MINNEAPOLIS — The breaking point for the Royals with struggling left-hander Jonathan Sánchez remains, apparently, far down the road despite another wretched outing Saturday in a 7-2 loss to Minnesota in the first game of a day/night doubleheader.
That was just the start to a miserable day.
Luke Hochevar surrendered three early homers in a 5-1 loss in the second game, when the Royals mustered little resistance against Twins rookie Cole De Vries. And, no, theres no blaming Sánchez for that unless it was for setting a depressing tone.
Really, there was plenty of mea culpas to go around.
Obviously, that was a (horrible) performance, right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. The first game we were dead, and it carried over to the second game. Were a much better hitting team than what we did today.
Its very disappointing. Its probably the most disappointing day of the year.
It started with another hard-to-watch performance from Sánchez, whose ERA ballooned to 6.80 after allowing six runs on 10 hits and six walks in just 41/3 innings in the opener.
Even so, manager Ned Yost said he wasnt ready to consider alternatives.
Hes still battling with his command, Yost admitted. He was better in spurts. Because his command is off a little bit, he doesnt get borderline pitches, which end up (hurting him).
There were pitches he could have got that would have helped him, but he doesnt get those. That plays a part in it.
True enough. But if youre, say, star-struck by Angelina Jolie, you might be hurt, too, that youre not getting calls from her. Point is, Sánchez is giving the Royals scant chance of winning when he starts, which is something even he seems to realize.
I know its not working, he said. I dont have anything working right now. I just have to go out there and try to get better. Its just not happening.
That meant the Royals needed Hochevar, 5-8, to add to his recent string of strong performances to avoid a sweep. Instead, he gave up a two-run homer in the first to Josh Willingham and solo shots in the second to Chris Parmelee and the fourth to Joe Mauer.
I didnt feel like my breaking stuff was very sharp today, Hochevar said. It was just kind of looping in there. It didnt have any bite. Two of those home runs came with two strikes, where Im trying to put the guy away.
That early support was plenty for De Vries, who has two victories in four career starts both against the Royals. He yielded a booming homer to Billy Butler to start the second but nothing more in six innings.
De Vries effort mirrored that by Twins left-hander Scott Diamond, another rookie, in the opener. Diamond, 7-3, effectively and efficiently limited the Royals to two runs and six hits over eight innings before Glen Perkins closed out the victory.
Hochevars outing can, perhaps, be shrugged off as a mere slip in a recent surge, but its hard to view Sánchezs performance as anything other than more of the dismal same.
The Royals, publicly at least, insist Sánchez is fine. But his fastball, which once routinely hit 93-94 mph, is now topping out around 91 and he struggles to maintain that. Combine that diminished velocity with career-long lack of command and this is what you get.
Every time I go out there, Sánchez said, I just fight. I havent had my best stuff. But even if I dont have my best stuff, I go out there and fight. I dont have it right now, so all I can do is fight.
Everything suggests thats not enough.
Sánchez is without a victory since April 8, when he lasted the minimum five innings against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif. He has also yielded 40 walks and 52 hits in 461/3 innings.
And his problems are growing, too.
Sánchezs inattention to base-runners aided the Twins in stealing five bases including a pair of double steals. Worse, he failed to cover home when catcher Brayan Peña fielded a squib grounder roughly 40 feet from the plate along the first-base line.
Lets be fair: That latter lapse occurred on a strange play in the pivotal fifth. The Twins had runners at first and second with one out when Brian Doziers cue shot went a few feet into foul ground before some magical English brought it back into fair ground.
Dozier almost didnt run.
It was spinning really, really hard, he said, so I was just like, `Well, why not? Im dying for a hit. Lets just take off and see what happens.
Thats just bad luck, but Sánchez turned spectator and that left the plate uncovered, which permitted the runner to score from second base. And that runner wasnt speedy Ben Revere or Denard Span not that it would have been OK if it had been.
It was catcher Ryan Doumit.
Hes got to be covering home on that play, Yost agreed, but Ive never seen a ball do that. Ive never seen a ball that was three feet foul curve back fair.
It was the games turning point.
The Twins had a 2-0 lead before Doziers single but had stranded eight runners in the first four innings. They also had two runners thrown out at the plate. But Doumits run made it 3-0.
What followed was a double steal, a two-run double by Alexi Casilla and an RBI single by Span. That made it 6-0, finished Sánchez and, effectively, finished the Royals, too. It didnt get any better in the second game.
Getting swept like this is not good, Francoeur said, especially after we gained all that momentum. Were facing a guy today (Francisco Liriano) who has figured it out lately. We better get our heads out of our (backside) and show up.