This is what the Royals had in mind last winter when, generally frustrated in efforts to bolster their rotation, they chose instead to beef up their bullpen.
That relief corps delivered four suffocating innings Tuesday night in closing out a 7-4 victory that completed a two-game sweep of previously-surging Texas at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
The Royals got five serviceable innings from Vin Mazzaro (1-0) in a spot start for injured Jonathan Sánchez, jumped to an early lead against self-destructive Texas starter Colby Lewis and then went to the pen.
Tim Collins struck out five in two perfect innings. Aaron Crow worked a one-two-three eighth inning. José Mijares served up a two-out pinch homer in the ninth to Brandon Snyder before Greg Holland got the final out.
The Royals (15-20) finished their five-game trip with four straight victories and have now won three straight series. They are 12-6 since ending that 12-game April losing streak.
Much credit goes to a bullpen that has limited opponents to three earned runs in 26 innings over the last seven games and possesses a 2.19 ERA in 21 games since April 22.
Mazzaro handed a 7-3 lead to Collins after allowing seven hits while striking out two and walking one while throwing 51 of 81 pitches for strikes.
Collins struck out the side in the sixth and struck out two of three in the seventh. Then Crow. Then Mijares for two quick outs before the Snyder hiccup. Then Holland and handshakes all around.
The Royals jumped all over Lewis (3-3) in a four-run first inning, which began when Jarrod Dyson yanked a double over the head of right fielder David Murphy.
Eric Hosmer reached on an error when Lewis ballooned a throw over the head of first basemen Mitch Moreland. That put runners at second and third. Hosmer ran into an out by breaking for third on Billy Butler’s grounder to short. Dyson scored, though.
Lewis retired Alex Gordon on a fly to center before the Royals struck big.
Jeff Francoeur’s double to left moved Butler to third before Lewis loaded the bases by hitting Mike Moustakas. Brayan Peña made it 3-0 with a two-run single to right, and Chris Getz followed with an RBI single to center before Lewis ended the inning.
All four runs were unearned run.
Mazzaro survived a scare in the first when, after yielding a two-out walk and single, Murphy’s drive to deep center turned into an out at the wall.
The Royals added another run in the second aided by another Lewis error. Dyson led off with a single and took second on an errant pickoff throw. Butler’s one-out double into the right-field corner made it 5-0.
That run, too, was unearned, but when Moustakas opened the third by yanking a 3-1 fastball over the right-field wall — that run was earned — and it was 6-0.
Texas struck back in the fourth after Josh Hamilton extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a leadoff single to left. He scored on Murphy’s double into the right-field corner.
Moreland made it 6-2 with a two-out single to left against an over-shifted infield and went to third on Alberto Gonzalez’s looping double into right. But Mazzaro limited the damage to two runs by striking our Craig Gentry.
Lewis found a groove after the Moustakas homer by retiring eight in a row before Moustakas broke the string with a two-out walk in the fifth. By then, it was too late.
Mazzaro surrendered another run in the fifth after losing tracking of Ian Kinsler, who led off with a single and stole second. Kinsler stole third without a throw — or a glance from Mazzaro — on the first pitch to Hamilton.
That turned into a run when Hamilton lofted a sacrifice fly to deep center.
The Royals got that run back in the sixth after Dyson worked a two-out walk when a slumping Hosmer drove a 1-1 curve into the left-center gap for an RBI double and a 7-3 lead. That finished Lewis.
The bullpen took it from there.