Kings of Kauffman answers KC Royals questions to start the baseball weekend.
The bad news is rain washed out Friday night’s game between the KC Royals and Toronto; the good news is the clubs will play twice today to make up for the postponement before finishing up their four-game series Sunday. Here are six pre-doubleheader questions to kick off the weekend.
How serious are the KC Royals about Ervin Santana?
The Royals are clearly interested in Santana and believe he can add value to the pitching staff. Why else would they sign him to a minor league deal, invite him to spring training, add him to their Alternate Training Site roster despite an inconsistent spring, select his contract a few days ago, and name him to start the second game of today’s doubleheader?
The Cactus League was a mixed bag for Santana. He was on some days, off others, and sometimes off and then on in the same game. But his 14 strikeouts against just one walk in 14 innings indicate he can still pitch. Manager Mike Matheny recently suggested to mlb.com’s Megan Garcia that Santana could go long, but also hinted the Royals may look to Santana to pitch elsewhere:
"“I think Santana can kind of be what we’ve talked about with a couple of our guys. He can come in a short stint and be good. But he could also get stretched out because we’ve got him prepared to be stretched out.”"
The nightcap of today’s twinbill may tell everyone a lot more about Santana.
Has Friday’s rainout changed either team’s weekend series pitching plans?
It appears so. Toronto’s Anthony Kay faced KC’s Jakob Junis Thursday, and the likely starters for the other three games were, until Friday’s postponement, Blue Jays Steve Matz, Robbie Ray and Hyun Jin Ryu against Royals Mike Minor, Brady Singer and Danny Duffy.
Now, it looks like Matz and Tommy Milone will face Minor and Ervin Santana today and Ray will pitch for the Jays Sunday. Kansas City hasn’t officially announced its Sunday starter, although Danny Duffy is a good bet.
Is former closer Greg Holland the KC Royals’ closer for the 2021 season?
The easy but only partial answer is “Not yet.” The more complicated answer is “Not yet, and maybe won’t be.” The equivocation has nothing to do with Holland specifically; instead, Mike Matheny’s bullpen philosophy makes a definitive answer impossible, at least at this point.
The second-year skipper prefers to use the pitcher who best matches each situation, so Holland may close one game, set up someone else in the next, and pitch the fifth inning the next time out. In fact, five Kansas City pitchers have handled the team’s seven save opportunities this season. Jesse Hahn has three with one conversion, and Holland, Scott Barlow, Wade Davis and Kyle Zimmer each converted their single chances. And if rookie Jake Brentz continues to pitch well, he could get some save chances. So could Josh Staumont.
Whether Holland becomes the one and only closer depends on two things: how he performs and whether Matheny deviates from his current bullpen strategy.
Where has Kansas City rookie outfielder Kyle Isbel been lately?
Isbel is still around, but didn’t play every day this week. Tuesday’s game against the Angels marked the first time he didn’t get into a game, he sat out Wednesday, and didn’t see action Thursday until replacing Hunter Dozier in the ninth.
A slump explains Isbel’s recent inaction. A hot 5-for-9 in the campaign’s first two games, he went 2-for-19 in the next six before Tuesday. Odd about his batting woes is that the lefthander is hitting better against lefties (.333) than he is righties (.240). And he strikes out too much (14 times in 28 at-bats).
Whether he plays today remains to be seen.
Should the KC Royals be concerned about reliever Jake Newberry?
Newberry never seems to be out of Kansas City’s plans. He’s been with the Royals for parts of every season since 2018; although he also pitched at Triple-A in three of those seasons (2020 was the obvious exception), the Royals always find a place for him.
This season is no different. Despite a decent Cactus League performance—he saved two games and struck out 13 in 10.1 innings—Newberry started the season at KC’s Alternate Training Site before being recalled Monday to replace injured Jesse Hahn. Newberry pitched that night and gave up three runs on three hits in 1.2 innings, then surrendered another pair of runs in just a third of an inning Thursday. His short-sample ERA is 22.25.
It’s probably too early to worry much about Newberry. Inconsistency is his hallmark, so expect better pitching from him soon. Hopefully, he’ll maintain it.
When will the KC Royals decide to give Daniel Tillo his big league shot?
The Royals aren’t ignoring Daniel Tillo, the heralded young lefthander who can start and relieve. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery sidelined Tillo in July, not long after the club included him in their original 60-man Player Pool, but he was throwing during the winter and in spring training.
As it should be, the organization is quite high on him—MLB Pipeline ranks Tillo as Kansas City’s 21st best prospect. He should be pitching again by midsummer, but don’t look for him in Kansas City until next year at the earliest.
Game times for today’s doubleheader are 1:10 p.m. and 5:10 p.m. CDT. Sunday’s first pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m.