SURPRISE, Ariz. — Max Ramirez got the fastball he anticipated Wednesday afternoon from Milwaukee reliever Santo Manzanillo and rammed it into center field for an RBI single in the seventh inning that lifted the Royals to a 3-2 victory at Surprise Stadium.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
“He threw me a fastball on the pitch before,” Ramirez said, “and I fouled it off. So I knew he had a good fastball. I had to be ready for that fastball.”
Ramirez’s single broke a 2-2 tie when Lorenzo Cain, in his spring debut, scored from second base. Cain reached on a one-out walk and stole second base.
The victory kept the Royals unbeaten at 5-0-1 in the Cactus League.
Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen formally opened their battle for the final spot in the rotation — although Luis Mendoza remains an outside candidate. The numbers say Chen was far better, but manager Ned Yost saw it differently.
“I thought Hoch’s stuff was dynamic,” Yost said. “He struggled with command but was pretty consistent most of the time. I thought Bruce was extremely sharp. I was happy with what I saw out of both of them.”
Chen retired six straight hitters over the fourth and fifth innings while striking out two and throwing 21 of 28 pitches for strikes. Hochevar started the game but exited with two outs in the second after allowing three walks, two runs and one hit.
The two faced roughly the same lineup. The Brewers didn’t begin mass substitutions until after Chen departed.
“Obviously, we’re in competition,” Chen said. “I’ve made some adjustments, and I’ve been working on getting the ball down. I think it’s working. So I’m just going to keep working on that and let my defense play.”
Mendoza permitted one run in four innings last Sunday against Texas. He is scheduled to pitch three innings Saturday in relief of Jeremy Guthrie.
The Brewers, 1-5, turned a game-opening walk to Norichika Aoki into a 1-0 lead when Logan Schafer followed with an RBI double over the head of left fielder Alex Gordon, but the Royals answered with Mike Moustakas’ RBI single in the bottom of the inning.
Hochevar departed after a two-out walk in the second pushed his pitch count to 38. Francisley Bueno surrendered an RBI double to Blake Lalli.
The Royals pulled even on Eric Hosmer’s two-out RBI single in the fifth. It remained 2-2 until Ramirez’s single.
Luke Hochevar’s line wasn’t pretty — 12/3 innings, one hit, three walks and two runs — but he said most of his command problems stemmed from his two-seam fastball.
“I was starting it in the same spot as my four-seamer,” he said, “and it was just sinking below the zone. But it was the action I wanted. That was the pitch I feel behind with. That’s a feel pitch, and that will come.”
The four-seam fastball is the straight fastball; the two-seamer is slightly slower but has movement.
First baseman Eric Hosmer went two for three, and third baseman Mike Moustakas went two for two before each exited after five innings. Both had an RBI.
Moustakas is seven for 12 in five games.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar grounded out to short in each of his three at-bats, but Jarrod Dyson went one for two with another bunt single.
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur recorded his second spring outfield assist when he threw out Blake Lalli for the final out of the second inning after gathering in Sean Halton’s line-drive single. Francoeur’s throw kept the Brewers from extending their lead to 3-1.
Relievers Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera made their second spring appearances – and are scheduled to work again Saturday prior to departing Sunday to join their national teams for the World Baseball Classic.
In contrast, the club’s two other short relievers — closer Greg Holland and Aaron Crow — aren’t scheduled to make their spring debuts until Friday.
Herrera and Collins each permitted two runners but both escaped without damage thanks to double plays.
Shortstop Elliot Johnson left the game after suffering a bruised left knee while executing an inning-ending double play in the Milwaukee sixth.
The Brewers had runners at first and third with one out against Kelvin Herrera when Johnson fielded Scooter Gennett’s grounder near second. Johnson recorded the force and threw to first as Carlos Gomez slid into the base.
“He’s fine,” Yost said Wednesday. “It was more of a precautionary thing. He was fighting to stay in the game. But this early, let’s get some ice on it, and he’ll be better tomorrow.”
Left fielder Alex Gordon returned to the lineup after missing two games because of back spasms that first occurred during Sunday’s 7-5 victory over Texas. He went two for three before exiting in the sixth inning.
Center fielder Lorenzo Cain made his spring debut when he replaced Jarrod Dyson in the sixth inning. Cain didn’t play previously because of a strained right hand suffered earlier in camp.
Cain drew a walk in his only at-bat, stole second and scored the winning run on Max Ramirez’s single.
It seems the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t too impressed with the Royals’ player-development methods. Manager Joe Maddon said outfielder Wil Myers is likely to open the season in the minors in order to learn to be a “complete player.”
“Getting the work necessary on defense, baserunning, etc., the things that we like to do here that he may not have been pushed to do in the past,” Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times. “I want us to push him to do that now.”
Myers was the Rays’ key acquisition in the seven-player off-season deal that brought pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals along with utility infielder Elliot Johnson.
Right-hander James Shields makes his first spring appearance in a Royals’ uniform Thursday when the Royals take the 8-mile trip down Bell Road to play the Padres in Peoria. Shields is expected to pitch just one inning.
Also scheduled: Will Smith, J.C. Gutierrez, Atahualpa Severino, Ryan Verdugo, Nate Adcock and Sugar Ray Marimon.
Royals (RHP James Shields) vs. Padres (RHP Jason Marquis), at 2:05 p.m. Central time in Peoria, Ariz.
“Oh, I don’t know. Until it gets too hot.”
— Royals starter Luke Hochevar, on how long he will keep his increasingly shaggy beard.
Countdown to Opening Day: 32 days