ANAHEIM, Calif. —Right-hander Vin Mazzaro, with his spot in the rotation possibly on the line, delivered seven shutout innings Sunday afternoon when the Royals put a 9-0 spanking on the Los Angeles Angels.
Mazzaro limited the Angels to five hits but, well, let's just say he had a lot of help.
Not just the nine runs and 13 hits from a balanced attack, either. Or Blake Wood's two innings in completing the shutout. The key was a defense that bailed out Mazzaro time and again — well, five times — with double plays.
"I gave some free passes," Mazzaro said, "but I made that one or two good pitches that I needed to get the job done. I got the ground balls when I needed them."
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Credit Mazzaro at least with displaying remarkable escapability throughout a 102-pitch outing that included just 53 strikes and saw the Angels put their leadoff hitter on base in five of the first six innings.
"That's his game," second baseman Chris Getz said. "He pitched to contact because he has that great sinker. When guys get on, he has that ability to get contact on the ground. He pitched really well, and that's what he's capable of doing."
Plus, let's face it: Mazzaro, 1-1, was due — overdue, really — for some good fortune after his last two appearances.
There was that 14-run nightmare in just 2 1/3 relief innings May 16 against Cleveland. And last Tuesday, after he returned from the minors, the Royals played sloppily when he started in an 8-5 loss to Toronto.
Everything worked out this time.
Was it enough to keep Mazzaro in the rotation? Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies are pitching tonight in what could be their final minor-league rehab assignments before returning to active duty. What comes next is still to be determined.
"It's not a cut-and-dried decision any way you look at it," manager Ned Yost said. "This is the Mazzaro that we wanted to trade for. That's the guy we saw last year — a guy who can change speeds and get you off balance and command the baseball."
Mazzaro benefited from a potent attack that saw the Royals score once in the second inning before knocking out Angels starter Tyler Chatwood, 3-4, in a four-run fourth inning.
The Royals played add-on thereafter against the LA bullpen by scoring once in the sixth, twice in the seventh and once in the eighth.
Alex Gordon had three hits and two RBIs. Billy Butler and Chris Getz also drove in two runs. Escobar started all five double plays and had two more hits in completing a six-for-11 weekend that raised his average to .227.
"My offense is coming," Escobar said. "This was a good series. Two hits in each game. I want to keep going like that."
There was a lot more, but the game turned, repeatedly, on Mazzaro's ability to work around trouble. He set a trend by dancing around two singles in the first inning, and a walk and a single in the second.
"The way Vinnie was pitching," Gordon said, "made us feel pretty comfortable. Just knowing that he was going to take care of business. I never felt like he was going to give it up."
Mazzaro got three grounders in an easy third before, with a 5-0 lead, working around a leadoff walk in the fourth. A sparkling play by Escobar in the fifth on a low rocket by Mark Trumbo resulted in a fourth double play in five innings.
"Wow, that one was hot," Escobar said. "I just went down and said, `It's either a base-hit, or I've got it. Then I saw I had the ball, and I said, 'OK, I've got it.' "
It was that kind of day, and Mazzaro's escapability continued in the sixth after Peter Bourjos led off with an infield single. Mazzaro then hit Macier Izturis with a pitch before retiring Torii Hunter on a fly to short right.
The inning ended — how else? —when Bobby Abreu grounding into a double play that included a nice scoop by first baseman Eric Hosmer on a bouncing throw from Getz. The five double plays was one shy of the franchise record.
"The defense was spectacular," Yost said. "That's as good of a defensive game as you'll ever hope to see. To (Mazzaro's) credit, he threw strikes when he needed to and let the defense bail him out."
Mazzaro dodged another bullet in the seventh without the aid of a double play.
Howie Kendrick drew a one-out walk and moved to third when Erick Aybar's drive to deep center hopped the wall for a double. The runners held when Trumbo flied to short left, but a walk to Conger loaded the bases.
Mazzaro stranded all three runners when Bourjos grounded to short. That got the game to Wood, who had no problems over the final two innings.
"It's a good step forward, definitely," Mazzaro said. "It definitely boosts the confidence. I just need to go with the same mentality — attack the zone. Throw the sinker in the zone and let in work for me. And let the guys behind me do the job, too."