3 takeaways from latest KC Royals Cactus League win

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One of the early KC Royals questions emerging from the records-don't-really-matter world of spring training concerns, well ... records, more specifically the one the Royals are putting together as the second weekend of the Cactus League season begins.

By beating Oakland 5-4 Friday, Kansas City pushed its spring record to 6-3, which isn't unusual for a club known in the past few years for its decent exhibition schedule showings and miserable regular season flops. The early success has some wondering, as they always do, if it will carry over into the regular campaign.

All things considered, the best current answer to that question is "Hopefully." As some pitchers work on new pitches and others their mechanics, and hitters search for their timing and make what adjustments are in order, it's simply too soon to predict with any certainty what will, and won't, look good when the Royals begin the 2024 season late this month by hosting Minnesota.

But the first eight spring games have also spawned other questions, some of which were front and center in Friday's ninth contest.

When will two of the club's big guns begin hitting?

Entering Friday's play, the Royals were still waiting for the awakening of their two biggest stars' bats. Bobby Witt Jr., whose spectacular new contract naturally begets close scrutiny of everything he does on the field, came into the game with only a single to show for his nine at-bats, and Salvador Perez was one step worse at 0-for-9.

After Friday, though, the question of "When will they start hitting?" may change to "Will they continue to hit?"

Both homered against Oakland. Perez went first with a two-run shot in the first inning, and Witt followed with a solo homer two frames later. Although Perez's home run was his only hit of the day, Witt added a single to his.

Whether their Friday success triggers the kind of plate work they're capable of, and which the Royals expect from both, remains to be seen. What counts, of course, is what Witt and Perez do once the season starts — Kansas City won't go far in 2024 if both don't hit consistently well.

Will Jake Brentz be ready when the regular season starts?

Answering this question may not be as easy as it might at first blush seem. Remember, Brentz had Tommy John Surgery in 2022 and hasn't pitched in the majors since, so his ability to make the Opening Day roster depends in no small part on where his comeback stands. And his performance so far this spring adds to whatever certainty surrounds him.

Brentz didn't fare well against Texas in the club's Cactus League Opener two Fridays ago — he left the game after getting only one out, walking four, giving up a hit, and getting charged with three runs. He was better Tuesday, when he threw a complete inning with a strikeout and two walks, and without surrendering a run to the Rockies.

And Friday was truly a mixed bag. He went another full inning and, after giving up a pair of runs and two hits and two walks, he worked out of what could have been an ugly frame by striking out the last three batters he faced. Brentz must begin avoiding roller-coaster performances if, as we've predicted, he's going to be part of the roster when the Royals break camp.

How long can KC Royals starter Cole Ragans keep this up?

The Cole Ragans Watch started late last season when Ragans, the pitcher the Royals picked up when they traded Aroldis Chapman to Texas in June, blew through opposing hitters without giving up a single run in September.

His success continued last Sunday when, making his first start of the spring and working two full innings against the Angels, he struck out five and didn't give up a run or a walk. Little changed during Friday's victory over the A's — Ragans struck out three in three innings, didn't allow a run, gave Oakland only one hit, and walked one.

Simply put, Ragans gave Kansas City nothing to complain about last fall, and he's doing the same this spring while building a case to be named the club's Opening Day starter.

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