As bad as the weekend was – and that’s both hard to overstate and hard to forget – the Royals started the workweek Monday clicking in all phases in an 8-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Kauffman Stadium.
Luke Hochevar followed his dominating performance last Wednesday at Houston by pitching his second career shutout and fourth career complete game. The Royals made it easy for him by supplying a balanced 13-hit attack and a solid defensive effort.
It was the perfect remedy for three miserable home losses to St. Louis.
“That was a bad weekend,” third baseman Mike Moustakas agreed. “But as we said, you’ve got to be able to put that behind you. This made it easier. We came out and played a game like this behind Hoch … that’s what we needed tonight.”
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Hochevar, 5-7, again has his career on the upswing and is tempting everyone to believe that, just maybe, this time it’s for real. His shutout followed 7 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory over the Astros.
So…real gold or just more pyrite?
“Let’s find out,” manager Ned Yost said. “Let’s wait and see. I like what I see right now. I think he’s got it figured out. He’s going to have good days and days where it’s rough like (anyone) would have, but I feel he is well on the right track.”
Hochevar won his second straight start after winning just once in his previous nine. He did so by scattering seven hits – all singles. He struck out eight and walked one while, again, relying primarily on a trimmed-back repertoire.
“It’s been a change,” he said. “No doubt about it. Earlier in the year, I’d come out with fastball, cutter, fastball, cutter, sinker… Now, my focus is more fastball, curveball, change – and the cutter when I need it.”
The Royals nicked Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, 3-4, for a run in the first inning on doubles by Alex Gordon and Moustakas before blowing open the game with a five-run third that included seven singles.
Gordon and Alcides Escobar each had three hits for the Royals, who also got three RBIs from Yuniesky Betancourt. Eric Hosmer had two hits, including a homer in the eighth inning that closed the scoring.
Every player in the lineup reached safely except center fielder Jarrod Dyson, who declared afterward: “Dude, I’m kind of happy right now. That’s winning.”
The victory enabled the Royals, even at 32-39, to claw back to within five games of first place in the American League Central Division. It’s easy to say, of course, but boosting the payroll to add another reliable arm to the rotation just might do wonders.
“Tonight was the best game, from top to bottom, we’ve played all year,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. “And Hoch…you saw it in Houston. This is what we grown to know that Hoch can do.
“This is why people get frustrated with Hoch because the guy has everything to be successful. That was the big thing tonight – seeing him be able to do that again.”
Cobb, 3-4, also threw a complete game – the first of his career – over eight innings, which saved the Rays’ bullpen if nothing else.
The Royals struck for a run in their first when Gordon led off with a double to right center that right fielder Ben Zobrist appeared to break late on. Gordon moved to third on Betancourt’s grounder to second.
Moustakas followed with drive to right that also fooled Zobrist, who broke in on the ball before retreating – and the ball skimmed off the top of his glove. It was scored an RBI double for a 1-0 lead.
The Royals opened the third with singles by Escobar (on a bunt) and Gordon. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third with no outs. That turned into two runs when Betancourt grounded a single into center field.
Billy Butler’s one-out single moved Betancourt to second before Francoeur dumped an RBI single into right – although Butler was thrown out at third by Zobrist; Francoeur took second.
The Royals weren’t done.
Hosmer’s grounder caromed off the glove of a diving Sean Rodriguez at second base and into center for an RBI single. Hosmer stole second and scored on Salvy Perez’s single to left – but Perez ran into the final out when trapped between first and second.
So, eight guys batted. Seven got singles. Two outs on the bases. And the inning was over. Still…it was a five-run frame, and the Royals had a 6-0 lead.
“Everything they hit was finding spots,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Good at-bats, good approaches on their part. They had a lot of energy when they came out tonight; they beat us to the punch. They outplayed us. They did everything.”
The Rays had a chance to answer in the fourth after Zobrist and Brooks Conrad had successive two-out singles, but Dyson ran down Rodriguez’s drive to deep center for the final out.
Escobar’s one-out double led to another run in the fourth. He moved to third on Gordon’s single to left before scoring on Betancourt’s sacrifice fly.
Hochevar’s biggest challenge came in the fifth after José Molina and Elliot Johnson opened the inning with singles. That put runners at first and second with no outs for the top of the lineup. Hochevar struck out Desmond Jennings, Carlos Peña and B.J. Upton.
“I don’t think you ever have it figured out because hitters adjust,” Hochevar said. “I just felt like I made good pitches tonight. I felt Sal called a great game. We played great defense and, obviously, we swung the bats really well.
“When everything like that comes together, it usually makes for a pretty good night.”