Merrifield shakes off early season slump

Published 9:38 am Thursday, May 26, 2022

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Whit Merrifield is a two-time All-Star and a two-time Major League hits leader (2018, 2019), becoming the second righthanded hitter to lead the majors in that category in back-to-back seasons, the other being Kirby Puckett in 1988 and 1989.

But Merrifield started the season with the worst slump of his career.

He went 1 for 12 over three games from April 7-10. He went 0-11 over three games from April 15-19. He went 0-15 over four games from May 4-9. He went 14 straight games without getting more than one hit. He went from batting leadoff, his standard spot, to as low as eighth in the Kansas City order. On May 9, Merrifield was hitting .135 with a .164 on-base percentage. He had four strikeouts in one game. The Royals’ 9-17 record through 26 games only heightened Merrifield’s frustration.

But through the painful journey from April 7-May 9, Merrifield never lost confidence in his offensive ability. After all, a look inside the numbers revealed a big part of the problem was he couldn’t catch a break. When his average was around .150 or below, his average exit velocity was solid and his strikeout rate was half of what it was last year (7.3 percent compared to 14.3 percent).

So Merrifield figured it was only a matter of time before a market correction took shape.

“I’ll be just fine, I promise,” he told reporters in late April. “It’s easy to look at today because I struck out four times and look at my numbers and go: ‘Well, he’s really struggling.’ Really, just look at this series. I had nine good at-bats out of (15). I had four the first day, three the second day, two today. Even going back to the Cleveland series, I can think of three diving plays, three lineouts, two balls off the pitcher that went right to the shortstop.

“I keep reiterating to the coaching staff, I feel really good. It just hasn’t come yet. Fortunately, I’ve got a little bit of a track record at this point.

“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in myself. When you’re not getting results, it’s a little frustrating. It’s a long season. We’ll be just fine.”

After that .135 low from May 9, Merrifield began to regain the form that made him a career .288 hitter. He entered the year with 909 hits, the third-most in the majors since his major league debut on May 18, 2016. (The only Royals with more hits through their first six seasons with the franchise were Eric Hosmer with 940 and Billy Butler with 956.)

Merrifield went 4 for 4 in an 8-2 win over Texas on May 11. A rejuvenated Merrifield hit .372 (16-43) during a 10-game hitting streak from May 10-18, lifting his average from .135 to .204. The Royals went 5-5 during that span.

“For me it’s a matter of am I swinging at good pitches, am I on time for the fastball,” Merrifield said. “I haven’t been swinging at bad pitches.”