Royals vie for third straight win in series with Guardians

The Kansas City Royals are glad to have Michael Massey back in action, even if it’s only as a hitter instead of his regular role at second base.

The Royals have beaten the visiting Cleveland Guardians twice to open a four-game series that continues Saturday afternoon.

Massey missed the first 19 games of the season due to a back injury. He returned to play 29 games, then sat out 27 more contests because of a lower back ligament sprain before returning on Monday.

The third-year player was hitting .294 before his latest absence. He is just 2-for-11 in four games since his return, all as the designated hitter or a pinch hitter with the club being cautious about returning him to the field.

“We’re going to listen to him,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “If it’s not working, if he doesn’t feel well, then we won’t keep pushing, because we really value having his bat in there.”

Massey, who often bats fifth behind Salvador Perez, has a .283 average and six homers. The Royals own a 22-11 record when Massey plays, but they are 24-27 without him.

When Adam Frazier landed on the injured this week due to a right thumb strain, Maikel Garcia shifted to second with prospect CJ Alexander brought up from the minors to play third.

“Maikel’s a really good infielder,” Quatraro said. “He’s a shortstop by trade, so that’s a more natural transition than what he did last year to learn third. He will definitely play third again at some point, but we don’t want to make it a day-to-day thing, back and forth.”

Alexander sat out on Friday after going 0-for-6 in each of his first two major league games, with rookie infielder Nick Loftin getting the start at third. Loftin went 0-for-2 with two walks as Kansas City won 10-3, one night after beating Cleveland 2-1.

The Royals will send left-hander Cole Ragans (5-5, 3.03 ERA) to the mound on Saturday opposite Guardians right-hander Tanner Bibee (6-2, 3.50).

Ragans has just one win in his past six starts, and it came in his most recent appearance. He struck out 11 in six innings, allowing a run on four hits and three walks, while beating the Miami Marlins on Monday.

In his only appearance against Cleveland, Ragans took a loss after surrendering four runs — three earned — on six singles in five innings on Sept. 25, 2022, while pitching for the Texas Rangers.

Bibee has made two starts against the Royals and came away with no-decisions both times despite pitching to a 2.70 ERA. Most recently, he allowed three runs — two earned — in five-plus innings with a walk and seven strikeouts, vs. Kansas City on June 6.

Cleveland is 13-3 in games Bibee has pitched this year. He won four of his past six starts, posting a 2.86 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings during that span. Bibee won in Baltimore on Monday, yielding two runs — one earned — in six innings while striking out seven.

“Tanner was outstanding again,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “He’s doing this time and time again. He kept making pitches and grinding through six. Tanner picked us up and turned in a quality start.”

Cleveland’s pitching staff may soon get a boost. The club signed left-hander Matthew Boyd to a major league deal — pending a physical — and right-hander Gavin Williams (right elbow discomfort) could return from the injured list.

Boyd required Tommy John surgery after he made 15 starts for Detroit last year. He owns a 4.94 ERA over parts of nine seasons, but injuries have limited him to a total of 163 innings since the start of the 2021 campaign.

Williams made 16 starts as a rookie in 2023 and finished with a 3.29 ERA. He has been on the 60-day injured list since spring training, but he completed his sixth rehab start on Thursday, striking out six in four innings of one-run ball for Triple-A Columbus.

“He made it through 80-something pitches,” Vogt said. “Obviously, we’ll have a decision to make in the next few days. We’re still sorting through what we’re going to do.”

–Field Level Media