Perhaps one of the biggest and most welcome surprises since the Kansas City Royals won the 2015 World Series has been Jakob Junis. Kansas City picked the right-handed starting pitcher from Illinois in the 29th round of the 2011 draft, where the Royals gave him a signing bonus more appropriate for the third round. Never on any top prospect list, Junis nevertheless churned his way through the minor leagues, made his big league debut last year, and continues to be impressive.
Case in point: today, the Royals triumphed over the Detroit Tigers 4-2 thanks in large part to some stellar pitching by Junis.
Junis tossed seven innings, striking out eight, walking only one, and allowing a pair of runs. His slider was as filthy as the lawn of that empty house a few blocks away, his control as maniacally meticulous as your new neighbor’s garden.
The Tigers got their hits—eight of them, included a fourth inning home run by John Hicks—but Junis was always able to get the outs he needed. Junis was only ever in any danger in the third and fifth innings, and he was only in danger in the fifth inning thanks to Abraham Almonte’s poor communication that he had lost a fly ball in the sun; Jorge Soler was prepared to catch it, but Almonte never signaled to Soler that he was having trouble spotting it. Therefore, the ball landed in the shallow center field grass and Leonys Martin was rewarded with a ‘double.’
The Royals weren’t particularly efficient at the plate today, but thanks to Junis they had a pretty large margin for error. Whit Merrifield willed himself to the plate in the first inning, doubling and then stealing third base, scoring on a Mike Moustakas fly ball. Merrifield again displayed his wheels in the third inning, stealing two bases after singling, so inspiring with his baserunning that Soler stole second base himself after walk. Moustakas plated Merrifield and Soler with a double, and Perez’s routine fly ball was misplayed by JaCoby Jones, allowing Moose to score.
Kansas City’s bullpen has been its worst feature this season, and so the bullpen came dangerously close to blowing the game in the eighth inning. Tim Hill and Brad Keller allowed the inherited runner from Junis to score, and two more Tigers roamed the basepaths when Keller secured the final out.
Kelvin Herrera took the ninth inning, securing his seventh save of the young season.
Tomorrow, the Royals have a well-earned day off, and then go on a six-game road trip through Baltimore and Cleveland from Tuesday through Sunday. The Royals are 11-23.