KANSAS CITY -- Before the series finale against the Reds, the Royals found out they will be without one of their frontline sluggers and key pieces of their young core for the rest of the 2023 season. Vinnie Pasquantino will undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
In the third inning of Wednesday night's game, the Royals saw Salvador Perez, their captain, get hit by a pitch on his left hand and almost immediately leave the game cradling his hand in pain.
The Royals dropped the series finale, 7-4, at Kauffman Stadium to lose their ninth straight game and fall to 18-50 in 2023 -- the worst start in franchise history, surpassing the 2006 Royals, who were 19-49 through 68 games.
“I never say it can’t get worse,” Buddy Bell, the manager of that 2006 team, said in ‘05.
Maybe so, but Wednesday was a frighteningly tough day for the Royals, who have won just one game in June.
“It’s hard, before the game, to look at the scoreboard and see that we’re in last place,” Bobby Witt Jr. said. “It’s tough being the worst team in baseball. We’ve got to keep working. Keep taking it day by day. Try to think of positives.”
Perez, at least, seemed to avoid the worst. Manager Matt Quatraro said X-rays came back negative on Perez’s hand, and he’ll be reevaluated following Thursday’s off-day. But Wednesday started with news everyone was hoping to avoid.
Pasquantino was placed on the injured list with right shoulder instability Saturday after exiting Friday’s game against the Orioles, and he got an MRI done on Monday to determine the severity of the recurring injury. He missed about three weeks last year with the same soreness.
But this year, the MRI showed a tear that would be too difficult to manage without surgery, and after hearing a second opinion, Pasquantino opted for surgery to put the injury behind him. The surgery is expected to be soon, but the Royals have not set a date yet.
“We made an educated decision [after the imaging] of what will be the best outcome not only for me but for the organization moving forward,” Pasquantino said. “The way we look at it is this is the best way to ensure… having a long and successful career here.”
Pasquantino said it was a hard decision to make because he wants to be on the field with the team, especially during its struggles this season. But he also didn’t want to manage the injury on a daily basis, so surgery was the best route.
“Got to put myself in the best position to be ready to roll moving forward next year,” Pasquantino said. “... It’s something where we can just go ahead and attack this now and be better come 2024.”
Pasquantino, 25, made his much-anticipated Major League debut midway through last season. He has gone from an 11th-round pick in 2019 to a player the Royals want to build around. This season, he produced a .247/.324/.437 slash line with nine home runs and 26 RBIs in 61 games.
As far as depth at first base, the Royals will play Nick Pratto, an elite defensive player, there nearly every day. Matt Duffy and Perez are considered backups, and Kansas City re-signed Matt Beaty to a Minor League deal Tuesday for added depth at first base.
But without Pasquantino, the Royals will now miss their middle-of-the-order bat for the rest of the season. That puts more of an onus on hitters Perez, Witt, MJ Melendez and Pratto to produce, but it also creates more at-bats for other young players throughout the rest of the season.
And the offense could use some production. The Royals have been outscored by 32 runs (58-26) across this nine-game losing streak. Wednesday’s four runs came despite 15 hits from the club and four errors from the Reds. Kansas City left 14 on base and went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
“I think just to breathe,” Witt, who went 3-for-5 on his 23rd birthday, said. “Focus. Take it pitch by pitch. Really not try to score five runs when you just need one.”
The Royals are feeling the weight of the losing streak, not just in the lineup but on the pitching staff, too. Daniel Lynch gave up seven runs on seven hits and two walks in seven innings in the series finale.
Lynch gave up five runs on three home runs in the fifth inning, questioning his sequencing during some at-bats, like when he threw Matt McLain two consecutive fastballs down and in. The Reds shortstop crushed the second one 428 feet to left-center field. Lynch retired seven of his final eight batters, but the damage was done.
“Mental stuff that can probably be avoided,” Lynch said.