Both starting pitchers struggled mightily in the first inning of the season, leading to the longest nine-inning game in Kansas City Royals history.
These new-style game posts will evolve as I find out what works best for me and what I hear you like best. If you subscribe to this website, you probably see most of the games. I won’t bore you with all of the details you can get in many game stories. I will try to do things a little differently.
Brad Keller struggled to throw strikes, and the Texas Rangers put five runs on the board in the top of the first, and it was looking like a disappointing start to a season with a lot of excitement heading into it.
But the Royals offense smacked Kyle Gibson right away in the bottom of the first. Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi’s quick, solid singles seemed to affect Gibson. Gibson walked three consecutive batters after that. Carlos Santana, you might expect to walk, but Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler, you certainly do not.
This game felt like it would never end. It got tough to watch towards the end. Major League Baseball would like to get games under or around three hours. This game went four hours and 26 minutes. It included a combined 17 walks by both teams.
But as bad as some of the pitching was for both sides, the Royals’ offense really shined. Even a recently demoted Nicky Lopez had a nice day at the plate. And the Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi punch at the top of the order could really make things tough on opposing pitchers. If those two get on base in front of Carlos Santana and Salvador Perez, the offense will continue to be tough to stop.
Oh, and first base umpire Ed Hickox was absolutely terrible. He had three calls overturned at first, and two of them weren’t particularly close.
|– Alberto, 3b||14||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
C Salvador Perez
Although Salvador Perez did not have a hit in the game, he did impress in some areas. His patience at the plate was a pleasant surprise. He seemed to have some of the patience of Carlos Santana rub off on him. Some hustle out of the batter’s box helped prevent a double play.
On a down note, Perez allowed a run to score when he failed to block a pitch in the dirt. It happens, but this was one in which he not only let the ball get by him but when the ball came right back to him off of the backstop, he hesitated trying to decide whether to tag the runner himself or toss it to the pitcher. He finally decided to keep it himself, but that delay made him too late to get the out.
1B Carlos Santana
What a terrific debut for Santana. He is an on-base guy. We know that. And we have seen him hurt the Royals in the past. But did you realize just how patient he is at the plate? Santana walked three times in this game. We aren’t used to seeing players with that kind of patience in Kansas City. I think we should get used to it with Santana. He looks like a great addition to the team.
2B Whit Merrifield
Whit Merrifield started the season with a three-hit game. That’s not a surprise. That’s what he does.
After allowing five runs in the top of the first, the Royals needed to get some offense going in their half, and Whit got it all started with a solid single right back up the middle. Another single in the third, this time to left. A sacrifice fly in the fourth. And then a home run in the eighth. Yes, everybody was hitting the ball well for the Royals, but Whit got everything started.
SS Nicky Lopez
Nicky Lopez was just sent down to Triple-A earlier in the week because his offense was terrible in 2020 and even worse in spring training. But an injury to Adalberto Mondesi meant the big league club needed him back up, and Lope responded as if he was a different player at the plate.
Lopez ended up going 2-for-4 on the day to go with a sacrifice fly. His hits were in the infield, but they still count. He hit a hard ground ball to third and beat out the throw. He put down a beautiful sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning that turned into a base hit when the Rangers could not field it quickly enough.
As good as he was offensively, Lopez still flashed the solid glove we are used to seeing. Soft grounders towards short were outs as he charged them and released the ball quickly. He made the right decisions on plays that he could have tried for a double play but settled for the out at first.
I couldn’t be happier for the guy. I wanted him sent down and Bobby Witt to take his spot on the roster. Well, Lopez was sent down, but Witt was as well. Lopez reportedly had a positive attitude when he got the news, even though you know he had to be greatly disappointed, but he took advantage of at least his first game back in the bigs. It was nice to see.
3B Hunter Dozier
Hunter Dozier was just one of two starters to fail to get a hit for the Royals. But he did draw a walk and scored a run to help the team. And his walk came right after Jorge Soler’s home run. So many times, you see the batter coming up after a home run swing at the first or second pitch and make a quick out himself. Dozier walked on four pitches and eventually turned that into another run for the team.
Unfortunately, Dozier left the game with a right thumb contusion. The team is saying he is day-to-day right now. The Royals cannot afford for their starters to miss too much time. Mondesi is out, possibly until May. We don’t need Dozier going out. The interesting question, though, is how many injuries would it take for Bobby Witt Jr. to be called up?
3B Hanser Alberto
Hanser Alberto entered the game when Dozier had to leave with his thumb injury. Alberto thought he had an infield single, but it was taken away upon review.
LF Andrew Benintendi
Alex Gordon is gone, but this Andrew Benintendi kid is pretty darn good on defense. He made a catch jumping into the net down the left field line and got the first out of the first inning for a struggling Brad Keller. He barely missed making a diving catch earlier in the inning on a double down the left field line.
At the plate, Benintendi is expected to be much better than Alex Gordon. Today it looked that way. Not that Gordon didn’t have some good offense at times in his career, but we didn’t see too much of it in his last couple of years. Benintendi singled to left center in his first at bat right after the Merrifield single to lead off the bottom of the first. Another solid line drive to left was caught in his second at bat, but you can see how he can be tough to deal with if you are the opposing pitcher. Benintendi ended up just 1-for-5 with two strikeouts but looked better than that.
CF Michael Taylor
Here is your player of the game. Michael Taylor, who I have been saying is here for his defense, was outstanding on both sides of the ball.
With the Royals down 5-0 in the first inning and one out, Brad Keller allowed a base hit up the middle, Taylor fielded the ball cleanly, and fired a strike to Salvador Perez at the plate for a huge out. Along with Benintendi, Taylor’s defensive play in the first inning kept the Royals in the game. Amazingly, he threw out another runner at the plate in the third inning. I knew he was good defensively, but I had no idea he was this good throwing to bases.
And although Taylor is here for his defense, his offense was terrific as well in his Royals debut. Taylor went 3-for-5 with a home run and three runs batted in. And it wasn’t like he was slapping the ball and running. He had two solid line-drive singles and an opposite-field home run. No, this won’t continue, but what a debut.
RF Kyle Isbel
Do you remember Alex Gordon’s first at bat in the major leagues? It was on opening day. He was batting fourth. The Royals loaded the bases for Gordon. I believe all of that is right. It has been a while. That’s how I remember it anyway. Gordon struck out looking. What a letdown. And that kind of foreshadowed his career struggles.
Kyle Isbel, although the number five prospect in the Royals’ farm system, was relatively unknown in Kansas City. Well, they know about him now. He went 3-for-5 with a run and two runs batted in in a wonderful debut. He didn’t just get a hit. He got three hits and helped the Royals win the season opener, and the Royals needed all of the offense they could get.
And it’s not just that he had three hits. It’s how he was at the plate. His first at bat had him down 1-2. Isbel didn’t press. He went down and away and pulled a changeup to right field for a base hit in his first major league plate appearance. It’s early, but things couldn’t have started any better for Isbel.
DH Jorge Soler
If Jorge Soler is looking to be the home run champion again, he certainly got off to a good started. Yes, he hit a monster home run, but he did more than that. He was patient at the plate. Soler went 2-for-2 and drew two walks, and was hit by a pitch. If Soler can lay off pitches outside the strike zone, he will be all kinds of trouble for opposing pitchers. Is there a chance Carlos Santana’s patient approach can rub off on players like Soler, similar to how James Shields’ approach rubbed off on the Royals for their World Series runs?
SP Brad Keller
This game couldn’t have gone much worse for Brad Keller. He struggled to throw strikes. He actually pitched pretty well to the first few batters but had nothing but bad news to show for it. And things just kept getting worse.
Keller is a ground ball pitcher, but he was leaving everything up in the strike zone. He was overthrowing his fastball, often leaving it up and away to his arm side.
It was one of those games for both starting pitchers. And although Keller got through the first inning, and I thought he would settle in and give us three to four innings, he couldn’t get more than one out in the second inning before Mike Matheny had to bring in Kyle Zimmer.
I’m not worried about Keller at this time. Let’s see how he does in his next inning. I expect him to be much better.
RP Kyle Zimmer
Kyle Zimmer was effective. He pitched 2/3 of an inning. He walked one batter and struck out two. The two strikeouts sound great, but they were a little scary. Zimmer left a couple of off-speed pitches up in the zone, one was taken for a high strike, and the other was swung on and missed. I think Zimmer was ok. He was certainly better than Keller. But I wouldn’t say he was great. I would say he was shaky, but it worked.
RP Carlos Hernandez
Carlos Hernandez was brought in to start the third inning. Mike Matheny was hoping Hernandez would settle things down and give the club some innings. Well, Hernandez did end up giving the club three innings, but not until he really struggled to start his appearance and allow two runs to put the Royals in a deeper hole. But after struggling in the third, Hernandez retired all six batters he faced in innings four and five. He effectively put the Royals in control of the game.
RP Jesse Hahn
Jess Hahn’s two-seam fastball is fun to watch when it moved like it did on Thursday. He wasn’t the dominant pitcher we sometimes saw last season, but he gave Mike Matheny a much-needed inning of work.
RP Scott Barlow
Scott Barlow might have been the second-best pitcher on the day for the Royals. Barlow gave Matheny 1 2/3 innings of scoreless ball. He did walk two but also struck out four.
RP Greg Holland
Greg Holland was brought in with two outs in the eighth to get the game’s final four outs. He got the Royals out of the eighth but ran into some control issues in the ninth. He was only able to get one out in the ninth before Wade Davis had to finish it.
RP Wade Davis
Wade Davis was the most effective pitcher for the Royals. Now, he only had to face two batters, but he was terrific in striking out both. The Colorado Rockies wouldn’t recognize this Wade Davis. Davis really struggled with Colorado. But he was back to his Kansas City form in this game.