Kansas City Royals

Dayton Moore still believes in Royals’ talent, even in the bullpen

Ned Yost talks about Royals extra-inning loss to the Yankees

Royals manager Ned Yost discussed his team's performance in a 7-6 loss to the New York Yankees in 10 innings at Yankee Stadium on April 21, 2019. The royals took a late lead, but lost in 10 innings. They also struck out a franchise-record 20 times.
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Royals manager Ned Yost discussed his team's performance in a 7-6 loss to the New York Yankees in 10 innings at Yankee Stadium on April 21, 2019. The royals took a late lead, but lost in 10 innings. They also struck out a franchise-record 20 times.

Almost a month into the regular season, the Royals are 7-15 with several tough-to-swallow losses having been the distinguishing characteristic of their first 22 games.

The absence of a finishing kick has been too often their undoing. Sunday’s 7-6 loss in 10 innings to the New York Yankees gave the Royals seven one-run losses. They’ve lost three of their four extra-inning games, and relief pitchers have been saddled with eight of their 15 losses.

There’s clearly a disappointment that comes with being tantalizingly close and yet coming up short. At this point in the 162-game season, there’s still a sense of optimism being expressed publicly both from the clubhouse and the front office.

Whit Merrifield delivered a message of good times to come when he pleaded with fans to “stay with us” toward the end of his franchise-record hitting streak earlier this month.

This week, the message came from the longest-tenured Royal, Alex Gordon, as well as the executive in charge of baseball operations, general manager Dayton Moore.

“We’re frustrated,” said outfielder Alex Gordon, the longest-tenured Royal, on Sunday. “Nobody likes losing. At the same time, we do feel like we’re in a lot of games and just kind of falling apart late. It’s kind of demoralizing, but at the same time you just gotta keep your head up and keep personally trying to get better.

“I think everyone in here is trying to do that. If everyone tries to do that, I think our team is going to get better and better. Hopefully, we can figure out these games that we’re losing.”

Moore has not been oblivious to the late-inning shortcomings of a largely revamped bullpen.

That unit was a focus this offseason after ranking among the worst in the American League last season, and the organization identified what it thought were potential solutions both internally and externally.

“Obviously, the first 10 days — the bullpen and the later innings had been a work in progress for us,” Moore said over the weekend in New York. “As I’ve said before, we feel like we have enough talent in our bullpen to match up effectively. We just need to look for more consistency, and I think we’ll get it.”

The Royals enter the week with a bullpen ERA of 6.06, which ranks 28th in the majors ahead of only Baltimore (6.55) and Washington (7.41). The American League average is 4.40.

The list of bullpen newcomers includes former All-Star closer Brad Boxberger, left-hander Jake Diekman, former starter Ian Kennedy and rookies Jake Newberry, Scott Barlow and left-hander Richard Lovelady. Newberry and Barlow pitched sparingly in the big leagues previously, but their rookie status remained intact coming into this year.

The Royals have already changed their bullpen personnel. Left-hander Tim Hill, Kevin McCarthy and rookie Kyle Zimmer were sent to the minors after early struggles.

Moore pointed to the consistency the team has seen lately from Kennedy, Barlow and Diekman (Moore’s comments were prior to Diekman getting the loss in New York on Sunday). He also liked the early returns on Lovelady and Newberry.

The Royals recalled Hill from Triple-A Omaha prior to Monday’s game in St. Petersburg against the Rays. Hill, who struggled with command early in the season, walked two and struck out five in five innings with Omaha.

“The two pitchers that are not currently on this 25-man roster, Tim Hill and Kevin McCarthy, are the two guys that to a man we all felt would be the most consistent because they were for us last year,” Moore said. “It just didn’t happen. Why? We’re all searching for that. I mean, those are one of the mysteries of baseball.

“We can all evaluate the result, but how we got there? And did we expect it? No. We didn’t expect the inconsistency of Tim Hill and Kevin McCarthy. We expected consistency out of those guys. There was no reason for us not to. They’ve always been consistent, in the zone, taking the ball, staying on the attack. We had to send both of them out with a full expectation that they’ll be back here at some point in time.

“That’s been a little surprising, but they’re both winners. They’re in a great frame of mind. They know what they need to do. They embrace that challenge. Because of that, they’ll be back here to help us.”

Generally, Moore waits 35-45 games into a season to make an assessment of his ballclub. At that point, you can have a feel for the team’s strengths and weaknesses, health, what it will need, and have a clearer read on your competition.

The evaluation process continues, and every 40-game period serves as an opportunity to take stock.

While the Royals are short of that benchmark, Moore said that thus far he’s taken encouragement with his young team’s defense, early offensive production, and the performance of the starting rotation.

“We’ve been very pleased with our defense,” Moore said. “We’ve been very pleased with the consistency of our offense. Our starting pitching has given us a chance to win most nights. We’re putting up quality starts.”

The Royals pitching staff has posted nine quality starts in 22 games. That ties for the 11th most in baseball entering Monday.

Offensively, the Royals rank near the middle of the pack in the majors in runs per game (4.5, 18th), walks per game (3.55, 16th), OBP (.315, 18th), slugging percentage (.423, 17th) and OPS (.739, 16th).

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.