Royals' bats lack pop in Guthrie's solid start
Right-hander strikes out five in six innings as KC drops third straight
KANSAS CITY -- Before the game, Royals manager Ned Yost was talking wistfully about anticipating a power surge from his often punchless club.
After all, the Royals were last in the Major Leagues with just 20 home runs and they hadn't hit one in, well, now make it eight straight games.
After Tuesday night's 3-0 loss to the Houston Astros, Yost was still looking for not only home runs but just plain old runs. And his search was confined to his clubhouse office where he could watch the game on TV because he'd been ejected in the sixth inning.
Right-hander Collin McHugh held the Royals scoreless for the first seven innings. He gave up five singles, no walks and struck out nine.
"That kid threw a great game," Yost said. "It's just the ability to make adjustments. We talked before the game -- this kid has yet to give up a hit, all year long, on his curveball. And it's a great one. He's got a really good slider and he spots his fastball well. So, on that aspect, he threw the ball really well."
Oh, those adjustments? The Royals never made them.
"But on the other aspect," Yost continued, "I just have higher expectations for our offense: That we should be able to compete against higher-caliber guys when they're on top of their game."
After McHugh finished with a flourish, setting down the last eight batters he faced, relievers Tony Sipp and Chad Qualls combined to retire the last six. That's the last 14 Royals down in order.
"To be honest with you, at times, I'll cover for my team when a guy doesn't pitch that well," Yost said. "And we're struggling a little bit, but tonight wasn't the case. McHugh threw a really good game."
McHugh was opposing the Royals for the first time and he deflected credit to his catcher, Jason Castro.
"I can't give enough credit to Jason back there, he was calling things that I wouldn't necessarily think of back there in different counts," McHugh said. "He had a little bit of a better idea of these guys, and I was just kind of following him, truthfully."
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie lasted through six innings, one batter longer than Yost did. Yost came out to the mound after the Astros had loaded the bases with two outs and, while there, informed home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley of his displeasure with his ball-strike decisions. The manager was quickly ejected.
Guthrie got the third out and avoided further damage. But he'd thrown 105 pitches by then and was through for the night. The only run against him came on two walks and Matt Dominguez's single in the fourth inning.
So he left behind, 1-0, but he wouldn't grumble about lack of run support, not when the Royals had averaged 4.3 runs for him in his previous 10 starts.
"I can never complain. I've been given plenty of run support, not only this season but as long as I've been a Kansas City Royal. I'm the last guy that can ever feel the offense isn't doing their part," Guthrie said.
A key component of that offense, Eric Hosmer, could find grounds for complaint, however. One was that the hitters couldn't adjust to McHugh's curveball.
"It was really good. I think I saw a stat after the game that he hasn't given up a hit on his curveball all year so that's obviously pretty impressive," Hosmer said. "He throws it quite a bit so for him to not give up a hit on that all year is really impressive."
According to BrooksBaseball.net, that's not quite true -- there's been one hit off his 136 curveballs this season. A formidable stat nonetheless.
"That's why everyone's up here, that's a big part of the game. You've got to learn to make adjustments at-bat by at-bat and even pitch by pitch," Hosmer said.
"As an offense right now, we've got to find a way to get it done and we're just simply not doing that right now. We've got to find a way to produce runs and do what we can. The pitching staff's doing way too well right now for us to be giving them this kind of run support. We've just got to find a flat-out way to get it done."
So what sort of adjustments need to be made? Let the manager count the ways.
"Pitch selection is part of it," Yost said. "We're making way too many first-pitch outs. We're not swinging at our pitch in crucial situations. We're taking what the pitcher gives us instead of waiting back and getting a pitch we can drive. That type of stuff. It's just being more confidently patient at the plate, not being afraid to hit with a two-strike approach. And they'll get it, they've done it. It's just taken longer than I expected it to and longer than I wanted it to."
Well, yes, here we are, 51 games into the season, and his Royals are dead last in American League scoring -- behind, yes, the Astros, 197 runs to 194.
Although it wasn't really necessary the way the Royals were hitting on this 83-degree evening at Kauffman Stadium, the Astros tacked on two insurance runs in the eighth inning against reliever Tim Collins.
That made it four straight victories for the Astros and three straight losses for the Royals. A frustrating night for the home team.
"We should definitely be putting up a better fight," Hosmer said.