Lyles solid in start, but 8th inning gets away from Royals' bullpen

June 3rd, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- put together one of his best outings in a Royals uniform -- good enough to end a career-long losing streak -- but it wasn’t enough. 

For the third time in the past six games, the Royals gave up four or more runs in the sixth inning or later in a 7-2 loss to the Rockies on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

And that fact wasn’t lost on Royals manager Matt Quatraro. Lyles, who struck out eight batters, one shy from his season high, was pulled after five innings despite throwing just 74 pitches in a strategic move to avoid both the big inning and the third time through the Rockies' lineup.

But instead of avoiding it, the Royals just delayed it.

Kansas City allowed a combined 13 runs in the sixth inning during the past three losses, but it was a six-run eighth inning that sunk the Royals on Friday. 

“[The sixth inning] is generally a big spot in every game,” Quatraro said. “As long as you aren’t separated one way or the other, it’s the third time through the order, and you’re at the top of the order which are their best hitters.

“If [Lyles didn’t throw] 25 pitches the inning before, maybe I think differently, but I think that was the best chance to win the game and that’s something we have to try to do.”

Lyles faced just four batters in the fifth despite the 25-pitch inning, and in his mind, he was ready to toe the rubber in the sixth. So, did the decision surprise him?

“Um, yeah,” Lyles said. “Yeah. But we had the two off-days and obviously we had a rested bullpen and have some quality, strong arms out there. I can see why [Quatraro] wanted to [take me out], but I wanted to go back out there for sure.”

Outside of Ryan McMahon’s solo homer in the first inning, Lyles gave up just one hit the remainder of his start and racked up nine whiffs on 19 swings on his four-seam fastball.

“I felt like we had [a] decent amount of life on the fastball, especially to those lefties' arm side up and away,” Lyles said. “Salvy and I kept going to that pitch, up and away, especially with two strikes after landing some breaking balls early in the count. A couple swings they were looking for something else, you could tell.”

The Royals gave Lyles a lead to work with when Edward Olivares hit the first pitch he saw from Rockies starter Chase Anderson in the second inning for a game-tying homer, and Drew Waters’ first homer of the season gave the Royals a one-run lead.

The 419-foot homer to the opposite field put an end to a 1-for-12 skid for Waters, who the Royals expect will get a long look in center field.

“Any time you get a big hit or anything like that, you get more comfortable,” Waters said. “It’s one of those things, it’s one at-bat [though]. The work’s got to continue in the cage and [I’ve got to] continue to improve.”

Last weekend, Lyles was charged with four runs in the sixth without recording an out. On Friday, Quatraro turned to his bullpen for the sixth, and Taylor Clarke extended his career-high scoreless streak to 12 2/3 innings. But in the eighth, Carlos Hernández allowed four runs and exited with a trainer because of a ruptured callus on his right thumb. The righty is considered day to day.

The Royals gave Lyles a two-year, $17 million dollar deal to be the workhorse for them, but the decision to pull the veteran resulted in his lowest pitch count of the season -- by 12 pitches -- outside of a short 2 1/3-inning outing against the Brewers on May 14 when Lyles gave up seven runs.

The Royals dropped to 0-12 when Lyles starts with Friday's loss, but the first five innings showed what Lyles can bring to a team that, outside of the two off-days, has recently needed as much pitching depth as it could find. It was just the second start of Lyles’ 12 that he allowed fewer than three runs.

“[Lyles] threw the ball great,” Quatraro said. “He’s going to do his thing. He threw several really good changeups today. Velo was up. I thought he worked the ball up and down the zone. It was a really positive outing.”