Lugo's early struggles cost KC as challenging week begins

June 11th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- has allowed more than two earned runs in just three of his 14 starts this year, with his 2.36 ERA solidifying his place as the Royals’ best starter so far in 2024 and the pitcher they want on the mound in big games.

Unfortunately, two of those three starts have come in the past week, in as big of games as you can get in early June with still a long way to go in the season.

Lugo allowed five runs last Tuesday against the American League Central-leading Guardians. He yielded four runs Monday night against the best team in the AL in the Royals’ 4-2 series-opening loss to the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium.

Lugo allowed eight hits in seven innings Monday, all of them singles. The Yankees strung enough of them together in the first and fourth innings to build a lead they wouldn’t relinquish despite the Royals having the potential tying run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“We’re a very resilient team,” second baseman Nick Loftin said. “Anything can happen with us. I think the Yankees know that, I think every ballclub out there knows that. When we can get somebody on base and bring up the tying run, we can definitely do some magic. Unfortunately it wasn’t our night.”

This week is as tough of a stretch as Kansas City will face this year, with four games at home against the Yankees and three on the road against the Dodgers. It comes during a 19-game stretch in which the Royals are playing six consecutive series against teams that currently hold a postseason spot.

The Royals are proving they belong in the contending tier of teams as the second half nears -- and games become much more meaningful than they are in early June -- but this is a gut check. Another blow came Monday when Hunter Renfroe exited the game with a fractured left big toe two innings after fouling two consecutive pitches off his foot during a 12-pitch at-bat against Yankees starter Carlos Rodón in the third.

Renfroe entered Monday with a nine-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .375. The Royals needed more production out of their outfield, and now they might be without their most productive for a time.

The Royals felt confident about Monday’s game with Lugo on the mound, but the Yankees got to him quickly in a two-run first with three consecutive singles and an RBI sacrifice bunt. Lugo needed 26 pitches in that inning -- and he had to give himself a quick reminder when he went out to the mound in the second.

“Felt like early in the game, I was getting squeezed a little bit,” Lugo said. “… It’s frustrating, I’m not going to lie. But as I walked out there for the second, I could tell I was still a little hot from it. The few extra seconds I get in between innings after I finish warming up, I really try to clear my head and just keep making those pitches, hoping I get the call.

“I remind myself when I get a little angry, I tend to miss pitches, so just try to let it go and relax.”

Lugo was able to get through seven innings, which helps the Royals’ bullpen moving forward after the unit covered four or more innings in the four games before Monday.

“It’s a good lineup; we all knew that coming in,” Lugo said. “It's a good team, and they’re hot. I think it’s a matter of game plan, just try to mix it up just a little bit better. Overall, I thought I threw the ball well, and I’ll tip my hat to some good approaches over there.”

The Royals finally got to Rodón in the seventh when Freddy Fermin -- after grounding into double plays in his previous two at-bats -- knocked an RBI single up the middle.

“We made a lot of contact,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “We were battling, fouling some pitches off. Just couldn’t get them on the barrel.”

And Rodón limited any damage despite striking out only three.

“It's easy when our bats are swinging it the way they are, and they give me a lead like that, especially against a guy like Seth Lugo,” Rodón said. “... [He’s] arguably the best pitcher in our game right now, the way he's been throwing. And they put up four against a guy like that. That’s tough. So it makes it easy. When they score runs for me like that, [it] gives me the confidence to go attack the zone and get guys out.”