Opening Day, which only a month ago seemed like something that might not occur this year, is now just days away. The KC Royals host Cleveland Thursday afternoon in the season’s first game for both clubs, and Cleveland’s first regular season contest as the Guardians.
The Royals are coming off their first full season without at least 100 losses since 2017 and retooled in the offseason. Gone are Mike Minor, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Kyle Zimmer, Jakob Junis, Ervin Santana, Scott Blewett, and Hanser Alberto; new to the club are recently-acquired Amir Garrett and a host of other relievers, some of whom the club reassigned to minor league camp Saturday (Twitter link).
And reunited with the organization he broke in with is starting pitcher and probable future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke, who’s rejoined the team and become, in short order, its present ace.
Appropriately, Greinke will start against the Guardians Thursday. What lineup manager Mike Matheny chooses to support Greinke remains undisclosed, but here’s what looks likely.
Leading off and playing right field for the KC Royals: Whit Merrifield.
His defensive position is changing but Kansas City’s leadoff hitter is no stranger to the top of the order.
Whit Merrifield will open the season in right field and hit first.
Merrifield plays anywhere Matheny asks and has appeared in right field 135 times during his 789-game, six-season big league career. He’s also been the Royals’ primary leadoff man since retired skipper Ned Yost began deploying him there regularly in 2017.
Merrifield, whose move to right field had been long anticipated and finally became official when Matheny’s plan to return Adalberto Mondesi to shortstop triggered the domino effect that made the move practical, is hitting .290 as a leadoff man, a number almost matching his career .291 average. And his ability to steal bases—he’s led the majors in steals once and the American League two other times—increases the leadoff threat he presents.