On the heels of their first series win of the second half, the Royals welcomed another divisional rival in the Chicago White Sox. Fueled by a strong outing from Jakob Junis, Kansas City dodged a late rally and came out victorious, 5-2.
An opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of earned run average, Junis and Lucas Giolito squared off in the first of a four game set Monday night. However, despite the numbers, both pitchers dueled it out for the first three innings. Retiring the first six hitters, Giolito appeared to have no early struggles in his first start of the second half. Sitting down hitters quickly and keeping the pitch count low, the Chicago starter looked well on his way to dominating Kansas City again. However, a scary moment stunted his rhythm in the bottom of the third. Throwing to Nicky Lopez, Giolito dodged a bullet when a line drive off the bat screamed back towards his upper body. Ripping the chain off his neck, the ball ricocheted off him and bounced into centerfield for the Royals’ first hit. After the trainers came out to evaluate the damage, he appeared unscathed and remained in the game. Tossing the broken jewelry to one of the bat boys, the pitchers’ duel resumed.
An inning later, the scoreless tie was broken. Following a one-out double from Alex Gordon, Hunter Dozier rocked a second double off the fence in left field, giving Kansas City their first run on the evening. Two batters later, Cheslor Cuthbert guided a ground ball through a wide open hole at second base. Taking the mound with a brief 2-0 lead, Junis went back to work.
Cruising through the Chicago lineup, Junis ran into his first and only hiccup on the night in the sixth. Falling behind 2-0 in the count, White Sox’ catcher James McCann pummeled the righty’s next pitch way over Chicago’ bullpen in left. Estimated at a distance of 430 feet, the Southsiders cut the lead in half, 2-1. Fighting to work through six complete innings, Junis struck out A.J. Reed for the third out, notching his ninth punch out overall to tie his career-high.
In the bottom half, Kansas City looked to snag the run right back. Coming to the plate with a runner at third and two outs, Lopez slapped his second hit of the night into left field, bumping the lead back up to two. Although the scoring would halt there, dramatics continued. Before his at-bat in the seventh, Martín Maldonado was pulled from the game. Later in the night, it was confirmed that he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery, a former Royals’ farmhand.
The Royals are getting back Mike Montgomery in the deal for Martin Maldonado, as @Feinsand said. A likely candidate to be stretched out and join the rotation. Still has a couple years of club control.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 16, 2019
Back in the game, Junis returned to the bump for the seventh. Nearing 100 pitches, the right-handed breezed through the top half, completing his line of seven innings while racking up a career-high 10 strikeouts. Tacking on another run by way of an RBI-groundout from Gordon to make it 4-1, Kansas City turned the game over to the bullpen.
Handing the eighth inning to Scott Barlow, who was recently re-called from Omaha, the Royals hoped to bridge the gap to Ian Kennedy for the ninth. However, following a lead-off walk and a single, Chicago began threatening. Striking out McCann before exiting the game, Barlow was replaced by Jake Diekman. Behind tons of soft contact, the White Sox brought home their second run on an infield single that Adalberto Mondesi gloved but threw wildly to first. Loading the bases with two outs, Diekman punched out Yolmer Sánchez on a 98-mph fastball to end the inning and preserve the lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, Kansas City brought the lead back to three on a ground ball that snuck under the glove of first baseman Jose Abreu. However, loading the bases with nobody out, the Royals’ couldn’t bring home anymore. Attempting to close it out in the ninth, Kennedy found himself in some trouble, similar to his fellow bullpen teammates. On a 3-2 count with runners at first and second and one out, Abreu rolled one right to Lopez at second. Flipping to Mondesi, who fired to first to complete the double play, Kansas City claimed game one and gave Junis his fifth win on the year. Tomorrow, Glenn Sparkman will face rookie Dylan Cease for game two. First pitch is set for 7:15 CT.