Editor’s Note: This story was written and first published before the KC Royals announced Sunday that pitcher Jonathan Heasley has been placed on the 15-day Injured List with shoulder tendinitis. It has since been revised.
The KC Royals, walk-off victors over Cleveland Friday night, could have won their series with the Guardians, and set up a potential series sweep in the process, by beating them Saturday.
Instead, the best Kansas City can do now is take the series by winning today when Zack Greinke faces Zach Plesac.
And after what happened at Kauffman Stadium Saturday, that might be too much to expect. Cleveland snapped its five-game losing streak by demolishing their hosts 13-1; the Guardians led 6-0 before they’d finished batting in the second inning and never looked back.
That someone scored 13 runs against the Royals isn’t surprising—they gave up 17 to Cleveland April 10, 13 to Seattle April 23, 12 to the Yankees six days later, and have surrendered at least 10 runs nine other times this season.
Saturday’s embarrassing defeat raises several questions.
Are the Royals worried about Jonathan Heasley after Cleveland shelled him?
The Guardians showed Heasley no mercy, battering him for six runs on six hits in just 1.1 innings. And there was this from mlb.com Royals beat writer Anne Rogers:
Manager Mike Matheny’s postgame message about Heasley, though, was positive:
So, it seems there’s no reason for immediate alarm … at least as far as Heasley’s health is concerned.
That changed Sunday, however, when the club announced (Twitter link) that it’s placed Heasley on the Injured List with shoulder tendinitis.
As far as trades, what might the KC Royals’ midgame lineup changes mean?
That’s a reasonable question considering how close the Aug. 2 major league trade deadline is getting. Sudden lineup changes during games frequently signal just-completed trades or deals so close to consummation that a team has a duty to protect involved players from injury.
Such probably wasn’t the case Saturday, however, when Matheny pulled left fielder Andrew Benintendi and Whit Merrifield after five innings.
The game was so far out of hand by then—the Royals trailed 11-0—that resting veterans like Benintendi and Merrifield made perfect sense. And because no deals have been announced, it’s highly improbable any were made.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Kansas City wasn’t thinking trades when Matheny made the moves. After all, Benintendi is probably the best the club has to offer in this deadline cycle, and this should be the season KC parts with Merrifield, whose recent resurgence—after a dismal season-long slump, he’s slashing .353/.436/.647 in nine July games and entered Saturday’s play slashing .296/.380/.457 in his last 20 contests.
The Royals have a vested interest in protecting possible trade assets. Don’t dismiss the notion that they were doing just that Saturday.
Should the KC Royals have pitched Michael A. Taylor to finish the game?
Because they’re loathe to waste relievers in games gone awry, managers using position players on the mound during blowouts is nothing new.
That’s what Matheny did Saturday after Jackson Kowar allowed Cleveland five runs in his 2.2 innings, new Royal Wyatt Mills (he came over in the trade that sent Carlos Santana to Seattle) pitched 1.2 scoreless innings, and Amir Garrett shut out the Guardians for 1.1 innings. Facing a Monday doubleheader and nine games in eight days before the All-Star Break, Matheny decided to save the bullpen for more important duty and chose center fielder Michael A. Taylor to throw the eighth and ninth innings.
The decision turned out fairly well under the circumstances—Taylor gave up a pair of meaningless runs and actually struck out two—but was it the right one?
Such moves have been criticized in this space before as too risky: potential injury is the primary problem. Pitching requires position players to employ unfamiliar motions and moves, to use muscles in ways not necessitated by their usual roles. The consequences of injury are most acute with key regular players like Taylor, who’s well on the way to having another Gold Glove season and the best offensive campaign of his career.
Matheny, though, likely viewed Taylor as his only option. He clearly wasn’t dipping deeper into the relief corps he so often utilizes and he’d completely depleted his bench.
Fortunately, nothing bad befell Taylor.
Did Ryan O’Hearn’s playing time give the Royals more reasons to keep him?
After striking out batting for Hunter Dozier in the fifth (he took over at first base in the sixth), fanning again in the eighth, and finishing 0-for-3, O’Hearn is hitting .183 with a .231 OBP. And although he’s fared well (7-for-17) as a pinch hitter this season, these Royals really aren’t a team whose games are so regularly close that that they need to carry a player becoming more of a pinch hitter than anything else.
Kansas City and Cleveland wind up their three-game Kauffman Stadium series today starting at 1:10 p.m. CDT.