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Royals can't shake 1st-inning blues vs. Rays

Hammel labors during tone-setting 3-run frame in finale
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- Opposing teams had scored in the first inning against the Royals in five of the previous six games entering Wednesday. That trend continued when the Rays clipped starter Jason Hammel for three in the first en route to a 5-3 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

In that stretch, the Royals have given up 14 first-inning runs.

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KANSAS CITY -- Opposing teams had scored in the first inning against the Royals in five of the previous six games entering Wednesday. That trend continued when the Rays clipped starter Jason Hammel for three in the first en route to a 5-3 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

In that stretch, the Royals have given up 14 first-inning runs.

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Manager Ned Yost said the stretch of early runs given up by his rotation is likely just one of the quirks of a long baseball season.

"I guess," Yost said. "How else do you explain it? You have to execute pitches to get better."

And with a punchless offense -- the Royals are 13th in the American League in runs scored and 13th in home runs -- the deficit has become too much to overcome. They have lost five straight and seven of eight.

Video: TB@KC: Yost on Hammel, staying positive

Hammel, though, like Ian Kennedy the day before, overcame that shaky start and provided Yost some length. Hammel went six innings, permitting 10 hits and five runs. He walked none and struck out two.

After a solid start to the season, Hammel's ERA has risen to 6.28.

"Beyond frustration," Hammel said, shaking his head. "Right now it's unacceptable. Giving up 3-spots in every first inning -- obviously not proud of the effort. Just got to get better."

Jon Jay had three hits and reached base four times for the Royals. Jay isn't pointing fingers at the rotation.

Video: TB@KC: Jon Jay on long season, battling as a team

"Pitchers are trying to do their thing," Jay said. "... there have been days we've pitched well and the offense wasn't there."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Royals had a great opportunity to do some damage in the third inning. With one out, Jay led off with a single to left. Jorge Soler was hit by a pitch and Mike Moustakas walked to load the bases. But Salvador Perez squelched the rally by hitting into a 6-4-3 double play on the first pitch. Perez now leads the team in hitting into double plays with seven, though he missed the first three weeks being on the disabled list.

Video: TB@KC: Soler plates Jay with an RBI double to left

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Royals have become fairly adept at beating the shift in another fashion: Stealing bases against it. Earlier this season, Whit Merrifield and Soler stole bases virtually uncontested against the shift and each eventually scored, leading to a win over the Tigers. Soler did it again on Wednesday in the fifth inning. After doubling in Jay, Soler took off for third with Rays right-hander Jake Faria still holding the ball. Faria stepped off the mound and would have thrown to third, but the shift had taken third baseman Daniel Robertson way out of position. Soler then scored on a sacrifice fly by Moustakas.

Video: TB@KC: Soler catches Rays napping and steals third

SOUND SMART

The Royals do lead the Major Leagues in one offensive statistic, albeit a dubious one. They have grounded into the most double plays with 47.

HE SAID IT
"It's something you have to work at. It doesn't come natural. I've had to tell myself in the middle of the game, 'Shut up.' You just got to understand the process and what we're trying to accomplish, and what the boys are going through … we're not playing sloppy baseball. We're not walking guys, making errors and making baserunning gaffes, and all the dumb stuff that tick you off as a manager. But the guys are playing hard and playing good baseball." -- Yost, on how he tries to stay upbeat during the Royals' rough start to 2018

UP NEXT
After an off-day on Thursday, the Royals return to action at 7:15 p.m. CT on Friday in the opener of a three-game set against the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium. Right-hander Jakob Junis (4-3, 3.53 ERA) will take the mound for the Kansas City, while lefty CC Sabathia (2-0, 2.23) will start for New York. Junis gave up four runs and six hits over 5 2/3 innings on Saturday against the Indians.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Alcides Escobar, Jason Hammel, Mike Moustakas, Jorge Soler