A week ago, the Royals’ bullpen blowup reached its most perplexing stage. After a loss at Minnesota, the group’s ERA had ballooned to 5.13. This from a pen considered by some to be baseball’s best last year.
A week later, order has been restored.
Three relievers delivered four scoreless innings Saturday, a perfect performance after Danny Duffy issued a leadoff walk in the sixth. Duffy, Wade Davis and Greg Holland paved the way for the Royals’ 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Duffy said. “The name of the game is to get the ball to Wade and Greg. It’s nice to come in with the opportunity to bridge the gap.”
Duffy did just that in two innings, with Davis and Holland assuming their usual eighth- and ninth-inning roles. This week it hasn’t mattered which pitcher manager Ned Yost summons from the pen; the result has been success.
Saturday’s effort pushed the bullpen’s scoreless-innings streak to 14, and the cast has combined for 21 strikeouts in a stretch that has produced five straight Royals victories for the first time since last August.
“I wouldn’t say we struggled early, but by our standards, we weren’t as good as we can be,” said Holland, who struck out two in collecting his sixth save.
The pen assured that starter Bruce Chen would get his first victory of the season after he tossed five innings and had to deal of a couple of bases-loaded jams, some of it of his own doing with walks.
But Chen managed to limit the damage. The Twins got only one run after loading the bases with nobody out in the third.
The week against the Houston Astros and Twins also seems to have fixed issues with power outages and timely hitting that had slowed the Royals early. On Saturday, they bunched them in the fourth inning, after battling some early frustration against Twins starter Kevin Correia.
Alex Gordon got the inning started with a sharp single through the middle, one of his three hits. Billy Butler followed with a line drive that froze right fielder Chris Colabello long enough to allow the ball to sail over his head. Butler trotted into second base with his first extra-base hit of the season.
Mike Moustakas, swinging a hot bat lately, scored Gordon and moved Butler to third on a deep drive to center for a sacrifice fly. Butler came in on Justin Maxwell’s first hit of the season.
The Moustakas at-bat was the key. In each of the first three innings, the Royals put a runner in scoring position with fewer than two outs only to come up empty. Twice, Eric Hosmer overswung and popped out, stranding runners.
But Moustakas sent one deep enough to put the Royals on the scoreboard. Maxwell’s single up the middle made it 2-2, and that is when the Twins started a mini-meltdown.
Correia plunked Alcides Escobar on the left bicep on an 0-2 pitch. Nori Aoki slapped a line drive that third baseman Trevor Plouffe didn’t appear to pick up until it scooted past him.
Maxwell scored, and on the next pitch, Escobar and Aoki pulled off a double steal. Catcher Josmil Pinto’s throw to nab Escobar sailed into left field, and the Royals had their fourth run of the frame.
Make that five, after Omar Infante’s bloop single to left brought in Aoki. The output matched the Royals’ most productive inning of the season.
And they had passed their magic number. When the Royals have scored at least four runs this season, they’re 9-0.
Turned out, the fourth was the only inning in which the Royals scored, and it was enough — especially with a bullpen that was nearly perfect.