KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Felipe Paulino found a groove eventually Thursday night. Just not soon enough to halt the Royals' ongoing slide through late June as the Arizona Diamondbacks completed a three-game sweep with a 5-3 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Paulino wobbled through the early innings before retiring 13 in a row. He exited after starting the ninth by allowing a single and a walk, but Everett Teaford and Greg Holland worked out of the jam.
That early wobble, however, amounted to five runs.
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"I started throwing my fastball to try to change their eye level," Paulino said. "It worked for me great. But it doesn't matter. We lost."
Arizona starter Daniel Hudson (9-5) limited the Royals to three runs and six hits in seven innings before Aaron Heilman and J.J. Putz closed out the sweep. Putz got his 20th save in 23 opportunities.
"I probably had my worst command of the year tonight," Hudson said, although he walked just one. "That's a scrappy team over there. I was telling somebody that it seems like they're a better hitting team with two strikes because they have a good approach.
"So you just have to throw the ball over the plate."
It was a fastball/changeup mix that the Royals never really solved.
"He pounds the zone," left fielder Alex Gordon said, "but we had pitches to hit. We just missed them. I know I just missed some pitches."
The Royals fell to 31-44 by losing for the seventh time in eight games. They have the worst record in the American League and are only 3 1/2 games better than Houston in the early chase for the first pick in the 2012 draft.
"Wow, it's unbelievable," shortstop Alcides Escobar said. "Today, we scored only three runs. That's what happens. I think we're playing good baseball, but we're losing too many games by one or two runs."
Six of the Royals' last eight losses have been by one or two runs.
"We didn't score enough runs to win the ballgame," manager Ned Yost said. "That's the case when you lose most days. It's as simple that. We can come up with fancy words, and we can come up with great excuses. But they scored more runs than we did."
Other than the Astros, only one club has a worse record than the Royals — the Chicago Cubs, who arrive tonight, at 30-44, for the start of a three-game weekend series.
The schedule, in fact, offers the Royals an extended opportunity for a turnaround because their first series next week is a three-game set at San Diego, which occupies last place in the National League West. The Padres are 32-44.
So the Royals couldn't ask for a better chance to put the brakes on their skid.
"We need somebody to get hot, and preferably two guys to get hot," Yost said, "and swing the bat well for a week to 10 days. Everybody else will feed off of that.
"We need our starting pitching to get settled down and not give up runs early — and give us a chance to get to our bullpen, which is as good of a bullpen as there is in the league."
Not much went right in the three games against Arizona, which jumped Paulino, 0-1, for two runs in the first inning after Ryan Roberts opened the game with a single and went to second when Justin Upton was hit by a one-out pitch.
The runners moved to second and third on Stephen Drew's grounder to first. Chris Young's two-out single to left scored both runners, although the Royals trapped him between first and second for the final out.
The lead climbed to 3-0 when Miguel Montero opened the second inning with a drive into the right-field bullpen.
The Royals got two runs back in their second thanks largely to an unnecessary throwing error by Montero on a pickoff attempt after singles by Gordon and Mike Moustakas put runners at first and second with one out.
Montero tried a snap throw to first, but the ball got past Juan Miranda for a two-base error that scored Gordon and moved Moustakas to third.
Hudson walked Matt Treanor before Escobar sent an RBI single into center field, but Arizona kept a 3-2 lead when Young made a running catch on Chris Getz's sinking liner to center and doubled off Treanor at second.
Paulino gave one run right back — and was fortunate it wasn't more after Roberts and Kelly Johnson opened the third with singles.
A one-out wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, but both held on Drew's drive to deep right, which got over Jeff Francoeur's head — but Francoeur played the carom well enough to limit the damage to one run.
Johnson tried to score on Young's drive to center, but Melky Cabrera made a strong throw to Treanor for an inning-ending double play.
Paulino retired the first two hitters in the fourth before Miranda turned around a 97-mph fastball for a homer and a 5-2 lead.
The Royals answered with a run in their fourth after Francoeur led off with a double past third. Treanor punched a one-out RBI single into center before Escobar grounded into an inning-ending double play.
That was it, though. The Royals never got a runner past first over the final five innings.