Royals lock up sweep behind dominant Shields
Right-hander strikes out 12 and allows just one run over eight frames
HOUSTON -- Royals pitcher James Shields didn't say it, but he was probably thinking it after Thursday night's win over Houston. Thanks I needed that.
His Kansas City teammates had scored just two runs total in Shields' last two starts. Shields lost both of them.
Thursday night they made it up to their star right-hander by scoring five times in the first five innings en route to a 5-1 win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. That gave the Royals a three-game sweep and Shields his first win of the season.
"We're starting to swing a little bit," Shields said of the Royals' offense that collected nine hits in those first five innings. "These guys really haven't shown what we're capable of doing yet. That's a good sign. We're .500 now."
Shields pitched eight innings and allowed only four singles, two of them in the first inning. He struck out 12, including seven in a row, and walked two.
Designated hitter Billy Butler knew what Shields can do with a little support.
"Giving him some runs on the board early, probably gave him a little bit of confidence," Butler said. "He always pitches confidently. But we probably gave him a little sense of relief. We haven't been able to do it for him. We're trying. I'm glad we could put up five for him and let him cruise."
"He was on the attack all night long," manager Ned Yost said of Shields. Shields painted a picture the whole game with his near perfect control.
"I felt really good in my delivery in the bullpen session before," Shields said. "Sometimes that doesn't translate into the game. Today it did. I was just pounding the strike zone and getting real aggressive with my fastball. I was locating everything.
"I wasn't horrendous over the weekend," he said of his 5 2/3-inning outing at Minnesota. He gave up seven runs, but only one earned.
"It definitely felt real good to come back and have a good outing. [Alcides Escobar] made some good plays and [left fielder Alex Gordon] made that one diving play. When we get our defense going like that, it makes it easy to pitch."
Yost said Shields had everything working Thursday night.
"He had a great changeup, a great four-seamer, a good two-seamer and a great cutter," Yost said. "He was on with all his pitches. He moved it around very effectively. He was locking guys up in, locking them up down and away. He kept his pitch count down. From the second inning on, I'm thinking we've got a chance to go nine. He started to lose it a little bit in the eighth inning."
"Any time a guy goes eight innings against your ballclub, you have to give him credit," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "At the same time, offensively, we did not swing the bats well. Take nothing away from Shields, though, because he was impressive tonight."
Shields threw 107 pitches and Yost decided he didn't need to push him this early in the season.
"April's was too early [to go out for the ninth]," Yost said. "I really wanted to, but 115-120 pitches right now doesn't make any sense. Our bullpen was rested."
Butler batted cleanup in the first 13 games of the season. Yost moved him down to the sixth spot in the order Thursday night, hoping to take a little pressure off him.
He thought Butler, a career .298 hitter, was beginning to press at the plate. Butler entered the game hitting .149.
The Kansas City power hitter singled to set up a run in the second inning and later walked and scored in the fourth. He finished the game 1-for-3.
"I thought Billy looked much better," Yost said. "He had a great walk, big base hit to set up a run."
"I'll talk about the game," Butler said. "I'm not going to talk about the lineup change right now."
Then he did talk about the lineup change.
"I don't think it matters where I was at in the lineup," he said. "If it's best for the team, I'm fine with it. I'm still getting my at-bats.
"It was just good to get a hit [Wednesday] night. Sometimes the first ones [of the series] are the toughest ones to get. I felt like I got off the slide."
Butler started Wednesday's game going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He finally got his hit, a single to right, in the 10th inning.
"Sometimes to break out you have to catch a little luck here and there," he said. "I felt comfortable all day today. Hopefully, I can build on that. I've done it for a long time. Going through something like I have now. There's nothing easy about it."
Someone told Butler that Yost was pleased with him drawing the walk. "I guess he's just looking at positives," Butler said. "That's the way I've been my whole career, work the count, swing at good pitches. That's the only thing I can control. Working the count is part of my game."
Nori Aoki got the offense rolling by starting the game with a double and moving to third on an error by new Houston right fielder George Springer. He scored on Eric Hosmer's ground out.
Gordon, Butler and Mike Moustakas singled back-to-back-to-back in the second to score another run and Escobar doubled in two more in the fourth.
"We had some great at-bats," Yost said. "It means a lot [to sweep], especially after we got swept in our first series in Minnesota on the road. To go back home at .500 and play Minnesota again, [tonight] was huge."