KANSAS CITY -- To kick off their final series of the 2021 regular season, the Royals got everybody in on the action.
Kansas City knocked around 15 hits in its 11-6 rout over the Twins on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium, taking the series opener over the last-place American League Central club.
Eight of the nine batters in the Royals’ lineup registered at least one hit -- all but Salvador Perez, who was hit on the elbow in his first plate appearance and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts the rest of the way. Fans at The K were clamoring for his 49th home run all night, a homer that would break his tie with Jorge Soler for the most home runs in a single season in franchise history.
While Perez worked through the pain of his right ankle sprain that he suffered two nights ago, the rest of the Royals lineup picked up their veteran leader.
“That was a great display all the way through,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We talk about approach. And the approach really varies pitch-by-pitch, at-bat by at-bat, but when they’re using the middle and driving toward the middle, it’s normally keeping them on just about everything. Putting a lot of pressure on. “
The lineup flexed the kind of offense the Royals hope to bring into 2022, with Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez getting on base for the middle of the lineup. Andrew Benintendi was 2-for-4 with a walk and two RBIs, Carlos Santana broke out of his second-half slump by beating out a potential double-play ball and then hitting a single in his next at-bat, and Hunter Dozier continued his torrid recent stretch by going 3-for-5.
One of those hits was a tank of a home run, sending a first-pitch slider in the fifth inning 422 feet out to straightaway center field. The ball was hammered, with a 106.3 mph exit velocity, and it displayed, finally, all the work Dozier has put in this season.
“I haven’t seen a ball jump like that for him in that direction in awhile,” Matheny said. “That’s just a really good swing path.”
After recording 10 home runs and 39 RBIs in the first 121 games of the season -- the worst slump of Dozier’s career -- the Royals utilityman has recorded 14 extra-base hits (six doubles, two triples and six home runs) since Sept. 9. Paired with a .319 average, that looks much more like the hitter the Royals signed to a four-year contract extension in Spring Training.
“It just shows me everything I’ve been working on all year has shown up this month pretty consistently, which is good to see,” Dozier said. “It gives me that confidence going into the offseason that the things that I have been working on are the right things.”
These past few weeks don’t erase the rest of the season for Dozier, who began the season with a thumb injury and spent time on the injured list after colliding with José Abreu at first base in May.
But it can give him good momentum heading into the winter months. Because if the Royals want to improve next season, they’re going to need Dozier hitting like he was Friday.
“You can never underestimate when an injury happens like he had,” Matheny said. “How all of that just kind of spiraled to where he was compensating… which then turns your swing into something it normally wouldn’t be. That’s just the truth of this. And then he was trying to catch up after that. And now he’s starting to get back to the Hunter Dozier that we know he is and he’s going to be.
“It’s a long time coming. It seems like the adjustment should be made faster, but just getting your confidence going in this game when you are compromised, sometimes guys don’t figure it out. But he’s made the proper adjustments, and I know he’s in a much better place in his mind right now, too.”
The Royals’ offense backed up Jon Heasley’s third and final start of the season. The right-hander -- who was also honored as the Royals’ Double-A pitcher of the year -- cruised through five innings before exiting after 5 1/3, allowing four runs on six hits. The victory gave him his first career win as he heads into the offseason.
“It’s pretty crazy how fast everything comes at you,” Heasley said. “Two weeks ago, I was throwing in Double-A, and here we are tonight, got the first win under my belt. It’s super exciting, and I’m just happy for the opportunity. Hopefully this is just the beginning.”