The Houston Astros may not have just knocked Royals pitcher Jakob Junis out of the game on Sunday, they might have sent him into the offseason.
Royals manager Ned Yost didn’t definitively declare Junis’ season over because of his workload, but he raised the possibility. It wasn’t long after an increase in innings pitched became a topic surrounding Brad Keller that the club shut him down for the season last month.
The Astros chased Junis from the game in less than three innings Sunday. He allowed five runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings — the shortest start of his major-league career (77 starts)— on the way to a 12-3 loss for the Royals to arguably the best team in the American League in front of an announced 17,205 at Kauffman Stadium.
The Astros, who scored 15 runs or more twice last week against Seattle and Oakland, hit three home runs, one off Junis.
“He didn’t have anything going today,” Yost said of Junis. “It was kind of crazy because he’s really struggled lately in the first inning and then kind of settled down from there. But he came out razor sharp in the first and I thought, man, he’s going to be really good. But by the second inning and third inning, his command was off. He didn’t have his slider.
“I think the innings are adding up for him right now, this time of year. I’ll take a day or two and look at things and see if that might have been his last start of the year.”
Junis (9-14) has thrown a team-high 175 1/3 innings this season in 31 starts. Junis remains shy of his 177-inning total from last season, but has thrown more pitches — 2,926 in 2019 compared to 2,838 in 2018.
When asked about Yost’s remark that the innings may be piling up on Junis, the right-hander did not dismiss or deny that assertion.
“It’s a lot of starts, a lot of innings, and getting through September is a grind,” Junis said. “It’s like that for everybody, obviously. I’ll just take it one start at a time.”
The Royals’ left-handed tandem of Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery held the Astros (98-53) to three runs over 11 innings in their two starts on Friday and Saturday. However, the Astros smacked Royals pitching for 16 hits in the series finale as they completed a three-game sweep.
The Royals (55-95) scored the game’s first run on a Jorge Soler RBI triple in the first inning — his third career triple and first since 2015 — but they didn’t score again until the fifth.
Junis had a tough time after the first inning against an Astros lineup that featured four hitters with at least 21 homers and 75 RBIs entering the day. That’s with George Springer and Jose Altuve getting the day off.
Junis didn’t allow a hit in the first. He issued a two-out walk, but struck out two and faced just four batters.
His outing went sharply downhill from the start of the second inning with Yuli Gurriel’s leadoff home run. The next three Astros batters reached on base hits and two scored as part of a three-run inning.
“I came out and felt good that first inning, a couple of strikeouts,” Junis said. “That’s how I wanted to start the game, come out on a high note. The last few outings I’ve been getting hit a little bit early. It was nice to come out and have a good first inning.
“After that, I gave up the home run to Gurriel and then kind of lost my command a little bit. Then I tried correcting too much. I was just kind of spraying it a little bit. I didn’t have a great feel for my slider either.”
Junis faced eight batters in the inning, but escaped to come back out for the third despite having already thrown 49 pitches. However, he didn’t make it out of the third after a walk, a one-out single and a two-out, two-run double by Abraham Toro that put the Royals in a 5-1 hole.
Reliever Jacob Barnes got the final out of the inning and stopped the bleeding. Left-hander Eric Skoglund gave up three runs in four innings or relief. Right-hander Kyle Zimmer walked two and gave up four hits, including a two-run homer to Kyle Tucker, in a four-run eighth inning.
Left-handed pitcher Randy Rosario, who the Royals acquired off waivers from the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, made his first appearance in the ninth inning. He struck out two and gave up one hit in a scoreless inning.
The Royals begin a seven-game road trip, their final trip of the season, on Monday night in Oakland. Right-hander Glenn Sparkman (4-11, 5.94) will start for the Royals, while Tanner Roark (10-8, 4.01) will start for the Athletics.