Royals beat Jays 3-1 with 10 unvaccinated players absent

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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TORONTO – Angel Zerpa pitched five solid innings, Bobby Witt Jr. hit a tiebreaking homer and the Kansas City Royals overcame the absence of 10 unvaccinated players to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-1 on Thursday night.

“One of the best wins of the year, all things considered,” manager Mike Matheny said.

Nate Eaton homered in his big league debut as the Royals won for the fifth time in six games.

Foreign nationals who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 are not allowed to enter Canada, save for limited exceptions that require a 14-day quarantine. Unvaccinated baseball players are placed on the restricted list, which means they are not paid and do not accrue major league service time.

Among the 10 players on Kansas City’s 26-man roster who stayed home were All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi, two-time All-Star Whit Merrifield, future cornerstones Kyle Isbel and MJ Melendez and outfielder Michael A. Taylor.

Also barred were first baseman Hunter Dozier, right-handed starters Brad Keller and Brady Singer, reliever Dylan Coleman and backup catcher Cam Gallagher.

“We just abide by the rules that are given to us,” Matheny said before the game. “It’s not how we’d design it but it is where we are and now we move forward.”

The Royals recalled infielder Nick Pratto and selected Eaton, infielder Michael Massey, catcher Freddy Fermin and outfielder Brewer Hicklen from Triple-A Omaha. Infielder Maikel Garcia, catcher Sebastian Rivero and left-hander Zerpa were recalled from Double-A Northwest Arkansas.

Pratto was in the starting lineup at first base and Eaton was in center field with Rivero catching Zerpa (2-0), who allowed one run and four hits, walked two and struck out two in the second start of his career and first this season.

“Every time we’ve seen him he looks like a top-shelf starter,” Matheny said. “He came in today against an all right-handed lineup that’s a very potent lineup and kept making good pitches all the way through. It was just a great display of pitching.”

Jackson Kowar pitched two innings, Taylor Clarke handled the eighth and Scott Barlow finished for his 16th save in 18 chances.

Eaton’s mother and brother were sitting behind Kansas City’s first base dugout, giving them a great view of his homer.

“Right around second base I was jogging and the only voice I could hear was my mom screaming,” Eaton said. “It was awesome. Those are the people that have been there my entire life and sacrificed so much for me to get to this point. Without them, I couldn’t have been here. To make them proud is pretty awesome.”

Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman (6-7) started for the first time since taking a line drive off his ankle in a July 2 start against Tampa Bay. Gausman allowed two runs and seven hits in six innings. He walked two and struck out six.

“Great to get him back out there before the (All-Star) break,” new Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “We liked what we saw, obviously. Everything was there as it usually is. Just a couple bad pitches.”

Nicky Lopez doubled off Gausman to begin the fifth and scored on a base hit by Edward Olivares, who was thrown out trying for a double. Witt followed with his 13th home run.

Toronto’s Matt Chapman homered off Zerpa in the bottom half, his 14th, but Eaton restored the two-run cushion by connecting off Anthony Banda in the ninth.

TWO-WIN WEEK

Zerpa earned his first career victory with two scoreless innings of relief against Detroit in Game 2 of Monday’s doubleheader. He made one start last season, allowing two unearned runs in five innings.

REINFORCEMENT REPORT

Keller, who started Monday, can be replaced Friday. Singer, who last pitched Wednesday, can be replaced for Sunday’s series finale.

ALSO ABSENT

Royals Pitching coach Cal Eldred, assistant hitting coach Keoni De Renne and bullpen catcher Parker Morin also did not travel. Triple-A Omaha manager Scott Thorman was brought along to assist Matheny’s staff.

RUNNING WILD

Olivares, one of Kansas City’s remaining regulars, didn’t get the Royals off to a positive start. After opening the game with a single, he broke for second but lost sight of Witt’s liner to right, turned for third and was doubled off first by 120 feet. Olivares was later thrown out trying to steal second, then thrown out trying to stretch out a double. Hicklen ran for Olivares after he singled in the eighth, but got caught in a rundown between second and third.

QUICK STARTERS

Eaton is the fourth player in Royals history to homer in his first game, joining Ryan O'Hearn (2018 against the White Sox), Mark Quinn (1999 against the Angels) and Clint Hurdle (1977 against Seattle).

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: LHP Yusei Kikcuhi (neck) will throw a second bullpen session Friday. Kikuchi has been out since July 6.

UP NEXT

Royals RHP Zack Grienke (3-5, 4.52 ERA) starts Friday against Blue Jays RHP Alek Manoah (9-4, 2.34). Manoah is 2-0 in two career starts against the Royals, covering 13 scoreless innings.

Phillies’ Bryce Harper to miss start of season after elbow surgery

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PHILADELPHIA – Phillies slugger Bryce Harper will miss the start of the 2023 season after he had reconstructive right elbow surgery.

The operation was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.

Harper is expected to return to Philadelphia’s lineup as the designated hitter by the All-Star break. He could be back in right field by the end of the season, according to the team.

The 30-year-old Harper suffered a small ulnar collateral ligament tear in his elbow in April. He last played right field at Miami on April 16. He had a platelet-rich plasma injection in May and shifted to designated hitter.

Harper met Nov. 14 with ElAttrache, who determined the tear did not heal on its own, necessitating surgery.

Even with the elbow injury, Harper led the Phillies to their first World Series since 2009, where they lost in six games to Houston. He hit .349 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 17 postseason games.

In late June, Harper suffered a broken thumb when he was hit by a pitch and was sidelined for two months. The two-time NL MVP still hit .286 with 18 homers and 65 RBIs for the season.

Harper left Washington and signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in 2019. A seven-time All-Star, Harper has 285 career home runs.

With Harper out, the Phillies could use Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber at designated hitter. J.T. Realmuto also could serve as the DH when he needs a break from his catching duties.