Things were looking up, early, in this game. Leading off the second inning Eric Hosmer blooped a single perfectly into left-center off of pitcher Phil Hughes. Next up Salvador Perez hit a slicing line drive off a pitch half a foot outside for a double into right center, sending a huffing and puffing Crime Horse all the way home from first. Alex Gordon smashed a line drive past the shortstop, and Brandon Moss dumped an RBI single into left field. The Royals had their second two-run lead after two innings in the series.
Unfortunately, Jason Hammel continued his own particular brand of struggles the very next inning; he walked Byron Buxton and Max Kepler around a Brian Dozier flyout before Miguel Sano made him pay by launching a ball into the Royals bullpen to give the Twins a lead they would not relinquish. Hammel also walked Joe Mauer and gave up a single to Kennys Vargas before striking out Castro on a questionable pitch and inducing a shallow flyball out from Jorge Polanco.
Hammel’s troubles continued in the fourth, this time it was defensive miscues. Eddie Rosario grounded a single through the middle, but then Byron Buxton bunted for a single. The Royals were fortunate on the play that Hammel, who picked up the ball and threw it without looking, didn't fire it down the right field line. Brian Dozier hit a slow roller up the middle and Whit Merrifield fielded it and tried to flip it to Escobar to start a double play. Escobar didn't reach the bag in time, and his throw to first was also late, loading the bases on what was ruled a fielder's choice. Merrifield probably should have just thrown to first to get the one out because no one was near second base due to a defensive shift.
For the second straight Sunday afternoon game Jason Hammel left in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and no out. For the second straight Sunday afternoon game Ned turned to a left in his pen to limit the damage, this time it was Mike Minor who got the call. He induced a groundball from Max Kepler, but Kepler beat out the double play attempt for an RBI ground out. Miguel Sano followed that by ripping a single into left field to push the lead to 5-2. The Royals finally got their coveted McDouble Play when Joe Mauer hit a sharp grounder directly to Merrifield to end the inning 4-6-3 style.
Jason Hammel's final line: 3 IP, 6 hits, 5 earned runs, 5 strike outs, 3 walks, 1 home run. If the Royals still want to make a play at being competitive it’s hard to see how they can keep giving him the ball every fifth day as his ERA nears 7.00, but it’s equally hard to see who might replace him in the rotation and do any better. The top candidates in spring training were Travis Wood and Chris Young who have looked as bad or worse out of the pen as Hammel has in the rotation.
Lorenzo Cain finally hit his first home run of the year, belting a hanging curveball into a line drive just over the fence in the fifth inning.
With one out in the sixth Mike Minor allowed a bad defense double to Dozier into right center, then induced a pop out from Kepler. Ned called on Peter Moylan to face Sano. Sano got RBI number 14 with a line drive to right field to score Dozier.
The Royals got that run back when Salvy led off the bottom half of the inning with a double, Moss singled him over and Alcides Escobar drove him in with his first hit, a single, in his last ten at-bats.
Kelvin Herrera came in to get some work in the ninth but the leaky Royals defense bit him, too. Vargas singled with one out, Danny Santana pinch ran and stole second, then Jason Castro moved him over with a groundball. Mike Moustakas fielded a groundball off the bat of Polanco but misfired when he threw to first to allow the run to score though it was ruled a single.
The Royals did bring a little tension to the game with two outs in the ninth. Merrifield broke Minnesota Twins’ closer Brandon Kintzler’s scoreless streak to start the year by ripping a ball off the foul pole in left for his second home run of the season. Mike Moustakas followed that up with a single off Kintzler’s foot to bring the tying run to the plate. However, Kintzler struck out Lorenzo Cain looking to finish the game.
If you’re looking for positives out of this game the Royals offense does at least begin to look like it might be simple below average instead of historically bad. Salvador Perez might be heating up again, going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles. Moss was also 2-for-4, only his second multi-hit performance of the season. Mike Minor and Matt Strahm both pitched well in relief.
The Royals will continue their revenge homestand when the Chicago White Sox come to town tomorrow night to start a 4-game series. Jason Vargas (3-1 1.40) will try to halt the losing streak.