Going into Monday night’s game in Oakland, the Kansas City Royals found themselves a single game over .500 and badly in need of a win to remain relevant in the American League Central Division race. The Cleveland Indians, having won earlier, had a 5.5 game cushion over the Royals in the division. The streaking Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins were both idle. This gave the Royals an opportunity to make up a half game on both teams in the Wild Card race. Two Royals rookies rose to the challenge with game-changing performances against the A’s.
Royals Rookies Rose to Challenge
The fifth spot in the rotation has been an issue for the Royals for most of the season. Injuries to Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Nate Karns, and now Trevor Cahill have forced them to rely on rookies. Veteran Chris Young got a couple of spot starts early in the season when Duffy went on the DL, but was ineffective. Rookie Eric Skoglund was called up from Omaha for a start in late May and went 6.1 innings without giving up a single run, but struggled in his two subsequent starts. Travis Wood made a start, but wasn’t good enough to get a second. Rookie Matt Strahm made three starts with mixed success before being injured and then traded.
Rookie Jake Junis made his eighth start of the season last night, just his second since being recalled from Omaha because of the recent injury to Cahill. For the second consecutive start, Junis did exactly what the Royals needed him to: keep them in the game. Jake turned in a quality start, going six innings and only giving up four hits and two runs. He showed some signs of fatigue in the sixth, hitting two consecutive batters, the second of which brought in a run. With the bases loaded and one out, Junis regained his composure and got out of the inning without giving up another run. In his two starts since being recalled, he has two quality starts and an ERA of 1.93 in 14 innings pitched.
The Sixth was Grand
As good as Junis was, he was still overshadowed be fellow rookie Cam Gallagher. Gallagher was called up from Triple-A Omaha when Gold Glover Salvador Perez went on the DL. This was just the third start for the 24-year-old catcher, but he made the most of the opportunity. In the sixth inning, with the Royals holding a narrow 2-1 lead, Cam made his 12th career plate appearance. With the bases loaded, the count full, and two outs, he got a fastball middle-in and drove it into the left field bleachers. He became only the second player in Royals history to hit a grand slam for his first career home run. In the ninth inning, he added a double to center to an already memorable night.
Here to Stay
Injuries have forced the Royals to rely on rookies for most of the season. At 0.5 games back in the Wild Card race and five games back in the division race, they will need additional contributions if they want to make a run at the postseason. Junis will likely be the fifth starter for the remainder of the season. The Royals hope to have Perez back before the end of August, but Gallagher will be on September roster as the Royals make their push for the playoffs.