Why the Kansas City Royals’ starting pitchers are holding in-game dugout sessions

Major-league veterans Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha have been teammates for a while. They have traveled the roads together on three different teams.

They started the journey with the New York Mets in 2020. The fun continued with the San Diego Padres last season. Now, the duo is fueling the Kansas City Royals’ pitching renaissance.

And they are doing it their way.

“Those are two of the guys I have watched for a long time growing up,” Royals pitcher Brady Singer said. “To have them in the clubhouse supporting me and helping me has been huge.”

You may have seen the Royals’ starting pitchers huddle in the dugout during games. Well, the concept developed naturally in spring training.

Wacha asked Royals pitching coach Brian Sweeney if it was OK if he watched the other starters’ bullpen sessions. The request was met with resounding acceptance. Later, Lugo joined in on the action — and both lent their veteran expertise.

“It’s definitely opened the door for getting to know a lot of these guys,” Lugo said.

In San Diego, Lugo and Wacha would routinely sit in the dugout and talk between starts. They would discuss different pitching matchups, best practices against hitters and even pitching grips and techniques.

This season, they decided to take it a step further.

After each start, every Royals starting pitcher has a player-led discussion. It generally occurs near the dugout steps and is a time for reflection and support. The small group includes Lugo, Wacha, Singer, Cole Ragans, Alec Marsh and Kyle Wright.

“As soon as the starter is done with his day, I don’t even get a chance to shake the guy’s hand,” Sweeney said with a smile. “They are talking about the outing and coming together to pick each other up. I couldn’t be more excited about the culture they are creating as a starting rotation.”

It’s seems to be working. This season, the Royals rank fifth in Major League Baseball with a combined 3.16 ERA.

Lugo, Marsh and Singer each have sub 3.00 ERAs. Meanwhile, Wacha has surrendered just two home runs and Ragans has posted 33 strikeouts.

Most importantly, the Royals are 15-10 overall. Their starting rotation has compiled 12 quality starts and nine wins through 25 games.

“It’s awesome,” Marsh said. “I feel like growing up in this organization, through the minor leagues, a lot of guys leaned on me for that kind of experience. I never felt like I had someone do that for me.

“For (Seth) Lugo and (Michael) Wacha to take that role is just amazing. It’s been super important for me because they have given me information that I would never even think about and allowing me to grow with experience over time.”

Marsh, in his second major-league season, has benefited from the veterans’ presence. He is learning at the big-league level and has thrived with the guidance of his teammates.

“One thing (Seth) Lugo told me, ‘Even if you throw a waste pitch, it’s not really a waste pitch ...’” Marsh said. “Every pitch has a purpose. Even if you don’t hit your spot, you are still setting up something later in the at-bat.”

This season, Singer has added a sweeper and four-seam fastball to his pitching mix. He has leaned on Lugo for advice with each. Lugo has similar offerings and gave Singer pointers about game-planning and getting maximum efficiency from his new arsenal.

“It’s cues on it,” Singer said. “Where your wrist and where your fingers go, and what you are doing when you get full extension of the baseball.”

Wright, who is sidelined for now following right-shoulder surgery, enjoys the group’s camaraderie. He sits in on the dugout sessions when the Royals are at Kauffman Stadium.

“Personally, it makes me feel a little bit better and feel like I’m part of the team,” he said. “Especially, when I’m not getting to travel and not getting to play. … It’s pretty special and I don’t think all teams are like that.”

Wright is expected to play a major role for the Royals next season. But for now, it’s time for recover. He has begun throwing from 60 feet. He is doing two sets at the distance with 25 throws.

The Royals acquired Wright this past offseason in a trade with the Atlanta Braves. The 28-year-old pitcher had a 21-5 record during the 2022 season.

Lugo is glad to see the progress in his young teammates. His own career went down a unique path as he reinvented himself as a starter. Now, he is doing what he can to help his teammates be successful.

“I’d say it takes a little pressure off knowing that some of the older guys go through the same mental battles that the younger guys do,” Lugo said. “You know, you are new to the league but we are dealing with the same stuff.”

The Royals plan to continue their daily dugout sessions. Each time, the players improve by seeing the game through another set of eyes.

Sweeney knows these starting pitchers want to be great. He is impressed with their desire to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.

“They are in pursuit of perfection,” he said, “and sometimes they grab excellence.”

Excellence can breed success. And the Royals look to be making good on their pledge to be more competitive in the American League Central.

A lot of the credit for that goes to their starting rotation — Lugo and Wacha, especially — leading the way.

“We want to help each other out as much as possible,” Marsh said. “We are all in this together and it’s like a family for me.”