CLEVELAND — Veteran lefty Bruce Chen, in case he hadn’t been paying attention, got a quick initiation Friday as to what life can be like now that he’s back in the Royals’ rotation.
Limited run support. Or in this case, none.
Chen worked six scoreless innings for nothing more than a no-decision — and that was still the best part of Friday’s 3-0 loss to Cleveland at Progressive Field.
“I’m very happy with the way I pitched today,” he said. “I felt I gave my team a chance to win. I did everything I could to help this team win.”
All of that and more. Chen just didn’t get any help.
Not from a lineup that reverted to its snoozy May form. And not from two of his former bullpen partners; the Indians swarmed over Tim Collins and Aaron Crow for three quick and decisive runs in the seventh inning.
It amounted to a dreadful follow-up to Thursday’s 8-4 loss at New York when the Royals built leads of 3-0 and 4-1 for Ervin Santana before seeing it slip away.
Turn the last two games around, and the Royals are at .500. Instead, they find themselves at 43-47.
“We did have an opportunity with the leadoff triple in the fifth inning,” manager Ned Yost said. “We ended up loading the bases with one out. Couldn’t push anything across.
“In the seventh inning, they led the inning off with five straight hits.”
Let’s start with the positive.
Chen was terrific. He personified what a finesse lefty can do to a lineup when in top form by limiting the Tribe to just one hit in six innings while striking out four and walking one.
“I've seen him do that for so many years,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “If you try to do too much, you just play right into it. He adds a little, he takes a little off. Different angles, up down.
“He really knows how to pitch. He frustrated us.”
The problem was Cleveland starter Corey Kluber (7-5) was nearly as good. The Royals had him on the ropes only once — in the fifth, when they got a leadoff triple from David Lough and went on to load the bases with one out.
And got squat.
Kluber departed with two outs in the eighth with a runner on first. Joe Smith got the final out in that inning before Cody Allen, with closer Chris Perez unavailable, survived a bases-loaded threat in the ninth.
Mike Moustakas singled with one out and went to third on Alcides Escobar’s two-out single. After Escobar took second on indifference, pinch-hitter George Kottaras drew a walk that loaded the bases.
Allen finally ended the game when Jarrod Dyson took a third strike. So the end offered a final jolt of frustration.
But the game turned in the seventh as soon as Collins (2-4) replaced Chen.
Jason Kipnis led off with a sharp single through the left side, and Nick Swisher followed by pulling a single to left that moved Kipnis to second.
That earned a quick hook for Collins.
“They got two hits,” he said. “I made the pitches I wanted to, and they put good swings on them. That’s the last thing I wanted to do after Bruce pitched a heck of a game.
“I wanted to go out there and pound the strike zone. So I did, and they got two hits.”
In came Crow — and things got worse.
“My job there is to keep those runs from scoring,” he said, “and I didn’t do it.”
First, Carlos Santana lashed an RBI single up the middle. Dyson made a strong throw home, but Salvy Perez took it in front of the plate — and Kipnis slid around the tag for the game’s first run.
“I kind of got lucky,” Kipnis said, “with a good slide.”
Power-hitter Mark Reynolds then surprised everyone by pushing a perfect bunt to the left side past Crow for a single that loaded the bases.
“He hasn’t bunted all year that we know of,” Yost said. “It was kind of a heads-up play.”
Michael Bourn delivered the knockout by lining a two-run pinch double into center for a 3-0 lead.
“It was down and in,” Crow said. “It was a great piece of hitting by him. He almost hit it off the ground. So you’ve just got to tip your cap on that.”
Crow finally steadied; he stranded runners at second and third by retiring the next three hitters. Much too late.
Now go back a few innings to see how the Royals squandered a similar opportunity after Lough started the fifth with a hard grounder past Swisher at first that plugged the right-field corner for a triple.
Lough probably should have scored when, with the infield back, Escobar lined a low one-hopper to Kipnis at second. Lough hesitated a moment — “It kind of froze me.” — before choosing, with no outs, to hold third.
Even so, the opportunity blossomed when Kluber walked Elliot Johnson and, after Johnson stole second, loaded the bases by walking Dyson.
Kluber turned the inning around by striking out Alex Gordon on a full-court breaking ball off the plate. The Royals left the bases loaded when Eric Hosmer hit a tapper back to Kluber, who won the race to first.
Cleveland didn’t get its first hit until Santana opened the bottom of that inning with a double in the fifth. Chen retired the next three hitters, and then breezed through the sixth on three pop-ups before Yost went to the bullpen.
“He’d done his job,” Yost said. “Six strong innings. He was at 85 (pitches) his last time out, and we were going to take him somewhere between 90 and 100 today. He did just that.”
The Royals needed more. From somebody.