Royals ready to 'bounce back and move on' after late-game mistakes

April 2nd, 2024

BALTIMORE -- In a tie game with the bases loaded and one out, Hunter Renfroe stepped to the plate in the top of the eighth inning Monday night with a chance for his first hit of the season with a new team in a huge moment.

Orioles reliever Yennier Cano threw Renfroe three consecutive sinkers, the last of which jammed the new Royals outfielder and got him to pop out on the infield-fly rule.

“I was trying to hit the ball in the air,” Renfroe said. “I did what I was wanting to do, just didn’t quite catch the barrel and hit it far enough out there. That guy’s really good. It just didn’t happen. I didn’t want to hit the ball on the ground. Got jammed, broken bat. Didn’t get it far enough out there.”

Second baseman Jordan Westburg, who caught Renfroe’s popout, crushed a two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning off reliever Nick Anderson in the Royals’ eventual 6-4 walk-off loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards.

In a tight battle against the reigning American League East champions, it was late-game mistakes that sunk the Royals -- and none might have been bigger than the top of the eighth inning with runners in scoring position.

Yes, because it came back to hurt them, but even more so because situational hitting was such an emphasis over the offseason and in Spring Training. In 2023, the Royals’ .246 average with runners in scoring position ranked 23rd in baseball, their 455 RBIs ranked 25th and their 83 wRC+ ranked 29th.

Four games into a season is certainly a small sample size. But seeing early results could do wonders for the Royals during their tough April schedule.

“Not capitalizing when we had a chance to bust it open there a little bit, or at least take the lead, you need to capitalize there,” manager Matt Quatraro said.

Bobby Witt Jr. -- who now has a 1.744 OPS this year after another homer Monday -- singled to lead off the eighth and followed with his first stolen base of the year. He went to third on Vinnie Pasquantino’s infield single, and when pinch-runner Garrett Hampson immediately stole second, the Royals had a chance with runners on second and third and no outs.

Salvador Perez, who homered in the third inning to give the Royals a three-run lead, grounded out to shortstop for the first out.

“In that situation, I’ve got to be better,” Perez said. “I have to bring guys home to help my team win. I have to. No more excuses. I think that game’s on me. I didn’t do my job. … The game is going to pay you back if you don’t do your job in the right moment.”

With one out, the Orioles intentionally walked MJ Melendez to face the nine-year veteran Renfroe. In three games, Renfroe is now 0-for-11 with four strikeouts.

“[Monday] was the first time I’ve been able to see the ball without the shadows,” Renfroe said. “It felt good to see the ball and react to the baseball coming in instead of just swinging and hoping the ball is there. Felt like it was something to build off today for me, just missed a few balls.”

With two outs in the eighth inning, Nick Loftin -- who had pinch-hit for Adam Frazier in the seventh against lefty Keegan Akin -- struck out swinging to end the frame. Playing first base in the eighth, Loftin made a play on Adley Rutschman’s grounder, only to have the ball pop out of his glove for a hit. Two batters later, Loftin couldn’t pick a throw from Witt, and the Orioles took the lead on the RBI single.

“That’s my job as a first baseman is to catch the ball, no matter where it’s thrown,” said the rookie Loftin, who has nine games of experience at first base. “I wasn’t able to execute. … It’s very frustrating. I know it’s early in the season. But every win matters, every game matters. But it’s baseball, and we’re going to bounce back and move on.”

The Royals tied it in the ninth on Maikel Garcia’s sacrifice fly – made possible by pinch-runner Dairon Blanco’s two stolen bases – and Anderson came on for the ninth to potentially use closer Will Smith in a later save situation.

The Royals never got there.

“If we keep showing fight like that, it’ll translate to a lot of wins this year,” starter Michael Wacha said after allowing three runs in five innings in his Royals debut. “It’s important to stay positive. It’s early in the year. Flush the negative stuff, learn from it and turn the page.”