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Johnson, Sox can't spoil Royals' home debut

Flowers collects three hits as offense hangs tough after early deficit

KANSAS CITY -- For the first time in four games, the White Sox had a starting effort that didn't give them a viable chance to win during Friday's 7-5 loss to the Royals before 40,103 at Kauffman Stadium.

Rookie right-hander Erik Johnson lasted just 4 2/3 innings to go with his 98 pitches, and he probably lasted that long because the bullpen already was a bit worn down from the opening Twins series. He exited with the White Sox facing a 7-2 deficit.

That sort of hole would have been nearly impossible for last year's struggling offense to climb out of and come back. This year's offense couldn't quite complete the rally on Friday, but it continued to show the energy and fight to keep the opposition from relaxing.

"Our offense is doing a good job no matter what the situation is," said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers. "We were down a little bit more early, and still did a good job of getting some innings started and guys coming through with big hits.

"Today, [the Royals] just came through in more big situations than we did. But we're not getting down for one second out there. It seems like anybody that comes up is capable of starting a rally and creating a big inning."

Flowers stands as a prime example of this early turnaround with the bats.

After hitting .195 last season while battling a sore shoulder that needed to be surgically repaired, Flowers knocked out three hits in his first three at-bats on Friday to give him seven straight. He fell short of matching the franchise record of 10 shared by Frank Thomas (1997), Rip Radcliff (1938) and Harry McCurdy (1926) when Nori Aoki dropped his routine fly ball to right for an error with one out in the eighth. But according to Elias Sports Bureau, Flowers became the first White Sox catcher to string together seven straight hits.

If there's a difference in Flowers' approach, he's not ready to share it.

"I don't know what the hell I'm doing," said a smiling Flowers, adding that he might have had seven straight hits in high school. "I'm just trying to see the ball and swing at stuff that looks good.

"I'm just trying to relax and if it looks good, swing. If it doesn't, take it. I'm just trying to keep it as simple as I can and hopefully ride this out for a long time."

Jose Abreu's first-inning sacrifice fly and sixth RBI, coming against Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, gave the White Sox a brief advantage. The Royals answered with three in the bottom of the frame.

Alex Gordon delivered the decisive shot with a three-run double over the head of Avisail Garcia, on a hard-hit ball that seemed to freeze the right fielder in his tracks upon contact. White Sox manager Robin Ventura said it was more about the 16-mph wind getting a hold of Gordon's drive and carrying it over Garcia.

Lorenzo Cain added a two-run single through a drawn-in infield during a three-run fifth, which knocked Johnson from the game. His '14 debut, in front of the raucous Royals faithful, resulted in seven runs allowed on 10 hits and three walks.

"My biggest thing is, I have to compete better for my team," said Johnson, who was trying to be aggressive early in counts. "They were right there and put five runs on the board after putting them in a hole. You have to give some credit to the offense. They are never giving up and fighting back."

"Guys battled and everything like that, but you know, you just can't pitch from behind against these guys," Ventura said. "They have too good of a lineup. You get behind that much against a lineup like this and you just make it harder on yourself."

Despite being down, the White Sox offense was not out.

Two runs scored in the sixth on Adam Eaton's bases-loaded, opposite-field single to left off of reliever Kelvin Herrera. But that inning came to an abrupt end when home-plate umpire Will Little ruled Marcus Semien went around for a swinging third strike with runners on first and second where replays showed he might have held up.

Garcia's run-scoring groundout brought home an unearned run in the seventh, as the White Sox did not go in order during any of the first eight frames. That run was unearned when Abreu reached on a Mike Moustakas' throwing error that was confirmed on a replay challenge.

Long reliever Jake Petricka held the Royals in check while the offense made this run. Petricka replaced Nate Jones on the roster Friday, when Jones was placed on the disabled list with a muscle strain in his left hip. The right-hander gave up two hits and walked two over 2 1/3 innings, but he did not allow a run.

It was a case of too little, too late for the White Sox, as Greg Holland set them down in order in the ninth. The fight was there, even if the win wasn't.

"You have an offense that feels like they can come back. You are one hit away or that one inning way," Ventura said. "Guys are still getting on base and they are still battling."

"With cold and the wind blowing, it was very difficult to grip the ball and get a feel on the ball," said Royals manager Ned Yost, referring to the 46-degree temperature at first pitch and its effect on the pitchers. "So what Guthrie did was tremendous out there, battling through those adverse conditions."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
Read More: Chicago White Sox, Erik Johnson, Jake Petricka, Adam Eaton, Tyler Flowers, Jose Abreu