Bolaños, Hernández do heavy lifting for 'pen

June 13th, 2021

OAKLAND -- Over the past week, the Royals have had just two starters pitch six innings or more during the West Coast trip that ended Sunday with the series finale against the A’s. This comes in the midst of 14 games in 14 days. And while Royals relievers have had to cover a hefty amount of innings, there are two names that have kept the bullpen from being in worse shape: Ronald Bolaños and Carlos Hernández.

The pair covered the bulk of Saturday’s game after Jackson Kowar couldn’t get out of the second inning. Bolaños allowed one run on two hits in 3 1/3 innings with four strikeouts. When he got in trouble in the fifth inning with two singles and a walk, Hernández came in with two outs and struck out Skye Bolt swinging with a 100 mph sinker. He allowed a home run in the sixth inning, but otherwise limited the damage.

“Really impressed with how both of them have cleaned some things up when we sent them out and gave them things to work on,” manager Mike Matheny said after the game. “That’s big stuff, so it’s good to see both of them come out and do a nice job for us.”

Despite the loss Saturday, what Bolaños and Hernández showed allows the Royals to think about different roles they could have in their bullpen. Both are stretched out, which has been helpful. Armed with high-velocity fastballs and devastating breaking balls, both could see time in shorter stints in increasingly higher leverage situations.

Bolaños has especially impressed since he was called up on June 3. In 6 1/3 innings, he’s allowed one run and struck out 10, including five in two innings on Tuesday against the Angels. The Royals’ No. 23 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, has simplified his delivery since Spring Training, making it more repeatable and allowing his fastball to have consistent heavy sink. Hernández, too, has made significant strides in his delivery working with Royals coaches, allowing him to harness the 98-100 mph fastball.

“You’re talking two guys with big stuff that could come in as starters or be those potential leverage guys in the bullpen, as well,” Matheny said. “It’s impressive to watch them take that next step. Having the big stuff, but having inconsistencies with it, and a lot of it has been mechanical adjustments to simplify and make it repeatable. I think it’s a difference-maker.”

Matheny has been open about how much he’s worked some of the Royals’ high-leverage relievers and how that’s not sustainable. The Royals need more relievers to step up in those spots, and what Bolaños and Hernández have flashed could give two more options if they stay consistent.

“I believe they’ve both pitched well enough to warrant those opportunities if they present themselves, so it’s good to have that flexibility,” Matheny said. “We like trying to get every one of these guys to where they’re multi-inning pitchers. It maximizes when they’re going well and takes the load off of other guys.”

Davis working through struggles

With the Royals trailing 6-2 entering the bottom of the eighth inning on Saturday, Matheny went to reliever Wade Davis for another low-leverage outing, hoping the right-hander could get outs and find confidence after an up-and-down season so far.

Instead, Davis allowed five runs, including two homers, putting the game out of reach. He faced six batters before recording an out. In 22 2/3 innings this season, Davis has an 8.34 ERA, which is tough to see and likely even tougher to go through as the reliever who registered the final out of the 2015 World Series.

“You’re talking about a guy who’s been a high-leverage pitcher for a long time and [is now coming] into lopsided games,” Matheny said. “We’re just trying to get him feeling good about himself on the mound. The situations that he’s been in, you don’t have as much. Even though it’s a Major League game, you’ve got guys who are accustomed to being in those one-run, two-run games, trying to hang on and have all that pressure take them to another level. So it’s been a challenge for Wade.

“But we keep encouraging him to take advantage of every inning we give him and figure out ways to get some outs and keep building on that confidence.”

Royals rumblings

• The double steal that Jarrod Dyson and Nicky Lopez pulled off in the third inning on Saturday was the Royals’ seventh double steal of the season and the first since May 15 against the White Sox. It also marked their 45th and 46th steals of the season -- the most in the American League heading into Sunday’s slate of games.

• The Royals will stay on turn in their rotation when they welcome Detroit to Kansas City for a three-game series this week. Brad Keller will face lefty Matthew Boyd on Monday, Mike Minor will face right-hander Casey Mize on Tuesday and Brady Singer will face lefty Tarik Skubal in the series finale on Wednesday.