KANSAS CITY — A few weeks ago, as the calendar flipped closer to May, Royals manager Mike Matheny hinted at Andrew Benintendi‘s rising confidence at the plate, suggesting that his swing was close to where it needed to be for an offensive breakout.
Benintendi hasn’t stopped hitting since.
The left fielder put together his ninth multi-hit game of the month on Saturday afternoon against the Tigers, driving in three in the Royals’ 7-5 win at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City withstood Detroit rallies in the seventh and ninth innings against Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont, both of whom pitched out of bases-loaded jams, to even the weekend series and set up Sunday’s rubber match.
Staumont allowed two runs and threw 36 pitches in the ninth before striking out Willi Castro swinging on a 100-mph fastball.
“I’m going to add that to the list of things that I believe will make us better down the road,” Matheny said. “Because we’re going to continue to be in tight, tough games. And the more often you’re there, the more often you’re shaking hands after games like that, you realize that you just got tougher and you just got better.”
The runs the Royals scored in the sixth and seventh ended up as needed insurance, and Benintendi alone pushed the final run across. After two singles earlier in the game, he took a walk in his third plate appearance, stole second base and went to third on a wild pitch. When Kelvin Gutierrez hit a grounder to third base, Benintendi was off on contact to score without a base hit needed in the inning.
“He’s been so good in so many ways,” Matheny said. “That was ‘want to’ and will to make something happen, and looking to make something happen.”
Benintendi entered Saturday with a .343/.373/.443 slash line in May after hitting .225/.311/.313 in April, with just three multi-hit games in the first month of the season. In the middle of April, he noted how frustrating it was to feel “close” with his swing but not get the results. He was fouling back pitches when he should have been hitting line drives.
Now, Benintendi looks like the hitter who won the Golden Spikes Award with Arkansas, was selected No. 7 overall by the Red Sox in the 2015 MLB Draft and was integral to Boston’s 2018 World Series title.
He is back to his swing that fueled years of success. He had gotten away from it in pursuit of more power, but when Benintendi bulked up in 2019, his mechanics got out of whack. He struggled, posting a .751 OPS from 2019-20.
When the Royals traded for him this offseason, there were questions about his production. But Matheny and the front office were confident. They knew what he had learned about his swing: Hitting homers was not his game.
Benintendi spent the offseason working on getting his swing back to what it was in 2018. He was still working on the mechanics when he got to Spring Training, showing flashes, but not consistently. It trickled into the regular season, too, and Benintendi got off to a slow start.
With each game, he felt better. Near the end of April, Benintendi made one more adjustment: He moved his feet closer together after pouring over video from his college and early Minor League days. It could allow for more time to see the ball, catch up to it and make solid contact.
“I’m taking what they give me,” Benintendi said. “Line drives to left, up the middle and to right. I’m not trying to do too much, staying within myself. Try to check the ego at the door and try to do everything you can to hit a line drive hard.”
Take the first inning on Saturday, for example: The Royals loaded the bases with none out on a walk and two singles. Jorge Soler popped out on the first pitch he saw, and the Royals needed a big hit.
Benintendi was in an 0-2 hole against lefty Matthew Boyd, then took two balls. On an outside sinker, Benintendi poked a single into left field for a 2-0 lead.
“It comes down to me knowing myself as a player,” Benintendi said. “I’d love to go up there and hit a grand slam. I think everybody would. But in this ballpark and myself, that’s not going to happen most likely. Stick to line drives and hit the ball hard.”
The lead gave starter Brady Singer some room as the right-hander battled fastball command but still worked his way through 6 1/3 innings and logged six strikeouts. Benintendi came through again in the fifth with an infield RBI single and the manufactured run in the seventh.
“It’s a game of adjustments,” Benintendi said. “And the quicker you can realize the adjustment you need to make, the better off you are. I know my cues now and when I need to get back to the basics.”