The Royals looked poised for a series sweep after having won three consecutive road games and with young workhorse pitcher Brad Keller on the mound coming off his best run of starts this season.
Unfortunately, Keller gave up two first-inning home runs and didn’t make it through five innings for the first time all season, and the Royals fell well short of a series sweep.
After routing the Seattle Mariners by nine runs on Tuesday night, the Royals received similar treatment in a 8-2 loss in the series finale in front of an announced 16,228 at T-Mobile Park on Wednesday afternoon.
The Royals (25-49) finished their six-game road trip with a 3-3 record and collected their first road series win of the season with two wins in Seattle.
Royals starting shortstop Adalberto Mondesi did not play. He came out of Tuesday’s game with groin tightness, and he did not do any work on the field prior to Wednesday’s game. Nicky Lopez started at shortstop. Cheslor Cuthbert, Jorge Bonifacio and Lopez had two hits apiece.
Keller faced all nine batters in the Mariners’ lineup in the opening inning. He allowed two home runs, five hits, a walk and struck out two. He threw 35 pitches just to get through the first. He threw 95 pitches through four innings.
“He just couldn’t find a slot where he could consistently get down or down and away in the zone,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Keller. “The slider caught too much of the plate for a home to (Domingo) Santana. It was just one of those days.”
He’d given up just four home runs the entire season (93 innings) and watched Mariners hitters take him out of the park twice in the same inning.
Keller (3-9) gave up four runs within the first four batters of the first inning. Mallex Smith doubled, J.P. Crawford drew a walk, and Santana jumped all over the first pitch he saw from Keller and sent it over the left-center field wall for a three-run home run.
The next batter, Daniel Vogelbach, blasted a 1-2 pitch from Keller down the right field foul line and inside the pole for a solo home run. After a fly out and two more singles, Keller struck out the last two batters to end the inning.
Keller struck out the side in the second, all on swinging third strikes, after having faced the top of the lineup for the second time in two innings.
He’d struck out five in a row after the second inning, and he worked around a single and a walk to toss a scoreless third.
“He was still striking guys out up in the zone, and you can’t pitch consistently up in the zone in the big leagues,” Yost said. “I was hoping that after the first inning he would come in and settle in a little bit and he did. … But it just got his pitch count up.”
After the Royals got a run back in the third inning on an Alex Gordon RBI groundout, Keller ran into more struggles in the fourth. He gave up a leadoff single to Dylan Moore and then his back-foot slider to Mallex Smith actually hit Smith’s back foot.
Then J.P. Crawford’s RBI single drove in a run, Santana’s RBI single drove in another and Vogelbach hit a drive to left that Alex Gordon had to get on his horse to track down. Crawford tagged and scored on the play to give the Mariners three runs in the inning with just one out recorded.
“It just felt like I didn’t really have anything behind the fastball today,” Keller said. “It’s never a good feeling when you’re going into a start with that, so was I just trying to create stuff and threw myself a little bit out of whack and left a few balls over the middle of the plate that they took advantage of.”
Keller got out of the inning, but his outing ended after four innings with the Mariners up 7-1.
Keller had come of a stretch of five consecutive starts in which he posted a 2.83 ERA, averaged seven innings per start and struck out 22 and walked nine in 35 innings.
“It’s one start. It’s not like it’s a series of starts leading up to this,” Keller said of Wednesday’s outing. “I felt really good going into this as far as previous starts, but it’s one bad day. We’ll flush it, and move onto the next one.”
The Mariners scored one run against Royals reliever Brian Flynn in four innings.
Meanwhile the Royals offense which roared on Tuesday night got muffled by Mariners starting pitcher Marco Gonzales (8-6). Gonzales held the Royals to two runs on six hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings.
Cam Gallagher’s RBI double in the seventh gave the Royals their second run and marked the end of Gonzales’ day on the mound.
On assignment: Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier went 2-for-5 with a stolen base in the third game of his minor-league rehab stint with Double-A Northwest Arkansas on Wednesday afternoon. Dozier is expected to return to Kansas City to be with his wife for the birth of their second child on Thursday. It’s unclear what the next step in his rehab assignment will be. He’s been on the injured list since May 31 with an oblique strain.