KANSAS CITY -- By the time Nick Pratto saw the sixth pitch of his at-bat against Padres righty Joe Musgrove in the second inning on Friday night, he had a pretty good idea of what Musgrove’s offerings looked like.
So when Pratto saw a changeup on the outside of the plate, he simplified his swing and drove the ball to the opposite field, sending a double to the left-field wall.
It was Pratto’s first hit in almost two weeks, breaking an 0-for-21 slump and sending a breath of relief through the rookie’s mind as he jogged into second base. In his next at-bat, Pratto drove a changeup pull-side for a towering two-run homer in the Royals’ eventual 13-5 loss to the Padres at Kauffman Stadium.
“You know they’re going to get through it at some point,” manager Mike Matheny said. “What is it that’s going to be the key to doing that? I love it when I see our guys start to drive the ball the other way. … And then Nick was able to [pull] the home run. It was a beautiful swing.
“But most of the time, less is more to get you back into a good swing path and good swing thought. I’m sure he was just happy to get that off his shoulders, and now he can just go hit.”
Pratto’s home run started a four-run inning for the Royals and cut their deficit to one after the Padres marked Kris Bubic with six runs in four innings, forcing Matheny to turn to his bullpen in the fifth to try to keep the game close.
But it was San Diego’s offense that kept coming.
After Collin Snider’s scoreless fifth, Brad Keller allowed a run in the sixth, and the Padres knocked Amir Garrett around for four runs in the seventh -- the first earned runs Garrett (who hadn’t pitched since Monday because he served a two-game suspension) has allowed since before the All-Star break.
By the end of the series opener, Hunter Dozier was called upon to make his pitching debut, and the Padres had racked up 19 hits against the Royals’ pitching staff.
“We got to figure out how to take it,” Matheny said. “Fought our way back into it and then couldn’t hold on.”
While Kansas City pitchers continue to struggle and raise questions on how the organization will improve the staff for 2023, Friday did offer a positive takeaway in Pratto, who also played a stellar game defensively at first base.
In the seventh, Bobby Witt Jr. made an impressive stop and throw on a grounder hit up the third-base line, and Pratto stretched into foul territory to catch the ball as Jose Azocar was running through the first-base bag.
The ball beat Azocar, but the safe call was ruled to stand (meaning there wasn’t clear or convincing evidence) because replay review didn’t have a good enough angle of whether Pratto’s foot stayed on the bag.
“There’s not many first basemen that come across the bag like Nick does,” Matheny said.
After hitting .357 (5-for-14) with two homers in four games in early August, Pratto was in a bad slump at the plate, going just 2-for-35 (.057) over his past 13 games -- with 18 strikeouts. Pratto has swing-and-miss tendencies, but his strikeout rate is over 36% in the small sample size of his big league career.
“Trying to force results instead of letting the process work out and doing what I do in the box,” Pratto said. “ … But just going back to our training and relying on the things that we’ve done to get here, continuing to lean on all the things that we’ve learned over the years [has] helped. It is what it is, it happens, but there’s still a good amount of baseball left.”
Friday offered reassurance that the work he was putting in behind the scenes with hitting coaches Alec Zumwalt, Keoni De Renne and John Mabry was paying off.
That has included the typical game-planning measures the Royals take each day, something that helped them break out against Musgrove, the Padres’ All-Star who entered with a 2.91 ERA, in the fourth inning. Pratto focuses a lot of his pregame work in the batting cages, seeing high-velocity and high-spin to prepare for what he’ll see in the game.
“Results can get me in a good place, and they can get me in a bad place,” Pratto said. “Just try to stay even-keeled and continuing the work that we’re doing, and staying in my own kind of tunnel.”