Royals manager Ned Yost reacts to a 9-0 loss in the series finale in Miami
Royals All-Star second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield won’t likely grab a microphone and burst into a Bill Belichick-esque monotone chant of “No days off” anytime soon, but he fully expects to find his name in the lineup each day as his club plays out its final 18 games of the season.
Merrifield, one of two Royals to play in every game this season, entered the final three weeks of 2019 leading the majors with 184 hits through Sunday’s game. Last season, he became just the third player since World War II to lead the majors in both hits and steals.
Now, Merrifield is making a bid to be the first player since Ichiro Suzuki (2006-10) to lead the majors in hits in back-to-back seasons.
“I’m just trying to get to 200 hits,” Merrifield said. “Two hundred hits is my goal. That was a goal from the beginning. If it so happens that that leads the league, great. But 200 hits has always been a goal of mine. I feel like I have a pretty real chance of accomplishing it this year. I can control that. I can’t control if guys go 5 for 5 everyday from here on out.”
He’s batting .306 with a .354 on-base percentage, a .473 slugging percentage, 16 home runs, 72 RBIs and 94 runs scored.
Merrifield remains on pace to reach the 200-hit plateau for the first time in his career — he led the majors with 192 last year — and could be the seventh player in franchise history with 200 hits and 100 runs scored.
“It’s a big milestone,” Merrifield said of 200 hits. “It’s a lot of hits in a season. It’s something that not a lot of guys have done, especially recently with the analytics and guys trying to walk and getting lots off days. It just doesn’t happen as much anymore.
“With specialists in the bullpen, starters not going as long, you’re lucky to face a guy three times in a game. Getting a hit is becoming very difficult, so to do it would be a huge accomplishment — not only playing well all year, but staying healthy long enough to do it.”
Merrifield also views playing in all 162 games as another big benchmark he’d be proud to reach this season. He played 158 games last season and 145 in 2017.
He and Jorge Soler have played in every game this season, and Soler has broken the franchise’s single-season home run record.
“Two hundred hits, for me that’s an elite level,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “A chance to lead the league in hits two years in a row. He’s got a chance to lead all of baseball in hits too. Of course I’m not going to give him a day off. As long as he’s feeling good, as long as he’s healthy, I’m going to give him every opportunity to try to accomplish that.
“It’s the same thing with Soler. I’m not taking any at-bats away from Soler. I want to see how many homers he can hit. Those guys are going to have priority at-bats. They’re going to be in there every single day. Plus, they’re two of our better players and we’re trying to win games. Why would I sit them?”
Following September call-ups that expanded the Royals’ roster to 33, Yost has had to get creative with lineups in order to find playing time for newcomers such as first baseman/outfielder Ryan McBroom and infielder/outfielder Erick Mejia, combined with Adalberto Mondesi coming off the injured list the mid-August promotion of outfielder Brett Phillips.
Nicky Lopez can play both middle infield positions, but Mondesi will get the lion’s share of the time at shortstop, and Merrifield will likely get most of his time at second base considering the outfield logjam that includes Alex Gordon, Bubba Starling, Phillips, Soler (if not at DH) and Hunter Dozier (when not at third base) with Mejia and McBroom factoring in as well. Though Merrifield started Sunday’s game in center field.
“I’ll figure it out,” Yost said.