'It's fun to watch': Witt, KC putting it together offensively

May 28th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- After coming up a double shy of the cycle in Friday night’s game against the Twins,  turned into a doubles machine on Saturday.

The rookie lined three two-baggers and drove in two runs in the Royals’ 7-3 victory at Target Field, setting up a chance for Kansas City to take the four-game series if it wins Sunday’s finale.

“Yeah, that was the goal: Just hit some doubles today,” Witt said nonchalantly postgame.

The last time a Royal managed a three-double game was exactly four years ago, when Jon Jay hit three on May 28, 2018. Witt became the seventh Royals rookie to hit three doubles in a game, joining David Lough, Calvin Pickering, Ken Harvey, Carlos Beltran, Tim Spehr and George Brett -- and only Brett was younger than Witt at the time of his effort.

“You’re starting to see him figure out the strike zone,” manager Mike Matheny said of Witt. “Maintain the zone better. He’s just got freakish ability when he puts it all together. Just watching how the ball jumps off his bat, how quick his hands are, making things happen.

“It’s fun to watch right now.”

The Royals have been increasingly pleased with the offense’s approach in this recent stretch of games. After batting .217 with 14 homers and a .592 OPS, while scoring 3.2 runs per game, through their first 29 games, the Royals entered Saturday having batted .273 with 20 homers and a .799 OPS, while scoring 4.9 runs per game, over their last 15 games.

“Comes down to two-strike and two-out hits today,” Matheny said. “Those are huge for us. We talked about how we get this offense going, it’s those big hits, those big situations.”

The top of the order is leading the charge for Kansas City.  drove in two runs Saturday with a double of his own and is hitting .306 with a .357 on-base percentage in his last 15 games.  is as consistent as ever, going 2-for-5 on Saturday and upping his OPS to .817.

Benintendi also scored two runs because he’s hitting in front of Witt, who is slashing .310/.359/.759 with 14 RBIs in his last 15 games.

Witt is also crushing the ball, with exit velocities of 110 mph, 111.6 mph, 94.9 mph and 91.5 mph on Saturday.

“I feel like every time he gets up there, he’s hitting the ball hard somewhere,” Benintendi said. “Whether it be in the gap or right at someone, it’s just crazy to see how hard he hits the ball every time. He’s starting to get going these past two weeks or whatever it may be. If I’m on first, I feel like he’s either going to hit a homer or [one] in the gap for me to score.

“I think as of late here, we’ve been hitting with guys in scoring position, two-out rallies, things like that that can kickstart our offense and give us momentum.”

The uptick in offense hasn’t translated to many wins, but it was enough Saturday after  struck out eight and gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings, continuing his solid performance since returning from Triple-A Omaha two weeks ago.

Lefty reliever Gabe Speier allowed two of those runs charged to Singer to score in the sixth, but the Royals’ bullpen held steady from there, including two scoreless innings from Dylan Coleman.

The Royals had hoped this kind of offensive production would come with the warmer weather and larger sample size of at-bats, but behind the scenes, officials are seeing a better approach and better game-planning processes with their hitters, something they had hoped would translate when Alec Zumwalt took over as hitting coach on May 16.

The philosophy Zumwalt and the Royals have established in their hitting development program has been to swing at pitches hitters can do damage on, instead of chasing or softly hitting pitches that might be in the zone but won’t translate to damage.

Better swing decisions have led to hitting the ball harder. Entering Saturday, the Royals are second in baseball since May 16 in average exit velocity at 90.9 mph. Their barrel percentage since then is 8.5%, which is eighth in baseball, and their hard-hit rate is ranked second at 44.3%.

“We’ve had hard hits with bad luck, too,” Matheny said. “Now you’re starting to see the ball carry a little bit more. Everybody’s heating up. It’s a dangerous offense once we get things clicking. Everybody’s feeling good about themselves right now because they’ve all contributed.”