ANAHEIM -- Though it ended with a 5-0 loss to the Angels on Wednesday night at Angel Stadium, the Royals’ nine-game tour of the West Coast was largely successful. Kansas City went 5-4 in San Francisco, Oakland and Anaheim for its first winning road trip of the year.
“That's probably the best stretch we've had the entire year,” said Wednesday’s starter Daniel Lynch. “I can't help but feel like we walk away looking at this pretty positively.”
Here are three takeaways from the Royals’ time in California:
1. Young arms do solid work
The Royals saw encouraging signs from their quartet of 25-and-under starters, including from Lynch. Lynch didn’t go as deep on Wednesday as he would’ve liked, laboring through a 30-pitch first and exiting with two outs in the fifth. He fought his command some, walking a season-high five batters. But he was tagged for just one earned run and struck out five while allowing three hits. This was coming off of his first career start with 10 strikeouts.
“I think I'd say the only negative takeaway is that I had a lot of guys on the ropes that kind of just got back into the count, and I threw some pitches I probably didn't need to throw,” said Lynch. “But you're gonna have those days where it's kind of a grind, and we had a pretty good shot to win that game when I left.”
Manager Mike Matheny made reference to “healthy competition” among the young starters, akin to how the Braves’ Hall of Fame trio of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux forced each other to step up their games.
“I believe that we have the makings for that here, too,” said Matheny. “I think that they’re pulling for each other, because we're all wearing the same colors. But deep down, they're figuring out that they can make each other better by pushing each other.”
With Zack Greinke set to return on Friday, there’s a chance one of these young Royals starters will have to sacrifice his rotation spot, though who does remains to be seen -- and there’s a lot that will have to go into that decision.
“At some point, we'll have conversations about how do we prepare them for a longer season than some of them have ever had?” said Matheny. “[How do we] give them time when they need it, and how do we do that and still get them while they're throwing well, and we keep them throwing well? It’s pretty complex, but we know we want Zack in the mix of that to lead the staff.”
2. Catcher uncertainty
Salvador Perez was out of the lineup on Wednesday after aggravating a left thumb injury on a swing the day before. He underwent an MRI and is considered day to day as the club works to determine what the next steps for him should be.
Rookie MJ Melendez would take over as the Royals’ primary catcher in the event that Perez needs to miss more time, with Cam Gallagher, recalled on Monday, around for backup duties. Matheny added that Carlos Santana is available as a “stopgap,” though he hasn’t caught since 2014.
Regardless of his health status, Perez will continue to fill the invaluable role of veteran clubhouse leader for the young Royals squad.
"As they come back in here … as the club music's pumping, [the] first guy in line to high-five everybody is Salvy,” Matheny said after the Royals’ extra-innings win on Tuesday. “Just such a unique leadership style, how much he cares about these guys, how much he wants to win.”
3. Powering up
While the Royals were shut down on Wednesday by the force of nature that is Shohei Ohtani, the previous two games offered a glimpse at what a long ball-powered offense might look like. On Monday, Andrew Benintendi, Perez and Hunter Dozier went yard, while on Tuesday, Bobby Witt Jr. had his first career multihomer game and Carlos Santana also knocked one out.
This is not the norm for the Royals, for whom power has not been a key offensive component for quite some time. Their 53 homers this year are tied with Cleveland for 27th in the Majors; they haven’t ranked higher than 20th in that category in more than a decade. That includes in 2019, when Perez led MLB with 48 homers.
But Witt is already showing his potential as a power threat. And then there’s Melendez, who hit 41 home runs in the Minors last season. First-base prospects Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino -- both in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list and expected to be MLB-ready this year -- have decent power swings of their own.
Still, it might be a while before home runs are a driving force of Kansas City’s offensive game. Perhaps, though, properly executed small ball can create more potential for power production.
“Keeping pressure on, stealing bases, just trying to put more things into the pitchers’ heads to know maybe it’ll buy a hitter a cookie down the middle or something like that,” Benintendi said on Monday. “So just doing the little things and usually when you do a bunch of that stuff, everything will come together.”