KANSAS CITY -- The ace of August has now continued that dominance into September.
Cole Ragans was excellent again in the Royals’ 12-1 series-opening rout over the White Sox on Monday at Kauffman Stadium, shoving for six scoreless innings and extending his career-long scoreless streak to 21 innings, the longest current stretch in the Major Leagues. Only two White Sox reached base against Ragans -- a bloop single with one out in the fifth inning and a leadoff hit by pitch batter in the sixth.
Ragans won the American League Pitcher of the Month because of his 1.72 ERA across six starts last month, becoming the first Royals pitcher to win the league’s monthly award since Zack Greinke in 2009. But Ragans has been great for the Royals ever since they acquired the lefty starter from Texas for reliever Aroldis Chapman at the end of June.
In eight starts for Kansas City, Ragans has a 1.51 ERA, allowing eight earned runs in 47 2/3 innings. He’s walked just 11 batters, struck out 63 and posted a 0.97 WHIP while holding batters to just a .205 batting average.
In other words, Ragans is one of the best pitchers in baseball right now.
“I know he dominated all of August, and it was really fun to actually see it in person today,” said Nick Loftin, who went 2-for-3 with a walk while playing his first big league game at third base. “Great human being, great character and definitely a great pitcher.”
Ragans’ 21-inning scoreless streak began on Aug. 23 in Oakland, and it’s the longest by a Royal since Wade Davis’ 22 innings from April 6-May 31, 2015, and longest by a Royals starter since Jeremy Guthrie’s 22-inning run from Aug. 8-19, 2012. On Monday, while the Royals offense erupted against the White Sox with 12 runs on 16 hits, Ragans took a perfect game into the fifth inning for the second straight start.
“Every time I go out there, I try to give us a chance to win,” Ragans said. “Today, the guys made it pretty easy. They’re unbelievable. The homers, the good at-bats. Even in the beginning, one in the first, one in the second, one in the third, just keep adding on each inning made it a lot easier.”
As the Royals tacked on seven runs in the fifth with homers from Edward Olivares, who had two on the day, and Nelson Velázquez, Ragans continued to keep the White Sox off balance with his mix of five pitches. Chicago swung 55 times against Ragans and whiffed 22 times for a 40% whiff rate. His slider generated a 56% whiff rate, while his fastball got seven whiffs (35%) and averaged 97 mph.
“In today's game, guys are throwing hard,” White Sox first baseman Andrew Vaughn said. “But a lefty throwing 98 [mph] and commanding his stuff, you don't see that every day.”
Entering Monday, Ragans’ whiff percentage on his fastball had increased from 11.7% last season to 26.3% in 2023. Part of the reason is because of the 4-5 mph increase in velocity, but Ragans is also mixing his arsenal better than ever before.
“Especially getting ahead, having the slider, changeup, cutter and curveball,” Ragans said, “If I’m throwing them all in the zone … they have to think about all of them.”
Even when some at-bats got long, Ragans was able to find the quality out pitch, and he threw strikes with all five of his pitches. He was in the zone 50% of the time, and of his 92 pitches, 62 were strikes.
“If they’re fouling off fastballs, he can go to any of the other pitches,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “He’s had them in the zone so much that they have to honor it. They can’t just eliminate a pitch, and with five of them, it’s quite an arsenal for guys to defend against.”
The Royals knew when they signed Chapman to a low-risk, one-year deal this offseason that he could net a good return if they helped him turn things around. That’s exactly what they did, and the Royals got a starter, as well as Dominican outfielder Roni Cabrera. In Ragans, the Royals hoped to add a solid arm to their future rotation, while potentially increasing competition among the starters they have in the system already.
Right now, Ragans is looking like their ace.
“When you watch him pitch, we’ve talked a lot about his composure and poise, the way he reigns in his misses,” Quatraro said. “We just hope that the consistency of his performances are something that raises the floor for our entire, not only pitching staff, but our team.”