Kansas City Royals

Red Sox rough up Francis, Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The August blues continued Friday night for Royals veteran left-hander Jeff Francis with five more hit-strewn innings in a 7-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium.

The numbers, already unsightly, are starting to get gruesome.

Francis fell to 4-14 and saw his ERA climb to 4.89 after allowing five runs and 11 hits before exiting. That makes 19 runs and 36 hits in 20 2/3 innings over his four August starts.

"I've been through patches like this before," Francis said. "I'm not going to waver on the approach I take. I'm going to do what I've always done. I'm going to try to go after hitters, and put the pressure on them to hit the ball.

"That's certainly what they did tonight. Eleven hits in five innings. They put some good wood on the ball."

A two-run fourth turned on the inability of center fielder Melky Cabrera to run down Darnell McDonald's drive, which fell for a one-out RBI triple. Francis then served up a three-run homer in the fifth to Jarrod Saltalamacchia on an 0-2 changeup.

"I hit it good," Saltalamacchia said, "and I knew that if I hit it to that part of the ballpark pretty good, it'd go out."

It went way out — landing in the seats above the Royals' bullpen. It was estimated at 412 feet.

The Royals meanwhile managed just one run in 5 1/3 innings against Boston starter Andrew Miller, who lugged a 5.40 ERA into the game, and none over the final 3 2/3 innings against Alfredo Aceves.

Miller improved to 5-1, and the victory enabled the Red Sox to remain one-half game behind New York in the American League East Division. Boston finished with 13 hits, including three apiece by Adrian Gonzalez and Jed Lowrie.

The loss dropped the Royals to a season-worst 24 games under .500 at 51-75. They have lost 10 of their last 12, including four of five on this week's measuring-stick homestand against the Yankees and Red Sox.

So, yes, the Royals have lots of issues these days beyond Francis' mounting struggles but, coincidence or not, he endured a similar post-July slide last year at Colorado in his first season back from major shoulder surgery.

Francis carried a 4.44 ERA into last August but posted a 6.94 mark over the final two months before exiting the Rockies as a free agent.

"Innings-wise, that was a long time ago," he countered. "It's something I've gotten past. I feel good. I don't feel worn down. I don't feel like my shoulder is in a place it's never been. I'm long past that point where I'm worried about hurting my shoulder."

Maybe so, but it still begs a question: Unless the Royals view Francis as a 2012 rotation candidate — and he will be a free agent again after the season — how much longer do they keep sending him out there?

"We're looking at some different things," manager Ned Yost admitted. "He pitched (118) innings last year, and he up to (164 1/3) now. We'll look and see how he feels and where he's at and kind of go from there."

Class AAA Omaha has two starters, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O'Sullivan, who saw limited big-league action earlier this season and, currently anyway, project as 2012 possibilities.

The Royals also show interest in taking a late-season look at Luis Mendoza, who is resurrecting his career this season as the runaway ERA leader in the Pacific Coast League.

"We've got some alternatives down below," Yost agreed, "and we've got guys here we want to look at a little bit, too. We'll look at it and see how he feels (today) and take it day by day right now."

Aaron Crow is often viewed as a 2012 rotation candidate. Longman Nate Adcock started two games earlier this year. Lefty Everett Teaford, who pitched three innings in relief of Francis, spent much of his five previous pro seasons as a starter.

Oddly, perhaps, Francis survived his typical first-inning wobbles — 28 runs in 25 previous starts — by stranding three runners when Ryan Lavarnway grounded into an inning-ending force play.

The Red Sox loaded the bases again with two outs in the third and, again, Francis retired Lavarnway for the third out — this time on a fly to right. Both times, Francis issued intentional walks to Dustin Pedroia with two outs and a runner on second.

That permitted the Royals to grab the lead after Jeff Francoeur's leadoff double in the bottom of the third. He went to third on Alcides Escobar's sacrifice before scoring on Alex Gordon's sacrifice fly into the right-center gap.

Gordon's drive appeared ticketed for extra bases before center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury made a terrific running catch that blunted the chance for a big inning.

"I thought it was a guaranteed double or triple," Gordon said. "But with his speed, he makes some tough plays look pretty easy. And he did make that look pretty easy."

Ellsbury's catch seemed even bigger when Boston struck back for two runs in the fourth after Carl Crawford led off with a double past first.

McDonald sent a one-out drive to right center got past Cabrera for an RBI triple. McDonald scored when Ellsbury sent a sacrifice fly to center. Saltalamacchia delivered his knockout blow in the fifth after singles by Lowrie and Lavarnway.

"It was down," Francis said, "but it was an 0-2 pitch. Sometimes you give a guy an opportunity to put a little more wood on it than he should. That's probably what I did there."