Kansas City Royals

Royals sluggish in 7-2 loss to Red Sox

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto applies the tag to the head of Boston’s Mookie Betts as he attempts to leg out a single on a grounder during the sixth inning Friday at Fenway Park in Boston.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto applies the tag to the head of Boston’s Mookie Betts as he attempts to leg out a single on a grounder during the sixth inning Friday at Fenway Park in Boston. Associated Press

Lorenzo Cain assumed the running position he made famous last October as he sprinted toward right-center field at Fenway Park. He hunched his shoulders slightly, with his left arm dangling by his side, ready to swoop at the last moment and prevent a sinking line drive from touching the outfield grass. He covers his position in a fashion that makes the difficult look simple and the improbable look likely.

Except this was the sort of night Cain suffered through in Friday’s Royals 7-2 loss to the Red Sox: He did not dive. The baseball bounced off the grass a second ahead of his arrival. When it caromed off the ground, it clipped the webbing of his glove and bounced ahead of him. A run scored because of Cain’s fourth-inning error.

“Overall, I just played like (garbage) tonight,” Cain said. “That’s all it boils down to.”

Cain looked less than sterling on a series of plays in the field, part of a team-wide stumble for their second loss in a row to the lowly Red Sox. Boston battered Johnny Cueto for seven runs in six innings, although Cueto’s defense did him few favors.

Cueto, who fell to 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA as a Royal, gave up a season-high 13 hits. In the sixth, light-hitting second baseman Josh Rutledge capped the pounding with a two-run home run. It was his first homer of the season.

“They just beat him,” said catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Cueto. “Those guys are major-league players and they’re in a major-league lineup. And they just beat him.”

The Royals showed more life at the plate than they did Thursday, when the club sleep-walked through a series-opening defeat. But they still only managed two runs off rookie southpaw Henry Owens in his eight innings on Friday. Cain’serror led to a run in the fourth. Alcides Escobar launched his third homer of the season in the sixth.

Cain developed into an All-Star in 2015 and is likely to land on MVP ballots at the end of the season. But he, like his division-leading team, struggled for stretches Friday night. The Royals (73-48) have a chance to return to normalcy during two more games here.

“No aspect of our game was tremendously good tonight,” manager Ned Yost said. “One of those nights.”

Cueto was pitching at Fenway Park for the first time. His stylistic precursor, Luis Tiant, called this ballpark home for eight years. Cueto paid tribute on Friday with his usual arrangement of differing tempos and deliveries.

Cueto can become a free agent this winter. He told WEEI, the local radio powerhouse here, that he would be interested in joining the Red Sox. But his opponents jabbed away at him on Friday.

The night before, rookie infielder Travis Shaw vexed lefty Danny Duffy. He did the same to Cueto in the second inning, digging out a shin-high changeup for a one-out double. He advanced to third on a curious single by outfielder Rusney Castillo, a pop-up that fell between the retreat of Omar Infante and the forward charge of Cain.

An error led to a run in the next at-bat. Rookie catcher Blake Swihart pounced on an elevated cutter and shot it into left field. Shaw scored and Castillo stopped at third. The throw by outfielder Paulo Orlando skipped past Escobar, which allowed Castillo to score. Escobar was charged with an error.

A single by the next batter, Mookie Betts, swelled Boston’s lead to three. The ball bounced off Orlando’s glove, but it was ruled a hit.

“At the last second,” Orlando said, “I took my eye off it.”

The Royals scratched together a run against Owens in the fourth. Ben Zobrist doubled to lead off the inning. It was the Royals’ first hit of the game. Two batters later, Eric Hosmer roped a single into left. Hanley Ramirez, a converted infielder, misplayed the ball, and Zobrist scored. Hosmer did not receive credit for an RBI, but at least his team had a run.

Boston answered in the bottom of the inning. Castillo boomed a slider over Cain’s head. Cain sprinted toward the center-field wall. He could not run down the ball. It was a triple.

“That’s a play I need to make,” Cain said. “That’s a play I’m used to making.”

Swihart roped an RBI single two pitches later off Cueto.

“They made adjustments to him,” Grifol said of Cueto. “He didn’t leave too many (pitches) up, but the ones he did leave up, they put good swings on them.”

The error on Cain occurred two at-bats later. Betts roped the liner. Cain gave chase. The ball skittered away.

When the inning ended, Cain made the long walk back to his dugout. He was the last Royal to leave the field. He ripped off his hat and threw it to the ground.

“Just a horrible night, all the way around, by me,” Cain said.

Guthrie out of rotation — After weeks of ineffective performances, Jeremy Guthrie has been removed from the Royals rotation. Kris Medlen will replace him on Monday evening against the Orioles in Kansas City, and Medlen will remain a starter for the foreseeable future, Yost said.

Yost framed the decision as an opportunity for Medlen, who missed 2014 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery, and not a referendum on Guthrie, who has posted a 5.65 ERA this season. After Cueto and Edinson Volquez, the Royals are undecided on the other two members of their playoff rotation.

“We want to find out what we have,” Yost said before Friday’s game against the Red Sox. “We know what we have in Chris Young. We know what he have in Jeremy Guthrie. And while there’s time left, we want to find out what we have in Kris Medlen. It just gives us another option at the end to see which direction we want to go.”

Medlen, a 29-year-old right-hander, has posted a 2.51 ERA in seven relief appearances since joining the team in the second half. The Royals had signed Medlen to a two-year contract during the winter. He is expected to be a member of the starting rotation in 2016, but the organization is also curious to see how much he can contribute in the present.

Medlen logged three scoreless innings on Thursday. He threw 48 pitches. When he learned he would start on Monday, he told pitching coach Dave Eiland not to tell him what his pitch count would be.

“Because that’s all I’m going to be thinking about,” Medlen said.

He will be kept on a leash that lasts somewhere between 60 to 75 pitches. But the team intends to build him back up to the 100-pitch mark.