Dry spell at plate continues in lopsided loss

September 29th, 2022

DETROIT -- On Sunday, the Royals shocked the Mariners, stringing together seven walks and five hits in the 6th inning to score 11 runs and turn an 11-2 deficit into a 13-12 win.

They’ve played three games since then, and have scored seven runs total.

The Royals took a 10-3 loss to the Tigers on Thursday afternoon in the series finale at Comerica Park, completing a sweep that saw them fall to 63-93 and move behind Detroit into last place in the AL Central. A series that began with a strong start on offense quickly went from promising to frustrating, with one scoring chance after another coming up short of what the offense needed.

After taking a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning of the series opener, the Royals did not score the rest of the way, losing 4-3 on a 10th-inning walk-off. They scored just a single run in a 2-1 loss the next day. After the fourth inning of the opener, Kansas City scored one run over its next 21 innings.

The bats woke up in the eighth inning of the finale, when the Royals rallied for three runs. Ryan O’Hearn, batting a sparkling .393/.433/.607 as a pinch-hitter, replaced Hunter Dozier and lined a two-run double into the left-field corner. Nate Eaton followed up two batters later with an RBI double of his own, but it was all too little, too late.

“It was good to see a couple of guys put a charge into it late,” said manager Mike Matheny. “What Ryan O’Hearn has done, we’ll continue to talk about, because that role of coming in as a pinch-hitter, being one of the best in the game right now, being able to do that. Put a couple of runs on, getting a little momentum going, but at that point we had a pretty good gap to cover.”

Even in the first two games, both low-scoring affairs, the offense wasn’t completely silent: The Royals put 11 men on base in each of them, and added 15 baserunners in the finale on nine hits, five walks and an error. But the hits didn’t come when they mattered most, as the Royals went a combined 5-for-31 in the series with runners in scoring position, leaving 32 runners on base.

Against Eduardo Rodriguez in the finale, they had no shortage of chances. The Royals put at least one runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings, and again in the sixth and seventh. But Rodriguez never gave in, holding the Royals scoreless over 6 2/3 innings.

“He’s done this for a while, figuring out how to miss barrels,” Matheny said. “We got into counts that look like we’re about to do some damage, and just missed. When guys are locked in, that’s what they do.”

Hitting with runners in scoring position hasn’t been particularly problematic for the Royals all season. In fact, they entered Thursday’s matchup with a .684 OPS with runners in scoring position, compared to .682 without.

In late and close situations -- appearances in the 7th inning or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck -- they’ve likewise been solid, batting .252/.324/.375 (.699 OPS) entering the game. But for one reason or another, when they found themselves in key spots against the Tigers, too often, the big hits didn’t come.

The Royals’ offense is a young one: Four rookies were in the lineup in the finale against Detroit, and two other starters -- Nicky Lopez and Edward Olivares -- debuted in 2019 and 2020, respectively, in addition to a number of other youngsters on the bench. The team’s veteran hitters have a crucial role in shepherding the offense through tough stretches toward greener pastures.

“I’ve just got to keep the vibes in here good,” said Dozier, who is in his sixth season -- more than the Royals starting catcher, first baseman, shortstop and third baseman have played combined. “Keep these guys positive, just kind of uplift them. That’s what I can do.”

As Dozier describes it, his role as a veteran is to keep things in perspective, reminding his team that in baseball, it’s all too easy to move from a tough stretch into a winning streak.

“Keep it light,” he said. “We have a lot of young guys, a lot of rookies, and they’re playing well. We’re going to go through a little growing pain, but we’re coming off a really good series at home, a whole homestand. Just keep it light, tell them to keep going, work hard.”