Notes: With Rusty on his ride, it must be spring

Royals tab Lynch, Mayers to open Cactus slate; Greinke holds court for KC pitchers

February 22nd, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The winds were howling around the Royals’ Spring Training complex on Wednesday morning, a different feel and look to typically sunny Surprise, Ariz. But the windy and cold weather didn’t stop the workouts, nor did it take longtime coach Rusty Kuntz out of his peak form.

Well, maybe a little.

“Are we still in Arizona?” Kuntz said as he rode his bike from field to field, a Spring Training staple like no other. “I’m pedaling, but I don’t feel like I’m moving forward.”

Kuntz is back for his 16th season with the Royals and second as special assistant to the general manager/quality control, which essentially means a roving instructor to help outfielders and baserunning at every level.

At 68 years old, Kuntz’s personality is magnetic, his energy contagious. His Spring Training bike, fitted with a horn that he squeaks as he rides by, is how you know spring has sprung; when you hear, “OK, player!” you know Kuntz is coming.

Every player has a story of how Kuntz has helped them, whether it’s Nicky Lopez on the bases or Nick Loftin in the outfield.

Just like players have to get used to being back on their feet for long periods of time in the spring, so do coaches. That’s why Kuntz has a preparation routine, although he admitted on Wednesday that he didn’t do as much to get ready for this spring -- which is why it took him about six days to feel back into Spring Training form.

“The only thing coaches do is stand around and then bend over a bunch to pick up balls,” Kuntz said with a grin. “So what I usually do is pick a three-hour movie and stand up the whole time to watch it. And then, I take a bucket of about 50 baseballs and dump them on the floor and get used to picking them up again. I didn’t do quite that much this year, though.”

After divulging his offseason training, Kuntz grabbed the bike’s handlebars and said he had to go work on baserunning with a group of Royals hitters on Field 4.

“Hey, player!” he called out as he rode away.

The wind gobbled up some of the sound, but everyone around still knew who it was.

Cactus League starters

The Royals have laid out the first few days of their pitching plans for the Cactus League schedule starting this weekend.

Lefty Daniel Lynch will start Friday’s opener against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. He’ll likely be followed by relievers Jose Cuas and Josh Staumont, among others.

Right-hander Mike Mayers, a non-roster invitee this spring after signing a Minor League deal with the Royals, will start Saturday’s game for visiting Kansas City, also against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium. Carlos Hernández, who will be leaving soon for the World Baseball Classic, will be one pitcher to get innings behind Mayers.

Greinke’s influence

One thing manager Matt Quatraro has noticed about veteran starter Zack Greinke is that when he starts talking about pitching, it’s become “an event.”

“Whether it’s on the mound or in the clubhouse, it’s an event,” Quatraro said. “Everybody’s over there to hear what he’s got to say and what he’s trying to do. That’s been fun to watch. As far as how that’s going to help us on the field, you need people of all experience levels, right? You’ve heard me say it a bunch of times, we’re going to need way more than the 13 pitchers we have on Opening Day, we’re going to have a lot of depth, and that depth is going to be all different kinds of guys in different parts of their careers.”

During his live BP session on Wednesday, Greinke had an audience of several Royals pitchers. He faced Edward Olivares, Maikel Garcia and José Briceño, and Greinke threw to Salvador Perez. Greinke struck out Olivares looking, and Perez called strike three.

Greinke asked what the Trackman behind home plate revealed -- was it a strike or ball? Perez threw his arms up.

“What’s the matter with you, you don’t believe me?” Perez said jokingly. “Come on, Greinke.”

Trackman said it was a strike, too.