Buoyed by a win behind Ian Kennedy on Saturday, the Royals sought to win a series for the first time in two weeks and sent Steady Eddie Volquez to the mound against the Cleveland Indians.
However, on Sunday, Volquez wobbled.
The damage started early, as Carlos Santana led off the game with a home run on the second pitch he saw, yet another tarnished first inning from Royals starting pitching. Volquez settled down and retired the side in the first and would dance around baserunners in the second and third. He left a pitch up to Mike Napoli in the fourth inning and ended up loading the bases, but escaped further damage.
At this point, he kept the Royals in front because…
The Royals offense is finally starting to wake up a little. In the second inning, Lorenzo Cain led off with a double – his first of the year – and scored on a 447-foot bomb by Eric Hosmer. The Royals added a run on an Alex Gordon single and Salvador Perez double.
Cain has now hit safely in nine of his last ten games and has multiple hits in six of those. More importantly, he’s starting to hit the ball with authority. Alex Gordon has hits in his last six games, and Eric Hosmer continues to produce. With Mike Moustakas out for a while with a fractured thumb, the rest of the lineup has to pick up the slack, and perhaps they’ll continue to trend upward.
Unfortunately, the Royals’ lead wouldn’t last for long since…
None So Wise
Volquez wasn’t sharp for most of the game. In the fifth inning, he’d thrown four innings but no fewer than 18 pitches in any of them. He allowed a single to Francisco Lindor to start the inning, then, after a stolen base, gave up the tying run on a Michael Brantley single. A five-pitch walk to Napoli brought up the left-handed hitting Lonnie Chisenhall with one out.
Danny Duffy was warming in the bullpen and ready to enter.
Chisenhall has been nearly exclusively used against right-handed pitching. Volquez had labored.
Volquez stayed in the game. Chisenhall singled to left to give the Indians the lead.
Ned Yost said later that he thought Cleveland would pinch-hit Rajai Davis if he’d brought in Duffy, and that’s likely to be true, but Davis had just a .515 OPS against lefties in 38 plate appearances in 2016. That’s not too terrifying of a situation to me. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but it seemed like Yost was also trying to coax one more inning from his starter to aid the bullpen that might get some work with Chris Young and Kris Medlen coming up next in the rotation (neither of whom have been very good at getting through the sixth inning, or, lately, the fifth).
Duffy allowed an inherited runner to score, but kept it a 5-3 game.
We Do Not Sow
The Royals didn’t bow out easily, though. In the seventh inning, Perez hit another double and chased Indians starter Josh Tomlin from the game. Cheslor Cuthbert singled to move him to third, and a Christian Colon double scored Perez and put runners in scoring position with nobody out.
Jarrod Dyson hit a chopper to short and Cuthbert broke for home. His break wasn’t immediate, though, and Lindor was able to throw him out easily. Alcides Escobar grounded into a double play to end the rally, and the Royals didn’t threaten again.
Ours is the fury
This was a winnable game, and Yost’s flimsy rationale for sticking with Volquez doesn’t sit well with most fans. It’s not an easy decision, but if part of the decision is swayed by saving arms for the next two games, maybe that’s also a good argument for a quicker hook to save a shaky starter from giving up the lead and work towards a win.
The Royals are hitting better, but still not firing on all cylinders, and the starting pitching as a group isn’t a comfortable aspect of this team right now.
A four-game series in New York with Chris Young starting and a 6:05 central start time.