Ragans' rough outing spoils Salvy's career 5-RBI night

April 21st, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- From a blowout to a nail-biter, a relentless offense almost made the worst outing by a Royals starter this season irrelevant Saturday night.

recorded the Royals’ shortest start, by far, of this season with 1 2/3 innings in their 9-7 loss to the Orioles at Kauffman Stadium. But down seven runs in the second inning, the Royals, led by catcher ’s career-high-tying five-RBI night, clawed their way back to force the Orioles to use their high-leverage relievers in the late innings.

The effort came up short, forcing a rubber match Sunday afternoon in the series finale.

“We’re always going to have a chance,” shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. said. “We’ve had big innings before already this year. Piece them together and get to their bullpen, that’s the goal.”

It doesn’t mean it was any less disappointing to walk away with the loss. Ragans allowed seven runs on nine hits, exiting with two outs in the second inning. Before Saturday, the shortest start of the Royals’ season came on April 7, when Alec Marsh threw 4 2/3 innings against the White Sox -- a game the Royals won.

Entering Saturday, Royals starters ranked among the Major League leaders in quality starts (12, tied for first), ERA (2.28, second), WHIP (1.04, third) and opponents’ average (.213, third). They also entered Saturday leading the Majors in innings pitched by a starter at 118 2/3. Last year, Royals starters went 31-68, and their 5.12 ERA was fourth-worst in the Majors.

That’s why it was so jarring to see their Opening Day starter in Ragans get hit around. In the 21st game of the season, it was the first time a Royals’ starter didn’t give the team a chance to win.

“I’ve got to flush it,” Ragans said. “Got to give us a chance to win next time and go from there. It’s early in the season, but obviously that’s not what I want to do, what I did today. That’s not good.”

Ragans breezed through a scoreless first inning on 13 pitches, but he threw 49 pitches in the second before manager Matt Quatraro called on reliever Matt Sauer.

The Orioles strung together five consecutive hits with two outs after Ragans struck out Jorge Mateo for the second out. Gunnar Henderson jumped on the first pitch, but then Ragans battled with Adley Rutschman for eight pitches before Rutschman roped a 105.9 mph RBI single to center field on the ninth pitch.

“I [threw] a cutter, left it over the plate, he hit it hard,” Ragans said. “Really good hitter. He battled right there. I thought I made some good pitches that he fouled off until I made a mistake, and he made me pay.”

That’s when Sauer began warming up, and three batters later, Ragans was out of the game.

“It crossed my mind, but he’s getting to two strikes on every hitter,” Quatraro said when asked if he thought about bringing Sauer in sooner. “If he gets out of it five pitches earlier, he’s probably going back out for the third to try to pick up another inning. Unfortunately, [Jordan Westburg’s single] made it 7-0 instead of 5-0, and that was the back-breaker.”

The Orioles only had two extra-base hits against Ragans, and just three of eight hits in the second were hard-hit.

“It’s hard to have a day like that,” Perez said. “... There was a lot of weak contact. When we get beat by walks and homers, that’s tough. Weak contact, nothing we can do. There’s frustration. But you know how good Cole is going to be here. He’ll turn the page.”

Despite the large deficit early, the Royals’ belief in their offense never wavered, even facing Orioles ace Corbin Burnes. During Burnes’ third time through the order in the sixth, Perez’s sixth homer of the year was a three-run shot that forced Burnes from the game.

Perez’s two-run single capped a four-run seventh inning for the Royals. But it could have been tied if not for center fielder Kyle Isbel’s baserunning blunder, when he was thrown out at third base trying to advance on a ball hit to left field.

“We’d like to have that back, for sure,” Quatraro said. “Izzy would, too. That’s a little bit overaggressive with the ball right in front of you and a guy you know can throw.”

Perez had five RBIs in the span of two innings, and the Royals showed once again their relentless offensive approach.

But it was still silent in the clubhouse postgame.

“Seven runs should be enough to win,” Ragans said. “Not good, obviously. We’ve got to move on.”