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Apr 9, 2024 7:42 am

MJ Melendez, Royals vie to stay hot in opener vs. Astros

MJ Melendez

The Kansas City Royals are riding high as they head into Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game series against the visiting Houston Astros.

The Royals completed their first four-game sweep in nearly three years after brushing aside the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. They also improved to 6-4, marking the first time they’ve been two games over .500 since the first two contests of the 2022 season.

Kansas City’s offense came alive in the late innings of each game of the series vs. Chicago, scoring 15 of its 20 runs in the series in the seventh and eighth innings.

The late-game heroics were led by MJ Melendez, who delivered the decisive RBI hit in each of the last three wins.

“It’s all about confidence for me right now,” said Melendez, who had three homers and seven RBIs in the series. “Being put in that situation, obviously a little bit of luck right there, but I’m just thankful I’m able to do something to help the team win.”

“Hopeful, (his confidence) continues to grow,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “We all know MJ is a supremely talented player. He’s hopefully coming into his own and can develop that consistency that makes the great ones be the great ones.”

Left-hander Cole Ragans (0-1, 1.46 ERA) will start Tuesday’s game for Kansas City against right-hander Cristian Javier (1-0, 0.00).

Ragans took the Opening Day loss against the Minnesota Twins before tossing six scoreless innings of one-hit ball in a no-decision against Baltimore last Wednesday.

He is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in five career outings (four starts) against the Astros. He allowed two runs on three hits in six innings of a 7-5 victory in Houston on Sept. 22.

The Astros’ Alex Bregman has five walks and two hits — including a home run — in 12 plate appearances against Ragans.

Javier made a pair of solid starts to open the season, allowing five hits and six walks with nine strikeouts over 11 shutout innings against the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays, respectively.

“Javier had a pretty good outing,” Astros manager Joe Espada said of his one-hit effort through five innings against Toronto on Wednesday. “Command got off a little bit there. Five walks ended up cost him some pitches.”

Javier is 0-2 with a 6.57 ERA in four career outings (two starts) against the Royals, permitting six home runs in 12 1/3 innings. Nelson Velazquez and Bobby Witt Jr. each connected on solo shots during Javier’s 4-2 loss on Sept. 15.

After a season-opening, four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the Astros have rebounded behind solid pitching to record two shutouts while winning four of seven games.

Houston’s offense is led by Yordan Alvarez, who hit his fourth home run of the season in Monday’s 10-5 win at Texas and was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Alvarez is tied for second in the American League in homers and fifth with nine RBIs, all of them coming in his last five games.

“His second home run was more impressive,” Espada said after Alvarez’s two-homer game against the Blue Jays last Wednesday. “That sinker was down, and he went, just, golfing. That’s how strong, that’s how good he is. He’s fun to watch.”

Meanwhile, Jose Abreu has been dropped to seventh in the Astros’ lineup as he continues to struggle, hitting .067 with 11 strikeouts and no RBIs in 30 at-bats.

–Field Level Media

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