On a sun-baked afternoon, the bleachers at Maryvale Baseball Park were stocked with green T-shirts and foamy green beers in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
On the mound, Royals starter Nathan Karns nearly offered his own version of an early Irish Goodbye. In his latest audition for the club’s No. 5 starter role, Karns was knocked around for four runs — three earned — in the first inning before salvaging his day with three scoreless frames. By the end, Karns had held the fort for four innings in a 8-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday. He allowed seven hits while striking out four and issuing two walks.
The beginning was rocky. But one start after allowing four runs in two innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Karns could find a positive note in his ability to rebound and survive through his allotted 75 pitches.
“It was just: ‘Go back out there and keep attacking,’ ” Karns said. “You can’t get backed off of that.”
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For Karns, who is competing against Travis Wood and Chris Young for the final slot in the Royals starting rotation, the trouble came against a particularly aggressive Milwaukee offense. As the bottom of the first inning began, five of the Brewers’ first seven hitters swung at the first pitch, producing four runs. Karns’ fastball was up in the zone for most of the inning.
With a man on, Ryan Braun slugged a two-run homer to left-center field. Domingo Santana reached on a throwing error by third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert. Kirk Niewenhuis stroked an RBI double to center field. Jesus Aguilar finished the flurry of punches with an RBI single to left.
“Tip your cap to Braun,” Karns said. “He sat on a first-pitch curveball.”
For a moment, Karns’ fastball appeared imminently hittable. But he pulled it together, ending the inning with two strikeouts and breezed through the next three innings.
“He’s got three ‘plus’ pitches,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It was a little inconsistent up in the zone in the first inning some, and they didn’t miss it. But when he was down in the zone, he was pretty darn good.”
In his first three starts of the spring, Karns said he was focused on polishing his change-up. On Friday, he sought to incorporate his full arsenal, mixing in more curveballs off his fastball. The results were mixed, yet Karns was happy to move forward after working through the adversity. As the calendar pushed toward April, he will have at least two more opportunities to make his case for a rotation spot.
“It went well,” Karns said. “Today was a little warm, but it was nice to kind of get out there and get through that — 75 pitches and it still felt like I had energy to go. That’s the positive that I take out of that.”
Reliever Mike Minor, 29, still hasn’t allowed a run this spring after working a scoreless inning against the Brewers. He appears well-positioned to take up a spot in a seven-man bullpen when the season begins.
A former starter in the Braves organization, Minor signed with the Royals before last season and transitioned to the bullpen this spring after nagging shoulder problems kept him confined to rehab assignments in 2016.
Left-hander Eric Stout allowed his first run of the season, surrendering a homer to Brewers catcher Manny Pina, a former Royal.
The regular guys
Look around camp, and the Royals are an incomplete unit. Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar remain at the World Baseball Classic. Salvador Perez is back in camp, but is letting his body heal after a scary collision in the WBC.
But here’s one promising development: Alex Gordon is having a superb camp after his production waned during an injury-plagued 2016. Gordon collected two hits and two RBIs on Friday, raising his average to .412 (14 for 34) with a homer and two doubles.
The rest of the offense hummed as well. Two days after exiting a game because of a jammed and cut middle finger, Christian Colon finished 2 for 2 with his first homer of the spring. Colon, who got his finger caught under a cleat while diving back into second base, said Thursday that the injury wouldn’t affect him moving forward.
The young guys
Raul Mondesi was a late scratch from the lineup after experiencing some back soreness during batting practice in the morning. Mondesi, who was set to start at shortstop, was replaced in the lineup by Humberto Arteaga.
After the victory, Yost’s level of concern appeared minimal.
“His back was a little stiff,” Yost said. “It was like, ‘OK, he’s getting an off day tomorrow, it was built into the schedule. Let’s just give him two.’ He’s been playing a lot.”