Waters, Olivares spark sweep in glimpse of future

September 22nd, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals left Minnesota both in August and last week with a bitter taste in their mouths after they were swept twice by the Twins.

But this week, the Royals flipped the script on the Twins with a sweep of their own, capped by Thursday afternoon’s 4-1 win at Kauffman Stadium that clinched the Royals’ first three-game sweep of the season. Technically, they swept the White Sox in a one-game series in August, which is considered a series by the Elias Sports Bureau.

This one was a little sweeter.

“We talked about it before the series, just being able to put it to them, because that’s something that obviously we haven’t been able to do, especially going over to their place,” MJ Melendez said after Wednesday's win. “To be able to flip that script is something that gives us confidence.”

Ultimately, that's what the Royals would like to see over the final two weeks of the season. With 12 games left, including the final series at Kauffman Stadium this weekend against the Mariners, they want to win as many of these final games as they can, but they’re also committed to getting as many looks as they can at players who figure to play key roles in 2023.

That’s why Nate Eaton -- whose RBI double gave the Royals extra insurance in the eighth inning -- has played five straight games at third base, to see how he does there and get his bat in the lineup.

It’s why outfielder Edward Olivares is going to play nearly everyday, hoping to finish off the season strong after an injury-riddled summer. Olivares has been limited to 41 games this year with two hamstring injuries but has hit well in nearly every one, slashing .305/.357/.466 with four home runs, including the ball he smashed to lead off the fourth inning Thursday.

“He’s showing every hit tool that you need,” manager Mike Matheny said. “The focus for me, more so than the at-bats -- he’s proven to us the kind of bat he can bring to the Major Leagues -- there’s going to be more consistency on the bases by utilizing his speed and more [efficiency] and confidence in the outfield.”

With his consistent offense and improving defense, Olivares is showing why the Royals should count on him in 2023.

“You never want to get hurt,” Olivares said through an interpreter. “But I’m always going to give it my best, go out there and compete. … It’s definitely nice to finish on a good note.”

The same goes for Drew Waters, whom the Royals now view as part of their young core of hitters after acquiring him from the Braves in July. He played center field Thursday and should continue to get looks around the outfield to see where he might fit next season.

“Especially for me, this is the first time this coaching staff and really this front office is getting the opportunity to see me play as a Kansas City Royal,” Waters said. “So finishing strong is important. Where I’m at, there’s a lot more in there. But I would say as the weeks continue to go on, I’m continuing to get better.”

Waters showcased his power Thursday, too. His second homer of the season had a 110 mph exit velocity on it, sending the ball 428 feet over the Royals’ bullpen in the fifth inning

“When I got here, I asked what’s been the farthest home run hit here, and they started going around the field telling me the distances,” Waters said. “They told me Yordan Alvarez went up by the concrete above the bleachers, so when I came back in, I was joking with them saying, ‘I think that hit the concrete.’”

After Jonathan Heasley’s six innings of one-run ball, the Royals saw some relievers in new spots with several high-leverage arms unavailable Thursday, including Scott Barlow. Collin Snider and Carlos Hernández pitched scoreless innings, and Brad Keller earned his first career save with two strikeouts in a quick ninth inning.

“Barlow going out there getting eight outs in two days, that’s impressive,” Keller said. “So I try to go in there and carry my own weight. Whenever we got the chance, just follow their lead.”

The Royals bullpen didn’t allow a run in 11 2/3 innings against the Twins this week, with just one walk and 12 strikeouts.

“To be able to put away the game and a series like this is really important,” Matheny said. “It’s been impressive to watch each of the pieces come together, pushing guys into spots they hadn’t been in before and watching how they respond, and they responded really well.”