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The last thing the Kansas City Royals needed was to see their young rising star Bobby Witt Jr. leave the game against the Houston Astros in the ninth inning due to an injury. But Witt walked off the field in Houston flanked by Royals manager Mike Matheny and head athletic trainer Kyle Turner on Tuesday night.
Witt, the rookie shortstop, left the game after getting hit in the right hand by a sinker from Houston Astros pitcher Rafael Montero traveling 96.8 mph. Initial x-rays were clear, but the Royals may do additional testing based on symptoms.
The Royals were optimistic about his status, and Witt spoke to reporters in the clubhouse after the game albeit with his hand wrapped heavily.
“I was just trying to battle in that at-bat, two strikes, ninth inning,” Witt said. “I knew at some point he was possibly going to challenge me inside. I just wanted to be prepared for that. I saw the pitch coming in. His ball moves a lot. I just kind of triggered. Once I did, I knew it was coming at me. So I was just trying to avoid it as much as I could.”
Witt went 2 for 5 with a home run, three RBIs and a couple defensive gems, although the Royals lost 9-7. The ball that hit him in the ninth was actually ruled a foul ball, which added to the confusion of the moment.
Witt reacted immediately to the ball hitting his hand, hopping out of the batter’s box and shaking his hand vigorously. Then he walked towards first base as if he’d been awarded first by virtue of being hit by a pitch.
However, Witt had swung at the pitch that hit him and thus the at-bat continued. The ball made contact with Witt’s hand without hitting the bat.
Matheny and Turner were concerned about Witt swinging the bat in that circumstance, so Witt was taken out of the game and Ryan O’Hearn entered and finished the at-bat in Witt’s place.
“He wanted to (stay in),” Matheny said. “But not knowing what we’re dealing with, it’s just not a good move. And after seeing how it did square him up and how much it swelled up, you don’t want to take an extra swing on that.”
Witt seemed somewhat optimistic despite the injury occurring to his throwing hand. He’s already been hit on that hand multiple times this season.
“This is the third time I’ve been hit in this hand,” Witt said. “I’ve been able to luckily come back from those. I’m just going to trust our trainers, our staff. They do great stuff. I’m going to try to get some sleep and get ready for, hopefully, tomorrow.”
Three innings into Tuesday night’s game, Witt had already made three impactul plays in the game, and he’d done it both offensively and defensively.
Witt’s first-inning single to right field allowed Whit Merrifield to score from second and give the Royals a first-inning lead. Merrifield hustled and made a great slide to avoid a tag at the plate while Witt advanced to second on the throw.
The first-inning scoring has been of vital importance for the Royals this season as they’ve not won a game after trailing in the first inning.
In the bottom half of the first inning, Royals catcher MJ Melendez made a throw down to second base to try to throw out a base stealer. The throw veered off line on the first-base side of the bag, but Witt used his athleticism to snag the wide throw and still drop a tag on the lower body of the sliding runner before the runner’s hand could reach the base.
That out erased the lone runner whom Royals starter Zack Greinke allowed to reach base in the first inning and kept him out of scoring position with the heart of the Astros lineup due up.
“I threw it a little up the line, but he made a heck of a play, a heck of a tag on that,” said Melendez, who hit his ninth home run of the season.
In the third inning following an Andrew Benintendi single, Witt blasted a 1-2 fastball 428 feet to left-center field for his team-leading 12th home run of the season.
“He (got) us off to a good start with a two-strike hit, getting an RBI and then looking tough on a couple pitches he was swinging through,” Matheny said. “He made the adjustment, shortened up his swing, and the next thing you know, he’s hitting a monster shot. He and MJ both, impressive again with the power.”
Witt didn’t stop there. In the fourth inning with no outs and Alex Bregman on first base, Witt snared a line drive up the middle by Kyle Tucker and quickly lasered the ball over to first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino to double-off Bregman.
“I was kind of smiling at Vinnie because I don’t know how that ball, I think, went through Bregman,” Witt said. “It’s kind of crazy how it got there. Vinnie with great concentration there.”