There’s no need for a calendar. The signs increase by the day. It’s almost time for the KC Royals to head north.
Spring training, already shortened almost a month by the 99-day lockout, is nearing its end. Opening Day is a week from today in Kansas City. Starters are pitching longer—Daniel Lynch went five innings Tuesday—and the pace of player moves is picking up.
Just Tuesday, the Royals optioned first baseman Nick Pratto and catcher MJ Melendez, their No. 2 and No. 3-ranked MLB Pipeline prospects, to Triple-A Omaha with pitcher Ronald Bolaños. They also optioned infielder Maikel Garcia, Pipeline’s No. 22 club prospect, to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and reassigned pitchers Austin Cox (Pipeline’s No.19 team prospect, Jace Vines and Foster Griffin, and catcher Kale Emshoff to KC’s minor league camp.
Another move came Wednesday when Kansas City optioned backup catcher Sebastian Rivero to Omaha (Twitter link).
But that wasn’t the day’s biggest news.
KC Royals manager Mike Matheny revealed the club’s Opening Day starter.
Matheny ended whatever mystery might have existed concerning who he’ll send to the mound to start against Cleveland when his club opens the season April 7 in Kansas City.
Zack Greinke, the 219-game winner who won his only Cy Young with the Royals back in 2009 and signed a one-year contract to reunite with the club two weeks ago, drew the assignment. And as reported by mlb.com KC beat writer Anne Rogers, Matheny said he had his mind made up well before Wednesday:
"“This decision was made the day we met before he even signed here,” Matheny said. “We were very clear with him the expectations of what he was going to do for this club. I told him as soon as we gave him the green light, we’ll rewrite what it looks like for Opening Day, because he’s the guy we want out there. He’s the right guy.”"
It’s hard to imagine Matheny picking, or Kansas City fans wanting, anyone else.
The KC Royals cooled off as a team Wednesday, but some players stayed hot.
After scoring 12 runs against the Cubs Sunday, 19 against the Guardians Monday and battering Seattle for 11 more Tuesday, Kansas City’s production fell off a bit Wednesday. The club lost 9-5 to San Francisco.
A few Royals, though, stayed hot. And yes, Edward Olivares was one of them.
Olivares, whose sizzling spring has him squarely in the discussion for available roster spots, including the two extra all teams will carry in April, doubled, rapped two singles and drove in a run to raise his Cactus League average to .609 and his OPS to 1.861.
Outfielder Kyle Isbel remained in the running to make the Opening Day roster for the second straight season by hitting his third home run of the spring (and third in his last three games). He’s up to .286 with a 1.210 OPS.
Salvador Perez’s trio of singles gave him his second consecutive three-hit game, and Nicky Lopez’s double and single raised his average to .350.
Spring troubles continue for a strong KC Royals starting rotation candidate.
Carlos Hernández arrived in Arizona with a spot in Matheny’s rotation all but assured. Matheny made him a starter after the All-Star Break last season and Hernández flourished, going 5-2 with a 3.55 ERA in his new role.
After Wednesday, though, some might consider Hernández’s rotation status shaky. The Giants punished him for six runs (five earned), six hits and two runs in 2.2 innings. He’s now given up nine runs (eight earned) on 10 hits in only 2.2 frames this spring.
But it’s far too early, and he was too good last season, to close the book on Hernández as a starter after just a couple of Cactus League innings. He’ll get at least one more chance before Opening Day—the Royals have five exhibition games left—and even if he falters, look for him in the rotation when the season begins.
Some familiar positioning doesn’t mean the KC Royals are changing plans.
Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi’s unfortunate string of injuries shook up Kansas City’s infield last season. The club shifted Nicky Lopez, slated to start the year at Omaha, to shortstop, Whit Merrifield replaced Lopez at second base instead of playing right field, and a handful of Royals took turns at third, including Emmanuel Rivera.
Now, with Mondesi apparently healthy again—and as long as he remains that way—the plan is to return him to shortstop and Lopez to second, move Merrifield to right, and introduce top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. to the majors at third base.
But you wouldn’t have known that Wednesday. Merrifield was back at second, Lopez was again playing short, and Matheny stationed Rivera at third. Consider it nothing startling, however, especially in the absence of any indication Mondesi is hurting. Mixing up the lineup was, in all likelihood, the switching around typical of spring training.
The Royals open the regular season in a week. But they’re still making news in spring training.