Witt Jr. slugs 1st MLB HR on KC's 'special day'

Royals' youth on full display as bats break out in big win over Cardinals

May 4th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- When Bobby Witt Jr.’s first career home run bounced back onto the field and Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader chucked it back up to the stands, the ball wasn’t lost forever like some thought it would be when they saw it land in the fountains at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals retrieved the milestone ball and began having it framed for Witt. And he doesn’t mind that it got a little wet in the process.

“That’s cool,” Witt said Tuesday night, shrugging and grinning after launching a solo shot off Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson in the second inning. “I can say it went in the fountains.”

The first of what will likely be many in Witt’s career, the home run extended his hit streak to 11 games and gave the Royals a lead they didn't relinquish in their 7-1 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday, snapping a four-game losing streak. The victory gave starter Brad Keller a well-earned win after he tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits with three walks and two strikeouts.

The Royals’ seven runs were one more than they had in their previous four games combined, their 15 hits were a season high and their youth was on display. MJ Melendez, the club's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, made his big league debut and knocked his first career hit -- an opposite-field single in the sixth.

And right fielder Edward Olivares, 26, was 4-for-5 with two doubles and an RBI, doing even more to prove he belongs in the everyday lineup.

“Just a special day for [Witt], pretty cool for him and MJ both,” manager Mike Matheny said. “For our fans to see two guys that we’ve been talking about for a while do something good to help us win, a special day.”

In the second inning, Witt golfed a changeup low and out of the zone, with the ball leaving his bat at 102.5 mph and traveling 417 feet, according to Statcast. The 21-year-old was already rounding second base by the time the ball cleared the wall, but it wasn’t until Witt came into the dugout and was greeted by his teammates that he unleashed a big grin.

“It was awesome,” said Witt, the No. 1 prospect in baseball. “Just from getting to the field today, seeing [Royals greats] Mike Sweeney and Reggie Sanders here. … With MJ being here, being back at home, wearing the new uniforms, it was just a blast. Lot of energy out there. And a lot of Cardinals fans, so it was good to beat them with a lot of fans here.”

Witt knew Hudson was a sinkerball pitcher, so Witt would have to get under the ball to get it up in the air and meet his gap-to-gap approach. When Hudson threw a changeup low, Witt met it with the barrel.

“The pitch that Witt hit out, I tip my cap to him, because he basically scraped it off the plate,” Hudson said.

Witt is one of three players in Royals history to record a 10-game hit streak before his 22nd birthday, joining Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, and Witt’s 11th consecutive game with a hit matches Hosmer, who hit in 11 straight games as a 21-year-old from July 19-30, 2011. Butler holds the club record at 14 games from Sept. 30, 2007-April 14, 2008.

The Royals knew this kind of production was coming from Witt. When he made the Opening Day roster, they knew he might struggle against Major League pitching for the first time. Witt was 5-for-39 (.128) through his first 10 games as pitchers attacked him with a heavy dose of offspeed pitches.

To begin his rookie year, Witt has seen 48.2 percent non-fastballs, which is slightly above the MLB average (44.6).

“It’s kind of just settling in more and more each and every day,” Witt said. “All the preparation, the work we put in with the staff and being around my teammates, making me feel at home here.”

Assistant hitting coach Keoni De Renne worked with Witt in the Minors before both were promoted to the big leagues this year. The moment may have gotten to Witt in the early part of the season, as he chased pitches he typically wouldn’t and faced more talented pitching than he’s faced before.

Now? De Renne sees a “calmness in him from pitch to pitch.” Scouts and coaches have raved about Witt’s ability to adjust within at-bats, instead of between them. That’s beginning to show.

“Having conversations with him like, 'You don’t have to do everything in one at-bat and one game. Go be you,'” De Renne said. “I think he’s taking into account the information that we’re giving him, coming up with what he wants to do, and he’s convicted in it.

“That’s why I think he’s starting to make strides.”