Big Picture: The Royals dropped the second and final game against the Indians in Cleveland, 4-2. Jose Ramirez torched the Royals for two two-run home runs. The loss drops the Royals to second place in the American League Central with a 3-2 record. They trail the Minnesota Twins (4-2) by a half-game.
Junis Audition? This was the second consecutive quality start for a Royals pitcher after three terrible starts in the initial homestand. The club currently has four pitchers set in the rotation. We were told that they wouldn’t go to a fifth starter until around April 13, but for some reason, they decided to push Brad Keller back a day and needed a pitcher.
Jakob Junis was really good during spring training. The cutter he learned in the offseason has paid off big for him early in the season. His good spring and history of starting made him an easy choice for Mike Matheny to start Wednesday’s game.
And Junis was terrific. He ended up going five innings and threw just 58 pitches. He threw 64% of his pitches for strikes. Junis walked two batters and allowed just one hit. He left the game with the Royals up 1-0.
I would say that Junis is likely to be the fifth starter at this time, and that transition has already been made. I would expect him to not pitch out of the bullpen anymore until he is knocked out of the rotation.
Some talked about Kris Bubic possibly being the fifth starter. He was sent to Triple-A, though, and not the alternate training site. His rough spring made me think he was destined to pitch in the minor leagues until another opportunity presented itself at the major league level, and the fifth spot in the rotation would not initially be his for the taking.
It only makes sense at this point to give that fifth spot to Junis. I have to believe that this start solidified that in the Royals’ mind.
Bieber Sings Sorry To Royals: After a difficult start his first time out, Cleveland starter Shane Bieber handled the Royals relatively easily on Wednesday. He allowed two runs on three hits and four walks in 6 1/3 innings.
Bieber was pitching to the plate’s edges and was given some strikes a couple of inches beyond what the rule book allows. That’s not to say he had an advantage over the others. Home plate umpire Jim Reynolds was giving that pitch to all of the pitchers off and on.
Whit Merrifield was frustrated with Jim Reynolds’ strike zone from the first pitch. Whit knows the zone and usually swings at strikes he can hit. Reynolds’ expansion of the zone made things tough even on a great hitter like Whit Merrifield, with Shane Bieber hitting the edges so well.
Santana’s Defense Shines: We talked about Carlos Santana’s defense the other day, but I have to point out another great play in Wednesday’s game. With a runner on first in the third inning, Santana field a hard-hit grounder to his left. He decided to step on first base. He then got the runner in a rundown, and Jakob Junis tagged him out after a couple of throws.
It didn’t result in a win today, but Santana has made two very nice defensive plays in the first five games of the season to turn double plays. This time it was to help keep a pitching duel scoreless.
Salvy Leads The Offense: We are seeing a more patient Salvador Perez early in the 2021 season. He took a pitch just down and away for ball four in his first plate appearance. There is no way he takes that pitch a couple of years ago. He seems to be getting better at making the pitcher come to him. Where was that in his final at-bat in the 2014 World Series?! Maybe the Royals would have had back-to-back championships.
Bottom Of The Order Struggles: In the first homestand, the 6-9 spots in the batting order provided so much offense for the Royals. But against the Indians in this one, the bottom four combined to go 2-for-13 and struck out five times.
Offense Is Struggling: After scoring in double-digits in their first two games of the season, the Royals offense is now sputtering. They have scored three, three, and two runs in their last three games and are 1-2 in those games.
One of the problems with the offense lately has been the crazy number of strikeouts. The Royals struck out 14 times on Sunday in a 7-3 loss to the Rangers. They struck out nine times Monday in their 3-0 win. And then Wednesday, they struck out 14 times once again.
Bullpen Problems: There is likely very little chance that Mike Matheny could have expected Jakob Junis to dominate the Cleveland Indians so much that he would be able to go five innings. But Junis did just that. The problems came from the bullpen.
The entire bullpen wasn’t disappointing on Wednesday. Scott Barlow was his typical solid self. He did allow two hits but then struck out the side in his one inning. Then Jake Brentz continued a solid start to his major league career with a strikeout and a routine groundout to get the Royals out of the eighth inning.
The problems with the bullpen came from Jesse Hahn and Greg Holland. Both gave up two-run home runs to Jose Ramirez.
Hahn wasn’t terrible. He just ran into a hot batter. And he could have been out of the inning twice, except that the Royals were unable to turn a couple of potential double plays. While I am not feeling as comfortable with Hahn as I have in the past, it’s too early for me to worry about him. I expect him to be fine this season.
Holland, however, allowed a walk and three hits in just 1/3 of an inning. It’s way too early to make any major decisions, but Greg Holland’s start to the season is somewhat concerning. Of course, he is a veteran pitcher who can turn things around quickly and be a solid piece out of the bullpen, but he has not yet pitched an inning in either of his two appearances, and both times he allowed at least one run.
Why use Holland in the eighth? Was Wade Davis being held back for the ninth? What about Josh Staumont? We will give Mike Matheny time to figure out his bullpen, but we will start paying closer attention to what Holland does from this point going forward.
Next Up: The Royals travel to Chicago on Thursday to open the home schedule for the White Sox. Brad Keller will look to forget his really rough opening day start. He will go against Lance Lynn for the White Sox. Lynn threw 99 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings in his first start but didn’t allow an earned run.