Even after a second dominant outing in three days, Royals lefty reliever Will Smith is keeping one eye on the calendar as it creeps toward Sunday’s flip to September.
The rules permit rosters to expand in September from 25 to a maximum of 40 — and Smith, after shuttling seven times this season between the Royals and Class AAA Omaha, is taking nothing for granted.
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“I hope (I’m here to stay),” he said, “but I’m not going to say anything until Sept. 1.”
It shouldn’t be an issue. The Royals, effectively, solidified Smith’s spot on the roster Wednesday in choosing to option right-handers Louis Coleman and Wade Davis to Hi-A Wilmington.
That figures to be a short-term move; Coleman and Davis are each expected to return Tuesday, one day after Wilmington’s season is projected to end.
Smith validated that decision Thursday by overmatching the Twins in a one-two-three eighth inning that bridged a two-run lead to Greg Holland, who closed out a 3-1 victory for a three-game sweep at Target Field.
“You could say that everything is clicking,” said Smith, who struck out the only two hitters he faced in Tuesday’s victory with the game on the line in the eighth inning.
“It’s just one of those stretches when everything is working for me. They’re swinging at pitches you want them to swing at. It could easily be the other way. They could be taking those pitches.”
The numbers paint Smith as a solid fit in the bullpen after pitching almost exclusively as a starter in his six-year pro career before making the shift earlier this season.
Smith has a 1.83 ERA in nine big-league relief outings after compiling a 2.61 ERA in 18 bullpen appearances at Omaha.
“Pitching in relief,” he said, “is just baseball now. I’m used to it. I guess I’m more used to it now. When I first started, yeah, it was a little different, routine-wise.
“But now, it’s almost second nature to be able to get ready real quick.”
Even so, Sunday can’t get here soon enough.
Maxwell in, Lough sits
Justin Maxwell’s temper flared when hit by a pitch from Minnesota starter Sam Deduno in the second inning. He slammed the bat to the ground before stalking toward first base while chirping at Deduno.
“I know it wasn’t on purpose,” Maxwell said. “But it’s one of those things. I missed two months with a broken hand (earlier in the season). We’re fighting for something here, and I don’t want to miss any more time.”
Maxwell was hit in the right hand in his final at-bat Wednesday by a pitch from Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak. That required X-rays, which proved negative; on Thursday, Maxwell was hit in the triceps.
Umpire Alan Porter and Minnesota catcher Ryan Doumit accompanied Maxwell to first but, other than words, nothing came of it until Twins manager Ron Gardenhire argued a warning issued by Porter.
That led to Gardenhire’s ejection.
It was a costly HBP for Deduno, who went on to surrender three runs in the inning — the only runs the Royals scored in their 3-1 victory.
The situation grew tense again in Maxwell’s next at-bat, in the third inning, when Deduno’s first pitch came in high and tight. Two more pitches crowded Maxwell before Deduno got a strikeout that delighted the crowd.
Oddly, Maxwell, a right-handed hitter, only drew the start Thursday, over lefty-hitting David Lough, because the Royals view Deduno as an atypical right-handed pitcher.
“Deduno is a reverse split guy,” manager Ned Yost said. “I don’t have enough right-handers to put in the lineup against him.”
Officially, Maxwell finished with one hit in three at-bats. He is batting .328 in 21 games since arriving in a July 31 trade from Houston. His overall overall average is .267 in 61 games.
A record 15
By sweeping the three-game series, the Royals finished with a 15-4 advantage over Minnesota in the season series.
And that’s a record.
The Royals had never beaten any team more than 14 times in the same season. They were 14-4 in 1975 against Texas and California; and 14-5 in 2003 against Detroit.
Also, the Royals have never lost more than 14 games in a season to the same team. They were 5-14 against Chicago in 2001, 5-14 against Minnesota in 2002 and 4-14 against Detroit in 2006.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas was noticeably better Thursday in his recovery from strep throat. He nodded and flashed a thumbs-up sign prior to the game when asked how he felt.
Tentative plans call for Moustakas to return Friday to the lineup for the series opener at Toronto. He hasn’t played since leaving in the sixth inning of Monday’s 11-1 victory over Tampa Bay at Kauffman Stadium.
First time since...
Here’s a reminder of how good the late Darrell Porter could be:
When Salvy Perez had two homers and four hits in Wednesday’s 8-1 victory over the Twins, he became the first Royals catcher to accomplish that feat since Porter did it in successive games at Seattle in 1977.
Porter went four for five with two homers and four RBIs on Sept. 7, 1977 in a 10-7 victory at the Kingdome. The next day, he again went four for five with two homers (but just two RBIs) in a 7-2 victory.
Perez didn’t start Thursday primarily because of the quick turnaround from Wednesday’s night game in the steamy weather. He entered as a pinch hitter in the ninth, and got a single, before catching the bottom of the inning.
The Royals entered Thursday with a lead of four stolen bases over Milwaukee in their quest to lead the majors in thefts for the first time since the strike-shortened 1994 season.
Three more steals in Thursday’s victory boosted the Royals’ total to 121 in 133 games, which put them on pace to finish with 147. That would be 15 more than last year but still six fewer than they had in 2011.
The last time the Royals led the majors in a full season was 1979 when, aided by Willie Wilson’s club-record 83 steals, they finished with 207. They also led the majors in 1978 and 1971.
Lo-A Lexington’s Daniel Stumpf was picked as the best left-handed pitcher in the South Atlantic League after going 10-9 with a 3.03 ERA in 24 starts.
Stumpf, 22, was a ninth-round pick in 2012 who switched this year to starting after compiling a 1.55 ERA last season in 19 relief appearances for short-season Burlington in the Appalachian League.
Surprise infielder Samir Duenez, 18, was picked as the designated hitter on the Arizona Rookie League all-star team. A 2012 international signing, he is batting .294 in 47 games.
It was 32 years ago Friday — Aug. 30, 1981 — that Dick Howser replaced Jim Frey as the Royals’ manager. The Royals went 20-13 over the remainder of the season and qualified for postseason.
Howser also guided the Royals to the American League West crown in 1984 and to their only World Series title in 1985. He was diagnosed in 1986 with brain cancer and died in 1987.
The Royals retired his No. 10 in 1987 and inducted him into their Hall of Fame.