December 7, 2022

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Witt Jr. and Whit — baseball names with game  

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DENVER — “I’m just Bobby, now.”

Bobby Witt Jr. was explaining how the Royals handle the Witt/Whit situation in the clubhouse, on the team bus, out at dinner or on the field. You know the one: Kansas City has a Witt in Bobby and a Whit in Whit Merrifield.

“He’s Whit and I’m Bobby,” Witt said.

Their names are similar, but they’re very different. Whit Merrifield played in his 500th consecutive game on Saturday night, extending the club record and the longest active streak in the Majors in a 10-4 loss to the Rockies at Coors Field. Witt was playing in the 30th game of his MLB career.

But as far as being a baseball player is concerned, Witt wants to be like Whit.

“That’s who I watch before games, just to see what he does,” Witt said. “He’s done it in 500 straight games. It’s incredible. Just playing two games in the big leagues in a row is crazy, and now he’s done it 500 times [without a day off]. It’s just awesome to watch.”

The two can be seen together frequently before games — A Whit mentoring a Witt.

To wit: Prior to Friday’s series opener against Colorado, the two were playing catch, side by side. Two Royals infielders — one 33 and the other 21 — warming up before going to work, the younger player absorbing wisdom from the veteran.

They went to work again on Saturday, but things didn’t turn out the way they would’ve liked. A day after producing season highs with 14 runs and 18 hits, Kansas City mustered only four runs on five hits, while starter Carlos Hernández continued to struggle. The right-hander surrendered nine runs over four innings and saw his season ERA balloon to 9.11.

As it has been for several years, everything is about the process with the Royals. Manager Mike Matheny uttered the words “trust the process” a few times over the first two games of the series with Colorado, and that is certainly something Witt has taken to heart.

Witt, the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, is undergoing the growing pains of adjusting to the Majors. He came into Saturday’s game slashing .211/.237/.325 on the season, but he launched the second home run of his young career, a 427-foot solo shot over the left-field wall on a curveball from Rockies reliever Ashton Goudeau in the seventh inning.

The homer came a day after Witt recorded the second triple of his career. With the aid of mentors in the clubhouse like Merrifield, the rookie is sticking with the “trust the process” mantra as he navigates the big league waters for the first time. He also recognizes the place failure must have in the process, especially in a game in which the great ones fail seven out of 10 times.

“I think the only way you really learn is by failing,” Witt said. “Obviously, I don’t want to fail, but also, I think you learn so much from that and I’m just trying to take in as much as I can, and learn from the guys in this clubhouse who have done it for a lot longer than I have.”

Matheny has seen a lot of young players come and go during his nearly three decades in the Majors as a player and a manager. And this season, we’re seeing examples of heralded youngsters struggling – a case in point is Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who was optioned to Triple-A after posting a .509 OPS with 36 strikeouts in 30 games to start the season.

Matheny is more than pleased with how Witt is handling things so far, especially considering Witt only played in 161 Minor League games after the Royals selected him second overall in the 2019 MLB Draft.

“He’s doing fine,” Matheny said. “You look at the whole league, where you see guys who have had a lot of success for a long time and where they are now. He’s doing just fine. It’s always hard with a lot of the firsts – going to your hometown for the first time, every time you’re seeing a team for the first time. The other guys, they all have a book on each other. He’s been playing really good defense, and I’ve been watching him improve. It’s gonna come. He’s right there.”

Witt is right there. And often, Whit Merrifield is there next to him. It’s helpful to have that wealth of wisdom when the mantra is hard to live out.

“It’s a hard game,” Witt said. “Everyone knows it. You’ve just gotta continue to do your work and trust the process.”

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