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Many firsts as KC wins 3-2 over Cleveland

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Early returns suggest the Royals’ bullpen is significantly improved from last season.

Starting pitcher Brady Singer #51 of the Kansas City Royals pitches during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on July 25, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. The 2020 season had been postponed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most obvious first was Brady Singer’s first career big league start.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

I know most of you are here to read about Brady Singer but humor me for a moment. After all, Cleveland also had to endure some trials before he ever took the mound.

Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez got together and decided to give the kid a cushion before he even got to throw his first pitch and they went back-to-back. Those were the first home runs the Royals hit this year, the first time they went back-to-back, and according to the broadcast it was the first time Mike Clevinger had ever given up back-to-back home runs.

Alright, now we can talk about Singer. He was - despite what Rex, Ryan, and the box score would tell you - not as sharp as he might have been. Particularly in the first and third innings his pitches were frequently significantly higher than his target. Despite that, he managed to pitch a credibly cromulent debut. Five innings with seven strikeouts and two earn runs against a dangerous Cleveland lineup without his best control is definitely something to build on. And, despite his large number of strikeouts and control issues in a couple of innings he only threw 80 pitches. There’s definitely still plenty to hope on for him.

After the home runs and the Singer debut the biggest news is the bullpen. Ian Kennedy, Trevor Rosenthal, Scott Barlow, and Greg Holland combined to pitch five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts between them. Even more surprising than the results might have been the arrangement. Ian Kennedy, last year’s closer, pitched the sixth and seventh. Trevor Rosenthal, a former closer who looked the best in Spring Training, pitched the eighth. Scott Barlow covered the ninth to earn the win but Greg Holland was the one who finally came up with the save opportunity. It was his first opportunity and first completed save in a Royals uniform in five years.

Listen, I’m not going to say that I’m suddenly a Mike Matheny believer. He’s got a long way to go in order to prove himself to me. But his willingness to go to the bench and bullpen early and often and to use his best relievers when the situation calls for it, even if that wouldn’t traditionally be “their inning” in these first two games has definitely impressed me. If the Royals are going to sneak into the expanded playoff picture this year it’s going to be with intelligent and creative usage of their entire roster to put guys in the best positions to succeed and to avoid their weaknesses as much as possible. If you were frustrated by Ned’s unwillingness to get creative or the fact that he sometimes left guys in to “stay out of their domes” this should be a breath of fresh air for you.

This was also the first game the Royals played with new extra innings rule which sees a runner start at second in every extra half-inning. It worked out in the Royals’ favor today but even if it hadn’t I think I would be in favor of the rule change becoming permanent. I know it’s new and different and bizarre and feels very unlike anything baseball has ever done before. But, well, it was the same with the designated hitter and the wild card when they were first implemented. And I think most fans are over those changes. People will get over this one too, if it becomes permanent. I agree with Rex about it; it makes the extra innings more exciting. There’s already a runner in scoring position, it’s just a matter of who can bring him home. It also prevents teams from completely blowing out their bullpens and it saves sportswriters from even longer nights. In the grand scheme of things I think it will have a smaller impact on the game than many imagine while making things more pleasant for more people than you might realize.

And, yeah, the Royals won their first game of the season. It’s not ideal that it happened so late in the year but they’re currently tied for first place in the division and it’s hard to ask for much more than that with a roster built like this one. They’ll finish the series in Cleveland tomorrow afternoon when TBD takes the mound against Carlos Carrasco.