat, and at some point, you have to change how you attack a player in an at-bat.”

Against Melendez, Treinen lived at the top of the zone with his cutter.

Melendez took Treinen’s first pitch, fouled off his second and swung through his third -- all cutters -- to get to two strikes early. Melendez spit on the next pitch, a slider down and in.

Then he fouled off six consecutive pitches, all but one (a slider) elevated at the top or above the zone.

“Once I foul off that slider, I'm out in front, then my confidence is through the roof,” Melendez said. “Like, ‘All right, I've seen pretty much all his pitches.’ So now it’s just a matter of, ‘Can I get something in the zone that I can put a good swing on it?’ That was a big point in the at-bat for my confidence.”

As Melendez saw more pitches, he became more comfortable while Treinen got uncomfortable.

“I just really wanted to stay with the same exact plan,” Melendez said. “I’m fine with fouling off pitches -- the more I foul off, the better. It’s going to get him out. And we’ve got a righty behind me, which then their lefty [Anthony Banda] has to face. The more pitches I see is better for the team.”

Pitch No. 11 was a cutter back at the top, a ball.

“He changed my sights there, so in the moment, maybe [the slider] might have helped me lay off that cutter,” Melendez said. “I was in swing mode a lot.”

Pitch No. 12 was a cutter again, still elevated but lower than the others, and Melendez drove it a Statcast-projected 395 feet out to right field for his first career grand slam.

This being the first time since 2017 the Royals have played at Dodger Stadium and the first time ever for Melendez, he wasn’t sure if it was going to go over the fence.

“I saw [right fielder Jason] Heyward drift back towards it, and I was like, ‘Oh no, please go, please go,’” Melendez said. “I knew I got it decent, but I didn't get absolutely all of it.”

The 12-pitch grand slam is the third-longest plate appearance ending with a grand slam since pitch counts were first tracked in 1988. Only Mookie Betts (13 pitches in 2018) and Gary Scott (13 pitches in 1992) had longer plate appearances.

It was also just the 19th time it's happened on 10-plus pitches.

Melendez has struggled this year, entering Saturday with a .161 average and a .559 OPS. The Royals have stuck with him in the lineup because of his defense and have been encouraged by the mechanical adjustments he’s tried to make in the past few weeks.

His at-bat certainly changed Saturday’s game; how it changes his confidence moving forward could be just as important for the Royals.

“I know that’s something [Melendez has] been looking for and we’ve been looking for from him,” said Vinnie Pasquantino, who drew one of the walks in the sixth. “It was awesome to see him just be able to battle. At the end of the day, even if he lost that at-bat, it still would have been incredible. The fact that we were able to put up four runs with one swing after 12 pitches is incredible.”