KANSAS CITY -- A 3-6 start isn’t how the Royals drew up this shortened 2020 season.
But there is one highly encouraging sign: The performance of their bullpen.
For the most part, Kansas City’s bullpen once again picked up a shaky outing by a starter and kept an opponent within striking distance. This time it came Saturday night in the Royals’ 11-5 loss to the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Starter Ronald Bolaños struggled mightily, lasting just 1 2/3 innings while giving up five hits and five runs, thus plopping Kansas City in a formidable hole.
“We see that good arm,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “He came out with a game plan and that was to use all of his weapons. He’s got such good stuff, but maybe you try to use too much instead of just being a master of a couple things that are working.”
But the bullpen, which entered the game with a 2.95 ERA, fourth-best in the American League, essentially shut the door on the White Sox, at least until the ninth inning. That’s when the White Sox mounted a two-out rally against Glenn Sparkman that produced four runs, though only two were earned.
In all, the Royals’ ‘pen gave up three runs over 7 1/3 innings, which is certainly respectable in today’s offensive-minded game.
Matheny has raved about his relievers going back to Spring Training. The additions of Trevor Rosenthal (0.00 ERA), Greg Holland (0.00 ERA), Josh Staumont (2.25 ERA) and rookie Tyler Zuber have helped fortify a bullpen returning reliable holdovers such as Ian Kennedy and Scott Barlow from last season.
Saturday night, McCarthy, Newberry and Zimmer all navigated through plenty of traffic without caving in.
McCarthy gave up four hits and left with two runners on and one out in the third. But Newberry picked him up with two big strikeouts of Edwin Encarnación and Eloy Jiménez. Newberry got nicked for two runs in the fifth, but only one was earned.
“Mac came in and got in trouble and worked his way out of it,” Matheny said. “Newberry did that same thing, got in trouble, worked his way out of it.
“I thought Zim just did a fantastic job. We needed that so bad to give the rest of our bullpen a break. We had to eat some innings. He keeps making great improvement on all of his stuff.”
Zimmer tossed three shutout innings, though he gave up doubles in the first two. It was his longest outing in the big leagues.
“When you’re out there you just take it pitch by pitch, out by out,” Zimmer said, “and before you know it, it’s three innings. I was just going out there with the mentality to close down every inning, and that every out matters.
“I came into the dugout after two innings and just said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s roll [for another].”
Zimmer has blended in well with several other power arms.
“We have so many unreal competitors down there,” Zimmer said. “It’s nice when starters go deep into games and you can just go bang-bang-bang with the bullpen. But if we need to go multiple innings, no one down there is scared to do it. We have so much talent there and so many guys are hungry for the ball. It’s exciting to watch and exciting to be a part of.”
That allowed the Royals to crawl back a bit with a three-run sixth inning, aided by Whit Merrifield’s two-run homer, his third of the season and one of his three hits on the night.
One area that hasn’t been good this season is defense -- the Royals made four errors Saturday night that contributed to three unearned runs.
“We can’t be a four-error team,” Matheny said. “And it seems every time we make a mistake, it comes back to bite us.”
Added Merrifield, “We have to clean that up.”