KANSAS CITY -- The swing that Carlos Santana unleashed in the fifth inning Thursday night did all the talking about the offensive turnaround he’s seen these past few weeks -- and how confident he feels at the plate right now.
After going 4-for-4 the previous day, Santana hammered a two-run, go-ahead homer to push the Royals to a 7-5 win over the Orioles in the series opener at Kauffman Stadium. The win gave Kansas City a two-game winning streak -- something it’s only done four times now this season.
And the offense has led the way in both of those games. The Royals totaled 15 runs in their last 18 innings after scoring 13 runs in the previous five games of this homestand. Backing up Kris Bubic’s 4 1/3-inning start and the bullpen piecing it together from there against the O’s, Kansas City hit multiple home runs -- Santana’s blast followed MJ Melendez’s two-run shot in the third inning -- for the first time since May 27 in Minnesota, snapping an 11-game stretch in which the club hit a total of four homers.
One of the more important things to come out of this offensive surge is Santana’s swing. The 36-year-old has seemed to find it after an abysmal start to the season, when he went 10-for-82 (.122) in his first 25 games.
That led to limited playing time for the first baseman, whom the Royals are paying $10.5 million this season.
Since May 20, though, Santana is hitting .291 with an .868 OPS in 15 games.
“I feel good,” Santana said. “I never stopped working, and when I have the opportunity, try to do the most I can. I’ve been trying to work on my swing and try to do the best for me. It’s a long season. I started slow, but mentally, right now, I’m going to try to finish strong and help my team the most I can.”
Santana’s productive bat in the middle of the Royals’ lineup again has made a difference. With Melendez on base after a leadoff walk, Santana, hitting from the left side, was down in count, 0-2, quickly against right-hander Jordan Lyles, but he took a fastball for a ball and fouled off a changeup.
Then, Lyles threw a sinker down the middle, and Santana crushed it a Statcast-projected 423 feet, watching it land in the stands behind the Royals’ bullpen.
“Confidence, right?” manager Mike Matheny said. “I don’t know how you can put a value on what exactly it does for a pitcher or for a defender, hitter, baserunner, no matter how you look at it. It’s just one of the key ingredients.
“Right now, he’s got some confidence, and it’s good to see it from the left side, too, because I know he takes that personal, thinking that he’s not going to be able to hit the righties. That ball was hit. He continues to take good at-bats, and that’s the guy we brought in here.”
The Royals signed Santana two offseasons ago as a middle-of-the order veteran bat who could carry the club until highly regarded first base prospects, Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino, were ready for the Majors.
Those two are mashing for Triple-A Omaha to start the season, leading to several calls for their debuts, but the Royals have stuck with Santana, hoping to see him heat up -- not only to help the offense, but likely also to gauge any interest at the Trade Deadline on Aug. 2.
As that plays out this summer, Santana has focused on what he can control. He’s also been a mentor to some of the young players surrounding him in the clubhouse, including Melendez -- who has been hitting fifth, sandwiched in between Salvador Perez and Santana in the lineup of late -- Bobby Witt Jr., who drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning and Emmanuel Rivera, who tripled in the seventh.
“I think he’s taking the pressure off me that I don’t have to try to do too much,” Melendez said. “And I can really count on him and Salvy to get the job done.”
“Those kids have great talent,” Santana added.
Santana’s talent is starting to show again, too. There’s no doubt it needs to continue -- he only has a .630 OPS this season -- but his mentality hasn’t changed.
“You can start to see even the most seasoned veteran start to press and doubt, but I’ve never seen it from him,” Matheny said. “As you get a couple months into this thing, I’ve been impressed that it hasn’t worn on him harder than he has.
“He’s relentless in his work. … He comes in here ready to compete every day, and has the utmost belief in himself. Days and runs like this give him every reason to believe it.”