On paper, the Royals’ 3-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Thursday delivered plenty of positive developments.
Chris Young and Travis Wood made their spring debuts with impressive outings, each striking out two over two innings. Reliever Joakim Soria posted his second scoreless frame. Eric Hosmer supplied the punch, driving a two-run homer to left-center field inside Surprise Stadium.
Yet it was the specifics that delighted manager Ned Yost. Yes, Young and Wood were solid as they began their bids for the club’s final rotation spot. But consider the context: They were solid against a formidable Rockies lineup that could project as one of the National League’s best offenses.
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The Rockies pulled no punches Thursday, throwing out a starting lineup that featured second baseman DJ LeMahieu, center fielder Carlos Gonzalez, third baseman and MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, first baseman Ian Desmond and shortstop Trevor Story. Young and Wood answered the test. Young started and posted two scoreless innings, while Wood allowed one unearned run in two frames. On the next turn through the rotation, Wood will draw the start and Young will pitch in relief.
“That’s their A-lineup that can swing that bat,” Yost said. “You know, Chris threw the ball really, really well. He changed speeds really well. His slider was really good. He moved his fastball around. He used it effectively up. He did a nice job. And Wood [was] the same way.”
Young and Wood are vying with right-hander Nathan Karns for the final slot in the starting rotation. Karns tossed two scoreless innings in impressive fashion on Wednesday. But one day later, Young and Wood were sharp as well.
Young worked around a walk and a seeing-eye single in the first. His slider displayed bite and procured a handful of swings-and-misses. His fastball sat at 85 mph. After a disappointing 2016, Young likely projects as the club’s long reliever when the season begins, but he will have the opportunity to make his case as a starter over the next month.
Wood, meanwhile, would prefer a return to starting after spending most of the last two seasons in the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen. The Royals promised him that opportunity when offering a two-year, $12 million deal last month. But if he does not beat out Karns and Young, he is ready to accept an assignment in the bullpen, he said.
“I do enjoy starting,” he said. “Because it’s a real challenge facing hitters several times throughout a lineup. … But whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it.”
In the top half of the sixth inning, reliever Soria was tasked with facing the heart of the Rockies’ lineup. He deftly maneuvered through Gonzalez, Arenado and Desmond, earning plaudits from his manager.
“Facing 3-4-5 right there was a good test for him, and he just aced it,” Yost said.
On the heels of a disastrous 2016 campaign, Soria has yet to allow a run in two appearances. On Thursday, he induced a grounder from Gonzalez, coaxed a foul pop from Arenado and struck out Desmond.
Reliever Peter Moylan also recorded his third scoreless inning of the spring.
The strangest moment of the day belonged to Hosmer. In the bottom of the fourth, with one man on, Hosmer hammered a drive to deep left-center field. The ball appeared to easily clear the fence and railing, landing in the grassy berm beyond the wall. But the baseball ricocheted back onto the playing surface, confusing the umpires. No home run signal was given, and Mike Moustakas, who was leisurely jogging around the bases, was tagged out at home plate.
Moments later, the umpires conferenced and changed the ruling to a homer. The play still baffled Ned Yost, who surmised that the ball must have hit a sprinkler head in the outfield berm. According to the Royals’ in-house tracking system, the baseball traveled 414 feet.
“I could have swore,” Yost said. “… I thought I saw it on the berm.”
The Young Guys
Second baseman Raul Mondesi drew the start and finished 1 for 2, collecting his third hit of the spring. In four games, Mondesi is 3 for 8 with a strikeout.
Hunter Dozier also continued a hot start, collecting a hit in his only at-bat. In limited duty, Dozier has four hits and two walks in nine plate appearances.