KC Royals: Despite homer, Ervin Santana gets job done

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals’ Ervin Santana gave up two runs, but did what he had to Sunday.

Ervin Santana reintroduced himself to the major leagues Sunday. Pitching against big league hitters for the first time since 2019, and for the KC Royals for the first time since 2013, Santana turned in the kind of performance it will take to make the club this season.

Forget, for the most part, the home run Santana surrendered to Texas’ Joey Gallo in the first inning of Kansas City’s Cactus League opener; other than one walk, it was the only blemish on his day’s work.

This 3-2 Royals’ win was just an exhibition game, of course, and spring training results are inherently unreliable predictors of regular season performance, but Santana’s two inning were encouraging. After Gallo’s two-run, one-out homer in the first, Santana finished his day by retiring five straight Rangers, including a three-pitch strikeout of Nick Solak that closed out the first frame.

In fact, Santana needed just three pitches to dispatch Texas in the scoreless second, and threw only 15 total pitches before getting the rest of the day off. Nothing negative need be ascribed to the short stint—it’s not surprising considering this was the KC Royals’ first game, and two innings fits manager Mike Matheny’s 2020 spring camp practice of having his hurlers pitch just a bit at a time.

A non-roster player invitation to spring camp and the club’s need to get an early live-action look at Santana gave him the opportunity to open Sunday’s contest. Together with former Royal great Wade Davis, he’s in camp trying to reverse a decline in effectiveness. He left KC for free agency after a 9-10, 3.24 ERA 2013 campaign (his only season with the Royals), went 14-10 for the Braves in 2014, and won 30 games in his first three seasons with the Twins. But he pitched just eight times over 2018-19, and didn’t appear in the majors last year.

What Santana gave the Royals Sunday is what he must consistently deliver between now and the time the club pares its roster to the 26-player Opening Day limit. If he provides much less, he may have to count on the promise of his best past performances to secure an early season spot on the active roster. But at 38, that isn’t a position Santana wants to be in.

Not to be outdone, Wade Davis also turned in a good day for the KC Royals

Wade Davis, who like Santana is in camp thanks to a non-roster invitation, and who may stand a better chance to make the team than Santana, also made the best of his spring debut. He gave up one hit and struck out one in two scoreless innings. He faced the minimum six hitters because Bubba Starling gunned down Jason Martin when Martin tried to stretch a single into a double.

(For what it’s worth in the Cactus League, Davis also earned the win).

Sunday ‘s game left no doubt that this really, really is spring training

Need proof that Cactus League games are unique? Look no further, then, than what happened when the Royals twice loaded the bases.

With his club trailing 2-0 in the second, Ryan O’Hearn answered Gallo’s home run off Santana with a leadoff homer, and the Royals followed by loading the bases with two outs. But Texas manager Chris Woodward killed the threat.

Woodward exercised his option under a spring training rule to unilaterally end the inning when Nick Vincent had thrown at least 20 pitches. He brought the fifth to a close the same way after the Royals took the lead, filled the bases again, and Joe Gatto had reached the 20-pitch mark.

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Ervin Santana is trying hard to win a spot on the KC Royals’ roster. If Sunday’s game is any indication, he’s on the right track.