The first batter Jakob Junis faced was the only one to have anything resembling success against the Kansas City Royals right-hander. Even that was apparently somewhat disputable.
Junis struck out four and allowed one run and one hit in three innings in a 4-3 win against the San Diego Padres in Cactus League play on Sunday at Peoria Stadium in Arizona.
The lone run Junis allowed came on a Stitched Kansas City Royals Jerseys solo home run by Trent Grisham on a ball that wrapped around the right-field foul pole to start the bottom of the first.
Or did it?
“I thought it was a pretty good pitch,” Junis said. “… We tried going cutter in and it was in, but he‘s just a guy that can really keep his hands inside. He put a good swing on a good pitch, had a good at-bat. From what I heard, it was foul. During the season, we’d be challenging that. But nonetheless, great at-bat. Just have to tip your cap on that.”
Part of what impressed Junis about Grisham’s at-bats was his ability to fight off or lay off his slider.
Junis didn’t feel like his best pitch was at its best in his first start of the spring, but it was sharper on Sunday.
“I didn’t leave as many over the plate when I was trying to bury them with two strikes,” Junis said. “I threw some really good two-strike ones in the dirt. Even the ones to Grisham that were strike-to-ball but still a little up, I’ll take those all day because that’s all he could do with it was foul it off with a defensive swing.
“Yeah, it was a lot sharper today. I like where I was locating it, and it was good to see that sweeping action on it again.”
Trailing by two heading into the ninth, Royals infielder Emmanuel Rivera tripled and Seuly Matias hit an RBI single to make it a one-run game. Then third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez followed with a two-run homer that provided the margin of victory.
The Royals left 10 men on base in the victory.
“We had to wait for the pups to get it done,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “We left a small village on base with less than two outs, which is great. We end up winning the game. We end up having some guys able to get the job done late. But it initiates a conversation as early as tomorrow on the importance of (situational hitting).”
After he signed as a free agent this offseason, center fielder Michael A. Taylor detailed swing changes he’d made in an attempt for more consistency. In the second spring training since eliminating the leg-kick from his swing and going completely without a stride, he’s feeling a difference.
Taylor said this year is probably the earliest he has felt he had his timing down. He described the effect of his mechanical changes to have his swing “game ready” earlier than in the past.
Taylor homered in the sixth inning off Padres right-hander Dan Altavilla. Taylor now has at least one hit in each of the four Cactus League games he’s played this spring. He has gone 5 for 9 with a double, two homers, four RBIs and three runs scored.
The 29-year-old with seven big-league seasons under his belt, isn’t reading too much into his quick start.
“For me I try to take everything one at-bat at a time,” Taylor said. “If you’re going really good, you don’t want to kind of get too high. Then when you’re going bad, you don’t want to get too down in the dumps. For me, every at-bat I try to hit the reset button and go into my next at-bat with a clean slate.
“It’s always nice when you’re seeing the ball well and you go up there confident, but, like I said, you don’t want to get too high or too low. So the early success is nice, but for me it’s all about the process.”
Infielder/outfielder Erick Mejia hit his first home run of the spring in Saturday’s win against the San Francisco Giants. Mejia went 2 for 2 with a double, a homer and three RBIs. He entered Sunday having gone 3 for 6 in Cactus League play this year.
Mejia, 26, will likely force his way into bench consideration when the Royals finalize their roster at the end of camp.
After an outstanding spring camp in Arizona last year and a strong showing in spring training 2.0/summer camp last year, Mejia made the Opening Day roster. He appeared in just eight games last year.
“He’s always going to be in the mix,” Matheny said of Mejia. “This is the posterboy for versatility, a guy that can play anywhere on the infield, can play the outfield very well, then switch hits. What more could you ask for? He can run. I don’t know if he’s a pure base stealing threat.
“But if you just talk about those different components and the holes that he can fill, his versatility is always going to keep him in the conversation.”
Mejia also got a taste of catching last summer during camp in Kansas City in case he’d ever be called upon in an emergency situation.
The Padres’ starting lineup included former Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and right fielder Wil Myers.
Hosmer won four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and earned an All-Star selection as a member of the Royals. The third overall pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, Hosmer helped form the core of the 2014 AL champion and 2015 World Series champion teams.
Hosmer homered in the fourth inning against Carlos Hernández on Sunday.