Royals lose to A's, 6-3

Good news first for a change, and why not? This won’t take long. Billy Butler and Alberto Callaspo each had two hits, pushing their averages above .300. Luke Hochevar pitched six scoreless innings out of seven. Yuniesky Betancourt made several highlight-worthy plays at shortstop.

And, well, that’s about where it stops.

In the end, it’s just another loss for the Royals, another game that featured occasional bright spots for the optimistic but buried them under enough mistakes and ineffectiveness to lose for the 57th time in 82 games -- that’s more than half a season of .305 baseball.

The latest loss came 6-3 to Oakland at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday, beaten when the offense scored three or fewer runs for the 51st time this season and the pitchers gave up four homers to an A’s team that entered with the fewest homers in the American League.

Fittingly, the A’s now have one more homer than the Royals.

“Those were guys with single digit home runs,” manager Trey Hillman said. “Giving up too many pitches out over the plate, to guys that have some pop, but if you don’t locate pitches they’ll hit the ball out of the ballpark.”

The Royals still haven’t won a series since June 23-25 at Houston and __ this one’s really bad __ haven’t won a series against an American League team since May 6-7 against the Mariners.

More depressing numbers: the Royals fall to 43-68, which is 16 ½ games behind division-leading Detroit and five games behind fourth-place Cleveland.

The Royals need to win 20 of their remaining 51 games to avoid losing 100, and are now just 3 ½ games ahead of the Nationals, who have the worst record in baseball. So a season that began with playoff hopes has now devolved into monitoring 100 losses and the chance to draft /{Sports Illustrated/} coverboy Bryce Harper.

“This one’s on me,” Hochevar said. “I just gotta execute pitches, and we probably win that ballgame.”

Oakland got all the offense it needed in the second inning, when Hochevar scuffled with a bout of the inconsistency that’s kept him from being more effective.

He walked the leadoff hitter, then threw a two-seam fastball that Kurt Suzuki lined off the center field wall for a double. That set up Ryan Sweeney, who hit a slider onto the party porch in right field for a three-run homer.

Hochevar’s very next pitch was a four-seamer that Bobby Crosby hit up the stairway between the Hall of Fame building and left field seats.

That’s three different pitches hit about as hard as possible by the Nos. 5, 7 and 8 hitters in the American League’s third-worst lineup. All three of those players entered Sunday with slugging percentages well below league average. It was just the fifth homer of the year for both Sweeney and Crosby.

Suzuki hit his ninth homer of the year off reliever Roman Colon, a 389-foot shot over Oakland’s bullpen in the eighth inning.

“The one to Sweeney was supposed to be a cutter up and in, but I threw it down in the zone, and most lefties, that’s a power zone,” Hochevar said. “On Crosby, just trying to go four-seamer down and away, and it ran back over the plate, belt high. You usually don’t get away with too many of those.”

Other than the second inning, Hochevar was very effective, a bounce-back starts of sorts after giving up 11 runs in 11 innings his last two times out.

He had trouble throwing his curveball for strikes, but mixed his slider and fastballs well enough that the A’s put two runners on base just twice: in the second, and then with consecutive infield singles in the fifth.

He gave up seven hits, three walks and four runs while striking out six in seven innings. His ERA is now 5.38 __ 4.67 if you take away his first start.

“It was a little windy, but (the homers) were all hit, and up over the plate,” Hillman said. “Just a matter of location. On a couple pitches, it looked like he backed off. Not on purpose, but it didn’t look like he was reaching out front and finishing.”

Meanwhile, the Royals’ offense __ a day removed from a 12-run outburst against a rookie making his first start __ went back to its struggling ways against promising 21-year-old rookie Brett Anderson.

A lefty, Anderson worked mostly off a fastball that touched 97 mph. He mixed in some sliders and curveballs, throwing them all for strikes. The Royals never managed more than one baserunner until the seventh.

“His pitch to get him on is his fastball,” Royals outfielder Josh Anderson said, “and we got some fastballs probably here and there, we just didn’t do anything with them. We hit them on the ground, or popped them up, but that’s the pitch you’ve got to go after with him.”

The Royals put together a rally in the seventh, sending eight batters to the plate and scoring three times. They chased Anderson with three consecutive hits __ Mark Teahen’s single, Alberto Callaspo’s double and Brayan Pena’s single __ and then got RBI groundouts from Maier and Josh Anderson.

All three runners scored, charged to Anderson, who gave up six hits and one walk while striking out five in six innings.

The three runs were nice, but still left the Royals a run behind, and here’s one more depressing stat: the Royals have now scored three runs or fewer in 51 of their 111 games.

It’s a story that long ago became too familiar to the Royals.

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