In Daniel Lynch’s big league debut, the Kansas City Royals scored six runs. But when three Royals pitchers—Scott Barlow, Jake Junis, and Lynch himself—all had bad enough nights on the mound to combine to allow eight runs, it’s hard to win. The Royals did not.
Lynch debuted as the 21st best prospect in all of Major League Baseball, per Baseball America, and was the second-best left-handed pitching prospect behind the San Diego Padres’ MacKenzie Gore. Lynch was the highest-ranked Royals prospect to debut since the days of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Danny Duffy in 2011.
It was clear why Lynch was such a well-regarded pitcher—Lynch’s wipeout slider induced some foolish-looking swings and misses, and he supplemented it with a workable changeup and a fastball that sat at about 95 MPH and topped out at 97 MPH. Unfortunately, Lynch pitched poorly tonight, for two main reasons. First, Lynch simply did not have viable control. Over his 4.2 innings pitched, Lynch walked four, and missed many of his spots rather badly.
Second, Lynch did not often fool the right-handed heavy Cleveland lineup. This was immediately clear, as Jarrod Dyson bailed out Lynch from giving up a double on his very first big league pitch; Cesar Hernandez hammered a middle-away fastball at 106.9 MPH off the bat that Dyson tracked down in deep center field.
In fact, Cleveland hitters would hit at least one ball 100 MPH or harder against Lynch in every one of his innings. Two batters after Hernandez’s near-double, Eddie Rosario smashed a line drive at 101.2 MPH off the bat that found Andrew Benintendi’s glove. In the second inning, Harold Ramirez crushed a middle-middle fastball 114.5 MPH over the head of Dyson. In the third inning, Amed Rosario slammed a slider 100.5 MPH but did so into the ground, resulting in a much-needed double play. In the fourth inning, both Josh Naylor and Franmil Reyes hit doubles at 105.5 MPH off the bat. And in the fifth inning, Rosario again hit a hard ground ball at 107 MPH.
Said ground ball was what did Lynch in. While Nicky Lopez fielded it cleanly and fired to second base, Whit Merrifield uncorked a wild throw that glanced off Carlos Santana’s outstretched glove and into Rosario’s helmet. With two on and two out, and right-handed Reyes and his 153 wRC+ coming up to the plate, Mike Matheny went with Scott Barlow. Reyes didn’t care about the platoon disadvantage, unfortunately, and singled to left field to drive in Rosario and Jose Ramirez anyway. Lynch’s final line: 4.2 innings pitched, four hits (three of which were of the extra base variety), four walks, three strikeouts, and three runs.
Against Cleveland starter Aaron Civale, the Royals were on the verge of doing some serious damage. During the first three innings especially, multiple Royals received a mistake pitch in the middle of the zone or up in the zone, properly identified it as a mistake pitch, and took a solid rip only to foul it off—this happened to Merrifield, Perez, Soler, O’Hearn, and Benintendi. After scraping together a run from a Soler sacrifice fly in the third inning, the Royals got another couple of runs in the fourth thanks to a leadoff triple from Hunter Dozier and a very nice home run from Merrifield.
Dozier was clearly inspired by Merrifield because, in the seventh inning, he hit a very similar home run except much, much bigger. It, too, was a two-run bomb, making it the second and third runs of a three-run inning.
But unfortunately for the Royals, it wasn’t just Lynch and Barlow who didn’t quite have it today. Junis also had a bad night, although bad isn’t quite telling the true story. Junis gave up five runs all by himself in the seventh inning, including home runs to Rosario and Naylor. He had to be bailed out by Tyler Zuber. It was an ironic breakdown, considering that Junis had been shifted back to the bullpen to make room for Lynch.
Ultimately, the Royals’ attempted comeback in the seventh inning wasn’t enough. Needing three runs against James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase is an insurmountable barrier; Karinchak has struck out over half of the batters he’s faced in his entire career, and Clase throws a 93 MPH slider to compliment a triple-digit fastball.
The problem with early season baseball is that the highs are fantastic but the lows can come knocking extremely quickly. With tonight’s loss to Cleveland, the Royals, who are 13-6 against everyone else, are now 3-5 against Cleveland, the Minnesota Twins, and the Chicago White Sox—their prime rivals within the American League Central. This also marks Kansas City’s fourth loss in their last six games.
But, of course, tomorrow is another day.