Brad Keller sharp, Vinnie Pasquantino HR, Royals beat Tigers in Game 1

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Brad Keller tossed seven strong innings and rookie Vinnie Pasquantino homered and drove in a pair of runs as the Kansas City Royals beat the Detroit Tigers 3-1 in the opener of a split doubleheader.

Injured Royals infielder Whit Merrifield didn’t play, ending his consecutive games streak at a franchise-record 553 – it dated to June 24, 2018, and was the longest active string in the majors.

“It’s been a great run for Whit,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s just been impressive the way he’s been able to go about it.”

Merrifield exited Sunday’s game with right toe discomfort. He was fitted with a walking boot and is expected to be placed on the injured list due to a bone bruise and ligament swelling.

“I’ve been lucky . in some instances, but I’ve put myself in a good position to play every day mentality-wise. I showed up to play no matter the circumstance. It’s been a long run and I’m proud of it,” he said.

Keller (5-9) permitted only three singles while fanning eight. He has won three straight starts and four of his last five.

“I felt pretty good out there,” Keller said. “I had good command with my fastball and my slider. I tried to run with it as long as I could. Whenever you get a good feel for the fastball you can go after guys, especially on a hot day like today. I didn’t want the defense to stand out there too long. Obviously, strike one was really important today.”

Said Matheny: “That’s two times these guys have seen him and he was really sharp and aggressive.”

“We talk about it all the time. It’s pitching with aggressiveness, trusting the fact that his stuff is better than average. His changeup was good at times. His slider was good to get swings and misses. He needs days like this,” he said.

Scott Barlow earned his 14th save with a scoreless ninth.

Pasquantino lined the first pitch from Michael Pineda (2-4) into the right-field bullpen with two outs in the fourth to open the scoring. It was his second career homer, both against Pineda, and both on the first pitch in the fourth inning.

“I saw the ball pretty well today,” the Royals first baseman said. “On my first at-bat I wish I would have swung at that outside fastball. It was too close to take. The second at-bat I saw it pretty good and was able to get a good swing on it.”

Pineda said he “tried to execute my fastball and he got it.”

“This is one of the pitches I missed today. I tried to locate my fastball a little more away because I know he wanted to swing,” he said.

Pasquantino broke a 1-all tie with a sixth-inning single that drove in fellow rookie Bobby Witt Jr., who had two hits and stole two bases.

“I was really happy with being able to stay on it and go the other way,” Pasquantino said. “It’s something I’ve been working on. I finally did it and I’m happy about that. My approach was what I wanted it to be.”

Matheny liked what he saw.

“He put up so many RBIs in Triple-A and all through the minor leagues,” Matheny said. “It’s not a fluke. There are certain guys who thrive when they get guys on base. He got a man in scoring position and he used the (whole) field to bring him in. That’s how big innings happen and that’s how you come through in those situations, not trying to do too much.”

Pineda worked into the sixth inning for only the second time in eight starts, allowing seven hits and three runs.

“I want to say I threw the ball good today,” Pineda said. “I know I could be better. I missed a couple of pitches.”

Riley Greene had two of Detroit’s four singles and scored their lone run in the sixth on Keller’s two-out wild pitch.

“(Keller) was cutting it pretty good,” Greene said. “His pitches were working today. He was throwing all three pitches for strikes, throwing the curveball and slider pretty good. He was throwing pitches that were hard to hit.”

TWINBILLS

Monday’s doubleheader was the Tigers’ sixth of the season, second most in the majors behind Cleveland’s seven.

TRANSACTIONS

Royals LHP Daniel Lynch was reinstated from the injured list to start the second game. LHP Foster Griffin was designated for assignment.

UP NEXT

RHP Beau Brieske (2-6, 4.16 ERA) takes the mound for Detroit on Tuesday against LHP Kris Bubic (1-6, 6.84).

 

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.