Kansas City Royals

Royals take opener against White Sox behind Jakob Junis’ 10-strikeout performance

Pitcher Jakob Junis showed exactly why the Royals have stuck with him through his ups and downs. Flashes of his potential, such as his outing on Monday, will make you wonder what Junis might become if he performs that way consistently.

Junis set a career high for strikeouts in a game with 10 as he set the tone for a 5-2 win over the Chicago White Sox in the first game of their four-game series in front of an announced 16,006 at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals (33-62) have now won three of four coming out of the All-Star break.

“My command early wasn’t the greatest, but it got better. Fastball command got better as the game went on,” Junis said. “Probably the sharpest my slider has been all year. That was pretty nice to have that going tonight.”

Junis (5-8) allowed just one run on five hits and two walks in seven innings, his best outing of the season. He shined brighter than White Sox All-Star pitcher Lucas Giolito, who’d been a pesky thorn in the side of the Royals.

Junis’ previous high of nine strikeouts came against the Oakland Athletics on June 3, 2018. On Monday, he finished his outing with a strikeout to set a new career mark.

“I wanted that 10th one bad,” Junis said. “I knew I’d had nine before, maybe once or twice in my career, but I’d never had 10.”

Alex Gordon (1-for-4) drove in a pair of runs, Nicky Lopez (2-for-4, 2 RBIs), Hunter Dozier (2-for-4, 2 runs) and Cheslor Cuthbert (2-for-4) also drove in runs, including the 100th career RBI for Cuthbert in the fourth inning. Whit Merrifield extended his hitting streak to 13 games.

Catcher Martin Maldonado doubled in the fifth inning before being taken out of the game in the bottom of the sixth. The Royals announced after the game that he’d been traded to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery.

Giolito had gone 3-0 against the Royals in four starts this season — he left one start in the third inning due to hamstring tightness — and 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA , 0.87 WHIP and a .164 opponents batting average in 10 career starts against the Royals.

Giolito also took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on March 31, his first start of the season.

This season, Giolito hadn’t just dominated the Royals. He entered the day among the American League leaders in opponents batting average (second, .194), opponents slugging percentage (second, .315), opponents OPS (second, .590), wins (tied for second, 11), WHIP (sixth, 1.07) and ERA (seventh, 3.15).

Gordon’s one-out double to right-center set up Dozier’s RBI double off the left field wall to put the Royals in front 1-0 in the fourth inning. They’d come into the inning having recorded just one hit in the first three innings.

After Jorge Soler grounded out, Cuthbert hit a two-out RBI single through the right side of the infield to give the Royals a 2-0 advantage after four innings.

White Sox catcher James McCann hit a solo home run in the sixth for the first blemish against Junis, but the Royals tacked on an insurance run in the sixth inning on a two-out RBI single by Lopez to carry a 3-1 lead into the seventh inning.

“He’s been tough on us,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever beat him. He’s just been tough, but we put together some good at-bats and scored some runs.”

Giolito (11-4) left after six innings, having allowed three runs on seven hits and one walk.

“I think we’re just trying to come out here every day, trying to have fun and compete and try to play exciting baseball,” Lopez said. “We have a good group of guys in this clubhouse, guys who are willing to compete.”

The Royals’ fourth run came on a Gordon grounder to first base with a runner on third in the seventh inning.

Reliever Scott Barlow, recalled from Triple-A Omaha prior to the game to fill Homer Bailey’s spot on the roster, gave up one run in the eighth before Jake Diekman came in and stranded the bases loaded.

A fielding error allowed the Royals to add their fifth run in the bottom of the eighth. Closer Ian Kennedy picked up his 14th save.

No-no for Wilmington: Royals right-handed pitching prospect Jonathan Bowlan, a second-round pick in 2018 out of the University of Memphis, recorded a no-hitter for High-A Wilmington on Monday against the Carolina Mudcats. The 6-foot-6 Bowlan struck out nine and didn’t give up a walk in nine innings. He threw 98 pitches, and the only runner for Carolina reached via a throwing error. It was the second no-hitter in Wilmington’s franchise history.

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.