Royals

From unrecruited to major-league starter, Matt Strahm helps Royals to fifth straight win

The Royals' offense is surging in California

The Royals ran their winning streak to five games, beating the Angels 7-2 on Thursday.
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The Royals ran their winning streak to five games, beating the Angels 7-2 on Thursday.

Seven years ago Matt Strahm drove from his home in West Fargo, N.D., to a baseball showcase event at the University of Kansas. He was a skinny high school senior then, 6 foot 1 and 153 pounds, equipped with a fastball that topped out in the high 70s. His only scholarship offers came from NAIA schools and junior colleges. The trip took 10 hours.

On Thursday here in Southern California, Strahm boarded a charter bus in the afternoon and rode from the Royals’ team hotel to Angel Stadium. He is 6 foot 3 and 185 pounds now, his fastball exploding from his left hand at 95 mph, his slider coaxing uncomfortable swings from the best hitters in the world. The trip was measured in minutes, yet it represented something more meaningful.

In his 42nd career appearance, on a warm evening in Orange County, Strahm made his first major-league start, allowing one unearned run across five innings in a 7-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels. The performance propelled the Royals to a fifth straight win on this West Coast road trip, pushing them to 31-34 overall, three games within .500 for the first time since April 22. The five-inning outing offered the latest chapter in the remarkable journey of Strahm.

“I feel good,” said Strahm, whose previous longest outing was 2  2/3 innings. “I’m sure I’ll be a little sore tomorrow.”

The Kansas City Royals selected left-handed pitcher Matt Strahm in the 21st round of the 2012 MLB Draft.

Working from the windup for the first time all season, making his first start since last July at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, Strahm took the ball and delivered a lift for an ailing rotation. As Danny Duffy and Nathan Karns remained on the disabled list, the Royals continued their surge. From back in Kansas City, where he continued his rehab from an oblique strain, Duffy weighed in on the performance.

The state of North Dakota, by virtue of population and climate, is not supposed to produce major-league starting pitchers. The talent pool is too thin. The winters are too harsh. But Strahm is the southpaw that defies convention. On that day seven years ago, he caught the eye of a local junior college coach. He landed at Neosho County Community College in Chanute, Kan. His body would mature and his stuff would improve, and two years later, the Royals would spend a 21st-round pick on him. Then came Tommy John surgery, a quick rise through the minor leagues, an electric debut out of the bullpen in 2016. Then came Thursday night.

Strahm always believed he possessed the ability to start, even as he began his season back in the Royals’ bullpen, where a greater need existed. So did the Royals, of course, but the opportunity would not come until injuries to Duffy and Karns sent the club searching for options in the early weeks of June. On Thursday, Strahm took the place of rookie Eric Skoglund, who had struggled in his previous two starts. He would finish with three strikeouts while allowing just three hits and walking one, offering five innings despite a pitch count of close to 70 pitches.

“I just wanted to go out there and throw strikes,” Strahm said. “Obviously I knew I had a pitch limit. I just wanted to be as effective as a I could in those pitches.

He added: “A ‘W’ is the goal. We got that. Now next time work toward 80 pitches.”

The only run would come in the bottom of the first, when left fielder Alex Gordon misplayed a single to left field and Albert Pujols delivered an RBI single to right, scoring Kole Calhoun from second base. The next threat came with two outs in the fifth, when Los Angeles’ Danny Espinosa hooked a ball to left that landed foul but was ruled a home run. The call would be reversed. Strahm struck out Espinosa swinging. Royals manager Ned Yost said Strahm would have been given one more hitter, despite his pitch count sitting at 68.

“He commanded his pitches well,” Yost said. “He commanded his pitch count well.”

He also had luxury of a suddenly powerful offense. the Lorenzo Cain homered for the sixth time in 12 games, bashing a solo shot to center off Angels starter Ricky Nolasco in the third. Gordon added his third homer in eight games after an interminable drought, crushing a 411-foot shot to dead center field. He finished with three hits, raising his average to .195 and coming a triple short of the cycle.

“Too slow,” he said.

The Royals scored at least seven runs for a fifth straight game, matching the franchise’s longest streak since 1979. The same team that scored 61 runs in 23 games in April has now piled up 45 runs in six games on this West Coast road trip.

Just 11 days ago, the Royals were 24-32 following a loss to the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium. With the trade deadline two months away, a championship core was in danger of splintering apart, sold off for younger assets as a club sought to replenish its farm system and chart a course for the future. But now, after seven wins in nine games, the Royals are just four games out of first place and two games behind second-place Cleveland.

“The team hasn’t really clicked all together,” Gordon said. “And it kind of feels like we’re starting to do that.”

For now, they are doing it without Duffy or Karns. But perhaps Strahm is an answer in the rotation. For one night, anyway, he was, and the future is suddenly more cloudy.

“And the good thing is we never really got too far out of it,” Gordon said. “We’re still in this.”

Kansas City Star sports writers Blair Kerkhoff and Vahe Gregorian discussed the Kansas City Royals' recent success on the road and what the team's prospects may be for the coming games during a Facebook Live broadcast on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Royals 7, Angels 2

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

5

0

2

1

0

1

.295

Bonifacio rf

5

0

0

0

0

0

.258

Cain cf

5

2

2

1

0

0

.275

Hosmer 1b

3

1

1

1

2

0

.315

Perez c

5

1

2

0

0

1

.280

Moustakas 3b

4

0

2

2

1

1

.282

A.Escobar ss

5

1

2

0

0

1

.197

Moss dh

5

0

1

0

0

1

.181

Gordon lf

5

2

3

1

0

1

.195

Totals 42

7

15

6

3

6

Los Angeles

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Maybin cf

4

1

1

0

0

0

.262

Calhoun rf

4

1

2

0

0

0

.240

Pujols dh

4

0

1

1

0

0

.236

Y.Escobar 3b

4

0

1

1

0

0

.275

Simmons ss

4

0

0

0

0

0

.277

Cron 1b

3

0

0

0

1

0

.223

Maldonado c

3

0

0

0

0

1

.253

Young Jr. lf

3

0

0

0

0

2

.316

Espinosa 2b

3

0

1

0

0

1

.168

Totals 32

2

6

2

1

4

Kansas City

021

100

300

7

15

1

Los Angeles

100

001

000

2

6

1

E—Gordon (1), Calhoun (3). LOB—Kansas City 11, Los Angeles 4. 2B—Merrifield (8), Hosmer (16), Perez (12), A.Escobar (13), Gordon (9). HR—Cain (8), off Nolasco; Gordon (3), off Nolasco. RBIs—Merrifield (24), Cain (23), Hosmer (27), Moustakas 2 (42), Gordon (13), Pujols (46), Y.Escobar (19). DP—Kansas City 1.

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Strahm, W, 2-3

5

3

1

0

1

3

3.67

Alexander, H, 2

2

2

1

1

0

1

1.66

Soria

1

1

0

0

0

0

3.67

Wood

1

0

0

0

0

0

7.30

Los Angeles

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Nolasco, L, 2-8

6

10

5

5

2

4

5.01

Alvarez

 2/3

4

2

2

0

2

5.25

Wright

2 1/3

1

0

0

1

0

4.58

Nolasco pitched to 1 batter in the 7th. Inherited runners-scored—Alvarez 1-1, Wright 2-0. T—2:48. A—34,884 (43,250).

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