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Lesky’s Notes: Friends, we have baseball

There are legitimate baseball things to discuss, and for that, we should all be thankful.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

We’re now a week into the season, which is actually 11.7 percent of the way through the season, which is usually 19 games in. That’s about the typical point in the season when we can start to actually see the beginning of some trends. Of course, this is an odd season, so the people who tend to see the baseball season as similar to the football season actually have a bit more of a point this season. The Royals were in a position to win every game in Detroit, and the difference between 3-4 and 5-2 is much bigger than usual, so if the Royals somehow surprise and are close to a playoff spot at the end (I’m going to go ahead and doubt that it’ll matter), we’ll look back at this first week as some wasted opportunities for wins. But at least there’s baseball and the Royals, in spite of some pretty big issues in the rotation, have been pretty competitive.

  • A lot of that competitiveness is because of two really strong starts from Brady Singer. The lines from the two starts weren’t terribly different with two runs allowed in five innings, but he wasn’t quite as in command last night in Detroit. He left his slider up a few times and wasn’t getting the same kind of whiffs as he did in Cleveland, but I think we saw that he’s a battler on the mound even when he doesn’t quite have his best stuff. And we did see his first outstanding changeup on a strikeout of Jonathan Schoop for his final out. And now we’re getting the opportunity to see Kris Bubic make his big league debut for the home opener tonight. That’s two of the big four (which is probably five now with Lacy) already in the big league rotation, and that’s a heck of a head start into 2021 if they can both prove to be solid big league starters. In a way, Brad Keller and Jakob Junis not being ready to go could prove to be a long term blessing for the franchise to get these guys some big league experience, even if they maybe weren’t quite ready. What’s disappointing is especially for Junis as this was going to be one of his last opportunities to show he belonged in the rotation long-term. Ultimately, his role might end up in the bullpen if and when the young arms pass him by, and if that time comes, he’ll need to add some velocity to his fastball or else it probably won’t matter much. Regardless, it probably isn’t long before we see Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar too, so if nothing else, that’s what this season can provide.
  • The pitching as a whole has actually been pretty good with a 4.05 ERA through the first seven games in which it seems like they’re playing with a silly ball again. And it looks even better when you realize Jorge Lopez (who might get the boot for Bubic) and Mike Montgomery are responsible for eight of the 27 earned runs allowed and Montgomery was likely pitching hurt because the Royals were so shorthanded. One thing I’ve noticed is that they seem to be utilizing the fastball strategy that we see from some of the more advanced teams and that’s by elevating it. We saw Danny Duffy have great success on Opening Day and pretty much every pitcher since has seemed to go higher with their fastball more often. So far this season, prior to last night, they had thrown about one quarter of their fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone or right above it. Compare that to last season when they threw just under 20 percent of their fastballs up in the zone. It’s not a huge change, but it’s also enough to think it’s a conscious effort. The strategy plays much better when you have pitchers with legitimate stuff like this team seems to have, even if the results might not be there for some of them just yet. But it’s hard to argue with the upper-90s stuff from guys like Trevor Rosenthal and Josh Staumont and the mid-90s we see from Tyler Zuber, Scott Barlow, Kyle Zimmer and even Glenn Sparkman. I’m curious to see if it sticks all season or maybe even becomes even more pronounced.
  • Maybe this is my fault for expecting something I shouldn’t have, and the sample is still unreasonably small, but I’ve been really disappointed in what I’ve seen from Nicky Lopez in the early going, and It sort of seems like Mike Matheny might agree with me as he’s seen his playing time slashed very quickly. He had shown in both spring training and during summer camp the ability to lift and drive more than we saw last season. And as soon as the lights came on (and not that bright, let’s be real), he reverted back to what we saw from him the vast majority of last season. I’m not saying he can’t ever become anything, and I’m not even saying he won’t become something this season, but he needs to show something quickly. This is a big year for him because of Whit Merrifield’s place on the roster. If he shows he’s not anything more than a utility player, then Merrifield can move back to second base where he probably belongs. Then the question becomes who plays center field long term. The Royals aren’t exactly hurting for candidates, but they also aren’t exactly teeming with star potential out there. Franchy Cordero is the closest thing, but he needs an awful lot of work in the outfield before he can become good enough to patrol center field in Kauffman Stadium. Either way, I hope Nicky shows more than he has to this point because his ability to control the bat and the strike zone would be a big benefit if he can ever figure things out.
  • It’s really amazing to me how quickly Adalberto Mondesi became a whipping boy for a lot of fans. I get it. He looked horrible for the first few games of the season. And I didn’t think anything needed to happen just yet until he hit that popup on Tuesday night and then had the base running boner. After that, I sort of believed he might have needed to sit for a day or two. The good news is that he picked up a triple from the right side on Wednesday night and then three more hits last night. One thing that I noticed from the very early season numbers is that he actually wasn’t swinging as much at pitches outside the zone (again, remember how small this sample is), but he was making less contact with pitches outside the zone than in the past. Add in that he was hitting more fly balls and pulling the ball way more and it seemed pretty obvious to me that he was maybe trying to do too much in an effort to drive everything pull side. Sometimes for Mondesi, I’ve noticed that he finds himself when he hits right-handed, which as Clint Scoles noted is his better contact side. He batted right-handed on Wednesday and then hit a couple balls the other way last night. He’ll hit righty against both Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez to start this next series, so we’ll see if it actually gets him going and gets some people off his back.