Matheny’s risk and live attack fuel 10th win

Call KC Royals manager Mike Matheny’s Wednesday launch strategy reckless, unorthodox, ill-conceived or downright bewildering. Call it something else, if you wish. But however you label it, the way Matheny approached his club’s game in Texas was risky.

With his team facing a grueling test of itself and its bullpen – Wednesday was the sixth of 19 consecutive games without a day off to be followed by an off day and then another 20 contests with just one day off – Matheny elected a bullpen game against Rangers and delegated opening duties to reliever Gabe Speier, boastful of not having started in the big league in 31 previous appearances and none since joining made half a dozen eight seasons ago in the rookie ball.

But big risks sometimes pay off, and Matheny’s latest roll of the dice helped produce a winner on Wednesday.

Speier, who hadn’t conceded a single run in seven appearances this season, did his job well, pulling out all six Rangers he faced in a two-leg opener. Joel Payamps lowered the 2.70 ERA he brought into the game to 2.08 by throwing three scoreless frames. Collin Snider, Taylor Clarke, Scott Barlow and Kris Bubic then held Texas to two runs over the final four innings to convert Kansas City’s bullpen game to an 8-2 bullpen victory.

Thus, Matheny’s strategy paid off; the flip side, of course, is that it ultimately required the services of six relievers from the Royals, meaning they will soon need a long performance from a regular starter.

The collective performance of the Kansas City relievers that night, however, was not the only reason the Royals won their 10th game of the season.

A pair of quiet KC Royals bats and a big pinch hit drove the offense.

This season has been a nightmare for Whit Merrifield and even his most loyal supporters. The veteran Kansas City jack of all trades entered the game 0.139 ERA with just 15 hits and no homers. His OPS was, for Merrifield, an unthinkable .346. A season-long slump has kept in its grip the 496-game (now 497) player whose performance cost him the top spot he had held for so long.

Whether Wednesday will ultimately turn out to be an escape night remains to be seen, but it looked like it.

Merrifield’s first homer of the year, a solo shot in the third, gave the Royals a lead they never relinquished:

And on top of that, he finished 3 for 4 and scored four points.

Then there was Emmanuel Rivera, who unsurprisingly hit Ryan O’Hearn 0 for 4 and 0.087, whose continued tenure on the roster remains a mystery, with the goals loaded in the ninth. Kansas City held a 4-1 lead, but it was the Royals with whom, even late in the game, no lead seemed particularly secure.

Rivera did what O’Hearn probably wouldn’t – he fired a punt triple into the right-hand corner and the usually silent Royals had a much safer six-point lead:

And Bobby Witt Jr., a 1-for-13 disappointment as the first batter entering the game, drove in three runs with a two-run double in the fifth and a defensive pick in the seventh.

Kansas City’s eight runs are more than they’ve managed in any other game this year.

The Royals are targeting a series win at 7:05 p.m. CDT Thursday night. Jon Heasley will make his first start of the season against Taylor Hearn of Rangers.

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