Yuck! Royals drop another to Yanks, look to salvage finale vs. Big Unit

Jeremy Affeldt stunk again on Wednesday.

At least the new uniforms looked sharp on Wednesday. So did the offense in the early going, as the Royals jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, courtesy of Reggie Sanders' third home run of the season and an RBI double off the center field wall by Emil Brown. Unfortunately, the Yankees answered immediately, as Jeremy Affeldt walked the first two batters and surrendered a three-run homer to Gary Sheffield before he even recorded an out. The Royals' first early lead of the season was gone in an instant, and Affeldt stunk his way through 3.1 innings while staking the Yanks to three more runs.

RC just doesn't see anything out of Affeldt, and we haven't for a couple years now. He no longer throws mid-90s heat, his curveball is only a fraction of what it once was, and his control deteriorates further every time he takes the mound. For most of his outing, he seemed content throwing nothing but straight fastballs, and he couldn't even locate those. We saw a total of four curveballs, and only one or two of those were even quality pitches. Needless to say, we have no optimism whatsoever that Affeldt will ever regain the form that caught the attention of the league when he emerged from obscurity several years ago, and we hope the Affeldt-as-a-starter experiment will end sooner rather than later. As a matter of fact, we wouldn't mind seeing the Affeldt-as-a-Royal experiment end shortly thereafter.

Mark Redman is scheduled to make another rehab start for Omaha on Sunday, and if all goes well, he should be ready to go on April 21. Affeldt and Joe Mays are the leading candidates to be replaced in the rotation upon his return, and if we had our druthers, it would be the former.

The Royals try again today, sending Denny Bautista to the hill to face Randy Johnson. On paper this looks like a mismatch, but if Bautista can duplcate his performance last Saturday, the Royals just might be able to escape the Bronx with a victory and a 3-5 record. The task is a difficult one, particularly since neither Mike Sweeney or David DeJesus will play, but if they happen to catch Johnson on the right day, anything could happen. Esteban German will make his first start of the season in place of Mark Teahen, and DeJesus is expected back this weekend in Tampa after participating in pre-game drills this week.

  • High Desert Mavericks announcer Jon Rosen is back with an exclusive RC report on pitching prospects Luis Cota and Billy Buckner. Cota was roughed up in his first California League start on Saturday, and Buckner on Tuesday turned in his second stellar outing of the spring. Rosen reports:

    "There's not much to write about Luis Cota - he just didn't throw strikes Saturday night. It's tough to pitch at any stadium when you start out every batter 2-0. At Mavericks Stadium, it's suicidal. He's a professional, though, and what I've seen of him so far is that he's very level - no highs or lows. He should be ready to put up a good line [Thursday] night against a weaker Rancho Cucamonga lineup.

    Luis Cota struggled in his first start of the season.

    "Billy Buckner was stellar against Rancho last night, even more so than in the opener. His only blemish was his lone walk of the night - it led off the fifth inning against Matt Pali, who is in his second year in the Cal League and came around to score on a one-out single. He struck out eight, including the last batter in the third and all three guys in the fourth while relying heavily on his curve, especially in the later innings. Rancho's leadoff batter (who was 2-4 with two doubles and three runs scored the previous night) just froze up against all of Buck's nasty breaking stuff, striking out three times, twice looking at nasty benders. The over/under for starts Buckner makes in the Cal League is officially set at six."

    Thanks for the report, Jon, and we continue to look forward to your updates throughout the season.
  • Wednesday

    Why must this always happen?

    The Official Baby of RC has never seen the Royals win in Yankee Stadium.

    The Royals haven't won in the Bronx since 2002. Today RC watched as the Royals dismantled the Yankees for seven innings, and we were wildly optimistic that their dreaded 11-game losing streak in New York would come to an end. But alas, it was not to be, as the bullpen coughed up a three-run lead in the eighth, and the Royals lost their 12th straight game in the Bronx, 9-7.

    This game was eerily reminiscent of a game last August, when the Royals took a 7-3 lead at Yankee Stadium into the ninth inning, only to see Jeremy Affeldt and Shawn Camp blow it by allowing five runs. After that game, RC unleashed our fury on Affeldt, who recorded only one out while allowing four runs.

    The goat in today's game was Andrew Sisco, who did the exact same thing (0.1 IP, 4 R). However, we're not going to get too down on Sisco. We expected Sisco to struggle a bit this season, and it's not terribly surprising that he'd have a outing like this after pitching above his head last year. And to tell the truth, Sisco didn't even look that bad today. He appeared to strike out Jason Giambi twice (on 2-2 and 3-2 counts), but he couldn't get a call from the home plate umpire to save his life, and Giambi was instead awarded a deadly leadoff walk. The pitch that Hideki Matsui hit for a single during the next at bat was a decent offering on the outside corner, and it would have been a routine one-hopper to second had Mark Grudzielanek not been at double-play depth. The only truly poor sequence was to Jorge Posada, who walked on five pitches to load the bases.

    Buddy Bell is taking some heat from Royals fans tonight for bringing in Sisco after Elmer Dessens had dominated the previous two innings on just 19 pitches, but such talk is silly. RC often advocates going with the hot hand in place of a predetermined plan, but Bell's call for Sisco today was completely logical. The first three batters the Yankees were due to send up in the eighth inning were two lefties (Giambi and Matsui) and a switch hitter (Posada), and Sisco last season was murder against lefties (.216 BAA, .615 OPS). Sisco has earned the opportunity to pitch in that situation, and Bell was right to send him in, early struggles be damned.

    If Sisco continues to struggle, then Bell will be forced to make a change in the way he uses the bullpen. But this early in the season, the best data available to Bell is that which Sisco compiled last season in the setup role (opposed to meaningless spring training stats), and he was absolutely right to summon him from the bullpen today. It sucks to lose a game in such a way, but it's inevitable as the Royals learn who they can and can't count on this season, particularly when they've got such young players in key positions.

    Moving on, there were definitely a few positives to be taken out of today's game. The Royals played a scrappy ballgame and clawed their way out of the 3-0 deficit caused by Joe Mays' ineffectiveness. Reggie Sanders and Shane Costa both hit solo homeruns, and both Mark Teahen and John Buck actually looked pretty good at the plate. Dessens was lights out during his two innings of work, and Mike Wood did an excellent job of keeping the Royals in the ballgame after Mays' early exit.

    Costa returned to the dugout after hitting his homerun today and demanded a nails-and-broken-glass sandwich.

    The Royals try again on Wednesday afternoon in an ESPN-televised game. Affeldt takes the hill vs. Shawn Chacon, so we're not sure what to expect. The Royals could score some runs off of Chacon, and if Affeldt can keep the ball down and throw strikes, the Royals may have a decent chance to snap the losing streak. Odds are that Mike Sweeney will be withheld from the lineup after being plunked in the hand in the ninth inning on Tuesday, so we may see Matt Stairs for the first time this season. As usual, we'll have a full report for you tomorrow night.


    Off-day notes...The Daily Prospect Update returns!

    After taking in Sunday's finale vs. the Chicago White Sox, RC returned to Headquarters in Virginia. Tonight, due to popular demand, we're proud to announce the return of RC's Daily Prospect Update. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Update, it's a free feature RC provides to our readers that tracks the daily progress of the Royals' top prospects in the minor leagues. Every night (most of the time very late), we scan through all the organization's box scores and compile stats and notes from the day's action. The content is then placed into an e-mail and sent to our subscribers' inboxes every morning.

    No longer do you have to search like an animal through the Internet to see how your favorite Royals prospects are doing -- we do it all for you. And this season, we've expanded our list to include the Royals' top 40 prospects, so no significant player is left uncovered.

    To sign up for this outstanding free feature, and to see a sample Daily Prospect Update from last season, simply go to this page and follow the instructions. It takes only a couple minutes to subscribe, and the time it promises to save you this season cannot even be calculated.

  • As we mentioned above, RC on Sunday watched as the White Sox salvaged the series finale vs. the Royals. It was a well-pitched game, with Scott Elarton throwing a very effective eight innings, only to be outmatched by Royals nemesis Mark Buerhle. Elarton induced weak contact all afternoon, the only exception being a 425-foot blast by Jim Thome, and if he continues to pitch like that, he could have a surprising season.

    Offensively, the Royals struggled to string hits together, and the only run was scored on a solo blast by Reggie Sanders. It was Sanders' first dinger of the year, including spring training, and it came in the ninth inning off of Sox closer Bobby Jenks. It would have been a two-run shot had the umpiring crew not overuled a call by third base umpire Bruce Froemming, who initially ruled that Joe Crede dropped a scorching Mike Sweeney line drive in the previous at bat. The correct reversal prompted the afternoon's most entertaining moment, as Buddy Bell came screaming out of the dugout in protest. RC whipped out our official camera and documented the proceedings:

    For more photos of the argument, click here, here, and here.

    On Tuesday the Royals open a three-game set with the Yankees, who are off to a 2-4 start. Joe Mays takes the hill for the opener vs. Chien-Ming Wang, and if his stuff isn't right, it could be a long afternoon for the Royals -- seven Yankees are .300 or better career hitters vs. Mays. On Wednesday Jeremy Affeldt faces off against Shawn Chacon, and Thursday's finale pits Denny Bautista vs. Randy Johnson. The Royals rarely play the Yanks well in the Bronx, but hopefully they can steal a game or two before heading to Tampa Bay over the weekend.

  • There's still no word about who the Royals will start on Friday vs. Tampa Bay, but Runelvys Hernandez certainly didn't help his case on Sunday. Hernandez got knocked around in his start for Omaha, lasting only 3.0 innings while surrendering eight earned runs on seven hits and four walks.

    Elvys was horrible on Sunday for Omaha.

    If Hernandez doesn't get the call for this weekend, there are a few candidates who could make the start instead. Mike Wood or Elmer Dessens could make a spot start, or the Royals could call up J.P. Howell, who pitched brilliantly on Saturday. None is a very appealing option, but we suppose Wood is probably the best bet if the Royals determine Elvys needs more time. It would leave the bullpen a man short (assuming the Royals don't call Joel Peralta up on Friday), and Dessens has been so good out of the pen that we'd hate to see his rhythm disrupted. Furthermore, the organization has made it clear that they want Howell to get a good dose of AAA this season, and we'd prefer they not abandon that plan so early in the season.

    Whatever happens, it will be a short-term solution, as Mark Redman's rehab is ahead of schedule, and it's been reported that Zack Greinke is close to returning to Arizona.

  • The Wichita Eagle on Sunday broke some interesting news about Alex Gordon. It was primarily a profile piece on Gordon, but toward the bottom of the article, it quoted Royals Assistant GM Muzzy Jackson as saying that Gordon could be in Kansas City more quickly than RC ever imagined.

    So how long will he be in Wichita? Probably not long.

    Jackson estimates Gordon could move up to Kansas City in a month or two.

    "It depends on Alex," said Jackson. "He's a guy who has terrific talent, and he had a great spring training. We obviously think he's going to be a fixture and a member of our organization for a long time.

    "... We need a month or two before really being able to gauge if he's major-league ready."

    That certainly comes as a big surprise to us. If Gordon is indeed "major-league ready," does that mean he'll be promoted to Kansas City? That's the way the Eagle interpreted that statement, and the Royals have always said that a player's readiness dictates his movement through the system. Of course, this raises a number of questions and concerns. Primarily, will Mark Teahen get another full season to prove he can hit Major League pitching, or is his leash actually shorter than we thought?

    Could Gordon be in KC this summer?

    Gordon's played exceptionally well throughout spring training and his first week in double-A, but the Royals had better be sure about both his Major League readiness and Teahen's ability before they start his service clock. Gordon is simply too valuable a commodity to rush, and we'd hate to see the Royals lose a year of his services before he's ready to contribute to a competitive Royals team. All told, it's too early to rush to judgement on the basis of one article, but it's definitely something to watch closely.

  • Finally, RC has completed this week's Draft Prospect Update. There was surprising movement on our list, as new information dictated that we make some changes. About a month ago, the Royals were reportedly zeroing in on four collegiate pitchers -- Andrew Miller, Max Scherzer, Ian Kennedy, and Daniel Bard -- for the first overall pick in this year's draft. However, Baseball America last week spoke with Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier, who indicated that the Royals have now expanded their search.

    "There is not one particular player or pitcher that's standing out right now and stepping forward to say, 'I want to be the guy,'" said Ladnier.

    Although Miller remains #1 on our list, there is now more uncertainty than ever about who the Royals will ultimately select. Of course, even when the Royals do identify who they plan to select, they're certainly not going to go public with that information. For all we know, they might even already have a good idea who they're going to draft. Regardless, the draft is just two months away, and we'll continue to track the progress of the nation's top collegiate talent.