Santana struggles in bid for rotation spot

Royals' comeback falls short after veteran allows three runs

May 30th, 2021

The Royals will need to improvise how they’ll go about the starting rotation in the near future, and whether or not will be a part of it as the fifth starter.

The 38-year-old made the spot start after manager Mike Matheny announced the right-hander would toe the rubber following the Royals’ emphatic win Friday. His second start of the season didn’t last long, however.

Santana was tagged for three of Minnesota’s six runs in three-plus innings, as Josh Donaldson scored the game’s first run, which also marked the 2 millionth run in MLB history, leading to Kansas City’s 6-5 loss at Target Field on Saturday afternoon. There wasn’t a concrete plan for Santana’s outing against the Twins as he pitched a scoreless inning against the Rays two days prior to Saturday’s start. But his start could be used to build upon something down the road.

"I didn't know, I didn't have an idea and I don't put anything on my mind, either,” Santana said about how many innings he thought he was going to pitch against Minnesota. “I just want to go in and just try to go inning by inning.”

With ace Danny Duffy on the injured list with a left forearm flexor strain, Santana has the potential to be a reliable piece for the rotation as the Royals navigate through an upcoming 14-game stretch without an off-day.

When Santana joined the Royals this season, he provided flexibility in that he could start or pitch out of the bullpen. Thus far, he’s proven to own those characteristics as a reliever with a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings and .204 opposing batting average.

As a starter, Santana is looking to find his previous form that once averaged 29 starts per season with a 4.02 ERA across the first 12 years of his career. His outing against the Twins pinned him with the loss, but Kansas City clawed its way back in an attempt to turn things around.

Salvador Perez provided the power in the third to put the Royals back in the game as he turned on a curveball from J.A. Happ and sent it 375 feet to left field, per Statcast. That tied it, but the game was soon out of Kansas City’s hands as Santana issued a leadoff fourth-inning walk to Jorge Polanco, who eventually scored off reliever Carlos Hernández.

Though the Royals attempted two rallies in the last couple of innings, Kansas City couldn’t quite climb out of the deficit. In the eighth, Whit Merrifield grounded into a double play that scored a run to cut Minnesota’s lead to two.

In the ninth, Kelvin Gutierrez set the Royals up for a comeback with his leadoff double. Adalberto Mondesi followed and hit his first long ball of the season. The two-run blast put Kansas City within a run of tying the game after Minnesota tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth.

But Hunter Dozier, pinch-hitter Andrew Benintendi and Hanser Alberto came up empty the rest of the way, leaving the Royals just a couple of runs short of turning things around.

"I thought we took some pretty good at-bats early. I felt like we were about to do something big,” Matheny said. “And then next thing you know we got into a bullpen that was throwing the ball pretty good. But a good push, unfortunately just not enough.”

Soler exits early with injury

recorded one at-bat for the Royals before he left in the second inning with right groin discomfort.

Soler didn’t seem to be in any pain when he jogged down the first-base line as he popped out in the infield to end the first inning. Soler also didn’t field any plays in right field during the bottom half of the first as the Twins took a one-run lead.

“He came off the field after running down to right field from the popup, but you could tell something didn't look quite right,” Matheny said. “But when he came off the field, [he] went straight to the trainers and they told him that we need to get a closer look. So right now we're day to day.”

In his last seven games, Soler has hit .091 and struck out 10 times.