TORONTO _ As trends go, this one couldn’t be worse for the Royals.
Saturday’s 6-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays marked the third straight day that one of the club’s young starters, the organization’s best hope for the future, torpedoed the chance to play skid-stopper by coughing up a bushel of early runs.
It was Luke Hochevar this time, and he served up a grand slam in the first inning to Brad Wilkerson _ the third grand slam, incidentally, allowed by the Royals in a span of 16 innings.
Hochevar’s problems followed a four-run second inning by Brian Bannister, also on a grand slam, in Thursday’s 11-8 loss at Boston, and the six runs allowed in the first three innings Friday by Zack Greinke in a 7-1 loss to the Blue Jays in the series opener.
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“For us, it’s a simple formula,” manager Trey Hillman said. “If we don’t pitch, we don’t win. Every so often, maybe once every two weeks, we might be able to not pitch as well and still win because we have an offensive outburst.”
This wasn’t one of those occasions.
The Royals, for the second time this year, did next to nothing against Toronto right-hander Jesse Litsch and his slider-heavy assortment. Litsch improved to 6-1 and needed just 103 pitches to register the first shutout and first complete game of his career.
Litsch’s gem followed a complete game by Roy Halladay in Friday’s game, when the Royals failed to score after the first inning. The Royals have scored fewer than two runs in four of their last six games.
And they’ve lost all six in falling to 21-28. The Royals still have two more games against the Blue Jays, 26-25, before concluding an 11-game trip they began last weekend by winning two of three at Florida.
It’s encouraging, no doubt, that Hochevar, 3-4, steadied after Wilkerson’s slam. He allowed only one other run, an unearned run, in his six innings. Nothing much mattered, though, after the slam.
Toronto added its final run on Ramon Ramirez’s bases-loaded walk to Lyle Overbay in the seventh. Ramirez replaced Shake Yabuta with the no outs and bases loaded and limited the damage to one run.
Overbay’s walk marked his 11th straight plate appearance of reaching base, which tied the Blue Jays’ record by Tony Fernandez in 1999. Overbay is four for four with four walks in the two games against the Royals.
The first inning offered an early disaster warning despite David DeJesus’ leadoff single.
Alex Gordon believed he’d drawn a one-out walk on a 3-1 offering, even throwing away his bat before learning Bruce Dreckman had called the pitch a strike. Gordon then checked his swing on the full count as DeJesus took off for second.
Dreckman called it a ball as catcher Gregg Zaun threw to second. DeJesus eased into the base, seeing the walk, and was tagged by shortstop Marco Scutaro. First and second? Nope.
Third-base umpire Scott Barry called Gordon out on appeal, which meant DeJesus was out at second for an inning-ending double play. Hochevar then got into immediate trouble in the Toronto first when Shannon Stewart led off with a single, and Aaron Hill followed with a hot grounder past third for a double into the left-field corner.
Stewart tried to score from first but was thrown out easily by shortstop Tony Peña after taking a relay from DeJesus. Hochevar struck out Alex Rios but walked Scott Rolen before Overbay loaded the bases with an infield single over second. Peña prevented a run by smothering the ball behind the base.
The reprieve was temporary.
Hochevar fell into a 3-1 hole to Wilkerson before serving up a cookie that Wilkerson rocketed over the left-center-field wall. It was Wilkerson’s fifth career slam and the fifth this season against the Royals.
Boston got slams Thursday from J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell in completing a four-game sweep with an 11-8 victory at Fenway Park. Opponents have hit 11 slams since the Royals last hit one on Sept. 15, 2006 when Ryan Shealy connected against Seattle.
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4352 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.