After adjusting uniform, Vinnie pushing the right buttons

Lugo strikes out 10 in AL-leading 7th win and he paces league with a 1.79 ERA

May 19th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- As the Royals were readying to take the field Saturday night against the A’s, manager Matt Quatraro gave some advice.

Button it up.

The Royals’ first baseman typically likes to have the top two buttons of his uniform unbuttoned, and Quatraro quipped that it looked “awful” and unprofessional.

“I said, ‘Yeah, OK,’” Pasquantino said. “And then I got out my first two at-bats. Surprise. So I said, ‘You know what? Maybe he’s onto something.’”

Pasquantino buttoned one button, and, well, he got a hit, snapping an 0-for-14 skid and driving in the go-ahead run in what would eventually be the Royals’ 5-3 win over the A’s at Kauffman Stadium.

“I’m currently batting .500 with only one button down instead of two,” Pasquantino said. “We’ll see what happens going forward. We’ll see what accessory changes there could be. But yeah, it was mostly the button being buttoned.

“That’s called good managing. I don’t think enough credit is given to managers in moments like that. Spotting out the little things. He’s a quiet guy, but when it’s time, he’ll let you know.”

When Pasquantino recorded that RBI single, he was buttoned up, but he let loose with some emotion, pumping his fists and yelling toward the Royals’ dugout as he ran down the first-base line. He was fired up to come through for the team amid a tough individual stretch.

“It was a relief for him, for sure, and a big lift for us.” Quatraro said. “Tie game, that’s a big base hit. I think it’s because he was playing with his shirt unbuttoned and he looked more professional after having it unbuttoned for a while.”

The Royals (28-19) moved to nine games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2015 season, and Saturday’s contest was a buttoned-up win, with good pitching and timely hitting.

Starter Seth Lugo struck out 10 batters and allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, earning his American League-leading seventh win, and his 1.79 ERA still leads the AL.

Lugo has now struck out 10+ batters in consecutive starts for the first time in his career, and across those two starts -- dating back to last Sunday, when he allowed one run in eight innings against the Angels -- Lugo has just one walk, which came in the fifth inning Saturday to Abraham Toro.

The Royals' righty joined Zack Greinke (April 18 and 24, 2009) as the only Royals pitchers with consecutive starts of 10 or more strikeouts and one walk or fewer.

And after striking out 14 in his first five starts of the season, Lugo has 44 strikeouts in his last five starts, although he would rather get early contact and pitch deeper into the game than rack up the strikeouts.

“They’re outs,” Lugo said. “No one’s getting on base. I feel like it slows the defense down a little bit, gets my pitch count up. So ideally, I’d like to get an out on the first or second pitch. But if I read a batter, and he’s not getting a swing off on a pitch I think should be a ground ball or easy out, I have to go for the strikeout.”

Lugo allowed a game-tying homer in the second inning to Seth Brown, but the Royals came through with Pasquantino’s single in the fifth and insurance runs in the sixth and seventh on Nelson Velázquez’s RBI single and Kyle Isbel’s first-pitch leadoff home run, respectively.

After reliever John Schreiber allowed a run in the seventh, the Royals' bullpen slammed the door with scoreless innings from Angel Zerpa and James McArthur, who notched his 11th save of the year.

During a weekend the Royals are celebrating the 2014 American League Championship team, the current clubhouse is doing its best to recreate that magic. These Royals are done talking about last year -- even if it’s jarring to note that their 28th win in 2023 came on July 18 -- and are focused on what they can do to win in ‘24.

“A lot’s been made of the turnaround, so to speak,” Pasquantino said. “Nobody’s thinking about that. Nobody’s like, ‘Oh, look at where we were last year.’ That’s not a question. We’ve got no doubt in this clubhouse. There’s a lot of faith in what we’re doing. And to be honest, in my personal opinion, there’s more to be had.

“I don’t think as a lineup we’ve done enough to help our pitchers out. The pitchers have bailed us out quite a bit. We’re still trying to make improvements every single day.”

Buttons included.