Hernández entered a one-run ballgame in the sixth inning against the Rangers and he departed after allowing five runs on five hits without recording an out. It put the game squarely out of control for the Royals, who are now 4-14 in 2023.
Kansas City has now lost five straight, eight of its last nine and eight consecutive losses at Kauffman Stadium. This season is the second-worst 18-game start in franchise history, better than only the 1992 club that went 2-16.
“Motivation, for sure,” shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. said of the boos. “We’re trying to put on a show for them. Whenever they do that, it motivates us to get better. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.
“I know at times, it can get hard. You can hear it with all the outside noise. But you just got to keep a positive mindset. We’re not trying to go out there each and every day trying to lose every game.
“People don’t see the work we’re putting in before the game. That’s what we can continually do.”
Witt helped give the Royals a 1-0 lead with a leadoff triple in the bottom of the first inning. He scored moments later on MJ Melendez’s sacrifice fly. But in this game, the pitching capsized.
In 2023, the Royals’ motto is to “Raid the Zone,” emphasizing strike throwing after ranking last in the American League in walks (589) and tied for last in walk rate (9.4%) in ‘22. They’ve flipped the script on that this season -- they ranked fifth in baseball in zone percentage (43%) -- until Tuesday.
It started with the first batter, when starter Brad Keller sailed a 91-mph fastball near Marcus Semien’s head, then walked him on four pitches.
“I felt like I was flying open real early,” Keller said. “High arm-side fastballs. Tried to settle down a little bit, and [catcher Salvador Perez] came out to calm me down. I was able to execute after that. Felt out of sync from the start.”
Keller recovered to get out of the first and second innings with no runs, but in the third, he walked the Rangers’ eight and nine hitters -- Brad Miller and Sandy León -- to lead off the inning.
Melendez came in with a stellar catch in right field against Semien, but Travis Jankowski singled through the gap to tie the game.
“[Walks] hurt us today,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “... That’s never a good recipe for success. It is unlike how we’ve been throwing the ball.”
In the fourth, Keller walked Josh Jung and Robbie Grossman before allowing two RBI ground balls. The right-hander exited after four innings, five walks and 81 pitches, a stark contrast to Wednesday’s start against the Rangers, when Keller allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings.
In that previous outing, the Rangers whiffed on 36% of Keller’s curveballs and swung at 42% outside the zone on that pitch. On Tuesday, they whiffed on just three hooks (20%).
“I’d say with two strikes,” Keller said when asked about the Rangers’ adjustments. “They fouled off quite a bit of some pretty good breaking balls I threw. I didn’t have the best fastball command to go to the fastball in some of those counts. I think they maybe sat breaking ball a little bit more than they did the first game.”
Royals pitchers walked eight batters total, including two in the eighth that led to Adolis García’s three-run homer off Josh Taylor. When they were in the zone, the Rangers pounced, like they did against Hernández.
“Threw my pitches for strikes,” Hernández said. “Some of the breaking balls stayed in their power zone, and they went out and looked for those.”
The Royals must regroup quickly for Wednesday’s series finale as they wrap up another homestand. Quatraro’s message has been consistent throughout the first few weeks of the season, but something must change to turn the boos into cheers at The K.
“I don’t think the guys came out today and were thinking about yesterday or the day before,” Quatraro said. “The pregame stuff, the prep, the work is good. Their attitude is good. You jump out to a lead and are in a competitive game with a good team, and it fell apart.”