Eric Hosmer’s emergence, Kelvin Herrera’s return bode well for Royals in ALCS

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Eric Hosmer had nine homers and a 93/35 K/BB ratio in 131 games this season. After going deep again in Sunday’s victory, he’s hitting .400 with two homers and a 4/5 K/BB ratio in four postseason games for the ALCS-bound Royals.

And that’s pretty much the best thing that could have happened to Kansas City’s offense, especially considering that Hosmer was going to occupy the cleanup spot whether he hit or not. Manager Ned Yost has used the exact same starting lineup 12 straight games now.

Obviously, Yost is very much a “don’t mess with what’s working” sort of manager, and since his team is winning (10-2 with the set lineup), nothing figures to change in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Orioles, even though it’d probably make sense to sit Billy Butler, use Norichika Aoki as a DH and give Jarrod Dyson a start against a tough righty in Chris Tillman.

Other thoughts on the Royals:

– Kelvin Herrera, who left Thursday’s Game 1 with a forearm problem, seemed just fine in throwing a scoreless inning in Sunday’s Game 3. His presence will be huge with several ALCS games likely to turn into battles of the bullpens. The Royals still have the edge there with Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland set to work the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but it’s a smaller one against the Orioles than it would be against any other playoff team. Baltimore will counter with Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton at the end of games.

– With Herrera proving healthy, the Royals might not make any roster changes prior to the ALCS. They have the option of going with lefty Raul Ibanez over righty Josh Willingham as a bat off the bench, which might make sense given the short right field in Camden Yards. However, Willingham actually has better career numbers at the park, for what little it’s worth. Another option would be to go with utilityman Jayson Nix in that spot, but they’d only do that if they were worried about Omar Infante’s shoulder.

– By winning early, the Royals have the ability to set up their ALCS rotation however they’d like. They could even bring Game 3 winner James Shields back for the opener Friday, though they probably won’t. It make more sense to stick with the ALDS alignment, with Jason Vargas in Game 1, Yordano Ventura in Game 2 and Shields in Game 3. That would prevent anyone from having to go too long in between starts, and it’d set up Shields to start a potential Game 7. It’d also clear the way for Ventura, who has the best pure stuff and gives up the fewest homers of the starters, to pitch twice in Camden Yards. Game 4 will probably be Jeremy Guthrie over Danny Duffy, but that can always be decided later.

Maddon: Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again for Angels this year

Shohei Ohtani
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Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again this season for the Los Angeles Angels after straining his right forearm in his second start, manager Joe Maddon says.

Ohtani likely will return to the Angels’ lineup as their designated hitter this week, Maddon said Tuesday night before the club opened a road series against the Seattle Mariners.

The Angels’ stance on Ohtani is unsurprising after the club announced he had strained the flexor pronator mass near the elbow of his pitching arm. The two-way star’s recovery from the strain requires him to abstain from throwing for four to six weeks, which covers most of the shortened 2020 season.

“I’m not anticipating him pitching at all this year,” Maddon said. “Any kind of throwing program is going to be very conservative.”

Ohtani was injured Sunday in the second inning of his second start since returning to the mound following Tommy John surgery in late 2018. Ohtani issued five walks during the 42-pitch inning against the Houston Astros, with his velocity dropping later in the frame.

The arm injury is another obstacle in Ohtani’s path to becoming the majors’ first true two-way player in decades. He made 10 mound starts as a rookie in 2018 before injuring his elbow, but he served as the Angels’ regular designated hitter last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani has pitched in only three games since June 2018, but the Angels still believe in Ohtani’s ability to be a two-way player, Maddon said.

“I’m seeing that he can,” Maddon said. “We’ve just got to get past the arm maladies and figure that out. But I’ve seen it. He’s just such a high-end arm, and we’ve seen what he can do in the batter’s box. Now maybe it might get to the point where he may choose to do one thing over the other and express that to us. I know he likes to hit. In my mind’s eye, he’s still going to be able to do this.”

The veteran manager believes Ohtani will benefit from a full spring training and a normal season. Ohtani wasn’t throwing at full strength for a starter when the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training in March because he wasn’t expected to pitch until May as he returned from surgery.

“Going into a regular season with a normal number of starts and all the things that permit guys to be ready for a year, that’s what we need to see is some normalcy before you make that kind of determination,” Maddon said.

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