The KC Royals lost their Cactus League opener Friday. It was just an exhibition game, but some interesting things happened.
The KC Royals’ 5-4 loss to Texas on Friday came the same way too many did last season–the bullpen blew a late inning lead. Fortunately, the result is one soon forgotten to be, an exhibition defeat having meaning only in the Cactus League standings. But the game rendered a few items of note.
How big was Eric Skoglund‘s step back? This spring training could be the last Eric Skoglund spends in a Royals’ uniform. The lefty’s major league struggles have been well chronicled in this space: he’s 2-11 since making his KC debut in 2017; he won his first major league start in May 2017 and posted another win almost a year later, but hasn’t won in the 16 games he’s pitched since that second victory. His 6.61 ERA and 67 ERA+ simply aren’t major league caliber.
Skoglund didn’t last an inning against the Rangers Friday and the three earned runs he gave up in two-thirds of a frame yielded an ugly (albeit small sample size and early) 40.50 ERA. He walked one and didn’t strike out anyone, although strikeouts have never been his strong suit.
If Skoglund’s performance wasn’t really surprising, perhaps his quick exit was. He retired the first two batters he faced on ground balls (a good thing), but then surrendered, in rapid succession, a double, single and three-run homer that tied the game, at which point Jake Newberry took over. His departure at that stage was curious–spring training is a time for evaluation and managers typically don’t pull struggling hurlers so fast. If Skoglund wasn’t injured, the short stint may not bode well for him.
Was the heat really that hot? As Alec Lewis of The Athletic and Jeffrey Flanagan of mlb.com reported on Twitter, two KC Royals pitchers lit up Surprise Stadium Friday:
Although stadium radar guns have been notorious for occasionally rendering “high” readings, there is little reason to doubt Josh Staumont exceeded, and Trevor Rosenthal just missed, 100 miles per hour against the Rangers. Staumont’s excellent velocity is a matter of historical fact (he registered 102 mph in college) and Rosenthal has been fireballing his entire career–even after Tommy John surgery, he’s consistently been in the high 90’s with his fastball.
Speed, then, has never been a problem for Staumont or Rosenthal; that they are so hot so early is encouraging. More high velocities would be welcome additions to the Royals’ 2020 bullpen.
The return of Salvador Perez. Salvador Perez walked and flied out as a designated hitter. But what really mattered, what may have been the best moment of the day, is that he took the field and played after missing all of last season following Tommy John surgery. New manager Mike Matheny won’t push Perez hard this spring–he’ll probably have to hold him back, considering Perez’s relentless desire to play–but his return to the diamond was an important first step taken.
Adalberto Mondesi sat this one out. Like Perez, Adalberto Mondesi is recovering from surgery; unlike Perez, he didn’t find his way into Friday’s lineup. Matheny and the Royals are clearly taking a cautious approach with their oft-injured young shortstop, so it wasn’t surprising that he didn’t play. The club isn’t going to risk too much too soon.
Ryan vs. Ryan. That Ryan O’Hearn‘s 2019 season was one of considerable misery, and he’ll likely have to beat back the challenge of Ryan McBroom to retain his first base job, are givens. Although Matheny gave McBroom the first turn in the first base barrel Friday and he went one-for-two, O’Hearn made the best of his pinch-hitter/DH appearance with a home run and a walk. The first installment of the O’Hearn-McBroom battle decided nothing; future episodes will.
Jorge Soler hit a home run. This is not a surprise. Jorge Soler is paid to hit home runs and he earned his money against the Rangers.
Sneak peek at an opener? The emerging use of “openers”–pitchers who start games but just pitch an inning or two–isn’t a concept yet embraced by the KC Royals, but never have they foreclosed the possibility of trying it out. Jorge Lopez, owner of electrifying stuff but not an established role as a starter or reliever–certainly resembled an opener Friday. He started and pitched two innings, struck out one, and gave up a hit but no walks. It was an outing of the stuff openers are made of, but it’s much too soon to interpret Lopez’s effort as anything other than the short starting stint so typical of early spring training games. But we shall see.
The KC Royals’ Cactus League opener against Texas was a run of the mill spring training game–a lot of players saw action, good mixed with bad, and the loss means nothing in the grand scheme of baseball. But the contest provided some encouraging moments and performances and fodder for Mike Matheny and his staff to consider.