Shutdown inning eludes inconsistent Minor

July 11th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- For Royals starter , the most frustrating part of his first half of the season has been the inconsistency from start-to-start. He puts together a quality outing only to see a short start the next time out.

After pitching into the seventh inning earlier in the week, Minor allowed six runs in four innings against the Indians on Saturday night, as the Royals pitching imploded in their 14-6 loss at Progressive Field. It was the fourth straight loss for Kansas City, which is now staring at a four-game series sweep to an American League Central opponent if it doesn’t win Sunday.

In their past six losses, the Royals have held a lead in four of them, only to watch it disappear -- oftentimes right after the offense gains momentum with runs on the board early.

“Tonight’s one of those nights where you feel really bad because we put six on the board,” Minor said. “We’re supposed to win those games. The offense does their job and the pitching doesn’t. … I get up there and I didn’t do my part. It’s a game we could have maybe won with six runs on the board. It stings.”

After , who left the game in the sixth because of back tightness, launched his 21st home run of the season in the top of the fourth, the Indians not only took the lead, but also gave themselves a four-run cushion with a six-run inning off Minor.

The Indians were aggressive on Minor all night, but they started making solid contact and finding holes in the fourth. José Ramírez led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk, and then the Indians knocked five hits off Minor before Cesar Hernandez capped off the inning with a three-run home run on the first pitch -- a hanging slider from Minor. His offspeed pitches weren’t sharp in the fourth, and the Indians took advantage of it.

“When I needed to make pitches, they either took them in the dirt or hit the ones hanging,” Minor said. “I never want to go out there and put [this] performance out there, especially after we get the lead early with two runs. And then they put up six on me. I felt like I was a pitch away every time, and I couldn’t make that pitch.”

The Royals fought back with four runs in the sixth and seventh innings combined, but there wasn’t one shutdown inning from the Royals bullpen. Ervin Santana gave up three runs in 1 2/3 innings, Kyle Zimmer allowed a three-run homer to Oscar Mercado as part of a four-run seventh inning that saw one run also charged to lefty Richard Lovelady. Then Ramírez hit a homer off right-hander Anthony Swarzak in the eighth.

“You give up six, we’re in a bad spot,” manager Mike Matheny said. “You give up six in an inning, you’re going to be playing catchup the rest of the game. That’s what it was. Come back, score, get a little momentum going, and then we give up four. That’s just too much to overcome.”

The Royals are about to finish a 20-game stretch without an off-day, and the pitching has taken a hit in the past 19 games. Starters have pitched 85 1/3 innings in that stretch with a 6.43 ERA, while the bullpen has a 7.59 ERA in 74 2/3 innings. It has been, as Matheny said, “a grind” for almost everyone.

“At this point in the year, you go through a little bit of fatigue every now and then,” Zimmer said. “But you got to work through whatever you’re dealing with and go out there and make pitches.”

As they finish this stretch without an off-day, perhaps the best thing the Royals need right now is a break, and that’s what they’re about to get with four days off because of the All-Star Game next week. It’s a chance to get away from baseball, reset and come back ready to conquer the final 2 1/2 months of the regular season.

Minor has historically been a better pitcher in the second half, with a career 3.83 ERA in the later half of the season compared to a 4.22 ERA in the first half.

“It’s a reset for guys,” Minor said. “They can get a break away from baseball, a break away from the mental grind of getting beat down every fifth day or every day if you’re a position player or reliever. Sometimes you need a break. Sometimes that’s the best thing for you. Come back feeling like there’s only 2 1/2 months left and do the best you can to finish strong. A lot of guys will come back energized and ready to go.”