On Sunday night, the calendar indicated that 15 days remained until the Royals open the season against the Minnesota Twins on April 3.
Ian Kennedy appears ready for it to begin right now.
On a warm night in Arizona, Kennedy dominated a decent approximation of the defending world champions, posting six scoreless innings and seven strikeouts in a 6-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
As a sold-out crowd of 15,497 filed into Sloan Park, with fans transforming the outfield grass berms into spring training’s version of Lollapalooza, Kennedy allowed just three base runners. He needed just 72 pitches to navigate the evening.
Kennedy resembled the veteran right-hander who recorded a 3.38 ERA in 16 starts after the All-Star break last season.
“That’s midseason stuff right there,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He had everything going. He had a phenomenal slider tonight. Spotted his fastball well. Good change-up. Excellent location. Quick tempo. He was spectacular.”
One spring training start cannot tell you everything. But for one evening, Kennedy cut through a Cubs lineup that featured reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant, reigning World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Addison Russell and catcher Willson Contreras.
In one of his first spring training starts, Kennedy had been tasked with facing the Venezuelan World Baseball Classic team, a collection of All-Stars and MVP candidates. In the Cactus League, Kennedy estimated that the Cubs were the next toughest thing.
“There’s a reason why they’re defending champs,” Kennedy said.
Still, there was no firm game plan. Such things are an afterthought as pitchers run through the routines of spring. But as Kennedy met with Drew Butera before the game, the Royals’ reserve catcher asked about the plan for the evening.
“Just try to mix as if it’s a normal game,” Kennedy said.
By the end, the strategy worked well enough, and Kennedy continued his solid spring. In 11 1/3 innings across three Cactus League starts, he has yet to give up a run. His only blemish came in the exhibition against Venezuela. He is scheduled for two more spring training starts before likely making his season debut in the opening series in Minnesota.
“I felt good with executing — with everything,” Kennedy said. “My fastball was down when I needed it to be, and it came up when I needed it to be.”
Reliever Joakim Soria delivered a promising performance in the bottom of the seventh, cruising through the heart of the Cubs order in a clean inning. He struck out Bryant, induced a ground-out from Rizzo and struck out former Royal Zobrist.
The performance came after Soria had allowed two earned runs in his first four appearances. He also missed time while playing for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
Reliever Mike Minor also surrendered his first run of the spring, allowing a solo homer to Russell in the eighth inning.
The regular guys
Facing his former club, outfielder Jorge Soler continued his anemic spring at the plate. Soler finished 0 for 3 with three strikeouts, leaving four men on base. He’s batting .122 since being acquired by the Royals in an offseason trade for closer Wade Davis.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas opened the scoring with a solo shot to deep right field against former minor-league teammate Mike Montgomery, who projects as a possible swingman in the Cubs’ bullpen. It was Moustakas’ third homer of the spring.
After a slow start in his return from a season-ending ACL injury, Moustakas has appeared more comfortable at the plate in recent days. He is now batting .216 this spring. Moustakas added a sacrifice fly in the top of the third.
The young guys
Second baseman Raul Mondesi returned to the leadoff spot and finished 1 for 3. His single to right-center field in the third set up Moustakas’ sacrifice fly.
Cheslor Cuthbert made a rare start at first base and was 0 for 4. Cuthbert, who is batting .217 this spring, appeared comfortable at first, making an athletic tag on an errant throw in the early innings.