Ryan O'Hearn had watched the Royals find ways to win from the team’s alternate training site at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He was itching to join in on the fun and make his mark, considering how well he’s been doing there.
O'Hearn was called up prior to Saturday's game against the Tigers and wasted no time making an impact, slugging a two-out homer in his first at-bat in the bottom of the fourth inning of Kansas City's 6-2 win at Comerica Park.
"Isbel went on a spell there. We faced a lot of lefties, and it's hard for young players to stay sharp without getting the opportunity,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “So, give him a chance to get a couple of things figured out, and [it's] a good opportunity to take advantage of Ryan O'Hearn right now.”
Isbel hit .265 with one extra-base hit (a triple) and 15 strikeouts in 12 games. The chance for him to find consistency will come at the alternate site, a better place to get locked in, according to Matheny.
O’Hearn’s addition will provide power at the plate and versatility all over the field. He’s been hitting the ball far at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and playing multiple positions.
"He's the best hitter we have right now. He's hitting the ball hard; he's taking great at-bats. It just takes some players longer time than others to have that translate at the Major League level,” Matheny said. “When you can hit, you can hit, and Ryan can hit. He's done a lot of work at first base and actually [quality control/catching coach Pedro Grifol] was pretty impressed with what he looked like in the outfield, so if we ever got stuck in a bind, I believe that's a place we’re going to continue to get him some work.”
The 27-year-old was selected by the Royals in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He made his Major League debut during the 2018 season and played in nearly 200 games since then for the Royals.
O’Hearn didn’t break camp with the team ahead of Opening Day after posting a .209 batting average with five homers and six RBIs in 21 games in Spring Training, but he said his time at the alternate site allowed him to perfect his swing against the breaking ball.
"It's only been two weeks, but it feels like it was an eternity there,” O’Hearn said. “I know I have what it takes to compete in this league. I've had success, I've had failure here, and I think I'm a better hitter now than I was a year ago, and even better than the year before that. I think I've continued to evolve."
Hinch on Matheny’s managing style
While the weekend series between the Royals and Tigers will provide a chance to see what the teams can do to make their mark on the AL Central, the series will also give Detroit manager A.J. Hinch a chance to experience Matheny’s managerial style up close.
“We've been in different leagues, so I haven't seen him a ton except for Spring Training when we trained next to them in Jupiter, West Palm [Fla.], area,” Hinch said. “One thing about Mike that I appreciate is how he manages to his personnel. I think it's very important. So I don't think it's necessarily an identity of the manager as much as it's an awareness of the manager to run your team with the strengths that you have.”
Both teams have a lot in common in their style of play, according to Hinch, through their aggressiveness on the basepaths and energy. It’s a testament to how Matheny is managing a versatile roster.
“I see a versatile manager because I see a versatile position-player group. So I think Mike does a good job of adapting to whatever skills he has on his team.”
• Adalberto Mondesi is progressing from an oblique strain that placed him on the injured list prior to the start of the season. He recently threw a short distance on the field and is checking off every box in the rehab process, according to Matheny.
• Right-hander Jesse Hahn will begin throwing soon to rebuild strength in his injured right shoulder, but there is no set timetable for his return.