Ryan O’Hearn’s frustration propels him to record-setting pinch-hit homer for KC Royals

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It’d been a long first five weeks of the season for Kansas City Royals first baseman/outfielder Ryan O’Hearn. Things just hadn’t been happening for him at the plate.

So when something truly good happened, he released the built up tension and irritation with a demonstrative flip of his bat as he began his trot around the bases.

O’Hearn set a franchise record with his fourth pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning of the Royals’ series-opening 14-10 win over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Friday night. O’Hearn’s was one of two homers and seven extra-base hits for the Royals in the game.

It also marked his first home run of the season, and some measure of weight lifted off his shoulders after having scuffled at the plate this season.

“It felt good to hit that ball and to contribute,” O’Hearn said. “There’s probably some frustration in there taken out on that ball. After I hit it and I knew it was gone, I wasn’t trying to be swaggy with the bat flip or anything. I just kind of blacked out and whatever it looks like, that’s what it looks like.”

The left-handed hitting O’Hearn, 28, had another strong spring training with the bat as he batted .387 with a .406 on-base percentage and a .645 slugging percentage.

Through his first 13 games of this season (six starts) to the tune of a .125 batting average, .214 on-base percentage and .125 slugging percentage entering the night.

Those struggles were what was behind the powerful swing that O’Hearn put on the baseball as he pulverized a 1-0 changeup and sent it sailing into the night with an exit velocity of 106.9 mph. The ball traveled an estimated 445 feet.

O’Hearn didn’t even see where the ball landed, but he recognized the feeling when made contact.

He had been 2 for 11 with two RBIs on the road trip, including a pinch-hit single in Texas on Thursday night. He said he’s willing to buy into “whatever role” he’s given. And, so far this season, O’Hearn has come off the bench more times than he has started.

Friday night’s homer broke O’Hearn out of a tie with former teammate Ryan McBroom, who also had three pinch-hit home runs for the Royals.

“Anytime you can go up there and have one at-bat, hit a homer and be done for the day, it’s a pretty good feeling,” O’Hearn said.

O’Hearn, who had a pinch-hit single on Thursday night in his home state of Texas, had one of the most productive offensive starts to a major-league career of any hitter in Royals history.

In 2018, he hit 12 home runs and 24 extra-base in his first 44 major-league games, the most home runs and extra-base hits by a Royals player in that span. His 30 RBIs during that span ranked third behind Mark Quinn (32) and Bob Hamelin (31) on the franchise list.

He has struggled to build on that initial success. In 244 games in the majors from 2019-22, he has slashed .203/.278/.350 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs in 784 plate appearances.

“I hadn’t hit a ball like that in a while, maybe ever, that far,” O’Hearn said. “I don’t know. But just an accumulation of a lot of hard work, a lot of time in the cages and a lot of frustration with how things have gone.

“To have a big swing like that, help the team, have something positive like that happen, is huge. It’s a huge confidence builder. It was a lot of fun.”