Call KC Royals manager Mike Matheny’s Wednesday pitching strategy unwise, unorthodox, ill-conceived, or downright dumbfounding. Call it something else, if you choose. But however you tag it, how Matheny approached his club’s game at Texas was risky.
With his team facing a grueling test of itself and its bullpen—Wednesday’s was the sixth of 19 straight games without a day off to be followed by one rest day and then another 20 contests with only a single off day—Matheny elected a bullpen game against the Rangers and delegated opener duties to reliever Gabe Speier, boaster of no big league starts in 31 previous appearances and none since making a half-dozen eight seasons ago in rookie ball.
But big risks occasionally pay, and Matheny’s latest dice roll helped produce a Wednesday winner.
Speier, who hadn’t surrendered a single run in seven appearances this season, did his work well, retiring all six Rangers he faced in a two-inning opening. Joel Payamps lowered the 2.70 ERA he brought into the game to 2.08 by throwing three scoreless frames. Collin Snider, Taylor Clarke, Scott Barlow and Kris Bubic then held Texas to two runs over the final four innings to convert Kansas City’s bullpen game to an 8-2 bullpen win.
So, Matheny’s strategy paid off; the flipside, of course, is that it ultimately required the services of six Royals’ relievers, which means they’ll soon need a lengthy performance from a regular starter.
The collective performance on this night by Kansas City’s relievers, however, wasn’t the only reason the Royals won their 10th game of the season.
A pair of quiet KC Royals bats and a big pinch-hit drove the offense.
This season has been a nightmare for Whit Merrifield and even his most loyal followers. Kansas City’s do-it-all veteran came into the game hitting .139 with only 15 hits and no home runs. His OPS was, for Merrifield, an unthinkable .346. A season-long slump held in its strong grip the player of 496 straight games (now 497) whose performance cost him the leadoff spot he’d held for so long.
Whether Wednesday ultimately proves to be a breakout night remains to be seen, but it had the look of one.
Merrifield’s first homer of the year, a solo shot in the third, gave the Royals a lead they never relinquished:
And on top of that, he finished 3-for-4 and scored four runs.
Then there was Emmanuel Rivera, who unsurprisingly pinch hit for the 0-for-4, .087-hitting Ryan O’Hearn, whose continuing occupation of a roster spot remains a mystery, with the bases loaded in the ninth. Kansas City held a 4-1 lead, but these are the Royals with whom, even that late in a game, no lead seems particularly safe.
Rivera did what O’Hearn probably wouldn’t have—he shot a bases-clearing triple into the right field corner and the usually quiet Royals had a much safer six-run lead:
And Bobby Witt Jr., a 1-for-13 disappointment as a leadoff hitter coming into the game, drove in three runs with a two-run double in the fifth and a fielder’s choice in the seventh.
The eight runs Kansas City scored are more than they’ve managed in any other game this year.
The Royals go for a series win at 7:05 p.m. CDT Thursday night. Jon Heasley will make his first start of the season against the Rangers’ Taylor Hearn.