KANSAS CITY -- Royals left-hander Tim Hill has found the type of mound magic he has been searching for all season.
The Royals fell, 6-1, to the Astros on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium. But it was Hill’s Houdini act that kept his team in the game.
Hill entered the game in the top of the sixth inning with the Royals already trailing, 2-1, and in a precarious spot: Bases loaded and none out.
One slip and the Astros could have blown the game open.
But Hill struck out Abraham Toro on three pitches, the final one a four-seamer that Toro chased out of the zone. Hill then got pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz to pop up to first baseman Ryan O'Hearn for the second out, and Hill finished it off by getting the dangerous George Springer to hit a harmless fly ball to center.
"He's really starting to get a lot of confidence in his slider,” manager Ned Yost said. “It's a pitch that was really kind of non-existent two springs ago for him. He's worked on it and worked on it, and it's continued to get better and better. Now, he's gaining confidence in it."
Hill agreed, saying, “I think just mixing in the slider more has helped me out. You want to still respect the hitters, but in certain counts where they’re expecting the fastball, I can throw the slider now. That’s helped.
“For the most part it’s just better command of it, and just trusting it more and throwing it with better intent. And generally in the past I was afraid to throw it to righties, but now I am throwing it to them. That’s helped, too.”
Hill has been phenomenal this month. In six outings, he hasn’t allowed a run. He hasn’t even allowed a hit, while striking out seven. And the best part for Yost: Hill has stranded all 12 of the runners he inherited.
“I’m just trying to finish strong,” Hill said. “I feel good.”
Yost likes what he is seeing.
"It's been more than a moment for him,” Yost said. “Timmy Hill, his last [six times] out, he's been spectacular. ... [Tonight] it was like, I've got bases-loaded, nobody out, I need a ground ball. Timmy is one of the best ground-ball guys we have. Hopefully get a ground ball and cut the run down at the plate. Then, we were going to move the infield back and try to go for two. But he ended up going strikeout, popup and then flyout. He did an awesome job."
The Royals, though, couldn’t muster much off former Kansas City right-hander Zack Greinke, who breezed through six innings of one-run ball.
Whit Merrifield had two doubles, the first of which scored Nicky Lopez in the third inning to give the Royals a 1-0 lead. Merrifield advanced to third on the play, but he was stranded when, with the infield in, Adalberto Mondesi grounded out softly to second, Jorge Lopez struck out, and Hunter Dozier flied out.
Lopez originally was ruled out at the plate, but the Royals challenged and it was overturned on two counts: First that Lopez’s hand reached the plate before the tag, and also because catcher Robinson Chirinos was blocking the plate.
“I seemed to stumble a little bit hitting the grass around third, and then when I got to home, my hand slid right into his foot. But I was able to get a couple of fingers on the plate. I could feel it.”