Following consecutive lackluster offensive performances over the weekend, the Royals emerged from the off-day facing a new opponent and sporting a new-look lineup thanks to the addition of Nicky Lopez in the second spot in the batting order.
In all likelihood the Texas Rangers’ pitching staff, which entered the day having allowed the second-most runs per game in baseball (5.68), had more to do with the Royals’ offensive success than the minor lineup shakeup, but the combination amounted to a lot of early offense.
The Royals rode that bevy of early runs to an 11-5 win in the first game of their three-game series with the Rangers in front of an announced 19,410 at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night. The Royals have now scored 10 runs or more four times this season.
Whit Merrifield collected three hits, including the 500th of his career, and scored three times, while Alex Gordon, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler each had multiple hits and drove in multiple runs. Lopez also recorded his first major-league hit and RBI right after Merrifield’s 500th.
“I honestly wasn’t aware of being close to 500 until I got the hits, so that was a nice surprise,” Merrifield said. “Great night all around. (Danny) Duffy didn’t have his great stuff tonight, but he did enough for us to win. Offense, obviously, exploded, and it was nice to see Nicky get the first one out of the way.”
Lopez became the first Royals player since Jeremy Giambi to bat second in his major-league debut. Giambi’s debut came on Sept. 1, 1998. Lopez, who slotted into the lineup between leadoff hitter Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi, went 1-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored.
“I didn’t even know that was career hit No. 500 for Whit,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But hit No. 1 for Nicky was pretty special. Whit had another good night like he always does, three knocks. Very consistent offensive force for us.”
The Royals (15-27) sent 18 batters to the plate in the first two innings. By the start of the third inning, eight of the Royals’ starting position players had at least one walk or one hit. Five players had scored runs, and three had scored twice.
The Royals scored three first-inning runs on three doubles. Merrifield started it off with a double down the left-field line and into the corner.
Lopez’s fly out ball was deep enough for Merrifield to tag and advance to third, and Gordon and Dozier followed with back-to-back RBI doubles. Soler’s RBI single scored Dozier as the Royals grabbed a 3-0 lead going into the second inning.
The Royals kept the heat on Rangers starting pitcher Shelby Miller in the second. Miller walked the first two batters, Martin Maldonado and Billy Hamilton, to start the frame. Merrifield’s single loaded the bases.
After Lopez grounded into a fielder’s choice, Mondesi drove in the run with an RBI single on the ground into right field. Then Gordon’s fielder’s choice drove in another run as the Rangers opted to take the out at second base, and Dozier’s two-run single marked the end of the night for Miller as the Royals led 7-0.
Soler welcomed Rangers relief pitcher Wei-Chieh Huang to the game with an RBI double shot down the third base line, and Ryan O’Hearn’s RBI double off the center field wall had the Royals closing in on double digits before the sun had completely set at The K.
Duffy (2-1) struck out six and only walked one batter as he picked up his second win in four starts this season. The left-hander began the season on the injured list due to a shoulder ailment.
Duffy endured a four-run third inning by the Rangers, and he needed 107 pitches to get through five innings. He threw 38 pitches in the third inning, and he had 94 pitches going into the fifth.
“I don’t ever go out there for just four,” Duffy said. “But when my team puts it out there and give me nine, it’s a travesty to not go for as long as I can.”
The Rangers’ four-run third consisted of a Logan Forsythe RBI double, an Elvis Andrus RBI single and a one-out, two-run double by Joey Gallo on a fly ball Gordon lost in the sky. That fly ball likely would’ve been the second out of the inning and might have helped Duffy get out of the third having only allowed two runs.
The Royals added two runs in the seventh, and in back-to-back at-bats Merrifield notched his 500th career hit and Lopez registered his first in the majors. Merrifield scored on the play.
“I was actually less nervous than I thought I was going to be, but yeah there were definitely butterflies,” Lopez said. “I tried to take it all in when I went out there, kind of looked up and just took it all in, saw all the fans, the bright lights, the big crown in center field. I tried to take as much in as possible today.”
The Rangers (17-22) scored a run with two outs in the eighth inning against former Rangers reliever Jake Diekman. Diekman had pitched nine consecutive scoreless outings.
Tuesday also marked the anniversary of Yost’s first win as the club’s skipper. His club defeated the Chicago White Sox 6-1 on May 14, 2010, one day after the Royals named him manager.