KC Royals: Struggling hitters, starter spur opening win

(Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) /

A handful of struggling KC Royals came through against Detroit Friday night.

Thinking of Whit Merrifield struggling is a struggle in and of itself. Difficult to picture is two-time major league hits champ “Three-Hit Whit” scuffling at the plate. But engaged in a battle with his bat is precisely where the KC Royals’ usually reliable leadoff man has been lately.

Over the seven games immediately preceding Kansas City’s series opener in Detroit Friday night, Merrifield was 4-for-27 (.148); his average dropped 91 points during the span, an unimaginable plunge for such a steady hitter. Fortunately for the Royals, Merrifield was better Friday night and, together with four other Royals mired in struggles of their own, helped propel KC to a 6-2 win.

Merrifield went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles and an RBI, and the run he drove in gave Kansas City a 4-0 lead in the fifth. He also scored a run.

As it seems so often with this team, as Merrifield goes, so go the Royals, and that was especially true Friday in the cases of those other struggling Royals’ hitters.

Andrew Benintendi, whose occasional signs of life at the plate come and go quickly, was 3-for-21 (.142) in his last six games and began Friday at .197. But he went 2-for-3 and gave Kansas City the lead it would never relinquish with his long overdue first homer of the season, a second-inning shot to the Tigers’ left field bullpen:

Then came Ryan O’Hearn. Exiled together with his bat to the Alternate Training Site after following a .195, two-homer 2020 campaign with a .209 spring training performance, O’Hearn arrived in Detroit after being recalled to replace Kyle Isbel, and promptly homered in his second at-bat of the game and season:

He also walked twice.

And Jorge Soler, whose three hits against Tampa Bay Wednesday provided a hint he might be emerging from the 10-game, 5-for-30 (.167) slump he carried into that contest, doubled and had two RBIs Friday.

In the end, Merrifield, Benintendi, O’Hearn and Soler drove in five of the KC Royals’ six runs and had six of their eight hits, totals especially important on a night when the rest of the lineup went 2-for-20 against the same team which managed Friday to maintain the major leagues’ worst ERA (now 4.96).

Slumping hitters weren’t the only struggling KC Royals who excelled Friday.

Kansas City picked up former Royal lefthander Mike Minor over the winter to shore up and complete its five-man starting rotation. He owned one good start before Friday night, but his other two—he gave up eight runs in 11.2 combined innings—contributed to the reasons why the rotation, if its current inconsistent state continues, won’t permit the club to contend over the long haul.

Related Story. Can KC contend with this rotation?. light

But like Merrifield, Benintendi, O’Hearn and Soler, there was no slump in Minor against Detroit. He retired the first nine Tigers in a row, faced the minimum possible number of hitters through four innings, and didn’t give up a hit until Jeimer Candelario doubled to lead off the fifth.

Minor, now 2-1, also struck out nine and walked only two, and is now fanning almost a batter an inning and walking an average of less than three per game.

(The bullpen, which is not slumping, took over for Minor with two outs in the fifth and held the Tigers scoreless the rest of the way).

Next. KC hopes Detroit's bats remain quiet. dark

The Royals, now 11-7 and leading the American League Central, face the Tigers, now 7-13 and alone in the Central cellar, again today. First pitch is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. CDT; Kansas City’s Brady Singer (0-2) is set to face Matthew Boyd (2-1).