Merrifield aims to put miscues behind him

April 21st, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- was as honest as he could be when assessing his recent defensive miscues to begin the series against the Rays this week.

“Bluntly, it’s been pretty embarrassing,” Merrifield said before Wednesday’s series finale against the Rays. “It’s just been a pretty poor performance, individually, defensively the last couple nights. Last night, I can’t think of a worse defensive game I’ve had in my life, not just my professional career, but my life. … Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of games and innings at second base in my career. I know that I’m a better player than that. It’s just been tough. Last night was a tough game, and hopefully nothing like that will happen again.”

The Royals have made five errors in the past two games, with two of those on Merrifield. Those were in addition to two plays that changed the complexion of the Tuesday’s 14-7 loss. In the second inning, the Royals were set up in a shift against Willy Adames, with Merrifield standing behind second base. With Kevin Kiermaier on first base, Adames hit the ball right to Merrifield, who tried to turn a double play with shortstop Nicky Lopez. But Lopez was too far over to catch Merrifield’s flip and make it to the base. No outs were recorded, and the inning spiraled on starter Brad Keller, who only made it through 1 2/3 innings.

“It was everything. It was where I was positioned, it was where Nicky was positioned, it was how the ball took me a little bit away, it was Kiermaier at first,” Merrifield said. “It was a lot of things to take into consideration that as a 32-year-old Major Leaguer that’s been up and played a lot of second base in the big leagues, I should understand and take into consideration. The play happened and slipped my mind.

“When there’s a runner on first and a ground ball hit pretty much at you, it’s just instinctual to go to second base. But there’s nobody there. It’s just something I've got to remind myself when I’m in that situation moving forward, and hopefully it won’t happen again.”

In the sixth, Kyle Zimmer allowed back-to-back singles before getting a ground ball to second base, but Merrifield booted it and couldn’t turn the potential double play. The Rays scored four runs that inning.

Errors happen to everyone on the diamond, and it’d be unfair and inaccurate to focus too much on Merrifield’s recent miscues given his track record as a reliable and versatile defender. But he emphasized he had to be better, and he said he spoke at length to Keller and Zimmer on Tuesday to take accountability.

“Making errors doesn’t really bother me a whole lot,” Merrifield said. “I understand that stuff’s going to happen. … What kept me up last night and made me lose sleep was the fact that Keller’s been grinding.

“Keller got the early [hook], and I felt like a lot of it was on me. We talked for a long time last night, and he’s one of my best friends on the team, and I just felt so terrible for him. Same with Zimmer. Stuff like that is what really gets at me. Talked to both of them, you got to have accountability. Stuff like that’s going to happen, but when it affects other people is when it really sticks with me.”

Matheny a 'fan' of Wacha

Royals manager Mike Matheny is familiar with the starter his team faced Wednesday night. He was the Cardinals manager and at Busch Stadium when Michael Wacha was introduced as the Cardinals’ first-round Draft pick in 2012. A mere 16 months later, Matheny turned to Wacha in Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS and watched him spin 7 1/3 dazzling one-hit innings to force Game 5 against the Pirates at PNC Park.

“It was one of the rowdiest crowds,” Matheny said. “The [series] before, they kind of rattled Cueto … and they take a lot of pride in [that]. And [Wacha] just stood up there like a man, he was young, and just dealt that game.”

Matheny kept in touch with Wacha as the right-hander signed with the Mets in 2020 and the Rays in ’21. Wacha found Matheny in the Kauffman Stadium outfield on Monday to say hello.

“I sent him a picture a couple years ago, right after the Draft when they always bring your first picks and you’d have your workout day, and I still have a picture of [him] and his parents when I first got introduced to him,” Matheny said. “And then had some pretty special moments together in the postseason too. I’m a fan, but looking forward to competing against him, though.”

Worth noting

• The Royals announced their probable pitchers for the upcoming Detroit series this weekend after Thursday’s off-day: Left-hander Mike Minor on Friday, right-hander Brady Singer on Saturday, lefty Danny Duffy on Sunday and righty Brad Keller on Monday.

• Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (right oblique strain) was evaluated Wednesday, and reports were positive. But a timetable is still not known, as he’s still not swinging. Matheny said Mondesi is taking some ground balls and doing light throwing.

“They’re starting to do a little more rotational [movements], and the hitting is probably going to be next, but that’s going to go progressively slow,” Matheny said.