Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny knows one name for sure that he’ll put on the lineup card Thursday night for his team’s final game of a three-game series against the visiting Cleveland Indians.
The one name he knows: second baseman Whit Merrifield, who has played in 465 consecutive games and is fully expected — and expecting — to finish the season at 469.
The name that remains to be seen: catcher Salvador Perez, who leads the majors in home runs (48) and RBIs (121).
Perez homered Wednesday night as the Royals downed the Indians 10-5 for their second straight win of the series. But he had to leave the game in the third inning due to a sprained right ankle he sustained after he slipped on the bottom step of the dugout at the end of the first.
Perez said he expects to be ready to play Thursday for the Royals (73-85), but Matheny wasn’t as confident.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll have a long, intense talk soon,” Matheny said.
While Perez might not be in the lineup Thursday, Merrifield has been a constant for the Royals, playing every game since a day off on June 24, 2018. Matheny said longevity streaks are what happens when a player approaches the game the way Merrifield does.
“Whit has the unique ability to continue to handle the demands of this game and do it at a high level,” Matheny said. “We’re talking about Gold Glove-caliber defense with playing every single day. There are very rare days at DH. But he’s done a really good job. He’s improved all the way around.
“He looks ready to go every day. If you’re trying to force something, or if we’re throwing him in there because there’s a streak, that’s not fair to the game, it’s not fair to the player, it’s not fair to our team. That has never been the case. He goes out with the same energy and enthusiasm, and he goes out and produces.”
Right-hander Shane Bieber (7-4, 3.17 ERA) will get his final start of the season for the Indians (77-81). The Royals will send lefty Angel Zerpa to the mound to the mound to make his major-league debut.
Bieber will make his second start since his return from a stay of more than three months on the injured list due to a right-shoulder strain. The 2020 American League Cy Young Award winner threw three no-hit innings in a 1-0 loss to the White Sox on Friday. He was limited to 34 pitches by interim manager DeMarlo Hale as he works his way back.
“We’re trying to jump him up 12 to 15,” Hale said of the goal for Thursday’s game. “Hopefully, he’s efficient enough that’s through four innings or three innings. Our main concern is that he gets out of it healthy and feeling pretty good. This will be his last start, so going into the offseason, I think it’s important for him to have that mindset preparing for next year without worry about anything he went through this season.”
Bieber is 0-0 with a 3.65 in two starts against the Royals this season. For his career, he’s 4-0 with a 3.69 ERA in nine starts.
Zerpa, who turned 22 on Monday, started the season at High-A Quad Cities, then moved up the Double-A Northwest Arkansas and finally made one start at Triple-A Omaha, where he allowed three runs in 1 1/3 innings. For the season, he was a combined 4-4 with a 4.58 ERA. He struck out 108 and walked 28 in 88 1/2 innings.
MLB Pipeline rated him the 19th-best prospect in the Royals’ system, stating, “A natural strike-thrower, Zerpa can generate weak contact with his fastball, which now sits 94-96 — up significantly from previous years. He has a breaking ball that’s more of a slider shape, one that’s hard and lands sharply, and commands the pitch well. His mid-80s changeup has good drop and plays well off the fastball. Zerpa’s delivery is from a lower arm slot, which makes it hard for hitters to pick the ball out of his hand.”
–Field Level Media