Vinnie Pasquantino returns & more observations from KC Royals spring training opener

Kansas City Royals first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino was greeted by a warm applause.

For months, Pasquantino had clamored for the chance to play baseball again. He was vocal about his shoulder surgery as the time away was frustrating. It drove him to bide his time between rehab and the batting cage.

The days continued to mount. The calendar switched to a new year. After 259 days, Pasquantino was finally able to put on the Royals uniform again.

On Friday, Pasquantino reached his final checkpoint.

“I didn’t sleep,” Pasquantino said. “I think I slept for a maximum of, at one time, 45 minutes last night. It was up, back down. I eventually got up at like 4:20 or something like that. There were a lot of emotions. So it was just exciting to get back out there.”

As Pasquantino stepped into the box against Texas Rangers starter Dane Dunning, the long road to recovery was over.

The next step was simply playing baseball.

“I was like, I’m definitely swinging at the first pitch,” Pasquantino recalled of a conversation with former teammate Matt Duffy, who now plays for the Rangers. “So I was really happy when he threw a good pitch, first pitch, and I was able to lay off of it. So that was kind of my mental check. … I’m pretty happy of how it went.”

Pasquantino had three plate appearances on Friday. He hit a sharp live drive to Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe in his first at-bat. Later, he popped out to shortstop before hitting a deep fly ball to right field in his final plate appearance.

The Royals lost 5-4 to the Rangers. Pasquantino played five innings before being subbed out in the sixth.

“He laid off some tougher pitches that were borderline,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “That’s going to come back to him. That’s a skill that he has.”

The Royals will face the Rangers again on Saturday. Here are a few observations from the Cactus League opener.

Drew Waters springs forward

The Royals have a decision to make regarding the final bench spots this spring. KC could decide to carry a fifth outfielder or even three catchers. Several players are fighting to secure their position in camp.

Royals outfielder Drew Waters is one of those players. Waters made a quick impression against the Rangers. He drilled a solo home run off Rangers reliever Cody Bradford in the second inning to give the Royals an early lead.

Waters belted a changeup that was left over the plate. The homer traveled over the outfield wall and landed on the adjacent left-field berm. Later, Waters made a diving grab to rob Rangers outfielder Evan Carter of a base hit.

“I missed a changeup earlier in the at-bat and he happened to throw it again,” Waters said. “I don’t know if it was the next pitch or a pitch after, but we didn’t miss it that time.”

Waters has put in a lot of work this offseason. He adjusted his hitting mechanics to get on top of pitches earlier through the strike zone. He also wanted to clean up his bat path while training at the Maven Baseball Lab in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I’m looking to be a more consistent and competitive baseball player every single day,” Waters said.

Mixed results for Royals pitchers

Two Royals pitchers made their much anticipated returns on Friday.

Royals starter Daniel Lynch IV returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the second half of the 2023 campaign. Meanwhile, Royals reliever Jake Brentz threw in a major league game for the first time in nearly two years.

Lynch tossed a scoreless first inning. He allowed a leadoff walk, but recovered to exit the frame unscathed. His velocity sat around the low-90s as he continues to build up for the start of the upcoming season.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been pitching in a big-league game,” Lynch said. “I felt really thankful for the opportunity to be back out there. The fact that my body felt good, that was really significant, too.”

Brentz had a tough outing. He surrendered three runs, four walks and threw a wild pitch in his brief appearance. He struggled with location and couldn’t stay in the strike zone.

“I felt good,” Brentz said. “I just didn’t have it today and you are going to have those days. If you are going to have them, it’s good to have them the first time out.”

Brentz isn’t worried about the result. He found solace in his return after missing significant time following Tommy John surgery.

“Definitely good to be back out there and competing,” Brentz said. “Now, just need to be better. That’s not going to cut it. I know that and it’s something to be better and build off next time.”