The blues in Kansas City once meant a captivating alternative to its more-renowned jazz. These days, it means a tattered rotation that continues to hamstring the Royals’ efforts to shake their early-season doldrums.
Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, the club’s centerpiece off-season acquisition, offered up the latest example Monday night by failing to record an out in the fourth inning before exiting in an 11-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
“Starting pitching sets the tone,” manager Ned Yost agreed. “Sanchez, again, just really struggled to command his fastball. His secondary stuff was decent enough, but he got his pitch count way up early was just a struggle for him to command the baseball.”
Sanchez, 1-2, has yet to make it past the fifth inning in any of his six starts and now sports a 6.75 ERA after yielding six runs on six hits and three walks in those three-plus interminable innings.
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It wasn’t, Sanchez maintained, as bad as it looked.
“What happened today,” he said, “I didn’t think I got hit that well. Pretty much, I made good pitches, and I gave up a couple of hits.”
If so, Sanchez was exceedingly unlucky because this sure seemed like the latest chapter in an all-too-familiar story. The rotation’s cumulative ERA is 5.92, as heart-rending as the teariest blues riff.
This one turned ugly early when Sanchez coughed up four runs in the first inning. A walk and two singles opened the scoring before Will Middlebrooks sliced a three-run homer just inside the right-field foul pole.
“I made a good pitch to that guy (Middlebrooks) who hit that three-run homer,” Sanchez said. “That was a good pitch. When he hit it, he didn’t know where it was. He got lucky.”
Middlebrooks offered a different version.
“I felt like he was going to go away,” he said. “I watched a lot of video on him, and I felt like that’s how he approached guys.”
Either way, it was, precisely, the last thing the Royals needed after Luke Hochevar’s seven-runs-in-less-than-three innings kerfuffle in Sunday’s 10-4 loss to the Yankees.
Understand, too, the Red Sox hit town mired in a five-game skid and coming off a 17-inning loss Sunday to the Orioles that required 6 hours and 7 minutes to complete. The bullpen, behind lefty starter Felix Doubront, was skeletal.
But four quick runs changed everything.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. “That’s not an easy (thing), making that flight here after that game and having that effort tonight I know we’re talking about small victories, but they could all be proud of what they did tonight.”
Doubront, 2-1, wasn’t particularly effective — he yielded five runs in 61/3 innings — but the Red Sox maintained a working margin by pummeling Sanchez and a series of Royals relievers.
Middlebrooks supplied the clincher with a two-run homer in the eighth against Tim Collins that struck high off the left-field foul pole and capped another four-run inning.
“I’ve never seen a guy hit both foul poles,” Valentine said, “and almost take the center-field fence down with a line drive (for a double in the seventh). Those were three impressive swings.”
Before Middlebrooks’ second homer, the Royals made things interesting by closing to within 7-5 and loading the bases with one out in the seventh. A bases-loaded walk to Alex Gordon finished Doubront.
But Vicente Padilla got Billy Butler to ground into an inning-ending double play. The Red Sox then struck for four in the eighth against Kelvim Herrera and Collinsand that was that.
So, yes, the end wasn’t much better than the start – but the start was dreadful and, as a result, the Royals are again 10 games under .500 at 9-19.
“We’ve been struggling,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “We’ve been playing hard still, but we’ve got to find ways to win ballgames. You can stand here and talk until your face is blue but, at the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to win a ballgame.”
Sanchez worked five scoreless innings against Detroit in his previous start, but never found a comfort zone against the Red Sox while throwing fewer than half of his pitches – 35 of 73 – for strikes.
It marked the eighth time in 10 games that a Royals starter failed to reach the sixth inning. Time for changes?
“We’re not there yet,” Yost said. “We’re trying to get through it. But there’s going to come a point, probably in the very, very near future that we’re going to have to seriously thinking about it. But we’re not there yet.”