Royals pitching struggled to throw strikes all series against the Yankees and today, they looked to their most walk-prone starting pitcher to end that struggle. Entering the game, Brad Keller’s 9.8% walk percentage was the highest of any Royals starter and the 7th highest in baseball.
The good news is that he, along with Anthony Swarzak, Wade Davis, and Ervin Santana slightly lowered the Royals walk percentage in this series. The bad news is that he gave up seven hits and two homers in the first three innings, paving the way to a Yankees 8-1 series-clinching win.
Yankees batters just chewed up Royals pitchers this week, specifically starting pitchers. Brady Singer, Danny Duffy, and Keller all struggled to get through even four innings without throwing over 80 pitches.
Singer needed 96 pitches to get through just 3.2 IP, while Duffy needed 42 pitches to get through 2.0 innings. Keller continued this trend, needing 85 pitches to get through four innings.
But where Singer and Duffy struggled with pitch count thanks to walks, Keller struggled with pitch count by giving up a ton of hits. It started with an Aaron Judge 1st inning home run to put the Yankees up 1-0. This was also the first of two homers given up by Keller that wouldn’t have been home runs at Kauffman.
In fact, Judge’s 344-foot homer would have been a homer in just two other ballparks – Houston and Seattle. The Yankees strung together there more singles in the 1st, two of which that never left the infield, capped off with Rougned Odor’s RBI infield single. The Yankees led 2-0 after the one frame.
And if walks have been a pattern for the Royals pitching staff, poor hitting with runners in scoring position has become a pattern for Royals hitters.
Before the Yankees took their 1st inning lead, Whit Merrifield led off the game with a single and then stole second base. He moved to third on a Carlos Santana groundout before being stranded at third thanks to a Salvador Perez strikeout and Ryan O’Hearn ground out. 0-2 with RISP after one inning.
Hanser Alberto then doubled to start the 2nd inning for Kansas City. After a Jarrod Dyson bunt moved him to third, Michael A. Taylor and Nicky Lopez left him there thanks to a strike out and fly out. 0-5 with RISP after just two innings. Taylor made it 0-6 in the 4th, stranding Alberto again, this time at second.
Meanwhile, Keller continued to struggle, both with walks and bats. Back-to-back one-out walks allowed Aaron Judge to single in the third run of the game for that Yankees in the 2nd, making it 3-0. Then, another Yankee Stadium home run from Luke Voit put the Yankees up 4-0 in the 4th. This one was to right-centered, traveling 362 feet.
It’s important to note that while the two Yankee homers were aided by their ballpark, they were also aided by batters hitting the ball hard. And that’s something that New York did far better than the Royals this afternoon.
Exit velocity isn't everything, but I would argue you probably want to have more hard-hit balls than your opponent. pic.twitter.com/lgLQvMins9— Royals Review (@royalsreview) June 24, 2021
Kansas City had an opportunity to cut that lead in half in the 5th when Lopez led off the inning with a single and was driven in by Sebastian Rivero. It was the perfect time for Rivero’s first Major League hit and the RBI double made it a 4-1 game with a runner on 2nd and nobody out for the top of the order.
Merrifield put together a heck of an at-bat against Yankees starter Jameson Taillon that spanned 10 pitches and ended with a walk, bringing up the tying run represented by Santana. Taillon was facing runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out.
He needed just two pitches to escape the jam, getting Santana to fly out to left before Rivero was doubled off on a Salvador Perez line out. 0-8 with RISP through five.
Keller got him right back into trouble in the 5th, loading up the bases after a single, double, and a walk. At this point, he had thrown 102 pitches in just 4.1 IP. However, he got two huge outs to strand the bases loaded.
Had he not gotten those outs, it would have been the first time since May 2 that Keller didn’t get through five. With that said, he’s also given up at least five runs in each of his last four starts. In total, he went 5.0 IP, giving up four runs on nine hits and four walks on a season-high 114 pitches.
Anthony Swarzak made sure those outs didn’t matter, giving up a three-run homer to Gary Sanchez the next inning to blow the game open at 7-1. The Yankees added one more in the 8th for good measure before Kansas City went quietly in the final three frames.
Royals hitters finished the game 0-9 with runners in scoring position and got the business from a struggling Taillion all afternoon long. The Royals first four hitters specifically went just 1-14 and that one hit was Merrifield’s single to lead off the game.
The loss moves the Royals to 33-40 on the season.
Up Next: Royals at Rangers, Friday, June 25, 7:05 PM CDT, Globe Life Field. LHP Mike Minor (6-4, 4.48 ERA) v. RHP Dane Dunning (2-6, 4.71 ERA).