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Royals' bats still missing mark against Orioles

KC manages only five hits; Guthrie makes costly throwing error

KANSAS CITY -- Just as soon as manager Ned Yost starts seeing signs of a hitting surge from his team, guess what happens? Yep, somebody turns the sign posts and his Royals go in the wrong direction.

Since Baltimore hit town, Kansas City has been an offensive desert. Right-hander Chris Tillman refused to quench the Royals' thirst on Friday night, pitching the Orioles to a 4-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium. For the 25,983 fans, the only fireworks came after the game.

Tillman went the distance, giving up just five hits in his first career shutout. Losing pitcher Jeremy Guthrie went eight innings but still hasn't won in his last seven starts.

The Royals also lost the series opener on Thursday night, 2-1. That came after wins in six of their previous eight games, a spurt that had Yost sensing signs of a hitting bonanza. Then: Next to nothing.

"I was thinking that same thing tonight about the seventh inning," Yost said. "But you keep working at it."

Yost even juggled his batting order a bit, moving Billy Butler down in the fifth spot for the first time since 2011. He put Salvador Perez third and brought Alex Gordon up to cleanup. But nothing worked.

"Sal's been swinging the bat a little bit better, Gordy's been a little bit better and Billy's been struggling," Yost said. "We tried to get those two guys up in front of him and see what happens. I thought Billy took some better swings tonight so that's a good thing."

But there weren't many good things. Nori Aoki opened the Royals' first inning with a double down the left-field line on Tillman's sixth pitch of the game. With just six more pitches, he got three outs and Aoki was stranded.

"That was huge," Tillman said. "There were a lot of early swings and a lot of early outs. Any time you get that, it really helps."

All of which left Yost talking about a better display of plate discipline by his batters.

"We need to be better hunters of pitches," Yost said. "Instead of going up and just swinging at the first pitch, we've got to have a game plan of what we want to try to accomplish. Sit on a pitch and don't miss it when we get it. When we get rolling offensively, those are the things we're going to be doing well."

Guthrie breezed through the first three innings unscathed, but Manny Machado started him on a series of fourth-inning misadventures. Machado's bunt sent Guthrie sprawling, and when he tried to throw while on the seat of his pants, the ball went sailing past first base. By the time Eric Hosmer recovered and threw to second base, Machado was in safely.

"Guthrie is one of the best-fielding pitchers in baseball," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We're just fortunate because usually he makes that play."

Given another chance, Guthrie would probably handle it differently.

"I'll probably need to catch it on the fly. It'd make it a lot easier than jumping on it like a land mine," he said.

Then, Guthrie wild-pitched Machado to third base. Adam Jones bounced out, Machado holding, but Chris Davis walked and Nelson Cruz sent a hopper high over Hosmer's head for a run-scoring single. Steve Clevenger's slow ground ball couldn't be turned into a double play -- he beat the relay to first -- and a second run scored.

The Orioles upped their lead to 3-0 in the sixth on singles by Jones and Davis, and Cruz's sacrifice fly. Davis boomed a homer over the right-field fence in the eighth. That was it for the scoring. There was certainly nothing coming from the Royals.

Tillman's history this year has shown he's especially vulnerable in the first two innings, giving up 13 runs in those 16 innings in his first eight starts.

But the Royals couldn't do a thing to add to that 7.31 ERA. Tillman's ERA from the third inning had been 2.27 and he demonstrated why. No runs on just three hits and his only walk.

"I don't think we centered anything up against Tillman," Yost said. "He did a great job of keeping the ball down, staying ahead in the count. He had enough movement on his fastball and his slider so we couldn't center anything up."

The rearranged middle of the order, Perez, Gordon and Butler, went 0-for-12.

"I feel like I was putting good at-bats on him and you can't take anything away from a complete-game shutout," Butler said. "But, I felt like I was seeing the ball good, was putting good swings on it. I hit that ball good to right-center, it just doesn't get out."

That was a reference to Butler's booming fly ball to deep right-center in the fourth inning, a futile bid for his second home run.

Everything has been futile in the first half of this four-game series.

"It's hard right now. The last two games, 18 innings and just one run," Alcides Escobar said. "We've got to get men on base, move the runners and score more runs."

Sounds simple but somebody has to get things going.

"Right now, we don't have anybody that I can sit back and say, 'Boy, he's really swinging the bat well,'" Yost said. "But it's amazing how quickly it can turn. It can turn like that and all of a sudden, the floodgates open for a week and you get on a bit of a run."

Yost insists that he's observed a sense of urgency among his players.

"They're upset with themselves because they're not producing better," Yost said. "They all are working extremely hard in the cages, trying to get it. It's just not at times transitioning to the game, which they need to do."

But after the two losses to the Orioles, Yost wasn't seeing many good signs of an offensive outbreak.

"As a team, when you get shut out, there aren't many good signs there," Butler said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for
Read More: Kansas City Royals, Jeremy Guthrie