The decision that allowed the Royals to snap a 10-game losing streak here on Tuesday was made long before Twins starter Aaron Slegers threw the first pitch of the game.
Royals manager Ned Yost went over his roster and wondered if it was time to give Adalberto Mondesi a day off or if outfielder Jorge Bonifacio needed it more. He decided on Bonifacio, gave Mondesi his fourth start at shortstop in five days and watched from his vantage point in the visiting dugout as he was rewarded for the choice.
On a night the Royals needed oomph to avoid a season-high 11 consecutive losses, Mondesi drove in a career-high four runs to guide the Royals to a 9-4 victory over the Twins.
He worked a 2-2 count against Slegers in the second inning and made him pay for a high fastball, yanking the 90 mph pitch into the right-field concourse for a go-ahead, three-run homer. And after falling behind 0-2 and drawing a walk in his second at-bat, Mondesi smacked the first pitch he saw from Twins reliever Matt Magill up the middle for a two-out RBI hit in the sixth inning.
And it wasn't just the hitting tool he flashed. He showcased his speed, stealing one base in two tries. He made good with his glove, lunging to tag out Logan Morrison when he tried to stretch a double into a triple in the second inning and starting a double play in the seventh to erase the lead-off walk Brian Flynn issued to Twins catcher Mitch Garver.
"It’s fun to watch Mondi," Yost said. "And that double play he turned was just huge. Huge. We were just trying to get outs there, trying to figure out how we would get through that game."
Other than watching Rule 5 acquisition Brad Keller develop into a major-league starter who’s capable of shutting down the playoff-hopeful Mariners — he did that, if you recall that eight-inning complete game in which he allowed one run on six hits and no walks on July 1 — Mondesi’s progress is the most intriguing storyline to watch as the summer drags on and the Royals continue their pace to a franchise-record 115 losses.
Because so much has been made of his potential, it’s easy to forget Mondesi is only 22 years old. He won’t turn 23 for another 17 days.
His strides have been incremental because he’s still learning. He’s spent plenty of time at the computer, studying pitchers and learning from quality control coach Pedro Grifol and others on the staff. He’s pored over scouting reports so often he wasn't sure he could tally the hours accurately.
"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but that's the game," Mondesi told The Star in Spanish. "I know that's what's going to help me. It's not difficult, but it's also not something you get the hang of immediately."
You can see the slowness to adjust in his strikeout rate, as he’s been punched out 18 times in 61 at-bats, and in his .230 batting average.
But as long as they stick with him in the lineup and give him as many consecutive playing days as they can, the Royals' patience with Mondesi should bear fruit. The Royals want Mondesi to play 28 days in a month’s span before the end of the season — and at this rate, he should get there.
"He did a nice job, recognizing spin down and laying off (for a walk)," Yost said. "Those are important (signs) to us. Those are little things people don’t see but we see."
Up next: The Royals, who improved to 26-65, will close this series against the Twins at 12:10 p.m. Wednesday. Rule 5 acquisition Burch Smith will make his first start of the season after being given Jason Hammel's spot in the rotation.
On the starter: Ian Kennedy, reinstated from the disabled list for Tuesday's start, departed after the fourth inning. He missed one start recovering from tightness in his left side and reported no lingering tightness in his last bullpen. But facing his final batter in the third inning, an injury flared up on him again, forcing his removal.
"Good news is that it’s in a different spot and on a scale of one to 10, pain-wise, it’s a two," Yost said. "The bad news is that it’s a two. ... We’re not going to start him Sunday."
Kennedy allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in three innings.
Player of the game: Royals reliever Brian Flynn was pushed into a mosh pit and doused in water in the Royals' clubhouse after the game for his work preserving the 6-2 lead the Royals had when Kennedy departed. Flynn pitched four one-hit innings and allowed two walks.
"We’ve been waiting a long time for this, especially with the early lead we got," said Flynn, who threw 53 pitches and earned the victory. "We just didn’t want (the Twins) to get back in. We wanted to take it to the house."
Play of the game: Mondesi's sweet tag in the second was a product of Morrison daring to run on the vaunted arm of left fielder Alex Gordon. Gordon entered Tuesday with a defensive runs saved (DRS) score of 9, which ranked seventh among all outfielders.
Watch the play below.
Asked why anyone bothers running on Gordon, whose 90 career outfield assists are the most in MLB since 2010, Yost said, "I just hope they keep doing it."