Staumont's 1st save opens 'pen possibilities

April 25th, 2021

is intensely focused on winning for his team, not so much on any personal achievements that come in the process.

But he admitted that Saturday’s milestone was a special one.

The Royals reliever notched his first career save with a shutdown ninth inning in Kansas City’s 2-1 win over the Tigers on Saturday, locking in the win by freezing Jeimer Candelario on a looping 81-mph curveball that catcher Cam Gallagher framed well.

“Every milestone you hit is going to have some special memory,” Staumont said after the game. “There’s little things, like being able to throw to Cam, guys I’ve come up with, grinded with, good and bad. To have a good outcome with somebody I’ve been around for years is really cool. And to seal a win? That’s two birds with one stone, so that’s pretty cool.”

Staumont reached the milestone with his high-velocity fastball -- he hit 100 mph in the first two games of the Detroit series for the first time this season -- and a curveball that has become a devastating pitch for him. On Saturday, it came down like a hammer to the top of the Tigers’ order.

“When he hits on it, it’s a devastating pitch,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s something that I believe complements his fastball. So he’s using them both well. High velocity speeds them up, the large break on the curveball makes them aware that that’s part of his arsenal. It’s a tough combination.”

Staumont became the sixth Royals reliever to notch a save this season -- joining Greg Holland (two), Jesse Hahn, Wade Davis, Scott Barlow and Kyle Zimmer -- which is two more than the Rays, Dodgers and Blue Jays each have, with four entering Sunday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Royals joined the 2019 Mariners as the only teams since the save became an official statistic in 1969 to have six different pitchers record a save within a team’s first 19 games.

“We’ve got a pitcher that we all know has late-inning stuff, has high-leverage stuff, going back-to-back in a one-run game to get your first career save, that’s something real important for Josh and for us as a club,” Matheny said. “Once again, gives us more depth and options for how we can finish games.”

The distribution of saves speaks to Matheny’s bullpen strategy of not naming a traditional closer, but instead having a number of relievers ready to pitch high-leverage situations when needed. Those situations could come as early as the sixth inning or be in the ninth. It takes buy-in from the bullpen, but early in the season, the Royals have it.

“Coming out with a number next to the save column doesn’t change a single thing,” Staumont said. “I personally take away that it’s awesome and super cool, but I think as this game’s changing, we’re seeing that the seventh or eighth inning might be the most important inning. And we’re just trying to knock these guys down in the line. As this comes along, you see our bullpen already just navigating, working together, fitting like a puzzle.

“I don’t think it matters what inning we’re throwing anymore. We have six guys who can go in, hammer these games out and get us those wins.”

Key baserunning spurs Royals
The attention from Saturday’s win was rightfully on the pitching and starter Brady Singer, who dazzled in seven innings. But it was the Royals’ baserunning that them helped score two runs in the fifth inning. The opening the Royals had was fleeting -- Tigers starter Matthew Boyd did not allow a baserunner before or after the fifth inning -- so Kansas City had to take advantage when it could.

Specifically, Matheny was impressed with Hanser Alberto’s route from first to second on Andrew Benintendi’s forceout that scored Jorge Soler from third. Leading off from first base after his single, Alberto stood behind the bag and saw the ball Benintendi hit take a hard bounce into first baseman Jonathan Schoop’s glove. Alberto then established the baseline almost directly next to the infield grass, so Schoop was forced to throw high, taking shortstop Willi Castro off the bag before Castro could apply the forceout at second. Alberto was out, but the chance for a double play was eliminated. Benintendi then scored on a throwing error after Michael A. Taylor's single.

“He’s directly in the way of the throw instead of just peeling off, instead of staying the course, he intentionally got in the middle of that throw,” Matheny said. “… He single-handedly created pressure by how he ran the bases between first and second on a forceout, potential double play, that changed the course of that game.”