KANSAS CITY -- When Twins starter Joe Ryan’s fastball rocketed off the bat of Edward Olivares in the bottom of the second inning Sunday afternoon, the entire Royals dugout might have sighed in relief before erupting in celebration.
The home run was the first Kansas City run of 2023, ending the team’s 19-inning scoreless drought to start the season.
“You would have thought we had 13 home runs in there,” infielder Matt Duffy said of the dugout celebration. “Little exhale.”
The next exhale? That first win. The Royals are still searching for it after their 7-4 loss and three-game sweep against the Twins on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City scored four runs in this series, all on Sunday, matching the 1999 club for the fewest through the first three games of a season in franchise history.
An 0-3 start to manager Matt Quatraro’s first season was certainly not how anybody drew it up. Putting runs on the board Sunday was a step forward, but it’s not going to get easier from here -- Toronto comes to town with a loaded rotation for the next four days at Kauffman Stadium.
“You hope that it’s momentum, but tomorrow will be a brand new day,” Quatraro said. “... These guys are working hard, the mood was good, the work before the game was good. It’s not something to be concerned with.”
So how do the Royals turn it around? Here are three keys.
1. Get their stars involved
The offense is a glaring hole right now, and it doesn’t help that the top of Kansas City’s lineup was not productive in this opening series.
Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez are searching for their first hits of the season, although they’ve drawn five walks between the two of them in three games. Melendez has struck out five times (including three Sunday) in nine at-bats. Witt is averaging a 97.9-mph exit velocity in 10 at-bats, but he struck out twice on Sunday.
“I’m not getting frustrated, but I’m missing pitches I should be hitting,” Witt said. “I’m getting pitches over the plate that I should be handling. I think it’ll come, so I just have to keep pushing, keep moving forward, because I’ve done a lot of work this offseason to not miss those pitches. I need to get back to that.”
“That’s an easy one to say,” Quatraro said. “If they’re on, we’re going to have a better chance to score.”
2. Hit with runners in scoring position
Olivares’ RBI single in the ninth inning on Sunday scored Michael Massey from second base, snapping an 0-for-19 streak with runners in scoring position. When the Royals have opportunities, they’re not taking advantage of them.
The dugout isn’t panicking because the approach has been solid, with the lineup drawing walks and generating hard exit velocities. What Kansas City doesn’t want to have happen is for its hitters to start to press, because mistakes can start to compound.
“It can be difficult to do that, to take a breath, take a step back,” said Duffy, who crushed a two-run homer in his Royals debut Sunday. “Especially with a young squad like we have, what you look for is adjustments being made and small improvements from each guy and as a group.
“That’s a good team over there, it’s a good litmus test for where we’re at as a team and what we need to improve on.”
3. Keep the starters hot
The bullpen faltered Sunday when Joey Gallo took both Amir Garrett and Dylan Coleman deep, but Kansas City has been pleased with its pitching so far.
On Sunday, Brad Keller walked four in 4 2/3 innings but limited the damage to two runs, in part because he was able to get key strikeouts. He effectively used his curveball to do so, getting six whiffs on 12 swings with the pitch. Royals starters allowed five earned runs in 15 1/3 innings (2.93 ERA) this series, a trend they’re hoping to continue to keep up with the Blue Jays this week.
Like he did so many times last year, Brady Singer will take the ball on Monday looking to put an end to a losing streak.
“I think everyone is eager to get that first win out of the way and go from there,” Keller said. “Honestly, some really good games in this series didn't go our way. We’re looking forward to this next series and getting that first win out of the way.”