Melendez's clutch homer solidifies stance change, Royals' patience

Kansas City rallies with two in the 9th and 10th innings, but falls short of sweep

June 9th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- has tinkered with his batting stance, with where his hands are, with his approach, you name it, during an unbelievably tough offensive stretch for the Royals’ left fielder. What he can do to turn things around has consumed his daily thoughts for quite some time.

But when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon, he stopped thinking about anything at all -- except hitting the baseball.

“I don’t know what I did, to be honest with you,” Melendez said. “I was just trying not to think about anything. Which maybe I should do more of, not thinking about my stance.”

All Melendez knew was that he was ready to hit, and on the first pitch he saw from Mariners reliever Mike Baumann, Melendez crushed a two-out, two-run game-tying homer that traveled 431 feet with a bat flip that might have gone just as far.

The Royals’ resiliency was not quite enough in their eventual 6-5 loss at Kauffman Stadium. Closer James McArthur allowed three runs in the top of the 10th inning to put the game just out of reach, even with Hunter Renfroe’s two-run homer in the bottom half of the frame. McArthur walked two batters, both with two outs, after being ahead 0-2 to both of them.

“That’s very frustrating,” McArthur said. “Don’t want to walk people out there, you want to make tough pitches. It’s not what I’m trying to do. I’ve got to get back to just being a little more aggressive, trust my stuff in those situations.”

But the Mariners have to be happy to get out of Kansas City after a weekend when the Royals, who won two of three, just never seemed to quit. Production came from the entire lineup, and the Royals were never out of the game, even when they had been limited to one run in seven innings against Mariners starter George Kirby.

Royals starter Cole Ragans allowed one run across six innings with nine strikeouts, quickly settling down after a leadoff homer. Ragans’ 22 whiffs tied his career high set on Sept. 4, 2023, against the White Sox, and 11 of those came from his changeup.

“You’ve just got to move on,” Ragans said about the adjustment he made after J.P. Crawford’s second leadoff homer in as many days. “There’s a lot of game left. With the guys we have, they can put up runs and a crooked number at any point.

“It doesn’t matter who’s at the plate [for us]. They’re all unbelievable.”

Melendez entered Sunday slashing .163/.228/.331 and is just 3-for-31 in his last 10 games -- although all three of those hits have been homers. He was frustrated with his three at-bats before the ninth inning, including the second-inning strikeout against Kirby.

But like they have been all season with Melendez, the Royals were patient, and his teammates encouraged him that the game wasn’t over.

“It’s constant, every day,” Melendez said. “I’ve struggled a lot this season, but I feel like all the guys just pick me up every day. And it really helps. It’s easy to get down on yourself, and it’s a tough game. But that helps me keep going, knowing that they’ve got me.

“And the coaches, too. [Manager Matt Quatraro] having my back, him putting me in the lineup day in and day out shows the confidence that the team has in me. It gives me extra motivation. And hopefully I can turn things around. That’s kind of what goes into my mind every day, is that they have a lot of confidence in me, and I want to prove them right and do the little things that help us win games.”

Melendez has been a steady and reliable defender, and he’s done things to help the Royals win as he’s worked to get his swing right. Kansas City continuing to win games has kept Melendez in the lineup to keep getting at-bats and continue implementing the adjustments he’s made into the game.

Because the Royals know how much he can help this offense if his bat does get back on track.

They saw it Sunday.

“Any competitor wants to be in the lineup,” Quatraro said. “It’s easy to try to find a way not to play. MJ goes out there and battles every day. You see him run hard, you see his defense, you see how he’s throwing. We, the staff, see how he’s working behind the scenes. That’s what you’ve got to give him credit for, keep putting in the work when the numbers aren’t what you want them to be.”