Despite offensive, defensive highlights from MJ Melendez, Kansas City Royals lose to Twins

·4 min read
Charlie Riedel/AP

Rookie catcher MJ Melendez showed Friday night why the Kansas City Royals are so high on his future, but they lost because of problems that have plagued them in the past.

Minnesota, the AL Central leaders, scored three runs in the first inning and held on for a 6-4 victory in front of an announced crowd of 25,337 at Kauffman Stadium, the largest turnout since opening day.

The first-inning bugaboo has been an ongoing problem, and despite getting a run back in their half of the frame, the Royals have been outscored 37-11 in the opening inning this season.

Melendez, 23, singled in the first inning and hit a ball a projected 353 feet off the right-field wall with one out in the fourth. He turned on the jets and, even though the ball would’ve been a home run in 22 MLB ballparks, cruised into third with a stand-up triple.

“The one handed hit off the wall , we’ve seen that,” Matheny said. “He hit the ball basically with one hand out of the park the other day, and today he was completely one-handed and it’s midway off the top of the fence. Just the amount of hand power and wrist strength that he has is is very unique.

“And that’s off a left-handed pitcher, too. He’s putting together some good at-bats all the way through.”

Unfortunately, the Royals’ inability to get hits with runners in scoring position bit them again. Carlos Santana and Emmanuel Rivera grounded out weakly and Melendez was stranded at third.

The Royals, who entered the game batting .211 with runners in scoring position, were 0 for 7 in that situational hitting on Friday night.

That included a Melendez strikeout with a runner on second in the sixth inning.

But Melendez flashed his defensive skills, as he threw a frozen rope to catch a would-be base stealer.

“He is doing it all well. He’s blocking the ball,” Matheny said “He’s still calling a really good game. He’s got an idea of why for every pitch that he’s calling. He’s a very good student of the game right now.”

After the seventh inning stretch, the Royals chipped away at a 4-1 deficit. Santana opened with a home run and Rivera singled. After an out, Kyle Isbel slashed an RBI double to right field.

But with runners on second and third, Twins reliever Jhoan Duran got Whit Merrifield to hit a sacrifice fly to center, and Andrew Benintendi struck out looking.

Minnesota scored twice in the top of the eighth against Dylan Coleman and restored the three-run lead.

Rivera clubbed a 421-foot homer in the ninth for the game’s final run.

Lynch struggles early

Royals starter Daniel Lynch opened the game by throwing six straight pitches out of the strike zone. After Byron Buxton walked, Carlos Correa and Kyle Garlick singled.

Following an out, Gary Sanchez doubled home a run and Gio Urshela followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.

Lynch threw 32 pitches in the first inning and 15 were for strikes. He lasted just 3 2/3 innings and gave up four earned runs. It was the most runs he’s allowed since his season debut on April 12.

Matheny said Lynch’s back was bothering him Thursday but he was cleared to start. Lynch said it was a back spasm, but had nothing to do with his start.

“I‘m not really sure what was going on (early), just seemed like the fastball, the command wasn’t great,” Lynch said. “It’s frustrating because I felt like after that I actually threw the ball pretty well, and I felt good.

“I was able to reel it back in and start making pitches and getting outs, but the pitch count got up there, and I just wasn’t able to do as much as I’d like to.”

Dairon’s debut

Dairon Blanco, 29, made his major-league debut Friday night, starting in center field for the Royals,

Blanco, who signed as an international free agent with Oakland in 2017, was acquired by the Royals in a 2019 trade with the A’s for pitcher Jake Diekman.

A native of Cuba, Blanco was batting .263 with 17 walks in 31 games with Triple-A Omaha this season.

In the fifth inning, Blanco hit a ball down the third-base line for his first big-league hit, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

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