Oliver Nunez may not have been pleased with the way his game started on Tuesday night, but he could not have scripted a better ending.
After grounding out twice in the first inning, the Royals prospect became the first Appalachian League player to hit for the cycle in more than a year. Nunez capped the feat with a ninth-inning homer, going 4-for-6 with three RBIs and two runs scored in Rookie-level Burlington's 13-3 romp over Bluefield at Bowen Field.
Gameday box score
"He was so excited. You have no idea how excited he was," Royals manager Omar Ramirez said. "For him to accomplish that, hitting for the cycle, plus the win against a team that's been very tough, that's big."
The 22-year-old infielder signed with Kansas City in 2013 and, after playing in the Dominican Summer League in 2014 and 2015, spent last summer in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Moving above the complex level for the first time, he's had a breakout season, batting .326/.400/.426 and ranking second in the Appy League with 17 stolen bases in 52 games. His offense, though, is not the most impressive thing about him.
2017 Minor League milestones
"It's not his hitting, it's the way he plays the game. It's amazing," Ramirez said. "It's nice to see a guy that has so much passion. He plays hard all the time. He's having a great year for us and he's the heart and soul of this team. Every time he takes the field, he goes all-out; he doesn't take a day off. He plays the game the right way, goes about his business the way a player should play the game. You don't see that a lot nowadays -- a player with that much passion."
After bookending the opening inning with groundouts to second baseman Jesus Navarro, the switch-hitting Nunez ripped an opposite-field RBI double off left-hander Tyler Olander in the third.
"With him, the most important at-bat is the next at-bat. That's the way he approaches the game. Whatever happenend in the last at-bat, he has a short memory about that. That's why he's been successful this season," Ramirez said. "It didn't matter what happened in the first inning, he kept competing."
Facing right-hander Joel Espinal in the fifth, Nunez singled up the middle. A first-pitch RBI triple to center off Espinal in the center put him on the brink of circuit's first cycle of the season, but a homer is hardly a given for the native of the Dominican Republic. The ninth-inning jack was his second this year and third in 638 Minor League at-bats.
"He knows his game. He knows what he can do. That's the good thing about him," Ramirez said. "He's not a hitter that's going to hit home runs. He's a line-drive hitter. He sets the table for big guys."
In the ninth, the 5-foot10, 170-pounder was the big guy. He sent a liner to right off righty Jonathan Cheshire that was just high enough to get out for a solo shot.
"It was a sinkerball pitcher. He keeps the ball down and it was a tough pitch that he hit out of the park," the Burlington skipper said. "All the credit goes to him that he got that pitch and drove it over the wall.
"You should have seen him when he hit the home run. He was yelling, he was so excited. He ran the bases in about 10 seconds. It was exciting to see him [enjoying that], the way he plays the game. It was exciting and everybody was laughing because of [how fast he ran] the bases. He couldn't believe it."
It capped the first cycle in the Appy League since Greeneville's Connor MacDonald recorded one on June 29, 2016.
Ramirez knew it was a night Nunez will remember for a long time.
"Oh, no doubt," he said. "The good thing about that is, somebody approached him to give him the home run ball. He has the ball and he's having the whole team sign it."
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Cal Jones, the Royals' 2016 sixth-round pick, homered in his second straight game.
Daniel Tillo (3-1) picked up the win. Selected in the third round of this year's Draft, he allowed three runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out three over five innings. Yerelmy Garcia threw four innings of one-hit relief, walking one and fanning one, en route to his third save.