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Old 04-12-2005, 07:35 AM  
AirForceChief AirForceChief is offline
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Posnanski: Ever the Optimist...

But, today anyway, I'm too of the opinion that the Kool-Aid is half full!

Keep an eye on Big Three

JOE POSNANSKI


Monday was a good day. Yes, it's true the Royals lost 8-2, their worst home opener loss ever, a matching bookend to their worst-ever opening day loss in Detroit one week earlier. Yes, the Royals' bullpen fell apart. Yes, the Royals played some sloppy defense. Yes, the Royals' lineup was overmatched by a Seattle pitcher named Ryan Franklin, who won four and lost 16 a year ago.

Yes, yes and yes.

It was still a good day. The sun was out. A cool breeze blew. The largest crowd ever to watch a Royals opener squeezed into Kauffman Stadium. Buck O'Neil, dressed to the nines, sat in his usual seat behind home plate and signed autographs after the game.

And Royals starter Runelvys Hernandez looked terrific.

We are only one week into this baseball season, but if you're willing to take a chance, be a fan, forget the past, suspend your cynicism for just a moment, you might see that something pretty special might be happening to this Royals team.

That something special comes down to three pitchers. The Royals already have the best 21-year-old pitching prospect on earth: Zack Greinke.

On Friday, in Anaheim, a 24-year-old Royals pitcher named Denny Bautista threw a 97-mph fastball and a dirty slider and an alluring change-up and so thoroughly overwhelmed the Angels that teammate Brian Anderson called it “a joke.”

“The Angels are a pretty good team,” Anderson says. “They won the West last year. They're thinking about the World Series this year. And they were waving the white flag. … If he throws like that, I mean, how are you going to hit it?”

Then, on Monday, in the home opener, Hernandez threw seven utterly dominating innings against Seattle. He either tired or lost concentration in the eighth — he gave up a two-run homer to last year's home-run champ, Adrian Beltre, in the eighth inning (“I made one bad pitch,” he would say). He was still awfully good. In fact, it was the second straight outing he was awfully good.

That makes three gifted young pitchers.

You could build a pretty good team around three gifted young pitchers.

“That's the plan,” Royals general manager Allard Baird says. “Of course, it's one thing to come up with a plan on paper and tell everybody, ‘We want to develop great young pitching.' It's a whole other thing to go out there and actually do it. But I think we are beginning to see the results.”

The three pitchers are as different as the Osmonds. Greinke is offbeat, off-center, and he bewilders hitters with 28 pitching flavors and pitches that hit more corners than the New York hot dog vendors.

Bautista is an Xbox pitcher come to life. His variety of pitches sounds like the marshmallows you would find in Lucky Charms — blazing fastballs, nasty sliders, swooping curveballs, yellow moons and dazzling change-ups. He can make major-league hitters look bad with any pitch. He has a chance to be … you can finish that sentence. He has a chance to be just about anything.

And then there's Hernandez. Two years ago, in 2003, he was for one month the best pitcher in baseball. Now, it's true, a lot of people have been good for a month. And then Hernandez began to struggle, and then it was obvious he was hurt, and then he had Tommy John surgery on his elbow. He missed all of last year. There was no telling how he would respond.

In his first game back, last Wednesday in Detroit, he was brilliant. He pitched seven innings. He gave up one run. But those are just numbers. Monday, we saw him. For seven innings, he pitched an almost identical game. But now we could see how he did it. He did it with a mid-90s fastball and a slider he seems to be throwing harder than he did before the surgery and a whole lot of attitude.

Yes, Hernandez brings a little meanness to the mound. He backs hitters off the plate. He challenges them with his best stuff. He plays king of the mountain out there — there seems no doubt in Runelvys Hernandez's mind every minute of the day that he's the baddest pitcher on earth, and nobody can touch him.

A little bit of that goes off the field, too. Hernandez went to the clubhouse in the ninth inning — he didn't want to see the end of the 8-2 loss. He did not want to talk after the game either; he was angry. He had to be calmed down and brought back to the swarm of reporters, where he calmly answered questions while his son Runelvys Jr. snuggled up to him. Then, when the cameras and reporters dispersed, he kissed his son and said, “I love you always.”

“He brings that intensity to the mound,” Baird says. “He has to harness that, but I think he's getting more and more mature. The thing is, when he takes that mound, Runelvys is a competitor. He will die for you out there.”

There is the core of the Royals' future. Three pitchers. The Oakland Athletics did all right with three pitchers. So did the Atlanta Braves. This is how the Royals hope to ride out of 10 years in the baseball desert. This is how the Royals hope to beat the system.

“I know it's hard for fans to believe in this stuff now,” says Brian Anderson. He does know. He's been in the big leagues for 12 years. He's pitched great, he's pitched lousy, he has a World Series ring, he's been on a team that lost 104. But more, he's a huge sports fan — a Cleveland Browns fan, a Nebraska Cornhuskers fan, and so on. He knows more than a little bit about rebuilding projects and false hope and what it feels like to have your team lose again and again.

“I know there are fans who will say, ‘Oh yeah, we've heard this all before.' That's just the nature of being a fan, especially a fan where a team hasn't won for a long time. … But here's what I'll say: The talent is here. It's all unknown right now. But I'm telling you, we've got some young pitchers here who have a chance to be more than just good.

“People want to win right now. I know that. I appreciate that. But this is where we are. Fans can stand back, play wait and see, sure. But they could also jump on now, watch these kids grow up, and say, ‘I was there all along.' Because I'm telling you right now, this is happening, and it's happening fast. This team is going to be good.”

Monday was a good day. Yes, the Royals lost. Hey, the offense will struggle. The kids will make mistakes. The bullpen still needs to shake out. Look, the Royals do have the lowest payroll in baseball. They do not have a legitimate cleanup hitter. Everybody around the country will keep on picking the Royals to lose 100 games and be the worst team in baseball until they are proved wrong. I guess there's even a joke about the Royals in the new movie “Fever Pitch.”

But, if you're a Royals fan, you will want to keep your eye on those three pitchers: Greinke, Bautista, Hernandez. They have a chance to be really good. Anytime they pitch well, it's a good day. It's a sign that better days are closer than you might think.

Last edited by AirForceChief; 04-12-2005 at 07:51 AM..
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Old 04-12-2005, 07:49 AM   #2
shakesthecat shakesthecat is offline
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Hell yeah!
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Old 04-12-2005, 08:43 AM   #3
KChiefs1 KChiefs1 is offline
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Let's think about this:

Greinke, Hernandez & Bautista = Saberhagen, Jackson & Gubicza

All we need is Brian Anderson & Lima to equal Charlie Liebrandt & Bud Black!
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Old 04-12-2005, 08:57 AM   #4
HemiEd HemiEd is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KChiefs1
Let's think about this:

Greinke, Hernandez & Bautista = Saberhagen, Jackson & Gubicza

All we need is Brian Anderson & Lima to equal Charlie Liebrandt & Bud Black!

But who is going to be George Brett?
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Old 04-12-2005, 09:11 AM   #5
SCTrojan SCTrojan is offline
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I'm ecstatic about their potential. But as I heard them say on the post-game show last night - they now have to translate their ability into production.

I like what they've done in their four collective starts, but I'll reserve judgement about their production until the end of the year.
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Old 04-12-2005, 09:14 AM   #6
KChiefs1 KChiefs1 is offline
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Quote:
But who is going to be George Brett?
Mark Teahan!
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Old 04-12-2005, 09:17 AM   #7
siberian khatru siberian khatru is offline
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I'm kind of torn on this. On the one hand, I viewed Monday's game the same way -- we lost, but we got a big positive out of it with another excellent start by Elvis. That's what I'm trying to take out of this season -- positive developments from key players for the future.

OTOH, JoPo writes this sunshine shit all the time -- he's written this stuff about Chad Durbin and Dan Reichart, too. Now, I think this current crop is better than those guys, but it's hard to take JoPo seriously when he fawns over anybody who has a good game or two under their belts.
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Old 04-12-2005, 09:30 AM   #8
Bob Dole Bob Dole is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KChiefs1
All we need is Brian Anderson & Lima to equal Charlie Liebrandt & Bud Black!
Bob Dole would be happy if Lima managed to equal someone with a pulse.
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Old 04-12-2005, 12:06 PM   #9
jynni jynni is offline
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I guess there's even a joke about the Royals in the new movie “Fever Pitch.”
It was kinda funny too. The whole theater groaned and then laughed.
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