Marsh, Ragans prove themselves in opportunities to start

Righty sets career high with 11 K's, while lefty tosses five innings of one-run ball

July 16th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- is not a superstitious person, but after using Jonathan Heasley’s glove during a dominant start in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Rays, he might have to find a way to repay his teammate.

Marsh struck out a career-high 11 batters in the Royals’ eventual 6-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium, tossing his first career quality start by allowing two runs in six innings. The right-hander needed to borrow Heasley’s glove because Marsh’s old ones were too small and harder to hide the ball.

Marsh’s new gloves are on their way to Kansas City, so Heasley offered his own until then.

“But if that’s the result, I might have to buy him something as a thank you,” Marsh said.

After Marsh mowed down Rays hitters, lefty followed suit with a solid outing in his Royals debut. The centerpiece in the trade that sent Aroldis Chapman to Texas on June 30, Ragans allowed one run in five innings in the Royals’ 4-2 loss in Game 2.

“Today felt like my debut all over again,” Ragans said. “All the nerves, excitement, adrenaline. It was nice to get out there.”

Saturday marked the first games back from the All-Star break and offered a glimpse at what we can see from the Royals in the second half -- opportunities. And the two 25-year-old rookie starters took advantage.

“It was exciting. Both of them threw the ball well,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “That was probably Marsh’s best [start], obviously results-wise but also best stuff. And for the first time seeing Ragans, I definitely wasn’t expecting [98-99 mph] velo. The way he carried himself, the conversations in the dugout, the way he was composed -- it was good to see.”

Whether the Royals won or lost on Saturday isn’t going to matter for the big-picture development of this franchise. What does matter is how the young players improve: How they played Saturday, how they play for the next 2 1/2 months and how they play in 2024 and beyond.

Marsh’s composure remained steadfast throughout his outing but especially when he faced trouble. After allowing a solo homer and a double in the third inning, Marsh struck out Wander Franco and got a flyout to end the inning without further damage done.

In the fifth, Marsh followed another solo homer with his only walk of his outing. Before facing Franco again, Marsh took a beat behind the mound, simply to breathe.

“I was thinking about the home run the whole time,” Marsh said of Lowe’s walk. “Especially because that home run was all on me. It was the only time I shook Salvy all game. I wanted a changeup. If I get it over a couple more balls to the right, probably a different result. … I was just more upset at myself than anything. But after I walked that guy, I was like, ‘Hey, it’s over with. We’ve got to get back in there and get us back in the dugout.’”

Small things like that can be improved, especially given Marsh’s overall attack mindset on Saturday. He generated 15 whiffs on 51 swings -- 29% -- including nine on his fastball. He also got three whiffs on his slider, a pitch he said he tinkered with during the All-Star break while he was back in Arizona.

“Mixing some grips and stuff like that. It was really cool to see the results happen right away,” Marsh said. “I think the adjustment from pitch to pitch is exciting, too, because that’s something that I struggled with in the past. Now once you get to a higher level, you need to make those adjustments right away.”

Ragans averaged 97.5 mph with his fastball and maintained that high velocity throughout his outing, maxing out at 99.8 mph. He worked around two walks in a scoreless first inning and allowed the only run in the third, when Franco doubled and scored on Randy Arozarena’s single.

The Rays whiffed 11 times against Ragans -- 25% of the swings they took against him.

“Had the two walks, obviously don’t like those, but worked through it and calmed myself down,” Ragans said. “After that, I felt like I filled it up a little bit more.”

Ragans, who served as the 27th man for the doubleheader, was returned to Triple-A Omaha after Game 2, and it’s unclear what the Royals' rotation will look like when Zack Greinke returns from the injured list.

But after Saturday, one thing is clear: Both Marsh and Ragans have earned more chances to start in the second half.

“That’s what you play the game for,” said , who homered in Game 1 and doubled in Game 2. “The opportunities you get, you can’t take them for granted, but you have to capitalize whenever it comes to you. You have to go up there -- whether you’re at the plate, on the mound, in the field -- and try to do your job for the team. Play the game pitch by pitch and not worry about the rest.”