Lugo receives little help in scoreless gem

June 26th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- After throwing six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts and generally limiting any damage or traffic against him, should be sitting atop the Major League wins leaderboard with 11 after a start like Tuesday night’s against the Marlins.

But Lugo received little run support and little support from the bullpen behind him, leading to a no-decision in the Royals’ 2-1 loss to the Marlins at Kauffman Stadium.

Lugo was dominant Tuesday, throwing 4 1/3 hitless innings and turning in his 13th quality start of the year. He lowered his season ERA to 2.29, the lowest by a Royal through 17 starts since Zack Greinke (1.95 ERA) in his 2009 Cy Young Award season.

He exited with a one-run lead that disappeared in the seventh inning, leading to the Royals’ 12th loss in their last 16 games.

“Very frustrating,” said first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, who was responsible for the lone Royals’ run with his RBI single in the first inning. “Frustrating for any pitcher, but especially him. Just how good he’s been all year. … We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to find a way to score some more runs.”

With Lugo at 87 pitches after six innings on a 97-degree night in Kansas City, manager Matt Quatraro turned the game over to the bullpen. Lugo’s sixth and final inning was 27 pitches with traffic after walking the leadoff batter and allowing a two-out single.

“It’s a tough part of their lineup after a leadoff walk, really beared down and made sure to keep executing pitches and not give in,” Lugo said. “Especially with the temperature and humidity, it’s easy to get tired and get unfocused, but I stayed focused and made pitches.”

“It’s never an easy decision with Lugo because he’s so good, but we also have to be mindful of the weather and how many innings he’s throwing and how many starts,” Quatraro said. “All those things factor in.”

With Chris Stratton having pitched two of the last three days before Tuesday and John Schreiber looking to get out of his skid (11 earned runs in his last 12 games), Quatraro went to Carlos Hernández, who was charged with two runs and the loss. Tuesday underscored the need for bullpen help, whether that comes internally or externally at the Trade Deadline. The Royals need reliable arms, especially bridge relievers for the seventh and eighth innings.

“We like Carlos, and we think that’s a good spot for him,” Quatraro said. “We need Carlos to be able to do that.”

With a runner on second base and two outs, it looked like Hernández was going to get out of trouble when he got Nick Gordon to hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield.

It was a tough play for second baseman Maikel Garcia, who was playing his second game this season at second base because of CJ Alexander debuting at third base this week. Garcia was able to get to the ball in shallow right field, making a sliding catch and 360-degree turn to get it to first base.

The throw was off-line, and Pasquantino had to reach out for it, causing Gordon to run through the bag safely while nicking Pasquantino’s right arm and shoulder.

“A lot of times we make that play,” Quatraro said. “Tonight we didn’t. And it got away from us in that inning.”

“It’s a different angle when you throw,” Garcia said. “I’ve been working a lot before the game and trying to be confident. When I turned around on that play, I was looking everywhere, and I threw it away.”

Perhaps that’s the most frustrating part of Tuesday’s loss: Most of the damage was self-inflicted, whether it was defensive miscues -- Will Smith’s misplay on a comebacker in the seventh led to the go-ahead run scoring -- or offensive mistakes.

Including going 1-for-5 on Tuesday, the Royals have gone 8-for-57 (.140) with runners in scoring position in 11 games since the beginning of the last road trip. They had one hit against four Marlins relievers in four innings -- a good look at who might be available at the Deadline.

“We were just bad tonight,” Pasquantino said. “It seems to be a common theme over the past few weeks. Hoping to take a step forward after last night. We didn’t do that.

“We just didn’t do a good enough job of -- when it was time to make [Marlins starter Yonny Chirinos] pay, making him pay. … We’ve got to be able to flip the script. The goal is to win series, and we’ve got an opportunity to do that tomorrow, so we’re looking forward to that.”