On Monday afternoon, a few hours before the Royals snapped a losing skid with a 4-3 victory over Texas, pitching coach Dave Eiland suggested closer Greg Holland take the day off. Not once this season has Holland told his coaches he could not pitch. He will accept a rest day when offered, but Monday was different.
“I’ll let you know,” Holland told Eiland. He stretched with his teammates beneath the overcast sky. He played catch, and “felt good,” he said. After he warmed up, he would deliver the same message to Eiland that fellow relievers Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera did. All three had pitched two nights in a row. All three volunteered for duty on Monday.
All three proved integral to the latest Royals victory, the team’s third in their last eight games. The trio gobbled up the final eight outs without allowing a baserunner. Herrera defused a seventh-innning jam created by Yordano Ventura by inducing a double play. Davis lowered his ERA to 0.73. Holland secured his 41st save.
“It’s a fine line,” Holland said. “If you can go, you go. But you’ve also got to be smart about it.”
The situation will be worth monitoring as the final month of the season begins. Granted a lead thanks to three RBIs by Salvador Perez and an intriguing debut from Carlos Peguero, Holland exhibited impeccable timing. Unlike Sunday, when rain suspended a game in the 10th inning, the Royals (75-61) avoided another delay by a margin of about 90 seconds. A storm surfaced midway through the eighth. The grounds crew unfurled the tarp within seconds of the final out.
Royals manager Ned Yost frets about taxing his late-game trio. He understands the relievers are the backbone of his pitching staff. His only lament Monday was all three might be unavailable for the next game.
“You’re always happy to bounce back,” he said.
The night before, Holland allowed multiple runs in a game for just the third time this season. His defense failed to support him, and he responded by yielding a two-run double to the Indians that could cost the Royals. The team won’t know the final result until the last of the 10th inning is played Sept. 22 in Cleveland.
A limping Kansas City team received an infusion of energy on Monday. The opponent helped. The Rangers are baseball’s worst team, a moribund group terrorized by pitching injuries. On Monday they offered up Colby Lewis, a surgically reconstructed right hander who is enduring his roughest big-league campaign since 2007.
Alex Gordon singled up the middle with two outs in the first. He stole second on the next pitch. Perez followed up by whacking a slider for an RBI double.
The pair reconvened for the third. Gordon took a two-out walk. Lewis fired over to first twice. He missed the strike zone twice. At last he tried to stuff a fastball on Perez’s front hip. Instead the ball caught plenty of plate, and the barrel of Perez’s lumber. His 16th homer of the season zipped into the Royals’ bullpen in left.
“I tried to stay within my approach,” Perez said. “Let the ball come to me, and put a good swing on the ball.”
The date on the calendar also provided some aid. The rosters expanded for the start of the September, and the additions enlivened the atmosphere.
James Shields advised Brandon Finnegan, the club’s first-round pick in June, on how to handle throngs of reporters. The newcomers debated the speed of Jarrod Dyson versus that of Terrance Gore, who will join the team as a pinch-running specialist on Tuesday. A pair of pitchers gawked at the size of Peguero, a 6-5, 250-pound outfielder.
Peguero walked into the clubhouse to find his name in a big-league lineup for the first time since April 27, 2013. He had smashed 15 homers in August for Class AAA Omaha, and Yost looked desperate for an infusion of power after four arid nights.
“He can drive the ball out of this ballpark to all fields,” Yost said. “Left field. Center field. Right field.”
A couple of weeks ago, Peguero completed a feat fit for cliché. The term “light-tower power” is attached to prodigious power hitters like Peguero. One night at the park, he pulled a hanging curveball down the right-field line. The ball collided with the light fixture, Peguero said.
His first hit as a Royal surprised the Texas defenders. Lewis dotted the outside corner with a fastball. Peguero muscled it for an opposite-field double to left. He scored his team’s fourth run when Mike Moustakas punched a single through the left side of the infield. Peguero also exhibited a solid throwing arm in a performance Yost called “pretty impressive.”
The Royals had scored two runs or fewer in five of their previous seven games. Ventura had a sizable lead to protect.
He sat out his last start due to soreness in his back. The team declared the injury a minor one. It still raised questions about his durability during his first, full big-league season.
His performance appeared to answer any queries about his condition. His fastball registered at 101 mph twice in the first inning. He didn’t give up a hit until the fourth inning. The Rangers couldn’t scratch across a run until the sixth.
“He said he felt as good as he did before,” said Jeremy Guthrie, who translated for Ventura. “The days of rest were obviously very good for him.”
Ventura can blame himself for Texas’ tally. After a double by shortstop Elvis Andrus, Ventura issued his third walk of the day. Both Andrus and Alex Rios moved 90 feet when Ventura threaded a fastball through Perez’s legs. The wild pitch put Andrus in position to score on a groundout by Adrian Beltre.
Ventura continued to stumble in the seventh. Adam Rosales, the Rangers first baseman, roped a leadoff double. Catcher Tomas Telis chipped a single into center field, where Jarrod Dyson fumbled with the baseball until a run had scored and Telis stood at second. Two batters later, outfielder Michael Choice slipped an RBI single past the dive of Alcides Escobar.
The ball trickled into left. The lead slipped to one. Ventura slapped his glove in disgust. The Royals prepared for yet another night of Kauffman Stadium anxiety.
Holland referred to his situation as “a double-edged sword.” He understands his health is crucial to this club’s success. It would be selfish, he explained, to attempt to collect saves when he was performing at a level that wouldn’t help the club.
On the other edge of the sword, of course, is the imperative of the chase for October.
“It’s September, and we’re in a playoff race,” Holland said. “You never know when you’re going to get another chance to be in the playoffs. Kansas City has been there in a while. A long time, actually. You want to do everything you can.”