Walter Pennington and His Weird, Wild Week with the Royals

Over the course of less than a week, Kansas City Royals reliever Walter Pennington has felt baseball's highs and lows.

DENVER, CO - JULY 5: Relief pitcher Walter Pennington #65 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 5, 2024 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

If there was a definition for an emotional roller coaster, the face of Walter Pennington might well be right beside the description in the dictionary.

A native of Broomfield, Colo., graduate of the Colorado School of Mines, and a player who grew up as a Colorado Rockies fan, Pennington was called up by the Kansas City Royals for his first-ever MLB appearance while the Royals were in Denver over the weekend to face the Rockies.

Activated on Friday, Pennington was immediately put into a high-leverage situation that night by manager Matt Quatraro. With family and friends watching, Pennington responded with a strikeout and a groundout to help the Royals limit the damage in a two-run eighth that would be the difference in a 4-2 Colorado win.

Pennington needed just eight pitches to get those two outs, telling reporters after the game that it was a “little bit of debut magic” that helped him coast through his first time on a big league mound.

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However, the 26-year-old southpaw quickly learned that only so much magic can stand up to the business of baseball. After having pitched for Triple-A Omaha on Thursday night and the Royals on Friday night, Pennington was optioned back to Triple-A before Saturday’s game to make room for fellow reliever Kris Bubic, who had reached the limit of his time on the injured list.

With Pennington, the move wasn’t about performance, but rather a numbers crunch.

“We feel really good about where he (Pennington) is at and what he’s done in the minor leagues and what he was able to do last night was a great experience,” Quatraro told reporters on Saturday inside the visitor’s dugout. “He’s squarely in the mix to come back up but we had to make a decision and make that move for today.”

For Pennington, the move was a mixed blessing. While he had been sent back down, the timing came with the team still in Colorado, allowing him to spend the next couple of days with his family and take in the highs and lows of what had happened.

“I think one thing is just remain grateful for the opportunity. Expect great things but also just be grateful for where you’re at,” Pennington said about his outlook over the weekend. “That’s been a big help of staying where my feet are.

“I was just grateful for my debut and for it to be in Colorado. It was just perfect.”

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After the much-needed time with family, Pennington headed back to Omaha with his wife and baby to begin his quest to rejoin the big league club. As Pennington got to the field on Tuesday for Omaha’s game, he was informed he was heading back to the Royals, this time as the 27th man for a double-header on Wednesday in St. Louis against the Cardinals.

With his mechanical engineering degree and many of the engineering thought processes guiding him, Pennington said he is looking at this past week through a lens that is anything but emotional.

“I think it’s helped knowing how to deal with the baseball side of things and then the overthinking side of things,” Pennington said of the engineer mindset. “So those things that I’ve learned in the minor leagues and throughout the rest of my life of knowing when I can think about things and overanalyze them and not to was a big help this week.”

What lies next for Pennington after Wednesday’s double-header in St. Louis remains a mystery at the time of this writing. His 2.35 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 53.2 Triple-A innings show that the left-hander has the skills to succeed on the mound. Now he just needs to find the opportunity to show those skills on a regular basis with the Royals, a team that is proving that Kansas City is more than just an NFL hotbed.

If you want to know about Pennington’s journey from undrafted free agent to Triple-A phenom, as well as his pitch mix, mentality on the mound and more, check out the in-depth interview with him below from Just Baseball’s Call Up Podcast.