September 27, 2022

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3 takeaways from the Royals' first series

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KANSAS CITY – As the Royals broke camp last week and prepared for the 2022 season, they knew the improvement of their starting pitching would be where much of their development comes from this season.

After a 10-7 loss to the Guardians at Kauffman Stadium on Monday ensured a season-opening series split, that foresight still holds true. Royals starters Zack Greinke and Brad Keller set the tone in the first two wins of the year, but in the next two games, ineffective starts and late bullpen collapses led to losses.

“We got a little taste of what we can do and a taste of things that we need to let go and get better from,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Overall, we’re not surprised, right? We saw runs happen with things that we’ve talked about.”

Here are three takeaways from the Royals’ season-opening series:

1. Bobby Witt Jr. impacts the game in so many ways
The Royals knew there would be some struggles for their top prospect as he adjusts to Major League pitching. Witt is 2-for-16 to start his career, but his two hits have been big: the game-winning double on Opening Day and an RBI double on Sunday.

What we’ve seen in this first series is what scouts have seen throughout Witt’s Minor League career: even if Witt struggles in one area, he’ll find ways to impact the game in others.

On Monday, after striking out three times, he was tasked with facing Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase in the ninth inning. He worked a full count before drawing his first career walk, getting on base for Andrew Benintendi’s two-run home run.

Witt also stole his first career base in the third inning after reaching on a fielder’s choice, one of the Royals’ three stolen bases on Monday. And Witt’s defense will be something to marvel at all season long. His clutch throw and Salvador Perez’s tag in the 10th inning on Saturday was named MLB’s Electric Play of the Week, and in the first inning Monday, he made a diving snag to his right on Owen Miller’s ground ball. A quick transfer and fire to first base nabbed the speedy Miller to end the frame.

“We knew we were going to have a really good defensive squad coming into the year, and I think that’s showed early in the series,” Whit Merrifield said. “Hopefully it’ll continue to give our pitchers confidence to pound the zone and let us work, especially here at home playing at The K.”

2. Pitching still has room to grow
Carlos Hernández struggled to throw strikes in the first inning Monday, leading to a quick two runs. But the way the right-hander was able to get a handle on the inning and limit the damage was what the Royals needed to see after starter Kris Bubic failed to get out of the first inning on Sunday.

There will be lessons to learn for all of the Royals’ young starters this season, perhaps the biggest one being what happens when they can get ahead in the count and trust their defense to make plays behind them.

“Time and time again, their stuff isn’t going to be effective when you’re fighting back and all of a sudden, you go from a 3-0 or 3-1 count, the more pitches they see, the higher likelihood they’re going to be able to do something with it,” Matheny said. “It comes back down to the same message. He did a nice job after that first, much better job of getting ahead.”

3. Benintendi starts 2022 off strong
Benintendi has been on some kind of hot streak to start the season; he was on base five times Monday, and his fifth plate appearance of the day was a two-run jack off Clase for the Royals’ first home run of 2022. Benintendi became the fourth Royal with multiple three-hit games within the first four games of the season, joining Johnny Damon (two in 1998), Kevin Seitzer (three in 1987) and Hal McRae (two in 1977).

That kind of production will bode well hitting in front of Perez, who snapped an 0-for-12 start to the season with his RBI single in the third inning.

Benintendi’s presence will be crucial to the Royals’ offense this season, especially as he eyes more doubles and hitting gap-to-gap in Kauffman Stadium.

As the rest of the Kansas City offense warms up around him — the Royals left eight on base and were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position Monday — Benintendi is hoping his swing stays right where it is to start the year.

“My lower half is better, understanding how much time I actually have up there and hitting the ball where it’s pitched and not trying to do too much,” Benintendi said. “A lot of times, I’ll try to create a lot of power where I shouldn’t, especially in this ballpark. Take your singles where you can take your singles, and once it warms up here, you can start taking shots.”

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