Taylor sets stage for Royals’ rally sequel

KANSAS CITY — When the Royals signed Michael A. Taylor early in the offseason, he was lauded for what he could potentially bring defensively in an expansive outfield at Kauffman Stadium.

But the club said over and over how he’d fit well into their lineup, too.

Both have been on display through the first two games this season.

Taylor homered and doubled in Kansas City’s 11-4 victory over the Rangers on Saturday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, securing a series win and a 2-0 start to the regular season. Down 4-0 in the fifth inning, the Royals scored 11 unanswered runs for their second comeback win this series.

“When you’re looking into the fourth inning or so, and nothing’s happened, it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to make something work,’” manager Mike Matheny said. “And that truly was the feeling that we had in our dugout.”

To get it all started, Taylor led off the fifth inning by clobbering a sinker from Rangers starter Kohei Arihara that traveled a projected 458 feet, according to Statcast, to dead center field. Taylor became the third Royal to hit two home runs in the first two games of the season; Amos Otis (1977) and Clint Hurdle (1981) were the others, and Whit Merrifield joined the list with his solo home run in the eighth.

The home run left Taylor’s bat at 111.4 mph, making it his hardest-hit homer since Statcast was introduced in 2015, and his second-longest homer during that span, trailing only a 493-foot shot in ‘15 at Coors Field.

“I’ve known Mike for a long time,” said infielder Hanser Alberto, who played against Taylor in the Minor Leagues. “I saw him hit homers over center field in big stadiums like this one. It’s not a surprise for me. But the performance he’s showing right now, every at-bat he takes is really nice. He seems a lot different since last year with the Nationals. We’re happy to have him. He feels really good right now, and he’s showing it.”

The Royals scored three runs in the fifth inning, and a diving catch by left fielder Andrew Benintendi — who was taken out of the game in the seventh for precautionary reasons after feeling soreness in his lower half — in the top of the sixth got starter Mike Minor out of a jam and kept the score within one run. Minor allowed four runs in six innings in his first appearance with the Royals since 2017, when he pitched in relief.

Kansas City scored seven runs in the sixth inning — taking the lead with a two-run double from none other than Taylor. The center fielder is now 5-for-9 with two home runs and six RBIs in his first two games as a Royal. It’s his fastest start to the season in his career, he said.

“Actually have been kind of a slow starter in April,” Taylor said. “It feels good to go the other way. I’ll take it.”

The Royals knew what kind of defender they’d be getting in Taylor when they signed him to a one-year deal this offseason. And he’s shown that so far, with two outfield assists in Thursday’s opener and then running down a deep fly ball in the left-center gap in the fourth inning on Saturday.

But he’s also proved to be a force in the lineup. Taylor has talked about the changes he’s made with his swing recently, taking a leg kick that he featured earlier in his career and changing it to more of a toe tap. He began to feel more comfortable at the plate over the past year, and it’s come through with results both in Spring Training and early this season.

“I feel really comfortable with the swing I have now, and then every day, I’m just trying to fine-tune it,” Taylor said. “There are always things that you can work on. But I like where I’m at. Every game, I try to take something away from it. Maybe it’s a pitch location that I didn’t feel comfortable with or I find myself chasing, but I feel like the foundation I have right now is pretty good.”

The Royals were quick to say they thought there was some upside in Taylor’s offensive potential when he joined the organization. Now, they’re watching him introduce it to the rest of the league.

“I tip our hats to our scouts and the people upstairs that have a lot of belief, just like Michael does, that he hasn’t even seen the best of his offense yet,” Matheny said. “And this is a great atmosphere for us to all watch it happen.”