WASHINGTON -- The Royals’ unofficial conclusion to the 2019 first half looked a lot like many games they have played through the first few months: some bright spots, but not enough to come away with a victory.
On Sunday at Nationals Park, right-hander Jakob Junis bounced back from his worst start of the season with one of his best.
But it wasn’t enough, as the Nationals scored three runs off reliever Jake Diekman in the bottom of the eighth inning to forge a 5-2 victory. Diekman gave up an RBI double to Anthony Rendon and a two-run double to pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick.
Junis, who gave up a season-high seven runs in his last outing, went seven strong innings this time, giving up just five hits. Unfortunately, two of the hits were solo home runs, by Brian Dozier and Victor Robles.
“He was really good, man,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I can’t figure it out, but it seems every time Jake makes a mistake, they hit it out of the ballpark. He made two of them up today. But he was fantastic overall. Really strong seven innings.”
And this should be a confidence builder for Junis, who has slid toward the bottom of the rotation after starting the season at No. 2.
“I have been struggling a little bit lately, so to go out there and go seven innings, two runs, against a hot team, it’s good,” Junis said. “This will help going into the break and into the second half. I’ll just take the good from this one and keep working hard.”
Junis changed speeds with his out pitch -- his slider -- perhaps more than he has recently. That gave the slider more dip to the point that Trackman picked it up as a curveball several times.
“Trackman picks it up as a curve once in a while,” Junis said. “I did throw it a little slower sometimes today. I threw some good ones. I wish I could get that one back I threw to Robles. But all in all, pretty positive start.”
And the Royals’ offense, which shot blanks in a 6-0 loss Saturday, offered little resistance against Nationals starter Patrick Corbin and the Washington bullpen. Corbin threw seven shutout innings and struck out 11.
The Royals wiped out a 2-0 deficit in the eighth. Facing Fernando Rodney, Martin Maldonado singled, pinch-runner Terrance Gore swiped second and, after two outs, Adalberto Mondesi delivered a broken-bat, RBI single to left. Then Alex Gordon smacked an RBI double off Sean Doolittle.
“Boys did a great job of battling back,” Yost said. “We’ve been doing that.”
Royals All-Star Whit Merrifield, as he was packing up for the airport to head to Cleveland for Tuesday's showcase, said Sunday’s loss was typical in that the Royals kept battling to the end.
“Been the tale of the season,” Merrifield said. “Playing well, but not winning games. Hopefully, we get it turned around there.”