KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The results speak for themselves but, yes, the Royals can confirm that Colorado lefty Jeff Francis is a handful again after recovering from a torn labrum that put his career on hold for roughly 19 months.
Francis and three relievers slowed the Royals' recent momentum Saturday afternoon by combining for a six-hit shutout in 3-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
"Obviously, he doesn't have the velocity that he had (before the surgery)," Royals catcher Jason Kendall said, "but he keeps you off-balance. He was throwing anything at any time for strikes.
"He was getting ahead, and once you get ahead, it doesn't matter if you're 85-86 (mph), it looks like 96 when you're throwing a 69-mph curveball and a 73-mph changeup."
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The Royals had few answers and saw their winning streak end at three games. They also suffered their third shutout and failed to reach double figures in hits for the first time in seven games.
"Generally, when you're coming off surgery," manager Ned Yost said, "the thing that's affected is your command. And (Francis') command... this was as good as I've ever seen him pitch.
"My mind-set is we've got a club that can really hit. If (we) don't put any runs on the board, that opposing pitcher had one heck of a good day. That was a great job of pitching."
Francis (1-0) allowed five hits in 6 1/3 innings in his second start since returning to active duty. He allowed one run in seven innings last Sunday against Washington but settled for a no-decision.
"I feel like I'm throwing the ball as well as I can," Francis said. "I'm spotting my fastball well and throwing my off-speed pitch for strikes. For the most part, (I'm) keeping the hitters off balance."
The victory was Francis' first since Aug. 25, 2008 at San Francisco and his second since June 23, 2008.
The Rockies' pen was sound, too. Joe Beimel and Matt Belisle bailed out Francis when the Royals put runners at first and third in the seventh inning. Belisle also pitched the eighth before Manny Corpas worked the ninth for his third save in four chances.
Royals starter Kyle Davies (3-3) deserved better after permitting one run and five hits in six innings. That one run came from a Troy Tulowitzki homer with two outs in the sixth.
"It's a tough pill to swallow," Davies said. "You give up one run in six innings and lose. But Francis is a good pitcher. He won 17 games a few years ago, and he had us fooled every way possible."
Dusty Hughes replaced Davies to start the seventh and simply didn't have it.
Seth Smith opened the inning with a double that just missed being a homer to center field. The ball struck the top of the fence.
Miguel Olivo followed with an RBI triple to center, which prompted the Royals to shorten their infield. Ian Stewart took advantage with a grounder past second baseman Mike Aviles for a single and a 3-0 lead.
Brad Thompson replaced Hughes at that point and avoided further trouble.
The hits by Smith and Stewart exacerbated Hughes' ongoing left-on-left difficulties. Opposing lefties are batting .324 against him with a .405 on-base percentage in 42 plate appearances.
"It's just how it is," Hughes said. "The pitch to Smith, I thought, was a good pitch. Maybe a little (over the) middle. But with two strikes, after two off-speed pitches away, I thought I should beat him.
"The pitch to Stewart was even better. It was down and away. Today was just not my day."
No, it belonged to Francis.