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Junis enjoys better command in Royals' loss

Right-hander racks up 8 strikeouts, but bats struggle vs. Cubs
MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- Right-hander Jakob Junis was largely able to keep the Cubs' powerful lineup in check on Monday night. The Royals' bullpen, however, was not.

Junis allowed one run on a wild pitch and five hits across five innings in the Royals' 3-1 loss to the Cubs at Kauffman Stadium, a promising outing spoiled by a homer surrendered immediately after he was pulled from the Interleague series opener.

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KANSAS CITY -- Right-hander Jakob Junis was largely able to keep the Cubs' powerful lineup in check on Monday night. The Royals' bullpen, however, was not.

Junis allowed one run on a wild pitch and five hits across five innings in the Royals' 3-1 loss to the Cubs at Kauffman Stadium, a promising outing spoiled by a homer surrendered immediately after he was pulled from the Interleague series opener.

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"I thought it was better than a lot of my previous outings I've been having," Junis said. "Finally commanded my fastball and got ahead of hitters, and let my slider play off that. So all in all, it was pretty good."

Junis threw just 87 pitches, but manager Ned Yost knew better than to push him.

Video: CHC@KC: Yost on Junis' strong outing in loss to Cubs

"By the end of the fifth inning that was it," Yost said. "You could tell he was starting to labor there. But he made big pitches. Slider was really, really good -- strike-to-ball, it starts on the corner and fades away, and guys bite on it.

Javier Baez was 0-for-2 against Junis heading into the sixth, but when reliever Kevin McCarthy came on, Baez took over. On the first pitch, Baez hammered his 25th home run to deep center on an 84-mph slider. Statcast™ projected the homer to travel 414 feet with an exit velocity of 106 mph.

"It was just a bad pitch," McCarthy said. "Cement-mixer slider that stayed down the middle and he got it."

Baez did more damage against the bullpen in the eighth, sending an RBI double down the left-field line off Jason Hammel to make it a two-run lead. That run was charged to Brian Flynn.

The Royals' lineup continued to struggle against Cole Hamels at home, mustering just one run in six innings against the newly acquired ace. In four career starts at Kauffman Stadium, that's the only run Hamels has allowed in 26 innings, and it came off the bat of Alcides Escobar, who knocked in Rosell Herrera with a single to left field in the second inning for the game's first run.

Video: CHC@KC: Hamels retires Dozier to escape jam in 5th

In the fifth, the Royals got something going with singles by Drew Butera and Alex Gordon before Hamels plunked Salvador Perez on the left foot to load the bases with two out. But Hunter Dozier grounded out to first to end the threat and Kansas City managed just two singles over the final four innings.

"He's tough on us," Yost said of Hamels. "Good fastball, not overpowering, but spots it extremely well. Pounds fastballs in, cutters in, good curveball."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Junis navigated out of potential trouble in the fifth. With the bases loaded and one out, Ben Zobrist grounded out, though first baseman Butera, normally the backup catcher, made an impressive throw home to get Addison Russell. Junis then got Jason Heyward to ground to third baseman Dozier, whose charging stop and throw to Butera ended the inning.

Video: CHC@KC: Butera fires home to cut down Russell in 5th

"Previously, I've been in those types of situations, I've given up a double or a home run or something, extra-base hits to cash in those runs," Junis said. "To get the ground ball and Drew to throw home and get the force, and then to get Heyward to ground out and get out of it, that's huge."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Gordon wasted no time making another highlight reel catch, as the left fielder charged in from left to make a nice sliding catch to rob Cubs leadoff batter Anthony Rizzo of a single in the first inning.

Video: CHC@KC: Gordon makes sliding grab on Rizzo in 1st

HE SAID IT
"It's a step in the right direction. I was struggling before, and I think I'm making strides and building off previous outings. Hopefully I can keep moving forward." -- Junis, on his fourth straight start allowing four or fewer earned runs since returning from the disabled list

UP NEXT
Royals right-hander Brad Keller (4-4, 3.39 ERA) will start the second game of the series against the Cubs at 7:15 p.m. CT on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium. The rookie racked up a career-high nine strikeouts in his last start, a no-decision against the Tigers on Thursday. The Cubs will counter with former Royals prospect Mike Montgomery (3-4, 3.90 ERA), who is 2-0 in three games (two starts) against Kansas City.

Jordan Wolf is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals, Jakob Junis