HOUSTON -- About five minutes before Monday’s first pitch against the Astros, Brad Keller had settled into his seat in the Royals' dugout when he heard manager Mike Matheny call his name at the other end of the dugout.
When Keller walked over, Matheny handed him the lineup card and told him to meet the umpires for the pregame lineup exchange at home plate.
“I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Keller said, explaining his deer-in-the-headlights look when he heard of his assignment. “I was nervous. I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know how it all went down.”
Typically, for lineup card exchanges -- a brief meeting in which the clubs officially hand over their lineup to that night’s umpiring crew and go over any ground rules, among other things -- coaches rotate through each night. Sometimes the manager will go out, sometimes the first base coach, and so on. The Royals are a superstitious bunch, so if they win that night, whoever did the exchange will go again until they lose, then they’ll switch.
Matheny had been doing it in Kansas City when the Royals beat the Astros in three out of the four games to end the homestand. When they lost last Thursday, he had to pick someone new.
To mix it up a little bit and have some fun as the season stretches on, Matheny chose starter Daniel Lynch in Chicago.
“I just walked down and randomly gave it to Daniel,” Matheny said. “When we got to Chicago, I’m looking around like, ‘You haven’t been too good at this, you haven’t been too good at this.’ So I gave it to Lynch. He was standing there. He was so nervous.”
Well, the Royals beat the Cubs on Friday. So Lynch went out again on Saturday. And again on Sunday.
The Royals completed the sweep, so Matheny was in a bind when Lynch was starting Monday’s game against the Astros. He wasn’t going to be able to hand over the card as he warmed up.
“At first, I gave it to Brady [Singer], not thinking that Brady’s pitching [Tuesday],” Matheny said. “So what pitcher could we have that would be able to go out there three times?”
Enter Keller, who isn’t slated to pitch until Thursday in Seattle. With the pressure on -- he didn’t want to mess up the winning vibes Lynch had brought in Chicago -- he met with the umpires and Astros manager Dusty Baker. Keller, admittedly, was too stunned he was even out there to take in everything that was said, which Matheny played off of when Keller came back to the dugout.
“I gave my pen and paper to Brad and was like, ‘Write it all down,’” Matheny said. “And he’s like, ‘Are you serious?’"
“I looked at him like, ‘I did not retain anything I was told out there,’” Keller added. “So I failed that quiz.”
Technically, though, Keller didn’t fail -- because the Royals won Monday. Keller was out there again Tuesday night for the exchange. He looked a little more comfortable out there, too.
“We take a lot of pride in, who’s got the hot hand here?” Matheny said. “I tried to go for a while like a rotation -- if a guy pitches and wins, he doesn’t [do it] the next day. He gives it to somebody else and they go out. But the guys didn’t like that. They think if you win, you got to take it back out. It’s the most superstitious group ... you’ve ever seen in your life.”
Lovelady’s increasing role
Right-hander Domingo Tapia’s spot in the sixth inning Monday night against the Astros, when the reliever came in with two runners on and no outs and got out of it without any damage done, was arguably the game-winning moment for the Royals. But almost equally important was lefty Richard Lovelady’s spot in the seventh, when he came in with a runner on first and one out after the Royals had just scored two insurance runs for a three-run lead.
Lovelady got left-handed-hitting Michael Brantley to pop up into foul territory, then allowed a single to Yuli Gurriel to put runners on first and second. But Lovelady didn’t panic and got Yordan Alvarez to strike out swinging on a nasty down-and-away slider.
It was another solid outing for the Royals reliever, who will likely see some more time in those high-leverage situations with lefty Jake Brentz (left shoulder impingement) on the 10-day injured list. In Lovelady’s last seven appearances (7 2/3 innings), he’s allowed just two earned runs on six hits while striking out nine.
“He’s definitely putting himself in the conversation,” Matheny said. “He’s doing a nice job of jumping in. We always talk about that, when we put a guy down for a little bit, give him a rest, somebody else is going to have to step up.
“And Richard is certainly one of the guys who’s doing that right now.”
• Wednesday’s game against the Astros will be streamed exclusively on YouTube as part of the Game of the Week series this season. MLB Network play-by-play announcer Scott Braun will be joined by analysts Jeremy Guthrie -- a former Royals pitcher -- and Geoff Blum on the broadcast, in addition to on-field reporter Brett Dolan. Fans can listen to the radio broadcast feed still, where Steve Physioc and Steve Stewart will have the call on the Royals Radio Network.